The red Camaro and the red Corvette sped head-on toward each other on Cherry Avenue in Orange. It was a show-down of good and evil.
The bad guy in the Corvette swerved at the last split second. But the ‘Vette was hit and mortally wounded. It crashed a couple of minutes later at the west end of MacArthur Circle.
The drama happened on a cool March evening thirty years ago.
Orange County Constable Jack Thompson driving his custom Camaro patrol car hit the stolen car driven by serial killer Michael Lee Lockhart. At the time, Thompson didn’t know Lockhart had tortured and murdered at least two teenage girls. Thompson was after a cop killer.
Thirty minutes before the chase through Orange, Lockhart had shot and killed Beaumont police officer Paul Hulsey Jr. in a motel where the officer had tracked down the stolen Corvette. Hulsey was a graduate of Little Cypress-Mauriceville High School. His father, Paul Sr., had been chief of the Orange Police Department from 1976-1980.
But as Thompson and other law officers across Orange County chased the Corvette, they didn’t know the name of the officer, just that he was a brother in blue.
Lockhart was executed in Texas in December 1997 for killing Hulsey. He also had two other death sentences. One from Indiana for killing a 16-year-old girl, and the other from Florida, for killing a 14-year-old girl. He once bragged of killing two dozen girls and some compared him to another serial killer, Ted Bundy.
Thompson is now deceased, but his daughter, Christie Thompson, who provided the photo above, remembers the details of the chase on March 22, 1988. She was a dispatcher for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and listening to the action. Marty Dumas was the dispatcher working the radio communications between patrol cars.
“It was crazy” that night, Christie said. She was working the telephones in the dispatch office. When word came that the man who killed a police officer was heading eastbound on Interstate 10, she called Louisiana Troop D in Lake Charles. They said he wouldn’t get through. They would stop him.
Nobody expected the Corvette, going faster than 100 mph, to turn off in Orange.
Texas Attorney General Dan Morales wrote a synopsis of Lockhart’s crime for the execution. Morales wrote that Orange County Deputy John Friend saw the Corvette on the interstate and started chasing it. Lockhart turned off the interstate into Orange.
“Some people say 16th Street, others say Simmons Drive,” Christie Thompson said about Lockhart’s path. She thinks it was Simmons Drive.
No matter what the exact exit was, Lockhart raced through downtown and the residential Old Orange Historic District.
That afternoon, Orange County Commissioners Court had officially sold Orange Memorial Hospital to the Baptist Hospital group. News reporters working late to complete that story heard the emergency chatter on the police scanner. The high-speed chase could be heard roaring down Front Street, then headed north.
Lockhart managed to turn westbound, perhaps off of 10th Street, onto Cherry Avenue. Thompson was going east on Cherry and was determined to stop the killer.
Christie Thompson said her father later told her as he was driving toward the Corvette, he was thinking how he was going to roll out of the car with his gun and which of the drivers would be shooting first. Then Thompson realized nobody would be rolling out of a car for action if the two crashed.
She was hearing her father on the police radio bands describing how he was going to stop the killer head-on.
Lockhart, though, swerved. The Camaro hit the Corvette, but Lockhart still sped away. He got to MacArthur Drive and continued west before wrecking the car at a building on the old MacArthur Drive traffic circle.
In another twist, the crashed car was at a commercial building rented by the Huel Fontenot for Sheriff campaign. Fontenot, who won election that year, was running against Sheriff James Wade, who at the time was under FBI investigation for conspiracy to make and sell drugs.
Lockhart, who was 28 years old, jumped out of the crashed Corvette and ran across Strickland Drive. He disappeared into woods behind Orange Memorial Hospital.
In a book published in 1997, writer Jaye Slade Fletcher detailed Lockhart’s life and crimes. She reported some people speculated the he may have kept a journal about his murders and tossed the account into those woods.
The book, “A Perfect Gentleman,” also talked about Lockhart’s good looks and charming personality.
That charm got him a ride back to Beaumont. Lockhart went eastward through the undeveloped wooded area behind MacArthur Drive Shopping Center and to what was then the K-Mart (now Big Lots) shopping center.
A local family had an ice cream shop in the center. Lockhart walked into the shop and wanted to get a taxi. When he learned Orange did not have a taxi service, he offered a young man in the shop $50 to drive him to Beaumont.
Probably every law officer from any local, state or federal agency in Orange County was looking for Lockhart. He was casually getting a ride back to Beaumont.
Lockhart got dropped at the Bennigan’s restaurant in Beaumont where he got someone to call a taxi for him. He gave the cab driver a $100 bill to drive him to Houston.
By that time, police had tracked Lockhart’s path to the ice cream shop and learned he was going back to Beaumont.
Attorney Morales’ account says Lockhart was tracked down and soon the cab was followed by Beaumont police. They stopped him at the Old-Lost River.
Morales wrote Lockhart told police “I’m the one you want. I’m the one you’re looking for.”
Christie Thompson said her father’s Camaro was damaged. The next day he went to his credit union and to get a new Camaro. He chose an IROC (International Race of Champions) model and swore he would never let another cop killer get away from him.
She said Jack Thompson had once raced stock cars. When she was growing up, the family would spend time at area tracks while her father raced his 1957 Chevy. She thinks he was learning the skills for a high-speed chase with a serial killer.
Jack Thompson’s encounters with Lockhart weren’t over with the arrest. Lockhart’s murder trial for killing Hulsey was moved to San Antonio on a change of venue.
Thompson testified in the case and was sitting on the witness stand when Lockhart tried another escape. The killer was sitting at his defense table with no handcuffs and shackles, though armed deputies were there.
Suddenly, Lockhart bolted up and jumped out of a third-story window of the Bexar County Courthouse. He landed on a roof two stories down. After going to a hospital for treatment to his injuries, he was returned to the courthouse for trial.
He never left custody again.
Christie Thompson said her father was doing his job like other peace officers do.
“The heroes are Paul Hulsey Jr. and all the police officers who hold the line against good and evil every day,” she said.
-Margaret Toal, KOGT-