Theses and Dissertations

Big Piney Crimes

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Committee Chair

Charlotte Pence, Ph.D.


In 1983, the year Scarface debuted in theaters, big oil marched across the buckle state of Wyoming with the construction of the Frontier Oil pipeline. Oil patch workers from around the U.S. came to Wyoming to labor on the project, forming a temporary community termed the pipeline family. My mother’s brother, Ed Brown, moved to Big Piney, Wyoming and was hired on as a pipeline welder. His shooting death at the hands of a pipeline inspector ushered in my coming of age. Back at the family homeplace in Texas, 1000 miles from Big Piney, grief stained the fabric of our daily lives as we processed the murder of a beloved son, father, brother, and uncle. Proper justice, something I thought we could count on, was repeatedly delayed. When an ominous warning came to my grandfather that to continue to pursue justice was to court death, despair overtook us. My grandfather stopped his attempts to “get justice for Ed.” For years, hopelessness blanketed the tragedy like so much country dust, until in the wake of the pandemic, my grandfather’s files on his oldest son’s murder arrived on my front doorstep, giving me the means to excavate the truth. In facing this almost forgotten family tragedy, I have overcome my fears in an effort to bring closure to these wounds. The present-day narrative follows this work and frames the story of Uncle Ed’s murder. Along the way, my mother and I orchestrated an adventure that landed us in the Grand Tetons some thirty-eight years after Uncle Ed’s death and just in time to meet the judge who dismissed the case against his murderer.

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