Monthly Archives: August 2013

Dentoning….a tragedy

On September 25, 1977, I had been home for just a few minutes after spending the day with my girlfriend at the time, Janice, when I got a panicked call from her. All she could say was “Suzie is missing”. Suzie Mages was her 12 year old cousin whom we saw almost daily. I really didn’t think much of it, it wasn’t dark out yet and Suzie was adventuresome. I said, “what do you mean ‘missing?’”, thinking she had wondered next door or that there was some kind of miscommunication within the very close family. Janice went on to tell me that Suzie and her mother, Mary, had been doing laundry near the intersection of Avenue C and Eagle Dr…..Mary left for a minute and when she got back Suzie was gone.

Suzie

Suzie

Mary had given Suzie money to get a shake at the Burger King across the parking lot from the laundromat. That was the last place Suzie was seen alive. I rushed back to Janice’s house and was confronted by the sight of Suzie’s parents, Janice’s parents and Father Joseph Shumacher of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church huddled up around the kitchen table. Most were crying and Father Schumacher was doing his best to console everyone present. I sat down and got caught up on what had happened. It didn’t sound good. What I had imagined to be a sweet little tomboy roaming, suddenly turned into what truly became a nightmare.

We sat and discussed what had happened and what needed to happen as family members joined the group…….and the horror. The shock of that night is somewhat a blur, but I’m sure the police came and talked to us and we all split up and started to search. Janice and I initially drove around UNT (NTSU at the time) in my 1950 Studebaker and slowly expanded our search area to any place we could think of where Suzie might have gone. We spent most of that night creeping around town, looking through parking lots, down alleys, in cars and around buildings.

The next morning the news had become known in what was then a smaller, more innocent Denton. The police came by Janice’s home and told us what they didn’t know and what they planned to do. They, of course, asked questions about the possibility of Suzie being a runaway, about drug use, boyfriends, family problems, etc……none of which fit Suzie. It was immediately considered an abduction. Friends, family and strangers began to congregate and we started a somewhat unorganized, 9 day search effort in addition to what the Denton Police Department was doing.

We had “missing” posters printed immediately and began to plaster them on the front window of every business, school, and building we could. We split into groups and covered an area within 60 miles or so of Denton. Being a college town, Denton was ripe with suspects. The DPD questioned numerous people we thought of and some we didn’t. In what is a common practice in cases like this, even Suzie’s father, Del, was questioned. No strong suspect surfaced. We continued to look, going as far as to break into deserted farm houses around Denton.

At one point, Suzie’s gymnastics teacher, Buddy, went with his girlfriend to visit a blind woman reported to have psychic abilities. The woman lived in Celina, to the east of Denton, and Buddy and friend went without calling ahead. The couple walked up to the woman’s door and knocked. She eventually answered the door and before Buddy could say a word, said, ” I know why you’re here, you’re here because of Suzie”. Buddy and his friend were stunned, but all the more hopeful that the woman could lead the searchers to Suzie. The woman told them that she envisioned Suzie with two men in a light-colored car. She “saw” them driving and then said Suzie was in water.

For those long nine days and nights, MANY people searched, posted flyers, supported the family and prayed for Suzie’s safe return. On the tenth day, a woman going to fish in a gravel quarry just south of downtown Dallas, found Suzie’s lifeless body floating in the pit. The family, friends and town as a whole, were crushed. A truly sweet, loving, innocent daughter, sister, cousin and friend was senselessly taken away. The police continued their investigation, now with additional evidence from the crime scene, but a rock solid suspect or suspects never materialized. It is an open case to this day. The end was ravaging to those of us who knew Suzie and to those who felt like they had come to know her during the search. Denton had lost some of its innocence.

The funeral was extremely emotional for everyone. No one ever expects to lose someone close to murder………especially someone so young. I was a pallbearer at the Suzie’s funeral and unfortunately had a front row seat to the sadness and tragedy of those two days in October. It goes without saying that the family was devastated, which ripped my heart out knowing them as I did. Suzie’s school friends also took it very hard. No one 11-12 years old should have a friend taken from them in such a horrible manner. Suzie was laid to rest, alone, at Roselawn Cemetery.

Suzie Mages gravestone

Rumors and ideas continued to fly around Denton for months after. I went to a funeral with Suzie’s mother, Mary, of a young girl killed at an area lake. Thinking the two murders might be connected, we went to see if anyone who might have known Suzie showed up. The trip was unproductive. I also went to see the Medical Examiner with Suzie’s parents, Del and Mary and her older cousin, Tina when he gave them his official report. Suzie had gotten a strawberry shake at Burger King the day she went missing,……the ME told us that he’d found strawberry seeds in her stomach and had thus ruled that she died the day she disappeared. (It was misreported in the Denton Record-Chronicle that she’d bought a purple popsicle) This fact was somewhat comforting in that we then knew Suzie had not suffered for days, and that her fright, torment and anguish had not lasted more than that one day. He also told us that there was no evidence of sexual abuse which was also somewhat comforting.

