FORNEY, Tex. — At high noon, as Texas Ranger Lee Roy Young considers the Case of the Trash Can Bandit, he frowns down Farm Road 688 at the herd of Black Angus cattle grazing in a grove of mesquite and scrub oak.
That's where the outlaw buried his loot. The Ranger says the bandit broke into a bank one night and lugged away $1,000 in quarters. And now the cops can't prove he did it.
"The guy says the money is his life's savings," Young says. "Life savings, my foot."
Young, his Size 7 white Stetson tugged tight over his eyes, cruises Kaufman County in a lime-green Chevrolet Caprice, past Adams Drug Store, past Forney Auto Supply, past Grandma's Fried Chicken where gizzards sizzle on the grill.
"One riot, one Ranger," they used to say about the outfit that was as much a part of the Old West as six-guns and sagebrush.
But life today on the trail in Texas isn't what it used to be on the frontier, when Rangers fought bloody feuds and battled barbed-wire fence cutters, lynch mobs, cattle rustlers and killers.
These days, a Texas Ranger is more of a backwoods investigator, helping police and sheriffs in little places like Forney, population 4,200, tracking scoundrels like the Trash Can Bandit.
"This guy breaks into the bank over here one night last August and steals all those quarters," Young says. "Coins were all he could get into. He puts the money in a trash can and carries it across the field and buries it out there in the brush. Then he goes back to Dallas and leaves it out there for over three months."
The Texas Ranger's silver badge, a five-pointed lone star inside a circle, shines on his shirt over his heart.
"He comes back in December and gets the money. He puts it in two tote bags, and I mean two heavy tote bags. You ever tried to carry $1,000 in quarters? He tries to steal a car up here off the Interstate to carry his loot back into Dallas, and that's when he got caught."
The Texas Ranger's handcuffs hang from the hood latch down by his elephant-skin cowboy boots as his car crosses the east fork of the Trinity River, 21 miles southeast of Dallas.
"The guy's street-smart. He said, 'Prove it. Prove I stole that money.' A murderer will admit he's guilty quicker than a common old thief. We all know those coins came from that bank, but we never could take the case to a judge and a jury and say this guy did that crime. He wears gloves, see, so there's no fingerprints. We could never get any physical evidence to prove he did it. We had a lot of circumstantial evidence--coin wrappers and all those quarters, about the same amount of money that had been stolen from the bank. But that's no good in court."
The Texas Ranger's silver Colt .45 is holstered in leather on his left hip. A beeper rides his belt on the right.
"The guy's been to the state prison three times. We know that he knows that we know that he stole that money. We just can't prove it. So we've got to assume, on his word, that it's actually his life's savings."
The Texas Ranger rolls his eyes in disbelief up toward the top of the town water tower, where someone has painted, "I Love Louise."
Today's 95 Texas Rangers, members of the nation's oldest state law-enforcement organization, are known worldwide as tough, elite peacekeepers.
The Rangers are often compared to other famed forces--Scotland Yard, the FBI, Interpol and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A Ranger used to shoot first and ask questions later, but no more.
"In the old days, they wouldn't fool with this guy," Young says, laughing about the Trash Can Bandit. "Even 50 years ago, any policeman would have put him under a hot lamp, questioned him continuously for three days until he broke down and told the truth. They'd break out the rubber hoses. Under those conditions, you probably would have confessed to anything. I know I would have."
Young has been a law-enforcement officer for almost 15 years--14 as a state trooper, and the past year as the first black officer in the 166-year history of the Texas Rangers.
He's stationed at Ranger Company B headquarters in Garland, a suburb north of Dallas, and he's on the trail of a thief who stole 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel, another who got away with 50 TV sets, another who sold a couple of bales of marijuana, and another who stole $18,500 worth of tractors from a farm.
Texas Rangers are charged with four duties:
Protecting life and property by enforcing state criminal statutes;
Suppressing riots and insurrections;
Investigating major crimes;
A modern Ranger doesn't often run into a riot, however. More often than not, a typical duty is the Case of the Trash Can Bandit, and being a Ranger has its frustrations, as Young knows and can recount.