The “Sugarland Express” Gang

In 1974, one year before Steven Spielberg became a household name with the release of Jaws, the director made his feature film debut with The Sugarland Express. The plot centered on the May 1969 kidnapping of a Department of Public Safety trooper named Kenneth Crone. Fugitives Robert and Ila Fae Dent took Crone and his patrol car and led law enforcement officials on an O. J. Simpson-style chase from outside Port Arthur, through Houston, up to Navasota, and on to the small town of Wheelock, north of Bryan. The caravan of DPS vehicles eventually grew to more than 150; television crews in helicopters tagged along as well, and interested bystanders lined the road to catch a glimpse of the spectacle. In the end the couple made their way to Ila Fae’s mother’s house, where they were met by a contingent of officers, including FBI special agent Bob Wiatt. As Robert held Crone at gunpoint, Wiatt and Robertson County sheriff Sonny Elliott shot and mortally wounded him, and Wiatt then captured Ila Fae. But what became of the survivors after the credits rolled? Ila Fae was sentenced to five years in prison but got out in five months to take care of her mother and children. She died in 1992 in Livingston, where she was working as a dietitian at a Holiday Inn. Wiatt, who is now 75, retired from the FBI in 1980 but three years later went to work at Texas A&M, where he is now the director of University Police. Elliott died in 1983. And Crone? He stayed on with the DPS until 1978, when he took a job as a director of security for the U.S. Department of Energy. Now 60, he still lives in Winnie and works as a night supervisor at Pneumatic Industrial Services in Orangefield; his son Brad has been a trooper with the DPS for three years. As for what happened to him 32 years ago, “Not a month goes by that someone doesn’t bring it up,” he says.

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