The True Story of ‘Witches Gate’ near Wichita Falls, Texas is Something Out of the Movies
Heading eastbound on Hwy 287 just outside of Wichita Falls, Texas, motorists can’t help but be intrigued by the skeletal remains of a house residing on a hill. The once luxurious bachelor pad built in 1939, now sits alone at the top of the hill, slowly deteriorating away since that rumored summer night of 1975.
Few people actually visit the property now, but ask any Wichita Falls native and the stories start spinning with tales of murder, treasure, arson, ghosts, and everything in between regarding the infamous, Witches Gate.
It’s hard not to be skeptical of rumors. After all, a simple house fire could just as well be the culprit of the luxurious homes’ undoing. However, in this case, there’s a lot more to the story, and the rumors unfold to be somewhat true.
It’s a story that seems it could come straight out of the movies.
The home, nestled on Ranch Circle H, belonged to brothers Jim and Kenneth Keith, who inherited the property from their father George Keith. The brothers lived in the house together and had quite the collection of antique guns and coins. The coin collection itself was said to be worth half a million dollars in the 70s. However, the brothers quietly donated the collection to the American Numismatic Museum in Denver, Colorado.
The afternoon of Saturday, July 12, 1975, Alton Fanchier, Jr., Clyde Burns, and Earl Culwell were at Fanchier’s apartment on Fillmore St in Wichita Falls. Burns planned on having Lonnie Loyd and Leon Pinson rob the Keith’s house with the loot being split 1/3 to Loyd and Pinson, and the rest split between the others.
After the excitement of hitting the big score, the men decided to carry out the robbery that very night. Culwell gave Loyd a .25 automatic pistol and Burns gave Pinson a shotgun found in Fanchier’s closet. The plan was Loyd and Pinson would rob the house, Fanchier would wait by the phone in case they needed tools for a safe, while Burns and Culwell waited at the 88 Restaurant.
The heist was on.
Loyd and Pinson parked the pickup on the side of the road and walked up to the house with pantyhose pulled over their faces. Scoping out the house, they found Jim Keith lying on the couch reading near the front of the house, while Kenneth was in his room in the back.
Loyd entered the house by ripping the screen off the door, startling Jim Keith who immediately got up and headed for Loyd. Before Loyd could even get his second foot in the door, Pinson put the shotgun through the window and shot Jim Keith. Still alive at the time, Jim fell to the floor as Loyd rushed to Kenneth’s room to ambush him as he opened his door. As Kenneth opened the door Loyd grabbed him and tied him up with masking tape. After searching the house for the rumored coin collection with no avail, they finally found a small safe hidden in the wall.
The anticipated call from Loyd to Fanchier came after 8:00 p.m. that night, Loyd told Fanchier that Jim Keith was dead and they needed tools. Fanchier then went to Burns’ house and got his wife’s car with Burns and Culwell. Once there, Fanchier was to get out and drive the pickup Loyd and Pinson had left parked on the side of the road up to the house for them to load up the loot.
Meanwhile, Kenneth Keith told Loyd he would give him the combination if he would untie him. Loyd agreed and after getting the combination, he tied Kenneth back up. After getting into the safe they were surprised to find no coin collection. However, a watch and a handful of guns were found in the home.
At this point, Fanchier was pulling up with the pickup but heard someone yell at him from the house which spooked him so he ran back to the highway and headed back to Wichita Falls on foot. Shortly after, Pinson drove up in the pickup Fanchier had ditched, loaded with guns. Burns and Culwell then drove up and they all went back to Pinson’s house to evaluate the loot.
Later, however, Burns called and had Pinson and Loyd take the guns to the Anchor Motel in Dallas. The next day Fanchier and a man named Randy McCullough came and got the guns and stored them in a storage unit a mile from the motel.
All men except Burns were caught throughout 1975. Mysteriously enough, on February 24, 1976, the same day Burns was caught, the Keith home -- now abandoned by Kenneth who couldn’t stand to live there after the death of his brother -- caught on fire and burned, leaving the skeleton of a home we now see today. The cause of the fire was originally categorized as undetermined, with rumors spreading that Jim Keith set the house on fire himself from beyond the grave as he was relieved after the last suspect was apprehended.
However, when Burns later went undercover for the police, he discovered that the house was robbed again and cleaned out of the last bit of valuables, then torched. There was no formal investigation into that crime.
Pinson's murder trial took place on January 29, 1977. After just six minutes of deliberation, the jury sentenced Pinson to life in prison for the murder of Jim Keith. Fanchier, Burns, and Loyd, however, were sentenced to 12-20 years each, but their sentences were eventually reduced after giving evidence on the Wichita Falls burglary ring, ‘The Country Club Capers.’
Pinson appealed his life sentence, saying that he wasn't even there that night, and he had a witness, David Brumley, who would testify that the others formed a conspiracy to allege that he killed Jim Keith. Brumley’s body, however, was suspiciously found in a trunk of a car in Sansom Park, Texas. He had been shot through the right eye, never allowing him to testify. His killers were never found.
Reliving the heinous crime at countless trials took a toll on Kenneth Keith and he died on June 20, 1977.
William Pinson died May 15, 1984 in Galveston, TX. Clyde Burns died April 27, 1992, Earl Culwell died April 25, 2006. Alton Fanchier died May, 10, 2016.
A detailed account of the burglary of the Keith brother's home and the murder of Jim Keith can be found in the book 'How Did They Die? Murders in Northern Texas 1926-1975' written by Wichita Falls author Julie Williams Coley. Coley's book also tells of "The Country Club Capers," another sensational story that happened before and during all of the publicity of the Keith murder and subsequent trials.