Debts, Failed Businesses, Gambling: Uncle Hilty Had It All
CONROE, Texas (AP) _ Faced with more than $370,000 in debts, Hilton Lewis Crawford decided to bet on a long shot, investigators say.
The former police officer and sheriff’s captain who liked to gamble allegedly engineered a scheme to abduct his close friend’s only son, 12-year-old McKay Everett, and hold him for $500,000 ransom.
McKay’s parents refused to pay and the boy was shot dead. His body was recovered near a swamp about 250 miles away in Louisiana.
Crawford was jailed on charges of aggravated kidnapping and suspicion of murder. Just days before the kidnapping, Crawford gave McKay a new football signed ``From Uncle Hilty.″
The kidnapping and killing sent shock waves through this town of 30,000 north of Houston. Until Crawford was arrested last weekend, no one had a clue how deep his troubles ran.
``In a small town, it’s just devastating. We’re not accustomed to violence,″ resident Rita Rouse said.
Investigators believe Crawford hatched the plot to get out of debt.
He had several failed ventures, including an Italian restaurant and a security guard business, and ran unsuccessfully for Jefferson County sheriff in 1975. The Crawfords filed for bankruptcy in May.
``He loved his family very much and he kept his problems to himself,″ said his boss, Marvin Keller, owner of Security Guard Services, which Crawford sold him in the late 1970s.
One day after his arrest, Crawford drew a map from his jail cell directing authorities to McKay’s body.
Crawford, 56, has admitted to the kidnapping but denies shooting the boy, police said. He has not been charged with murder. It was not immediately clear what his explanation was for knowing the location of the body, nor whether he says other people were involved in the scheme.
McKay was abducted Sept. 12 from his home while his parents were at an Amway products meeting. A former Crawford employee has said he offered her money to call McKay’s parents and demand $500,000 in $100 bills.
At the security guard company, Crawford was a district manager who earned $60,000 a year and supervised 125 employees.
Keller suggested Crawford’s money problems weren’t so unusual. ``I mean, this is the age of the credit card,″ his boss said.
He said Crawford gambled on the horses, and even had a thoroughbred in the inaugural meet at Houston’s Sam Houston Race Park in 1994.
Hilton and Connie Crawford moved here from Beaumont after he left the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department in 1975.
The Everetts’ lives crossed with the Crawfords regularly; the couples had been friends years before Mrs. Everett became pregnant with McKay.
People lovingly recall Mrs. Crawford, a popular first-grade teacher. She has gone into seclusion.
``It’s devastating for Connie,″ said Rita Horsak, a member of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where Mrs. Crawford is also a member.
On Tuesday, about 1,000 people attended a memorial service to McKay Everett. Teammates from his football team sat on the steps outside the building, their faces sullen. Some classmates sobbed.
To Conroe residents, random violence from a friend is the most unspeakable of crimes.
``It just shows you can’t trust anybody,″ said George Harpe, the father of a 9-year-old boy.