The Career of John Dowdy
By Jaycie Smith
In 1970 Texas Congressman James V. Dowdy was accused of accepting a $25,000 bribe from Nathan Cohen on behalf of Monarch Construction Corporation. Congressman Dowdy maintained his innocence throughout an intense grand jury investigation, led by United States Attorney Stephen H. Sachs, and subsequent trial in 1971. Stephen H. Sachs’ skillful examination during the grand jury testimony backed Dowdy into a corner. Despite several defense witnesses, including Leonard Wilson, at the conclusion of the trial, Dowdy was found guilty on all eight counts in which he was charged: bribery, conspiracy, and perjury. Dowdy became the first sitting Texas congressman to be convicted of a felony. After an unsuccessful appeals process, Dowdy served a six-month prison sentence.
John Vernard Dowdy was born on February 11, 1912 in Waco, McLennan County, Texas. Dowdy’s father, C. V. Dowdy, was a court reporter in Rusk County, Texas. The younger Dowdy went on to graduate from high school in Henderson, Texas in 1928. He attended a Waco business college and later matriculated through the College of Marshall, now known as East Texas Baptist University. Following in his father’s footsteps, in 1932 Dowdy became the official court reporter of the newly established 123rd Judicial District of Texas. He served in that capacity until January 1937. That year, Dowdy accepted the position of official court reporter of the 3rd Judicial District of Texas and moved to Athens, Texas. He served in there until 1945.
In 1932 Dowdy married Miss Mary Ellen Fite of Carthage, Texas. The couple had two children, Carol Sue and John, Jr. Mary Dowdy died during childbirth in 1943. Despite the loss of his wife and with two young children to support, Dowdy ran for District Attorney of the 3rd Judicial District of Texas. He ran a successful campaign, was elected, and took office on January 1, 1945. In August 1946 Dowdy married Miss J. D. Riley who was then serving as Henderson County district clerk.
As District Attorney for Henderson County, Texas, Dowdy practiced law in the black/white legal environment common in the South. Three cases in which Dowdy was involved offer insight into this environment.
In the 1940s Thomas M. Hobbs was a white man who had employed a black teen-aged girl named Dora Watson. Hobbs committed statutory rape upon Watson for two years, 1938 through 1940. This situation was well known in the community, and was even the topic of several sermons by local pastors. However, Hobbs was never charged with any offense during the two-year period.
Finally, Watson was able to remove herself from Hobbs’ employment and started a new life. In 1940 she married Papen Bradley, a black man. Hobbs was enraged that the object of his sexual lust had been removed, and he concocted a scheme to murder Bradley. With the help of Hobbs’ cousin, Jim Sims, Bradley was coaxed into Hobbs’ car. Hobbs had mixed strychnine into soda bottles and gave it to Bradley to drink. Hobbs and Sims watched Bradley convulse and die. Together, the two cousins burned Bradley’s body in an old barn.
Interestingly, Dora Watson Bradley, the original victim of Hobbs, was arrested and held for questioning in the murder of her husband. Hobbs was let out on bond. Later, Sims signed a confession admitting being in the car during the murder and helping Hobbs to dispose of Bradley’s body. Hobbs eventually confessed to premeditated murder by poison. The surrounding community let Hobbs off easy. He was never charged with the statutory rape of Dora Watson Bradley, and he was given a light sentence for the murder of black man, Papen Bradley. John Dowdy recorded the Thomas M. Hobbs trial transcripts.
In 1946 Dowdy served Henderson County as District Attorney. Clyde Moore, a twenty one year old black man had been accused of raping a young white girl in the vicinity of Malakoff, Texas. Moore gave a detailed and gruesome statement and admitted to the crime. Moore’s car was broken down on the side of the road when he saw the white girl walking home from school. He dragged her into the woods and committed the rape. After helping her wash at a nearby stream, the two parted ways. Moore was arrested later that night near Frankston, Texas. Henderson County Sheriff, Jess Sweeten, feared for Moore’s safety and so removed the man to Dallas County pending the trial.
