PODCASTS

‘Ransom: Position of Trust’: Finding McKay

May 29, 2024, 1:02 PM

Photo of Hilton Crawford's home in Conroe, Texas taken in 1995. Courtesy of Montgomery County Sheri...

Photo of Hilton Crawford's home in Conroe, Texas taken in 1995. (Montgomery County Sheriff's Department.)

(Montgomery County Sheriff's Department.)

Early on the morning of September 15th, two-and-a-half days after McKay had disappeared, the FBI got Irene Flores to break and confess that Hilton Crawford had recruited her as the ransom caller.

Within hours, the FBI gathered down the street from Hilton’s home at the Elementary School where Hilton’s wife taught. Concerned Hilton might barricade himself inside his home and transform the arrest into a shootout, they decided to wait for Hilton to leave for work.

As Crawford walked out of his front door, agents sped down his street, blocked his driveway, and made the arrest.

Hilton Crawford.

Hilton Crawford. (Texas Department of Corrections)

They handcuffed Hilton and brought him inside for questioning.

“To try to get him to talk to me, I was developing a theme that his wife and kids live in the community,” said FBI agent Bob Lee. “And how she was going to be perceived in the community depended in a large part on how he reacted right now. And he was cold, that had no no effect on him.”

Searching Crawford’s Home

Before long Hilton asked for a lawyer, so the questioning stopped, but officers searched Hilton and his home and they found a number of concerning items, including a shotgun and a revolver.

Gun found in the search of Hilton Crawford's home.

Gun found in the search of Hilton Crawford’s home. (The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department)

They also found two cellphones and a pager and a folder that contained dozens of credit cards and credit card statements that had been taken out in variations of Hilton’s name and his sons’ names.

In Hilton’s pockets they found a crumpled piece of paper with a telephone number scrawled on it. The number belonged to a man named Billy Allen.

Who was Billy Allen?

The FBI sent an agent to interview Allen, who — at first — said that he knew Hilton Crawford through horse racing, but he didn’t know anything about McKay or the kidnapping. But five minutes after the agent left, Allen called him back. Allen said he hadn’t been completely honest, and after consulting with his wife, he’d decided to come clean.

Allen said the morning after McKay disappeared, he returned home from an errand around 7:30 am and his wife told him Hilton had called trying to reach him. Allen called Hilton’s home and got through to Hilton’s wife Connie, who, Allen said, gave him a number where he could reach Hilton. Allen later testified about this in court:

11 Q. And what did you ask Connie Crawford?

12 [Allen]. I just told her Hilton was trying to call me. I

13 thought he was He was I didn’t know where he

14 was. I thought he was at home. And she said she had

15 a phone number where I could reach him.

16 Q. She had a phone number where you could reach him?

17 A. That’s what she said, yes. And she gave me a

18 phone number and I called that phone number, but I

19 didn’t get an answer.

20 Q. Was it a pager number or phone number, if you

21 know?

22 A. I can’t tell you. I don’t know.

Excerpt of Billy Allen/s testimony from trial transcript

Allen didn’t get through to Hilton when he called the number, so he went to work at the storage facility in Lumberton that he owned. He said a bit later, Hilton showed up there and said he needed to store something.

Hilton asks Allen for a favor

Allen told him that he had a personal locker that was open already, and told Hilton he was free to store whatever he needed there.

Allen was good friends with Hilton. He got Hilton into horse racing the year before and helped him get a horse. And Hilton had given Allen’s children and stepchildren jobs at his security community, so Allen may have felt like he owed Hilton a favor.

Hilton told Allen a bizarre story. Hilton said he’d gotten himself into a jam – He’d hired a guard that wasn’t certified to carry a gun, but he’d cut corners and given the guard his own gun. Then, as luck would have it, there was a break in and a shootout.

Allen said Hilton told him the guard was nicked in the arm – it wasn’t bad enough that he needed to go to the hospital, but it was bloody, and called Hilton to drive him to his parent’s house. Hilton said he had the man ride in the trunk of the car, so he wouldn’t get blood stains on his car’s upholstery – But there were now blood stains in the trunk Hilton told Allen he was worried that if anyone found out, he’d given the guard his gun he could lose his security guard business.

