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West Texas was rough country--barely more than frontier--in the 1920s.  Settlers survived dust storms and tornadoes in the spring, scorching, drought-ridden summers and “blue northers” in the late fall and winter.  Between the weather, rattlesnakes and scorpions, even the most genteel citizens had a rough edge. A product of this environment was Clyde Thompson, the son of a one-time itinerant preacher turned adulterer and share-cropper. 

 

It wasn’t premeditated, but Clyde, then 17, killed two young men who were total strangers to him when a fight broke out near Cisco, Texas, in September, 1928.  Found guilty of murder, Clyde went to death row with 60 days to live. He came within seven hours of dying in the electric chair when the governor commuted his sentence to life.

 

He was sent to the Retrieve prison farm, south of Houston.  It was survival of the fittest there, and Clyde got tough in a hurry.  Within the next few years, Clyde earned two more life sentences by killing fellow inmates in knife fights.  He was also a part of two ill-fated prison breaks.

While healing from a rifle shot to the shoulder as a result of the second escape attempt, Clyde was accused of killing yet another inmate.  For once, he didn’t do it.  But in attempt to get Clyde a seat in the electric chair once and for all, prison officials launched a publicity campaign against him.  On the radio the warden dubbed him “the meanest man in Texas.”  During the same broadcast the prison chaplain announced that Clyde was a man without a soul. 

 

Failing to convict Clyde of the latest murder, prison officials were at a loss over what to do with them. In the midst of this, Clyde received word that his father had died suddenly.  Rees was the only person in the outside world who’d stuck by him.  Despite what the newspapers said about Clyde, his father always reminded him that he was still a good boy. This death of his father catapulted Clyde into a cornered mad-dog killer who threatened to murder even the warden.  Prison officials couldn’t make the last murder charge stick, leaving them at a loss over what to do with this very dangerous thrice-convicted murderer.

 

With a new prison morgue recently built at the main prison unit in Huntsville, there was no use for the little concrete building near death row that formerly served as the morgue.  The old building had a solid metal door, no windows and contained six cement slabs on the inside where coffins had been placed.  This became Clyde’s cell for the next six years, including the duration of World War II.  After two months in the morgue, they cut a window in the door, and a guard gave Clyde a Bible to read.  He started studying it while examining his own life. 

 

Julia Perryman worked as a photographer in Meridian, Texas, and she, too, was a prisoner, of sorts.  She was a hostage of her handicap--severe curvature of the spine resulting from a childhood bout with scoliosis.  It left her standing less than five-feet tall and looking like a hunch-back.  She was so self conscious she would never let a man get close to her. 

 

At the advice of her preacher, Julia sent a Christmas card to a prisoner in 1946.  All she knew was that this inmate had corresponded with the minister’s mother and was carrying God’s word to fellow prisoners.  They started corresponding and fell in love through the mail.  He proposed to her in a letter, and she accepted when she visited him the first time at Christmas, 1947.  That potential groom was Clyde Thompson.

 

Was this relationship made in Heaven?  Clyde had someone on the outside who believed in him; Julia had a man who couldn’t get close to her physically.  Julia’s parent’s tried to break up this relationship.  At age 38 Julia continued to go against the wishes of his mother and father.

 

Julia started a personal campaign to have Clyde released from prison.  But authorities weren’t about to release a man with his record, in spite of the change in his life some 10 years earlier.  Julia refused to give up, even though Clyde was denied parole in 1949, 1951, 1953 and July, 1955.  Due to Julia’s efforts, the parole board reconsidered his case three months later and granted Clyde parole.

Clyde met Julia as he walked out the doors of the prison in Huntsville, Texas, on Nov. 1, 1955.  They were married five days later and were together until Clyde died of natural causes in 1979.  She joined him a decade later.  They are buried in Hillsboro, Texas.

 

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