Less than a month after the crime, Clyde Moore stood trial in Athens. On February 27, 1946 a jury found Moore guilty of rape. District Judge Melvin Johnston sentenced Moore to die in the electric chair on April 8, 1946. District Clerk, J. D. Riley, prepared the death warrant. Moore was taken to Huntsville where the execution was carried out.
In August of 1953 Dowdy against presided over a rape case involving the black and white racial divide. Thirty-year-old Jimmy Richardson, a black man, had been charged with raping a fifteen year old white girl in Palestine, Texas. Richardson confessed to dragging the girl from her bed and having sexual relations with her. Central to Richardson’s defense would be his claim that his confession came while he was under duress.
Richardson was convicted of rape and sentenced to death. Defense attorney’s immediately launched an appeal based on a procedural problem concerning District Attorney Dowdy’s closing argument to the jury. Dowdy made several racial and prejudicial remarks to the jury, including calling Richardson an “unclean creature” that had “violated the very cradle to please the lust of his heart.” Dowdy said that every “bawdy house keeper and blackleg” of the area would vote that the defendant should receive the death penalty. Dowdy instructed the jury that anything less than death would be condoning the very act of black on white rape. The court found that this type of message was designed to tell the jury that they would be looked upon as socially lower than bawdy house keepers and blacklegs if they failed to give Richardson the death penalty. The court concluded that the jury might have utilized Dowdy’s speech in handing out the death penalty.
Taken in conjunction, the Hobbs, Moore, and Richardson cases illustrate the virulent racism that existed in the legal environment of Dowdy’s native area. Compared to Moore and Richardson, Hobbs’ light sentence echoes this racism. While Dowdy was simply transcribing the trial of Hobbs, he had a heavy hand in the convictions and death sentences of Moore and Richardson.
In 1952 Dowdy won election to Congress for the 7th Texas District. John, Jr. later admitted that his father had campaigned for a congressional seat at J.D.’s urging and with her full support. His campaign centered on eliminating government waste, ending political graft and corruption, reducing taxes, and banishment of communists and traitors. He promised honesty, economy, and sound government. The Tyler Courier-Times-Telegraph announced Dowdy’s victory and proclaimed Dowdy “the first Athens, Texas native elected to Congress since the Civil War.” Dowdy’s committee assignments during his tenure as Congressman included Post Office and Civil Service, 83rd Congress; Post Office and Civil Service and House Administration, 84th Congress; and Judiciary, District of Columbia Subcommittee, 85th through 92nd Congresses.
In 1962 Dowdy’s extreme opposition to homosexuality came to the forefront. Frank Kameny, a Ph.D. in astronomy graduate from Harvard University, had joined the army as a civilian employee to help map accurate distances around the globe. Working on the project, scientists like Kameny would help the military to accurately target the intercontinental missiles in development. While making scientific observations in Hawaii, Kameny received a letter instructing him to return to Washington within two days to attend to clerical requirements. Kameny thought this sounded like paperwork and felt that his observations were more important. However, once back in Washington, Kameny was interrogated by two civil service investigators. “Information has come to the attention of the U.S. Civil Service Commission that you are a homosexual. What comment, if any, do you care to make?” Unbeknownst to Kameny, his prior arrest at Key Terminal in San Francisco, a known gay cruising area, had been forwarded to the FBI. Kameny became the first federal employee fired for homosexuality.
Kameny soon looked to form an organization in Washington to help spread the fight against antigay discrimination in the federal government. In November 1961, Kameny and others wrote a constitution for the Mattachine Society of Washington (MSW). Kameny was elected as president of the group. MSW needed money, and in order to raise money the group needed to complete requirements of Washington’s Charitable Solicitations Act. Kameny needed to record the organization’s name, purpose, and the names of officers. Despite an aversion to the group’s inherent purpose, the superintendent of licenses and permits had no choice but to grant the license to MSW since all requirements had been honored.
On September 16, 1962, the headline in the Washington Star read: “Group Aiding Deviates Issued Charity License.” According to the newspaper, MSW was raising funds to help homosexuals reach equal status with straight men and women. Dowdy, as ranking Democratic member of the House Committee on the District of Columbia felt responsible for the morals and welfare of the nation’s capital. To correct the issue, Dowdy introduced a bill in Congress that would prohibit governmental recognition of a group whose activities were considered repulsive to normal citizens. Dowdy’s bill required Washington D.C.’s government (essentially Dowdy’s committee) to grant licenses only to groups who contributed to the welfare, morals, and health of the District of Columbia. More importantly, Dowdy’s bill revoked MSW’s charitable solicitation license.
