Caution. This article, a true story, contains graphic information and descriptions that could be disturbing to some people.
Anne Walsh was being kind and offered to make a sandwich for the monster who would kill her 43 years ago today, September 30, 1977.
In her memory, Dodie and I visited her grave at Saint Stanislaus Catholic Cemetery in Bandera, Texas. Although I never met her, it was my first time to pay respects.
Four decades ago, I was a 23-year-old private investigator on her murder case. This would be my first homicide assignment and the one that haunts me to this day.
On that ominous day in 1977, Mrs. Walsh returned home for lunch and paused at the front drive of her Babcock Road home to ask Joseph John Cannon if he was hungry.
Cannon had been using a sickle and clippers to cut weeds and hedges along the street entrance gate. It was a way to work in exchange for room and board.
“Wash up and I’ll make us some sandwiches,” Walsh said. “Maybe some lemonade.”
Cannon used a waterhose to wash himself off. He went to the bathroom, toweled off, and pulled a .22 caliber pistol he had hidden in his pocket.
He startled Walsh as she was bringing the sandwiches out of the kitchen. Seeing the gun in his hand, she tried to hide under the pool table.
“I shot her seven times,” Cannon told me. “I picked her up and pulled her out from under the pool table. I tried to screw her but I just couldn’t get it up enough. I panicked, grabbed her car and sped off.”
He wrecked the car into a fence at a small bar on the corner of Babcock and Huebner. Witnesses said he got out with a gun in his hand and ran into the woods (there’s a Church’s Chicken there today).
Shortly before noon on September 30, 1977, the body of Anne Walsh was found by San Antonio Police Officer Shelton Spears, lying in a pool of blood on the floor of her Bexar County home. She had suffered seven gunshot wounds. Three wounds were to the chest, one was to the center of the abdomen, and one to her head. The others were to her arms. The wounds and the paths of the bullets were consistent with someone standing over her and firing.
There was a large trail of smeared blood which indicated that the body had been dragged out from under a pool table where the deceased had crawled in an attempt to escape the shots. The blouse of her dress had been ripped open, her skirt had been pulled up to her waist and her panty hose had been ripped and pulled down to her knees.
Officer Spears found the body when he brought the appellant to the Walsh home. Appellant had been involved in an automobile wreck and had been arrested. Spears found the Ford Maverick vehicle registered to a member of the Walsh family, and suspecting it was stolen, took the appellant to the Walsh home to check out his story that he was in rightful possession of the vehicle.
Reserve Deputy Constable Robert Wenzel drove by the Walsh residence on September 30, 1977, and saw appellant in the white Ford Maverick.
Wenzel knew that the vehicle belonged to a Walsh family member and that appellant was not a family member. Wenzel drove on but watched the Maverick through his rear window of his automobile.
The Maverick suddenly lunged onto the road and proceeded in an erratic manner in the same direction as Wenzel was driving. The Maverick sped past Wenzel and Wenzel gave chase. The Maverick swerved from one side of the road to the other. The chase ended when the Maverick crashed into a chainlink fence beside “Al’s Corner,” a restaurant/bar.
Kenneth Kizer, a bartender, saw the appellant exit the Maverick after the crash and run across the road into a brush-covered field as he discarded his shirt.
Kizer called the San Antonio Police. Twenty minutes later appellant returned and entered the bar and bought a Coke. Appellant remained in the bar with Kizer and Wenzel until the police arrived.
Officer Spears took the appellant into custody, gave him the Miranda warnings, and then took him to the nearby Walsh home to check out his story about lawful possession of the Maverick. The body of Anne Walsh was then discovered. Other officers were called.
Later Spears transported appellant to the homicide division of the San Antonio Police Department. Later in the day after interrogation by Detective Frank Castillon, the appellant gave the officer a written statement which reads in part in its original form:
“I would like to say that I have been staying at 6048 Babcock for about a week now. I’am staying there because I’am on probation for burglary and my attorney arranged for me to stay with his sister Anne C. Walsh. My attorney;s name is Dan Carabin.
“Today about noon Anne returned home in a white car that I have never seen before. She drove into the drive way and went in the house. I was outside triming the bushes out front because she had asked me to do it the day before.
I guess I just went crazy because I went inside and got a gun off the bunk bed in the oldest boy’s bedroom.
The next thing I knew was that Anne was on the floor of the den crying and saying “please don’t shoot again” and I don’t know why but I kept shooting.
While I was shooting her she crawled under the pool table. I then pulled her out from under the pool table and ripped her cloths off. I then pulled my jeans down and got on top of her. I think she was dead at this time because she was bleeding alot and she was not moving or breathing.
I then got on top of Anne and tried to have sex with her. By this I mean I tried to screw her but I got peranoid and just could not do it. I then got up and pulled up my jeans and went to the kitchen where I found Anne’s purse on the counter.