In an odd twist, I recently learned something I did not know at the time. In Donna Fielder’s book, “Ladykiller”, the author claims that Bobby Lozano, a Denton cop who murdered his wife in 2002, was Suzie’s “sweetheart” at the time of her murder. I’m not calling this into question, I just do not recall Suzie ever talking about a “Bobby” or any boy for that matter.

The loss of Suzie was a crushing blow to her family and friends. Del and Mary Mages divorced partly because of the murder of their daughter. Her younger brother, Andy, grew up without the sister he so loved and the lives of everyone who knew her or would have known her were lessened due to her death. I still see Suzie’s dad every so often and can still hear the hurt in his voice when we talk about her. Suzie would have turned 48 last month and would probably have had kids of her own. I still hope for a random lead or a deathbed confession that would bring closure to this tragic Denton story.

Hold your loved ones close and celebrate every day of life………it’s a precious, yet fragile thing…………

Dentoning….Townes

The most important component of Dentoning is it’s people. Partly because most of us are people, but more so, because wherever we go, there are usually people there. This may be a surprise to some of you, but it’s true. Denton is and always has been full of unique individuals. I intend to occasionally interview and blog about Denton characters, but today, I’m going to tell a story about the brother of a dear friend of mine who lives in Denton, Nancy Pannell. His name is Bob Roberts, and as a native-born Texan and a musician, I’d vote to make him an honorary Dentonian in a heartbeat. Bob is in his early 60s, lives in Austin and has had a very colorful life.

Bob Roberts

Bob Roberts

One of Willie’s trademark songs and a Texas classic is “Pancho and Lefty”, written by Townes Van Zandt. Townes had a very tragic life, the resulting melancholia flowing through much of his music. He was a local boy, born in Ft. Worth and after a hard life as a musician and alcoholic, died in 1997 of the disease. Bob Roberts was a contemporary of Townes and a friend of his.

When Townes wrote “Pancho and Lefty” in the very early ’70s, he and a group of singer/songwriters were living in and around Nashville. Bob was part of that group. Bob lived with several people in an abandoned nunnery on the outskirts of Nashville. They were essentially squatters, though the area Catholic Diocese knew they were there. The conditions were fairly rough, but what better environment to write music that was slowly developing into Texas outlaw country? One day in 1971, as Bob and friends were sitting around drinking and whatever, Townes, with his girlfriend du jour, came to the nunnery and announced to the group that he had a new song he wanted to run by them. Townes actually got paid on occasion as a musician, so Bob’s group was somewhat in awe of the guy who would become a legend and a guy who would influence the likes of Willie, Emmy Lou Harris and Steve Earle.

Townes Van Zandt

Townes Van Zandt

Townes proceeded to pull out an old beat-up guitar and play the just finished “Pancho and Lefty” for the nunnery dwellers. Bob says he sat there stunned as Townes played the song which would become a song regularly covered by Willie/Waylon and friends. Townes had somewhat of an attitude, but basked in the accolades Bob’s nunnery mates bestowed on him that day. The song wouldn’t be released by Townes until 1972, and would be covered by countless well known artists, but Bob was part of the first group to ever heard the song.


After the mini concert, the squatters sat around, talking music, contracts, gigs and dreams. After a couple of hours of alcohol and smoke-fueled conversation, Townes decided it was time for him to go. Bob stood up and followed Townes and his lady friend to the door and stopped him. Bob had worked up his courage and proceeded to tell Townes that he knew he would be recording the song, but that he (Bob) would consider it an honor to play the song in some of the dive bars of Nashville. Townes looked at him with snarky expression and told Bob to “f*** off”. Bob had tried, and wasn’t surprised by the answer. Bob went back to the people seated on the floor a little embarrassed, but proud of his gumption.

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About 20 minutes later, everyone heard someone coming up the stairs and were surprised to see Townes’ girlfriend throw the door open. Without saying a word, she walked over to Bob and handed him a piece of paper and silently wheeled around and left. Bob looked down at what turned out to be an envelope from a collection agency. He flipped it over, and on the back were the lyrics to “Pancho and Lefty” handwritten by Townes Van Zandt. Bob was happily stunned and excited. Bob proceeded to be the first person to play the iconic song to a paying audience in some disremembered bar in Nashville. Bob went on to have some success of his own in Texas and Colorado. He is now retired, occasionally plays guitar and still has the envelope….