Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Elm Grove Lodge: Murder in West Lake Hills

Long before it was Soap Creek Saloon, this building three miles from town and up the hill from Bee Cave Road was the Elm Grove Lodge. On June 17, 1947 it was the site of a murder, when Arnold W. Barrier, who managed The Windmill club on the San Antonio Highway (far South Congress), was badly beaten by brothers- Elmo “Blondie” Wright and Chester “Curley” Wright – and died three days later. Lodge owner F.B. Cochran and his 18-year-old son Brooks were also pistol-whipped, and the phone lines were cut. It was a Tuesday night and the club hosted a small wedding party that Barrier crashed with his son-in-law, a woman and her 11-year-old daughter, arriving in a dump truck. The wedding band was Steve Lightsey and the Rhythm Kings, who often played at the Windmill. Lightsey testified that one of the Wright brothers (whose sister was the bride) sucker-punched Barrier, then the other brother pistol-whipped and stomped him.

I’ve been reading all the reports from the Statesman on this high-profile murder and trial and the craziest part is that during the drunken party, Curley had been held down and had lipstick applied against his will. The cackling was probably echoing in his mind when he went psycho on Mr. Barrier.
And you thought the strangest thing that ever happened in that building was when a roadie from the Grateful Dead dosed the entire audience with LSD!
The pistol that fractured Barrier’s skull was of undetermined origin. The Wrights said they saw Brooks Cochran hand Barrier the pistol shortly before the fracas, which happened just outside the front entrance. A third Wright brother testified that Barrier approached Blondie menacingly, and the punch was preventative. Cochran denied that he gave Barrier the gun. But sent to Huntsville in 1952 on burglary charges, he confessed to the prison chaplain that he had lied because he was “afraid of Bill Suhr.”
An ex-con who’d built up a successful excavating company, Suhr was Barrier’s brother-in-law, who had hired attorney Polk Shelton as special prosecutor against the Wright brothers and two other defendants. Strangely, the Wrights’ attorney was Shelton’s brother.
A year after the Wrights were convicted and given sentences of two to 99 years each, Bill Suhr was shot to death by former Austin clubowner V.E. “Buster” Davis, after he’d shown up at Davis’s house after midnight with Orville Barrier, the brother of Arnold (who everyone called “Neville”). The shooting was ruled justifiable.

One thought on “Elm Grove Lodge: Murder in West Lake Hills

  1. Steve Lightsey was my maternal grandfather. He passed away the year that I was born. I appreciate the story and shared it with my 81 year old mother. She remembers the Elm Grove Lodge as a child going to see her daddy play stand up base in the band. She said that many people who witnessed the beating/murder would not testify but Grandpa Lightsey did because he was a good man. His brother Joel Lightsey was a police officer with the Austin Police Department during the 30’s through 50’s, as well.

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