I took three or four dollars and two fifty dollar travelers checks and ran out the side door. I got into the white car Anne was driving and drove off real fast. As I was going out the gate I almost hit a car on abcock Road. At this time a man in a green car started chasing me. He chased me down the street until I ran into fense near the bar at the corner.
I got out of the car and jumped a fense and ran into a field were I took my shirt off and threw it. I also burried the traverliers checks under some brush in the field. After that I walked out of the field and back to the car. I don’t know why I did this I guess I wanted to get caught.
I would like to say that before Anne came home I wentinto the oldest son’s bedroom and saw all of these shotguns, rifles and guns on the bunk bed and just went crazy and started throwing them around. I think one of the went through the window.
While I was in the bedroom I found a gun in a holster with bullets already in thegun. I left the holster on the bed and put the gun my pants. From there I went out into the yard and cut the bushes.
I also would like to say that I found the gun in theholster while I was looking for coins under the matress of the lower bunk. The coins I took are the same coins I had on me when you took them off me.
“I would like to say that before I told you I went into the bedroom and got the gun after Anne got home But the truth is I had already got the gun before Anne came home.
I would like to tell you that I did this because I go crazy sometime and just a couple of nights ago I woke up in early hours in themorning I was very sick and something inside kept telling me to kill everyone in thehouse while they slept.
Again I went to tell you that I don’t know why I did this but I have been sick for a long time and I was hit by a car when I was four years old and from then on I have been in nothing but trouble.
I had no gruge or any reason to kill Anne in fact she went out of her way to be nice to me. I do not know to read and Det. Castillon told me that julia smith would read this to me and I have read this and find it to be true and correct to thebest of my knowledge.” (All spelling and punctuation as it appears in original.)
When I asked him about the gun in 1980, he said he tossed it in the woods. Later I took a metal detector out there with Cannon, sheriff deputies and media. Thinking he would attempt escape, he was cuffed on his ankles and wrists. We never found a weapon.
He confessed later the gun was not there and indeed, his intent was to leave the jail and run.
“I couldn’t run with those shackles,” Cannon yelled at me as he reached across a table of the prisoner holding room table in the Bexar County Courthouse. He grabbed a pencil out of my shirt pocket and tried to stab me with it.
I knocked the hell out of him. He fell out of his chair and yelled. Bailiff Horace Gonzalez heard the scuffle and rushed in to help me subdue him.
In 2016, I released new information in the case of Joseph John Cannon, the murderer. I was the private investigator in the first trial, hired by Bexar County to gather evidence for the Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office and the defendant’s attorney.
The information cast a fresh look at the murder trial that reached the Supreme Court, prompted reaction from the Pope, and caused a national debate about executing someone who committed such a crime at age 17.
If Cannon was alive today, he would have turned 60 on January 13, 2020. But on April 22, 1998 the 38 year-old ate his last meal. Cannon ordered “fried chicken, barbecue ribs, baked potato, green salad with Italian dressing, chocolate cake or chocolate ice cream or both, a thick chocolate shake or malt and iced tea.”
The meal was delivered in the afternoon, not long after he entered a holding room located about 30 feet from where he was set to die. While eating, little did Cannon know that 160 miles away, at the State Capitol, Texas Governor George W. Bush had received pleas from Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa, and members from the Parliament in Italy, to stop the execution.
About 3 p.m. Warden Jim Willett reviewed the file of Cannon, known as inmate 634. Willett said he prayed for Cannon and asked “God to make this a smooth and trouble-free day for him.”
By 4 p.m. Willett entered the holding cell to find that Cannon had completed his meal. He verified that Cannon would make a last statement as this would help the warden cue the execution’s commencement. Chaplain Jim Brazel stayed with Cannon while Willett went back to the office.
Wayne Scott, the director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, along with a few regional and deputy directors waited with Willett until about 5:45 when they received a phone call from Gov. Bush’s office confirming they could proceed. Shortly afterwards, the State’s attorney general’s office called to ratify the execution.
Willett walked down the hall to the cell holding Cannon and the chaplain.
“Inmate Cannon,” Willett announced, “it’s time for you to go into the next room with me.”
Cannon stood up and followed Willett without saying a word. When Cannon reached the doorway to the 9-by-12-foot death chamber, he paused. No one knows what was going through Cannon’s mind at the moment, but what he saw was a tie down team of corrections officers waiting for him in the light green room with white floors and brown coving.
He immediately walked to the gurney and laid down. The team began strapping Cannon in place with five yellowish-tan straps buckled across him.
Looking up, he could see a 2-by-6 foot rectangle fixture crossing over him, casting light. As the straps began to tighten, he observed to the left of the light. Coming out of the ceiling, was a dark escutcheoned conduit bent to the right and downward so a microphone could record his last words.
