Odessa, West Texas: Scorched Oil, Judy’s, and Murder

Before part 18 of Showtime’s 2017 Twin Peaks: A Limited Series Event, Odessa, Texas’ place in television history belonged to Friday night American football with NBC’s Friday Night Lights. To be fair, this attention began much earlier with Tom Bissinger’s 1990 non-fiction biographic book Friday Night Lights, which exposed corruption and inherent racism in the four-time winning state champion community and educational system. The book was about as well received upon its original publication in Odessa as Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show was decades earlier in his now current town of Archer, Texas. Honestly, this reaction to criticism is not unique to Texas but duly noted in these instances. Author Tom Bissinger reiterates this fact and offers some insight in his 2004 Sport Illustrated article “Return to Odessa.

“Since the publication of my book Friday Night Lights in 1990, dozens of people in town had accused me in the press of deception and betrayal, of wooing and then verbally raping them, of blaspheming the god of high school football and desecrating Odessa itself by depicting incidents of racism and misplaced education priorities.”[1]

For Twin Peaks fans that television attention changed the night of September 3rd, 2017, when Richard, or the unified Agent Dale Cooper, wakes up in Odessa, Texas. I grew up in Abilene, TX, a town some consider to begin the geographic change from central Texas to the flats of West Texas. Abilene sits between Dallas and Odessa off I-20. Odessa was 171 miles, or a two and a half hour drive, from my hometown deep into that more perceived barren location. This article is meant to inform those of you with interest to some context of Odessa, where it is and what it is. We might even make some sense of its significance or choice as Carrie Page’s location when Richard/Cooper finds her. For instance, did Carrie Page at the age of seventeen find herself blending into the crowds of high school students, community parents and grandparents at a Friday night football game, paper boat in hand filled with Fritos, chili, and cheese? (That last part references Frito pie, a popular gastrointestinal threat, or “treat,” commonly served on cold fall nights from high school concession stands around Texas.)

Midland and Odessa are oil towns and, because of proximity, are all but considered sister towns—Midland the metropolitan, Odessa more the industry. If someone thinks of Odessa or Midland in Texas, they think first of oil. Let that sink in for a moment. Where once Agent Cooper found at the Northwest gate of sycamores to the Black Lodge a pool of scorched engine oil, Richard/Dale Cooper is now standing directly on land surging with oil. On that very ground one finds their answers in Judy’s Diner. One might well heed our Odessa_001Looney Tunes-of-old’s advice by not making that wrong turn at Albuquerque and eating at Joe’s instead. Oil production began to surge again around 2010, a time when the field workers, petroleum engineers, and freshly graduated students descended on the two cities, spiking rent, and initiating the kind of development of housing and apartments, which Mark Frost included in The Return near Las Vegas. Remember the call of “1-1-9!!!” The projects could be abandoned at any time, though I heard just this weekend that there might be another uptick in production. According to a report by the Pew Research Center titled “Metropolitan areas that experienced the largest gain in economic status in the United States from 2000 to 2014,” out of the top ten cities, Midland and Odessa came out at top, grossly outnumbering the others, Odessa showing a 26.3 percent increase and Midland with 25.9 versus the runner up with 15.5 percent.[2] That huge gap was all due to the oil industry, and while this all sounds resoundingly prosperous, I will paraphrase what an older oil man told me when I was working in the Lubbock County Clerk’s office the year of the boom: “These kids all got the nicest hotels rooms and bought themselves the newest pick-up trucks, but I picked out a moderate room because I know that when the boom is on, it’s big, but it better outlast the drought. I’m savin’ for it.”

According to a brochure by the Midland Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, which I just grabbed from my hotel’s lobby in Alpine, Texas, (I drove through Odessa on my way here for a conference.) there is a Lone Star Football League team named the West Texas Wildcatters, formerly named Odessa Roughnecks. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, the entry for roughneck in the Oxford English Dictionary has three definitions. The third reads “A worker on an oil rig, esp. a labourer on the floor of a rig. “[3] Its first usage in that context is referenced back to 1913 and 1917. Along with its associations to oil—IOdessa_005 do have a point to my harping on this—Robert E. Howard, author of sword and sorcery pulp fictions from Conan the Barbarian to horror fictions the likes of Solomon Kane, once complained of the same elements in his oil-touched hometown of Cross Plains, Texas back to the 1920’s and 30’s. In letters to H.P. Lovecraft, he described some of those elements, like in the following quote from June 1931. “These men from the Middle-west—oil field workers at least—are generally a turbulent race, ready to fight at the drop of a hat, with their fists, but generally not so quick to draw knife or gun, as the fighters of the Southwest”[4] (Joshi, p. 176). Even in personal correspondence, he was a colorful writer. Still, we’ll use it. Richard/Cooper meets some likely culprits in his short time in Odessa, which brings us to Judy’s.

