Clyde Thompson, a convict who became a preacher, gained a reputation as the “Meanest man in Texas,” during more than 20 years in the Texas Prison system.
“Clyde Thompson was a living legend down where they grow legends by the yard,” wrote Lon Bennett Glenn in his book, “Texas Prisons: The Largest Hotel Chain in Texas.”
“Like John Wesley Hardin before him, in his prime, Thompson was called the ‘Meanest Man in Texas,’” Glenn wrote. “That may have been an understatement. He was possibly the meanest man anywhere.”
Thompson, who was the son of a Bible salesman, was convicted of four murders and was involved in several escape attempts from Texas prisons. Two of the murders and one of the escape attempts occurred in the 1930s while he was an inmate at the Retrieve Unit, now know as the Wayne Scott Unit, near Lake Jackson, wrote Gary Brown, in his book “Singin’ a Lonesome Song: Texas Prison Tales.”
In 1928, Clyde Thomspon confessed to shooting two men in Eastland County. Two years later, at age 19, he was the youngest man in the state to receive the death penalty, Glenn wrote
“As fate would have it, two men challenged Clyde, a friend named Tom and a juvenile to a fight,” Glenn wrote. “When the two men attempted to use a powder horn and a tree limb as weapons, Clyde pulled his pistol and killed both men.”
Thompson was sent to death row at the Huntsville Walls Unit in 1931. He was scheduled to be the 83rd inmate to be executed in the electric chair, but seven hours before his execution, he was notified that Gov. Ross Sterling had commuted his sentence to life, Brown wrote.
Later, Thompson attempted to dig a tunnel out of the Huntsville Walls Unit and was transferred to the Retrieve Unit, which had a reputation as a “hard-core prison farm,” Brown wrote.
On Jan. 19, 1933, Thompson participated in an escape attempt from a work gang, but an inmate named Tommy Reis had tipped off the guards and the men were caught. The guards shot two men who were part of the escape attempt, killing one of them, Brown wrote.
Later, Thompson confronted Reis and was accused of stabbing him repeatedly while Barney Allen, the man who had been shot but survived, held him from behind, Brown wrote.
Thompson was found guilty by a Brazoria County jury in March 1933. The jury voted 11 to 1 in favor of death. The one dissenting juror kept Thompson from receiving another death sentence, Brown wrote.
On May 29, 1935, Thompson stabbed inmate Everet Melvin five times in the chest. Thompson claimed that Melvin was trying to force him to be a “girlfriend,” Brown wrote.
“That Thompson had used the knife to kill Melvin was never in question,” Brown wrote. “As the cross-examination began to delve into specifics of Thompson’s accusations that Melvin was coercing him for sex, the judge ordered all the women out of the courtroom until the questioning was finished.”
Thompson was given his fourth murder conviction and third life sentence and once again avoided the electric chair, Brown wrote.
“After he heard the verdict, he broke down, crying with joy,” according to a 1935 edition of The Angleton Times. “His father and other members of his family also displayed emotion as it was learned the convict’s life had been spared.”
Thompson was transferred from Retrieve in 1935. In 1937, he was part of an attempt to escape from the Eastham Unit and was involved in shootout with prison guards and was shot in the right arm, Brown wrote.
Within three weeks, he was charged with the murder of another inmate. However, the trial was dismissed for lack of evidence, Glenn wrote.
“This was the period of his life when the ‘Meanest man in Texas’ title was applied to him by the prison director,” Brown wrote. “The media, always ready to sensationalize any news relating to Thompson, quickly grabbed the term and splashed it over headlines across Texas.”
Thomspon was transferred to the Huntsville Walls Unit, where he was placed in solitary confinement. Thompson was allowed to have a Bible, Brown wrote
In March 1951, Thompson received a conditional pardon and was released from prison.
“Like so may convicts who finally find themselves bottomed out with nowhere to go but up, Clyde Thompson in the end turned to religion,” Brown wrote. “But many of these religious ‘conversions’ do not last once the inmate gets what he wants. In Clyde Thompson’s case, however, his religion sustained him the remainder of his life outside prison.”
Thompson eventually became an ordained minister. He died of cardiac arrest in 1979, Brown wrote.
Thompson might have changed his ways, but his reputation as the meanest man in an era of dangerous men lives on.
“How could this man — incarcerated in the same prison system as violent criminals like Clyde Barrow, Roy Thornton, Joe Palmer, Raymond Hamilton and Charlie Frazier — be dubbed the ‘Meanest man in Texas?’” Brown wrote. “He did it the old-fashioned way; he earned it.”
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