MSW launched a letter-writing campaign that eventually landed them a congressional hearing. Kameny became the first openly gay person in the history of the United States government to testify before Congress. Backed by the ACLU and the Washington Post, Kameny described his group as citizens who wanted to openly express their views and advocate for social change. Dowdy on the other hand, viewed the group from a moral standpoint. Citing the Holy Bible, he commented on the homosexual orgies and bestiality of gay men. Dowdy eventually equated MSW and Kameny to a national security risk to Washington, D.C. The Congressman even declared that there were no gay men in his congressional district in Texas.
Ultimately, Dowdy’s bill passed, but the passage did not stop MSW from raising funds. MSW’s license was revoked, however the group received more than enough publicity to further its cause. Dowdy’s views on the dangers of homosexuals in the nation’s capital were highlighted. The Kameny hearings also brought forth a broad study of the issue of homosexuals and government employment. Homosexuality and government is an issue that is still being dealt with today.
In March of 1964, Dowdy wrote an article in Reader’s Digest in which he examined “The Mounting Scandal of Urban Renewal.” Dowdy proclaimed that urban renewal efforts exhibited favoritism, extravagance, and a misuse of power across the United States. In the name of urban renewal, the U.S. Housing and Home Finance Agency (HHFA) had asked Congress for three billion dollars, in addition to the four billion it had already spent. As evidence for his position, Dowdy scrutinized the controversy surrounding the handling of Erieview Projet No. 1 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Erieview Project was expected to provide a large number of jobs, “eradicate slums, diminish crime, straighten out traffic, renew Cleveland’s famous Euclid Avenue business section, and add new buildings and enterprises to the tax rolls.” The HHFA would fund the renewal efforts and the city of Cleveland would sell off the land to developers.
According to Dowdy there was one hitch: urban renewal regulations stated that federal aid in demolition efforts could be given only to areas containing structures not worth saving. Just a short time prior to the project, the majority of the buildings in the Erieview area had passed inspections by Cleveland housing inspectors. To skirt this problem, Cleveland officials reclassified many of the buildings as substandard. Cleveland citizens were outraged that they would lose their residences when their buildings had previously passed inspection, some just two months before city officials reclassified the buildings.
Dowdy’s subcommittee had witnessed this type of urban renewal pattern before. He questioned urban renewal efforts throughout the nation and urged Congress to take an in-depth look at the entire urban renewal program. Dowdy also advocated for ensuring adequate housing be made available to the families who were displaced by the urban renewal projects.
In sum, Dowdy was a very active Congressman, serving on numerous committees and subcommittees. Dowdy authored legislation for protecting National Defense facilities; amended criminal laws to embrace air piracy; empowered postal authorities to police the mails; and proposed reforms in the control of obscene, pornographic, and subversive literature. Despite this distinguished Congressional career, Dowdy’s name became marred by scandal.
In 1965 Dowdy became associated with Monarch Construction Corporation. Monarch was a Maryland corporation with offices in Silver Spring, Maryland from May 1, 1963 to about October 5, 1965. The company specialized in construction aimed at urban renewal projects. Nathan H. Cohen was President of Monarch during its time in business. Myrvin C. Clark acted as Sales Manager of Monarch during that time period. At that time, Monarch was being investigated for fraudulent business activities.
Cohen’s testimony on November 10, 1971 explained how the relationship between Monarch and Dowdy began. Horace Austell was a Monarch salesman who personally knew Congressman Dowdy. In June 1965 Austell arranged for Dowdy to make a speech in Maryland to all of Monarch’s salesmen and administrative staff. At the conclusion of the speech and in appreciation for Dowdy speaking, Cohen wrote Dowdy a $500 check made out to cash. Dowdy joked that he had campaign expenses and things.