There is no Judy’s Diner in Odessa currently. Well, research shows there is, somewhat. I will leave you to look it up but will not lend it any further attention in this article. To our point, though, the unified Cooper is certifiably in Odessa, Texas no longer than two and a half minutes (for us as an audience) before he must appease yet again his white knight syndrome, as Tamara Preston calls it in Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier. Still, this is no mere “white knight saves the damsel in distress” moment. He has entered the doors of Judy’s diner, where premonition tells him that Carrie Page must be employed. You get the feeling we’ve been dropped mid-way into an investigation. For the setting, this is West Texas. It is not a particularly cowboy moment, even while it is hazed in the oft-common dusty-aired hue of the region (that is not overly exaggerated). I much prefer to call it Agent Cooper’s maverick moment. He is acting out the traditional western stand-off, one against three, for a lady’s (waitress’s) honor, but he is cold and calculating. Unified in this western setting, he is equally the rattlesnake represented in the Double’s snakeskin shirt and black eyes from The Return as he represents the original series’ Cooper and his valiance. His actions are beyond F.B.I. protocol now. He is not only feared by the targets, but also by others in the environment, which is to a gunman’s favor no matter the context. I will reiterate in our current climate that this is fiction, and, as fatal violence is avoided in the show at this stand-off, it is to be avoided in all contents of real life.

Odessa_006

This is also a good time for us to look at the honest people of Odessa verses a common, fictional, much more exciting portrayal of West Texas peoples. We saw some of this contrived imagery in the fictional Big Tuna, Texas of David Lynch and Barry Gifford’s Wild At Heart. Let’s look back to another of Howard’s explanations to Lovecraft from a July 13, 1932 letter.

“Most of the people I know are like me—they hate trouble and avoid it as much as possible. Yet it does seem there is a great deal of quarreling and scrapping going on all the time. I attribute this in part to the great numbers of bullies in the world. They won’t let a man alone. This was particularly true during the oil booms, of course. But the country at any time is too much infested by such bravoes.”[5]

I’ll use the moment to come to the rescue of the three men’s reputations using this statement and recent legislation. In 2015, the Texas legislature signed into law the Texas Open Carry law. As of January 2016, Texas who have passed all proper obstacles and have in hand a License to Carry (LTC) permit may carry a traditionally concealed weapon openly. There are a lot of restrictions once you get into mental health facilities and campuses, which is too much to cover here. The point is that depending on the year, the three bullies (using Howard’s useful terminology) might have been well within their rights to have the weapons they carried on them. I have to say from experience that, in Texas, you are more likely to experience manners and courtesies from a boot-shod, wrangler-clad, Stetson-capped, and starch-shirted local. But again, we are with Cooper in Judy’s Diner western, where manners are lost on the lone waitress, and Cooper is out of patience with discourteous misogyny as a distraction to his mission, to find Carrie Page.

Two months ago, Reddit user Shofixi noted that Odessa is home to the largest roadside jackrabbit statue in the nation.[6] The fact comes from a rather upsetting practice of jackrabbit roping from early in Odessa’s history. The website entry for Road Side America tells us that the Humane Society shut this barbarous practice down as late as 1978.[7] Of course, this jumps out to us as fans, having just seen the importance of Bobby jackrabbitBriggs’ personally named Jackrabbit’s Palace, the entrance of which holds a pool of molten gold as opposed to the darkness of oil. (See our Twin Peaks and Alchemy” article by Gisela Fleischer.) Also shortly after the finale, Reddit user Goldenbear81 added to our knowledge by pointing out that “Odessa Texas is approx 430 miles away from Los Alamos, New Mexico [verified], the area where the bombs for the Manhattan project were designed.”[8] With the mention of the more supernatural elements of Twin Peaks in 430 and Jackrabbit’s Palace, I decided to briefly look at local legends and haunting by flipping through Jeffrey Fisher’s Ghosts of Texas: The Haunted Locations of Midland, Odessa, and San Angelo. Out of the classic apartments built over an Indian burial ground, abandoned oil headquarters that used to be a sanitarium, and cemeteries, only one entry sparked any attention. Odessa High School.