Looking downward to his left, Cannon saw the executioner’s room through a window. He closed his eyes, then gazed to his right. There were two curtained windows, both with light green colored jail bars. Each window represented two separate rooms, one for his family, and one for the victim’s family to watch him being executed.
Knowing Cannon was securely strapped, Warden Willett stood at the head of the inmate. The chaplain stood at his feet.
Two members of the medical team entered the room, while the third member, the executioner, stayed in the room to Cannon’s left.
Typically, the medical team takes about five to ten minutes to insert and secure two IVs into an inmate, with one serving as a backup. Willet and the chaplain could tell the medical techs were having difficulty as the female tech prodded and poked Cannon’s arm.
Later, Willett would admit it was the longest IV preparation he’d ever witnessed. It took over 20 minutes before the technician peered up and asked, “Warden, I think we’ve got a good one in this arm. Can we go with just the one?” Willett nodded affirmatively and the technician left the room.
Cannon gazed at the IV in his arm and looked right to see people entering the first witness viewing room. Through the window, Cannon saw his mother, Mary Hale. He looked at her with no expression. When someone nudged her she moved in closer to the plate glass window.
Cannon then looked over to the next window as members of his victim’s family entered their viewing room. It was the first time some of them had seen Joseph John Cannon since the day he brutally murdered their mother.
The five sons of Anne C. Walsh noticed the man strapped to the gurney appeared far different from the way he looked in 1977. After spending decades in prison, Cannon was now haggard and weighed far more than when he was 17, the age he decided to leave his home in Houston to hitchhike to Las Vegas, Nevada.
Mrs. Walsh was a San Antonio attorney when she was killed. Her brother, Dan Carabin, also an attorney, had represented Cannon in a burglary case and persuaded her to let him live at her home in September 1977 so he could remain on probation and avoid jail.
“The good Samaritan story was turned upside down by him,” said Paul Canales, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted Cannon in the second trial. “He’s the type of guy that makes you want to lock your doors and not pick up hitchhikers.”
Cannon had already made his final statement and goodbyes when the first injection began.
After closing his eyes momentarily, he turned toward a window where witnesses were standing.
“It’s come undone,” he said, referring to his IV.
Prison officials then shut a drape that blocked him from witnesses.
Witnesses were led outside, where they waited for 15 minutes while prison officials worked to establish another injection.
“I kind of lost my cool a while ago,” a smiling Cannon said, greeting witnesses as they entered a second time.
During a second round of final statements, witnesses for Cannon cried and prayed together.
During his trials there was a claim Cannon was not in full possession of his faculties when he killed Walsh.
At 4, Cannon had been hit by a car, resulting in severe head injuries. Beginning at age 7, he was subjected to constant sexual abuse and beatings from his stepfather and grandfather.
At 9, he had pushed a boy into a Louisiana bayou. The boy drowned. At age 10, he was hospitalized for sipping gasoline to get high. At age 15, he was diagnosed as psychotic and attempted suicide by drinking insecticide.
As the investigator, I was tasked by Attorney William G. Brown in 1980 to find witnesses including Cannon’s mother. I traced her as hitchhiking, accepting rides at trucks stops on IH10 and 87 in exchange for food, booze and companionship.
After a two day search, with only a photo and conversations with truck stop employees, I found Cannon’s mother at a dance hall in San Angelo, Texas.
When I interviewed his mother, she admitted she had suffered beatings and rapes by her father, Joseph’s grandfather. On the drive back to San Antonio, she told me she feared her pregnancy with Joseph could actually be the product from a rape by her father.
“He had me chained and tied outside to a tree,” she cried. “He beat me so much I thought I’d die right there. He was drunk and finally let me go. I got out of there and made it to Houston and never went back. This might be why he’s so crazy. He takes after his grandpa, my daddy.”
I took this information to Brown and prosecutor Larry Souza. We then went into Judge Mike Machado’s chamber to present it to him.
“Is there any collaborative testimony or evidence to support what she says?,” the judge asked.
Both attorney’s agreed, they didn’t know of any.
“Let’s see what she testifies–what is brought about under oath,” Judge Machado said and dismissed us.
It was never mentioned again.
Eighteen years later, Cannon spoke to Walsh’s family.
“I’m sorry for what I did to your mom,” he said to five sons of victim Anne Walsh, all of whom attended the execution. “I am sorry for all of you. I love you all. I thank you all for being kind to me when I was small.”
After Cannon finally died from the injection, reactions of Mrs. Walsh’s sons were terse.
Son Christopher Walsh made a statement to the media, “Job well-done, end of story.”
Their sister Stephani Walsh, who later became a judge in Bexar County, said her brothers were not emotionally prepared for Cannon’s execution.
“There was closure but it was traumatic,” Walsh said. “And it did create another anniversary date.”