Allen said the two drove to a Walmart and bought a cleaning chemical to clean the blood stains. They drove back and parked in a more secluded part of the storage facility, where Hilton opened up the trunk, but the cleaner didn’t work, so instead Hilton pulled the carpeted lining out of his trunk.

7     Q.   Okay.  Now, is Mr. Crawford able to get the

8     spots of blood out of the pad, the carpet pad or the

9     lining in the trunk when he’s trying to do it with the

10     substance he had bought at WalMart?

11     A.   No.

12     Q.   What does he do then?

13     A.   That’s when he asked me if he could find a

14     screwdriver to take that lining out with.  I also got

15     tools in my truck, so I gave him one.

– Excerpt of Billy Allen/s testimony from trial transcript

Allen said that after Hilton peeled out the trunk lining, he asked Allen to store a large green bag. Then Hilton handed Allen a bottle of champagne wrapped in a towel and told Allen to give it to his wife.

Allen told the FBI agent that the next day, he’d gone back and looked inside the green bag. Inside was a 45-caliber semi-automatic pistol.

The Smith and Wesson Model 645, 45-caliber semi-automatic Pistol that Billy Allen said Hilton had left at his storage site.

The Smith and Wesson Model 645, 45-caliber semi-automatic Pistol that Billy Allen said Hilton had left at his storage site. (Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department.)

Paulette and Carl Hatch a Plan to Find McKay

McKay’s parents, Carl and Paulette Everett, were devastated to learn that McKay had been kidnapped by a close family friend – but it gave them hope, too. Surely, Crawford, the man McKay called Uncle Hilty, wouldn’t have hurt McKay.

Paulette went to speak with Hilton’s wife Connie, who Paulette had taught first-grade next to in the school building years earlier. Paulette urged her to go to the prison and plead with Hilton to let them know where McKay was. But it was a strange encounter – one that took on additional meaning as time progressed.

At the time, Connie was staying at her sister, Anne Marie’s, house. Months later, the FBI later asked Anne Marie to recount her memories of this encounter between Connie and Paulette.

Excerpt of voluntary witness statement by Connie Crawford's sister Anne Marie Mazzu

Excerpt of voluntary witness statement by Connie Crawford’s sister Anne Marie Mazzu.

Anne Marie said that Connie and Paulette hugged and cried. She described Connie as “hysterical,” and said that Connie “kept screaming that McKay was dead and why didn’t Hilton just kill himself,” but Anne Marie insisted that Connie was “going on an assumption” because detectives had told her they’d found blood in Hilton’s trunk.

Later in the day, Hilton’s sons Chris and Kevin visited him in prison, and the FBI interviewed Kevin about what Hilton had said, immediately afterward:

FBI report of what Kevin Crawford told an agent right after speaking with Hilton at the Montgomery County Jail.

FBI report of what Kevin Crawford told an agent right after speaking with Hilton at the Montgomery County Jail.

FBI report of what Kevin Crawford told an agent right after speaking with Hilton at the Montgomery County Jail.

Hilton told them that McKay was still alive in New Orleans, and he would be sent home to Houston on a bus any day now.

He also mentioned two more accomplices: a man named R. L. Remington who had masterminded the operation and another unnamed man, who Hilton told his sons had dressed up as a police officer and physically abducted McKay when McKay opened the door.

But although Hilton shared this story with his sons, he refused to say any more to law enforcement.

The Press Conference

On a televised press conference Carl Everett held a football that Hilton Crawford had given Mckay with the words 'From: Uncle Hilty' written on it. The actual audio from this press conference is featured in Episode 4.

On a televised press conference Carl Everett held a football that Hilton Crawford had given Mckay with the words ‘From: Uncle Hilty’ written on it. The actual audio from this press conference is featured in Episode 4. (Courtesy of KPRC-TV and provided by Texas Archive of the Moving Image, www.texasarchive.org)

Later that day, at a televised press conference, Carl Everett pleaded for Hilton to release McKay.

“Hilton, I still love you as I talk to you right now but help me get my son back,” said Carl, his voice cracking with emotion. “I know you would never harm my son. You loved him like your son because you gave him his ball. He called you Uncle Hilty … ”

To hear more of Carl’s plea to Hilton, and to learn how Sheriff Guy Williams convinced Hilton to lead law enforcement to McKay, listen to Ransom Episode 4 — Finding McKay:

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‘Ransom: Position of Trust’: Finding McKay