Odessa High School is famous for its haunting, and the spirit that haunts the school is that of Betty Jean Williams, a former student of the high school. Betty Jean Williams was the drama queen of the theater department in 1961, but was shot by a fellow student, a popular football player that was also her ex-boyfriend (sic).  It’s said that Betty had wanted someone to kill her, and supposedly had asked her friends to kill her, although they assumed it was a joke. The football player, her former boyfriend, is said to have taken her out to a local stock pond where he kissed her, then shot her through the temple, before weighing her body down and putting it in the pond. The ex-boyfriend (sic) was not found guilty, and is rumored to still live in the City of Odessa. Betty’s spirit has been said to haunt the school ever since her death, and her apparition is occasionally said to be seen wandering throughout the hallways. Even when Betty’s apparition cannot (sic) be seen, her spirit is occasionally blamed for the sound of an unseen woman screaming out, and the doors being opened and slammed shut by an unseen force.[9]

If any weight could be lent the legend, Carrie Page would have been in frighteningly familiar territory, joining her voice with Betty’s screams through the halls of the high school, like our distraught student in the pilot of the original series. Driving on I-20 this past weekend, I was able to see the kind of housing district, which David Lynch genuinely recreated for Carrie’s neighborhood, a roughneck neighborhood scorched by the Texas heat and largely ignored. So, Odessa betrays the small town cleanliness and logging nature of Twin Peaks, which Laura Palmer was once accustomed. As Carrie Page, her twenty five-year-long journey may very well have started back at that football game with a Frito pie in hand, watching her new rebellious football player boyfriend, looking confused at her surroundings, a foggy memory of a past life fading black as oil on a moonless night of Bobby Briggs in Twin Peaks.

Odessa_003

Bibliography

Bissinger, H. G. 2004. “Return to Odessa.” Sports Illustrated 101, no. 13: 50-55. SPORTDiscus with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed November 13, 2017).

Doug Kirby, Ken Smith, Mike Wilkins, “World’s Largest Jackrabbit,” (RoadsideAmerica.com, Copyright 1996-2017.), https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/15841

Goldenbear81, “Odessa and New Mexico” (Reddit 2017), https://www.reddit.com/r/twinpeaks/comments/6zg6fw/s3e18_odessa_and_new_mexico/

Jeffrey Fisher, Ghosts of Texas: The Haunted Locations of Midland, Odessa and San Angelo (Fisher, June 8, 2013), E-Book Edition by Amazon Digital Services LLC, Location 180.

Lovecraft, H. P., Robert E. Howard, S. T. Joshi, David E. Schultz, and Rusty Burke. A Means to Freedom : The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. First Softcover ed. Hippocampus Press, 2011.

Pew Research Center. Metropolitan areas that experienced the largest gain in economic status in the United States from 2000 to 2014. https://www-statista-com.lib-e2.lib.ttu.edu/statistics/547432/us-metropolitan-areas-with-the-largest-gain-in-economic-status/ (accessed November 13, 2017). This information came from library database Statista as subscribed to by Texas Tech University Libraries.

“roughneck, n.”. OED Online. June 2017. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com.lib-e2.lib.ttu.edu/view/Entry/167889?rskey=2SkAwj&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed November 13, 2017).

Shofixi, “Odessa’s national symbol” (Reddit, 2017), https://www.reddit.com/r/twinpeaks/comments/6xyxla/s3e18_odessas_national_symbol/

[1]

Bissinger, H. G. 2004. “Return to Odessa.” Sports Illustrated 101, no. 13: 50-55. SPORTDiscus with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed November 13, 2017).

[2] Pew Research Center. Metropolitan areas that experienced the largest gain in economic status in the United States from 2000 to 2014. https://www-statista-com.lib-e2.lib.ttu.edu/statistics/547432/us-metropolitan-areas-with-the-largest-gain-in-economic-status/ (accessed November 13, 2017). This information came from library database Statista as subscribed to by Texas Tech University Libraries.

[3] “roughneck, n.”. OED Online. June 2017. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com.lib-e2.lib.ttu.edu/view/Entry/167889?rskey=2SkAwj&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed November 13, 2017).

[4] Lovecraft, H. P., Robert E. Howard, S. T. Joshi, David E. Schultz, and Rusty Burke. A Means to Freedom : The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. First Softcover ed. Hippocampus Press, 2011.

