The Craziest Car Chase In Texas History

“My hoarse-sounding horn / Invites thee to the chase, the sport of kings.” —William Somerville, The Chase

In A Nutshell

Bobby and Ila Fae Dent weren’t exactly criminal masterminds. When a police officer tried to pull them over for a minor issue, they decided to make a run for it. Things went from bad to worse when the couple kidnapped a Texas state trooper named Kenneth Crone and sparked the craziest car chase in Texas history.

The Whole Bushel

It was 2:00 AM on May 2, 1969 as Bobby Dent and his wife Ila Fae drove through Port Arthur, Texas. Speeding along State Highway 73, Bobby didn’t notice his brights were on, but a passing police officer sure did. But when the peace officer flicked on his lights, the Dents didn’t slow down. Bobby had just gotten out of prison for vandalizing vending machines, and he didn’t feel like dealing with any more cops. Instead of pulling over, Bobby hit the gas.

Unfortunately for the Dents, their car broke down a few minutes into the chase, forcing them to sprint into the nearby woods. Stumbling through the darkness, they made their way to a farmhouse and told the residents they’d been robbed. Bobby asked the farmer to call the cops for help, and soon a DPS trooper named Kenneth Crone pulled into the driveway. But when Trooper Crone opened the cabin door, he found two guns jammed in his face. Armed and dangerous, Bobby and Ila Fae cuffed the trooper, took his weapons, and forced him behind the wheel of the squad car. Crone was going to give them a lift.

It didn’t take long for law enforcement officers to track down the Dents. After all, they were sitting in the back of a runaway cop car with a shotgun shoved into a state trooper’s neck. By the time the desperate duo had reached Houston, they were leading a parade over 100 cars long, including a passel of news vans. And that’s not even including all the helicopters. The craziest car chase in Texas history was broadcasting live to millions of homes across the state. Hoping to keep the kidnappers calm, the authorities let Bobby and Ila Fae stop for bathroom breaks and even fill-ups. And when Bobby asked if they could visit Ila Fae’s kids (who were living with their grandparents), the cops agreed. Bobby probably appreciated the kind gesture since he felt he might never see his stepchildren again. He was right.

The caravan ended up in the little town of Wheelock, and the crazy couple pulled up to the house where their kids lived. Bobby and Ila Fae marched up the steps, guns trained on Trooper Crone, forcing him to stay in front the whole time. They didn’t want any tricks. But when they opened the door, the room was strangely dark. Somebody had turned all the lights off . . . and suddenly Crone dropped to the ground. On the other side of the room, law enforcement officers popped out of the shadows and ordered the couple to throw down their weapons. When a confused Bobby didn’t do as ordered, the officers literally shot him out the door and down the steps.

As for Ila Fae, she was arrested but only served five months of a five-year sentence before she was released. She passed away in 1992, but she was never completely forgotten. Not only do plenty of Texans still remember that crazy car chase, but her legend lives on in the annals of film history. Inspired by the Dents’ wild tale, a young filmmaker named Steven Spielberg (ever heard of him?) turned their story into his first feature film, The Sugarland Express. Not only did it star Goldie Hawn as Ila Fae, Kenneth Crone even made a cameo appearance as a deputy.

Show Me The Proof

Texas Monthly: The “Sugarland Express” Gang
Steven Spielberg: A Biography, by Joseph McBride
San Marcos Mercury: Bartee Haile: The real story behind The Sugarland Express