Sales Manager Myrvin Clark continued to have regular meetings with Congressman Dowdy after the June 1965 speech at Monarch. Cohen testified that Clark spoke about “constantly” meeting in the Congressman’s office with Dowdy or people who worked for Dowdy. During this time, Clark met with Dowdy about personal matters and not those associated with Monarch. Clark was involved in a gold mine operation in Georgia and had the Congressman’s help in writing letters and setting appointments with government officials concerning the gold mine. In addition, Clark revealed to Dowdy that he had a close contact in a printing company that could assist Dowdy during campaigns. It was also during one of these meetings that Dowdy revealed to Clark information concerning Dowdy’s approaching reelection campaign against Martin Dies, Jr. Dowdy knew he faced a tough opponent from a well-established political family. Furthermore, Dowdy’s congressional district had been redistricted. Dowdy knew he needed money to compete in the campaign and election against Dies.
In September of 1965 Cohen and Clark had left Monarch Construction Corporation. Cohen was worried about the federal investigations into Monarch and feared prosecution. Cohen remembered that Clark had had several meetings with Congressman Dowdy. Cohen approached Clark about setting up a deal with Dowdy. “I asked Myrvin if he felt that Mr. Dowdy could somehow arrange to have congressional hearings and arrange immunity for me.” Next, Clark approached Dowdy. Clark informed Cohen that Dowdy felt he would be able to help, but informed Clark that it would cost about $25,000.
Clark’s grand jury testimony described the split financing fraud that Monarch committed. According to Clark, Monarch would apply for a loan for new improvements on buildings. Next, Monarch salesmen would go back and change the original loan amount. This would use two loans to finance the improvements. Residents were never made aware of the second loan. Cohen testified that the paperwork should have been signed in front of a Notary Public; that practice was never adhered to. Due to the split financing fraud and the subsequent federal investigation, Cohen wanted immunity from prosecution by testifying before a congressional committee. Allegedly, Cohen bribed Dowdy with $25,000 to make the Monarch Construction Corporation investigation “go away.”
On March 4, 1970 at the United States Post Office Building in Baltimore, Maryland, Dowdy appeared before a grand jury for testimony. He adamantly denied any clandestine meetings with Clark in Atlanta, Georgia and also rejected the accusation that he received money from Cohen in the amount of $25,000. According to the grand jury indictment, Cohen and Clark “did unlawfully, willfully and knowingly combine, conspire, confederate and agree together and with each other within the Sate and District of Maryland and elsewhere to commit offenses against the United States.” On September 22, 1965, Cohen and Clark did knowingly, directly and indirectly, give to Dowdy compensation in exchange for Dowdy’s help with the Monarch federal investigation. Using maps that recreated the Atlanta airport, Clark described the supposed clandestine meeting between Dowdy, Clark, and Jack Levitt, another Monarch associate. Dowdy’s plane would land for ten to fifteen minutes in Atlanta, so Clark suggested that short layover as the opportunity to deliver the money. Levitt was in charge of the briefcase and Clark intercepted Dowdy. Levitt set the brief case down between Clark and Dowdy. After a short, general conversation, Dowdy rose to leave and took possession of the briefcase full of money.
Dowdy’s testimony covers his financial statements and exhibits related to deposits made in or around September and October 1965. Dowdy testified that he never met Cohen or Clark in Atlanta, nor did he accept money there on September 22, 1965.
Leonard Wilson was called as a defense witness with the goal of providing Dowdy an alibi. At the time, Wilson was working as executive secretary of the Citizens Councils of Alabama, a nonpartisan political organization. The Citizens Councils of Alabama was also one of the most infamous, racist groups in the United States. This organization shared political philosophies with Dowdy, and wanted to help fund the Congressman’s reelection campaign. Contradicting testimony from Clark and Cohen, Wilson testified that he met Dowdy at the Atlanta, Georgia airport on September 22, 1965 and gave Dowdy $500 as a campaign contribution. Sachs characterized Wilson as a meticulous recorder or information, especially that of which concerned Wilson’s calls, appointments, and travel habits. Wilson normally recorded appointment information in a book and/or call log.