[5] Lovecraft, Means to Freedom, 319-320.

[6] Shofixi, “Odessa’s national symbol” (Reddit, 2017), https://www.reddit.com/r/twinpeaks/comments/6xyxla/s3e18_odessas_national_symbol/

[7] Doug Kirby, Ken Smith, Mike Wilkins, “World’s Largest Jackrabbit,” (RoadsideAmerica.com, Copyright 1996-2017.), https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/15841

[8] Goldenbear81, “Odessa and New Mexico” (Reddit 2017), https://www.reddit.com/r/twinpeaks/comments/6zg6fw/s3e18_odessa_and_new_mexico/

[9] Jeffrey Fisher, Ghosts of Texas: The Haunted Locations of Midland, Odessa and San Angelo (Fisher, June 8, 2013), E-Book Edition by Amazon Digital Services LLC, Location 180.


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4 Replies to “Odessa, West Texas: Scorched Oil, Judy’s, and Murder”

  1. At the 430 mark there seemed to be some hesitance by both Dale and Diane; should they cross that fictitious line or not? One mile farther and the number would add up to … 8. They continue their journey after they KISS.

    Long story long; here are my notes …

    A Kiss Before Dying – by PAMELA COLLOFF FEBRUARY 2006
    https://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/a-kiss-before-dying/
    [This is where Ike the Spike comes from, maybe?]
    Ike Nail, a popular junior who had taken Betty home from rehearsal the previous evening …
    According to Ike, she had been wearing only pale-pink shorty pajamas and a blue-and-white-striped duster—not the kind of clothes a boy would leave a girl standing in on her front porch at midnight.
    When he reached the center, Mack oriented himself by looking at the mesquite trees on either side; then he dove under the water and came back up. He began wading back toward land, dragging an object that appeared to be very heavy; when he was near the water’s edge, Odessa police detective Fred Johnson could see that he was holding a pair of human feet. Johnson advised him to leave the body, which was still clad in pale-pink pajamas, in the water. Around Betty’s waist were tied two lead weights. She had been partially decapitated by a single shotgun blast to the head.

    ‘Mack, didn’t you expect to get caught?’ And he said, ‘Not this quick.’ He showed no emotion or regret or fear. It was like he was talking about shooting a dog.” [dog leg in Mr C’s car?]

    “she was cheerful and chatted about how happy she was going to be when she was dead,” Mack explained. He had parked his Jeep a short distance from the stock tank, and he and Betty had sat there for a while and talked. “She was happy,” he recalled. “She kept saying what it was going to be like in heaven.” Then they had walked down to the pond together. Shivering, Betty had hurried back to the Jeep to retrieve her duster. When she returned to the spot where Mack was waiting for her by the water, she took off her shoes. “I just stood there with the gun,” Mack told reporters. “I said, ‘Give me a kiss to remember you by.’ She gave me a kiss and then said, ‘Thank you, Mack. I will always remember you for that.’ Then she said, ‘Now.’ I raised the gun barrel up, and she took ahold of it with the back of her hand and held it up [to her temple]. And then I pulled the trigger. She was dead—like that.” He snapped his fingers for emphasis.

    “since insanity is the only possible explanation for this tragedy.”

    [Did Coop/Richard kill the guy at Carrie Page’s house? – A story like “Spider” ? Insanity – wasn’t Phillip Jeffries insane? Is that the price to pay for crossing that line at the 430 mark, for entering the in-between world – hell, the underworld without an exit?]

    He worked as a dock foreman at a chemical company, a carpenter, a welder, and, for at least the past 25 years, as an electrician.

    Shelton Williams, who carried a photograph of his cousin in his wallet for 35 years after her murder. “I don’t believe that Betty ever wanted to die.” [ref. Sarah?]

    After two hours in the auditorium, Sanchez and her friends were so unnerved, and so certain that they had felt Betty’s presence, that they decided to leave. But first they did what they assumed any drama girl—spectral or not—would have wanted. “We let Betty know she was the star,” Sanchez says. “We sat there in the theater seats, in the dark, and we applauded for her.” [Stars No Stars – Rebheka del Rio ?]

    Like

  2. If you draw a straight line from the Nevada Test Site (NW of Las Vegas, which is home to a Smithsonian Institute branch museum on nuclear testing), through the Trinity Test Site monument in NM, and further to the southeast, the line passes through Odessa.

    Like

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