The Murder That Wasn’t: The Strange Saga of a Vanishing Texan

James Brock was a stranger to Texas in 1877. Arriving in the town of Fort Griffin with his cousins, Frank and Ed Woosley, Brock stuck out like a sore thumb. He didn’t talk a lot to the locals, and his stovepipe hat was considered unusual attire. He would soon be accused of murder.

Another source of irritation for the locals was the fact that the family co-owned one of the best plots of land in the area. They bought it cheap, back when folks were suffering Indian attacks. When the Indian attacks started to dwindle, the land’s value skyrocketed.

The family used the land for ranching. Brock claimed to be the first man to introduce shorthorn cattle west of the Mississippi River. He crossbred shorthorns with longhorns to increase the viability of the stock.

Brock held another ambition. He worked hard to become one of the few licensed traders at Fort Griffin. So, he was responsible for a lot of the town’s commerce. Again, this caused a lot of jealousy toward the man. All of that prosperity didn’t help the family get along any better. The three relatives argued about everything. Fort Griffin knew all about it. You can’t keep a big secret in a small town.

Then Frank Woosley disappeared in 1877. He was out doing chores, and then just vanished and never came back. No sign of him was found.

Multiple search parties looked for Frank. Ed Woosley posted a $1000 reward for anyone who could provide any sort of information as to his brother’s whereabouts. That was a sizeable sum back then. The reward was unclaimed.


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Folks started murmuring. Ugly rumors started floating around town. The general consensus of the townsfolk was that there had been a murder. James Brock was the prime suspect. Even the Woosley family believed that Brock killed Frank. They convinced the local authorities to hold Brock.

Brock’s defense was that there was no murder, Frank Woosley was still alive, and that the whole thing was a set-up. Apparently, the contract between the three family members stipulated that if Brock were to die for any reason, Frank and Ed would have control of the ranch. That included Brock being hanged for murder.

Despite his protects, Brock came close to being convicted for murder. Only one juror disagreed, saying there was no body and no evidence. But that’s all it takes. Brock was freed.

In those circumstances, being in jail may have been safer. Lynching was common back then, and the Fort Griffin townsfolk had their own ideas of justice.

The Texas Rangers literally saved James Brock’s neck, protecting him from the mob. Saving people from angry mobs kept the Rangers busy in 1877. They stopped 11 lynchings across the state that week alone.

Unfortunately, the Rangers didn’t protect Brock’s long-time black ranch hand, Nick Williams. Ed Woosley led the mob who captured Williams. They threatened him with certain death, unless he “confessed” to helping Brock kill Frank Woolsey. Three times, they placed a noose around his neck. Three times, he denied any sort of wrongdoing and said he wasn’t going to lie to save himself. Finally, they let him go.

Of course, it didn’t take much time for more trouble to start for Brock. Some of his fellow ranchers accused him of cattle theft. The charges were baseless, and he was able to beat them. Even so, he clearly wasn’t wanted in Fort Griffin.

About this time, Ed Woosley died of natural causes. Brock became the sole owner of the ranch and sold it in a hurry. He moved out of the area and got into real estate.


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But Brock never believed that Frank Woolsey was dead. So, he circulated flyers nationwide and started a one-person manhunt to find his cousin.

James Brock spent a fortune—his fortune—to prove he wasn’t a murderer. There were all sorts of false hopes. Pat Garrett, the slayer of Billy The Kid, once telegraphed Brock to let him know he captured Frank on a raid. That turned out to be a false lead.

Finally, in 1891, fourteen years after being accused of murder, James Brock got a telegram from a police detective. He was claiming to have found Frank Woolsey. The pair got a team together and rode to Augusta, Arkansas.

Brock arrived to find that the man, while fitting the description, was not Frank Woolsey. Getting discouraged, he decided to stop off at the railroad depot and turn in a six-shooter he was carrying. Firearms weren’t permitted in the town limits, and Brock didn’t want to do anything illegal.

He was just in the process of handing his firearm over to the railway agent when he happened to look out the window. A man was standing on the station platform, waiting for a train. Who might that man be?

Why, Frank Woolsey, of course.

Brock ran out of the station office, with the six-shooter in hand. He informed Frank Woolsey that, if he didn’t want to really meet his maker, that he would come down to Texas and clear all of this mess up.

Frank agreed. It’s amazing how amenable a man can be when a gun’s in his face.


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When Frank came back to Fort Griffin, he explained that he fell asleep under a tree after his chores were done. When he came to, he found himself in Arkansas two years later. It must have been a heck of a nap. He later claimed that he was disoriented by sunstroke.

Because his two years of amnesia had been rough on him financially, he felt ashamed to go back home once his memory had come back. For some reason, Frank thought that his parents and family wouldn’t miss him a bit. In modern language, he must have had self-esteem issues.

As fishy as this story seems, folks accepted it. Some people even apologized to James Brock for accusing him of murder, including members of the lynch mob who tried to hang him. That’s neighborly of them.

James Brock died in 1913, at the age of 68. He had spent all of the money he made off the sale of the ranch chasing Frank, so he passed away in poverty.

At the end of his life, he lived in El Paso. There, he was known as an honest man and a happy man. But he was not known as a murderer.

Written by Paul Ehrlich