Sachs questioned Wilson intently on Wilson’s whereabouts on September 22, 1965. Wilson maintained that he worked in the Montgomery, Alabama office of Citizens Councils of Alabama, then made a trip to Atlanta, Georgia to meet Dowdy. After the Atlanta airport meeting, Wilson says he returned to Montgomery and worked until 11 p.m. that night. However, Sachs pointed out to Wilson that in the daily reports Wilson was required to submit to the Citizens Councils of Alabama there was no mention of the Atlanta trip. Nor was there a recording of the $500 campaign contribution in the daily reports or appointment book. Sachs established that the only meeting Wilson had the week of September 21, 1965 that was not recorded in either his daily reports or appointment book was the supposed Atlanta meeting with Dowdy.
Wilson’s appointment book remained in question for much of his testimony. After Dowdy had been indicted, there was a meeting between the Congressman, defense attorneys, and Wilson. Wilson’s appointment book was given to Dowdy and his attorneys with the goal to store the book at Dowdy’s office for use in the trial. However, Wilson’s appointment book was stolen according to Dowdy. Wilson had, coincidently, made copies of the entries surrounding the September 22, 1965 date. Sachs brought up the possibility that the copies of the entries had been adulterated once Dowdy was indicted.
Sachs used another witness to show how Congressman Dowdy attempted to cover up his actions on September 22, 1965. On November 22, 1971 the prosecution called Mrs. Vernice Parrott to the witness stand. In 1965 she was vice president at the Altrusa Club, a service club for women. In the fall of 1965 Mrs. Parrott had invited Dowdy to speak to her organization. The two exchanged a series of letters of which Mrs. Parrott maintained copies. Sachs entered all the letters into evidence.
Mrs. Parrott testified that after Dowdy spoke to her group she had no more contact with him until March 1970. At that time, and around the time of Dowdy’s federal indictment, Dowdy approached Mrs. Parrott in her Nacogdoches office. He wanted to know when he had given his speech to her group. Mrs. Parrott produced the letters that had been exchanged between her and the Congressman establishing the date of the speech as September 23, 1965. Using Mrs. Parrott, Sachs was able to establish that Dowdy was attempting to recreate a timeline of his events in September of 1965 and establish an alibi.
Myrvin Clark testified as a witness for the government on November 22, 1971. Sachs set the scene for Clark’s rendezvous with Dowdy in Atlanta. Sachs initially had Clark recount their initial meetings with regards to Monarch and assisting Cohen avoid prosecution. The first meeting of this sort happened sometime in the middle of September 1965. Clark had been instructed by Cohen to set up a meeting with Dowdy to test the waters of Cohen obtaining immunity in the Monarch case. Clark and Cohen discussed how much money it would cost to bribe Dowdy. It was at this time that Dowdy guessed that it would take $25,000.
On December 30, 1971 after eight hours of testimony, Dowdy was found guilty on all eight counts of bribery, conspiracy, and perjury. The maximum sentence under the eight counts was forty years in prison and a $40,000 fine. Dowdy’s attorneys immediately made arrangements to begin the appeals process. He was permitted to remain free as the appeals process took place. Judge Roszel C. Thomsen sentenced Dowdy to eighteen months in jail and a $25,000 fine. The lighter sentence was due in part to Dowdy’s age and declining health.
For his part, Dowdy vowed to continue his Congressional term pending the legal motions. Less than a month after his convictions, the New York Times called for Dowdy to resign. In a somewhat pitiful attempt at clearing his name, Dowdy protested his innocence before a nearly empty House in October of 1972. The Congressman spoke for almost an hour before three other members of Congress. He proclaimed that his honor and integrity were under vicious assault.
Dowdy’s wife, J.D., campaigned for Dowdy’s vacant Congressional spot. John Dowdy, Jr., recalled that he thought J.D. was the driving force behind his father’s career. John Jr. remembered J.D. as a very independent woman with an entrepreneurial spirit. J.D. lost her congressional campaign. John Dowdy passed away on April 12, 1995 and is buried in the Oaklawn Cemetery in Athens, Henderson County, Texas.
