James R. "Flat-top" Howard had seen a lot of things by the time he and Sheriff Cowboy Ramsey operated the Cabana Court Motel on Highway 61 in New Madrid in the 1960s.
Flat-top was the night clerk.
One evening, sitting at the front desk, he noticed the lights of a car pull on the lot and drive up just short of the door. A man came in and wanted to rent a room for the night. Flat-top collected the money and the fellow left with the room key.
The next morning when the maid went to clean the room, she found the television missing.
Flat-top was also a deputy sheriff, and he soon had a warrant issued for the man.
It was some time afterward the fellow was arrested and brought before Magistrate Leo Hedgepeth at the New Madrid County Courthouse.
Judge Hedgepeth was not a lawyer. Back then, any citizen could qualify to be a magistrate judge. Now, even though he wasn't trained in the law, Judge Hedgepeth was wise and knew how to do things and hear criminal cases. He knew the Prosecuting Attorney would not bring charges unless there was some evidence against the defendant, and he also knew the defense attorneys would not object to a question unless they had a good legal reason. The defense attorneys didn't want to embarrass Judge Hedgepeth, so they didn't object to something unless their objection was proper.
The criminal hearings were a gentleman's game played among gentlemen.
The man accused of stealing the television appeared before the Judge, was arraigned, bail set and given time to hire a lawyer.
Then came the hearing.
The defendant was represented by one of the county's best criminal attorneys.
The Prosecutor called Flat-top to the stand. He testified about the events of the evening in question, identified the defendant as the man who rented the room, and told the court about the missing television and its value.
Then he volunteered something.
"He didn't pull his car all the way up to the door," he said.
"What does that mean," asked the Prosecutor.
Now it was here that the Defense Attorney could have objected because personal opinion is not allowed, and Judge Hedgepeth would have sustained the objection.
But the Attorney remained silent.
"Well," continued Flat-top, "there are three reasons why they don't pull up to the door."
Again, although clearly improper, the Defense Attorney remained silent.
"What are those," asked the Prosecutor.
Still, no objection.
"One, they've got a woman; two, they've got a dog; or three, they're going to steal something."
End of case.
The defendant was found guilty, fined and had to pay for the TV.
Asked later why he didn't object, the Defense Attorney explained he knew Flat-top and was sure the three reasons would be interesting. He wanted to hear them.
In fact, the Prosecutor and Judge Hedgepeth wanted to hear the answer, too, and were glad no objection was made.
It wouldn't have made any difference.
Justice was served, and Flat-top was proved right.