The story of Col. Bettis stolen watch

Published 10:36 am Saturday, August 19, 2017

By Mike Louviere

The Orange Leader

Newspapers from the early 20th Century are a treasure trove of life in Orange in those early times. Most interesting is the way that the papers used prose. News articles are more descriptive than today’s journalistic style. In those days, there were no radios and no televisions, only telegraph and newspapers. Stories that came in over the “wire” literally were passed by Morse code on telegraph wires in the early years. News writers took the reports from the “wire”, transcribed it and printed it.

Orange had a daily paper, sometimes two editions per day, often a special edition when something extremely newsworthy happened. A person coming from Beaumont to Orange to visit family was often printed on the first page. A business man from Orange going to Beaumont to conduct a business matter was reported. A serious, sometimes a not so serious illness, was always newsworthy. Birthday parties, weddings, funeral announcements always made the newspaper. Crimes were newsworthy then as they are today.

Page one news for The Daily Leader, June 19, 1912, was a full column headed; “Col. Bettis Watch Stolen and Recovered”

Col. Bettis was an Orange business man with an office in the Link Building of Fifth Street. Also in the building was the telephone office for Orange.

“Col. W. D. Bettis was the victim of a sneak thief yesterday, but with the assistance of City Marshall Ben Stephens, succeeded in recovering the stolen property.”

It seems that a person pretending to be “deaf and dumb” (deaf mute) was in the Link Building “for the purpose of soliciting alms” from anyone he could make contact with. He had been through the telephone office and was leaving as Col. Bettis was entering the office to do business. Col. Bettis, stopped and gave the man some money, then went into the telephone office. He got into a conversation in the office. The man begging money saw that Bettis’ office was open and went inside. Inside the office, he found Bettis’ coat and vest hanging on a coat rack. He went through the pockets and found a pocket watch and chain, which he took.

Bettis concluded his business in the telephone office and returned to his office. He wanted to check the time, and went to his vest and found his watch was missing. He found Marshall Stephens, and they conducted a search and found nothing.

Remembering the beggar in the building, Bettis and Stephens went to the Texas and New Orleans Railroad passenger depot. They took up stations at each end of the depot so that they could watch anyone departing on the train. Bettis saw the man who had pretended to be “deaf and dumb” that had been begging in the Link Building.

As Bettis watched the man, he appeared to be waiting on the No. 4 train to arrive. The man carefully removed his watch from his vest pocket to check the time. Bettis was able to ascertain that it was his watch the man had in his pocket. Bettis gave a signal to Stephens. Stephens had also seen the man check the watch.

Stephens calmly walked over to the man and removed the watch from his pocket and handed it to Bettis. Bettis smiled, put the watch in his pocket, and thanked Marshall Stephens for his good work.

And there the story ends. As impressive as this police work was in the era of no police radios, police cars, or computers, and as well as the story was told by the reporter, it seems incomplete. There is no mention of any action after Bettis gave his profound thanks to Stephens. The readers did not know if the thief was arrested, made to sweep the depot, or just allowed to board the No. 4 train and told never to return to Orange………

“And now you know”