Across a thorough investigation, grand jury testimonies, and pointed trial questions, Congressman Dowdy and other witnesses left little doubt that Dowdy accepted a $25,000 bribe from Cohen and Monarch Construction Corporation. Sachs knew that the moment he questioned Wilson about Wilson’s whereabouts on September 22, 1965, that Dowdy’s ability to out-maneuver the court was over. Also, with the believable testimony of Clark, Sachs was able to explain the reasons why Dowdy needed the money.
The Dowdy trial is important today because it examines the first instance of a Congressman being found guilty of a felony. Dowdy’s white-collar crime no doubt shocked his constituents in east Texas. His court reporting and District Attorney career reflect the Democratic beliefs and values of many people living in the Eastern District of Texas during the 1940s and 1950s.
 Brief Bio, John Dowdy Papers, Baylor University, page 1.
 Ibid., page 1.
 "Confession of T.M. Hobbs," April 5, 1942 Van Zandt County John Dowdy Papers, Poage Legislative Library, Baylor University, Waco, TX. Box 524, File 108 and “Confession of Jim M Sims,” April 4, 1942 Van Zandt County John Dowdy Papers, Poage Legislative Library, Baylor University, Waco, TX. Box 524, File 108.
Legislative Library, Baylor University, Waco, TX. Box 524, File 108 and "Confession of Jim M.
Sims," April 5, 1942 Van Zandt County John Dowdy Papers, Poage Legislative Library, Baylor
University, Waco, TX. Box 524, File 108.
 Voluntary Statement by Clyde Moore to John Dowdy, John Dowdy Papers, Baylor University, Box 528, File 170.
 “Negro Given Death In Assault Case,” The Dallas Morning News, Wednesday, February 27, 1946 John Dowdy Papers, Baylor University, Box 528, File 170.
 “Clyde Moore Sentenced to Die at Huntsville April 8,” Newspaper article, March 15, 1946 John Dowdy Papers, Baylor University, Box 528, File 170.
 “Bail Denied Man Charged in Rape,” Newspaper article, John Dowdy Papers, Baylor University.
 “Jimmy Richardson v. State, Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, 158 Tex. Crim. 536; 257 S.W.2d 308; 1953 Tex. Crim. App. LEXIS 1683.
 John Dowdy, Jr. interviewed by James Sims.
 Campaign literature, January 1, 1952, John Dowdy Papers, Baylor University, Box 500, page 1.
 “First Athens Congressman Elected Since Civil War,” Tyler Courier-Times-Telegraph, August 31, 1952, John Dowdy Papers, Baylor University, Box 487, File 6.
 Brief Bio, John Dowdy Papers, Baylor University, page 2.
 David K. Johnson, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government (Chicago, 2004.), Chapter 8, “Homosexual Citizens” 179-193.
 John Dowdy, “The Mounting Scandal of Urban Renewal,” Reader’s Digest, March 1964, 51-57.
 Brief Bio, John Dowdy Papers, Baylor University, page 1.
 Trial Testimony, Nathan Cohen, November 10, 1971, John Dowdy Papers, Baylor University, File 290.
 Trial Testimony, Clark and Pope, March 18, 1970, John Dowdy Papers, Baylor University, File 290.
 Trial Testimony, Nathan Cohen, November 10, 1971, John Dowdy Papers, Baylor University, File 290.
 Dowdy Trial Indictment, March 31, 1970, John Dowdy Papers, Baylor University, Box 589, File 291.
 Dowdy Transcript, Leonard Wilson, December 2, 1971, John Dowdy Papers, Baylor University.
 Dowdy Transcript – Parrott and Clark, November 22, 1971, John Dowdy Papers, Baylor University.
 “Congressman Convicted,” Time January 10, 1972 Vol. 99 Issue 2, p17. 1p.
 “Rep. Dowdy Gets 18 Months, $25,000 Fine in Bribery Case,” New York Times (1923 – Current file); February 24, 1972; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg 26.
 “Dowdy Convicted of Taking a Bribe: Representative From Texas Could…” New York Times (1923 – Current file); December 31, 1971; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 1.
 “Resignation Requested,” New York Times (1923 – Current file): January 16, 1972; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. E14.
 “Dowdy Protests Innocence Before Nearly Empty House,” New York Times (1923 – Current file); October 15, 1972; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 61.