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Did he or didn’t he?

Monday, September 17, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Revered short story writer and erstwhile Austin resident William Sydney Porter was convicted of embezzlement, but was he actually guilty? A collection of newly acquired letters suggests his innocence. Porter, who wrote as O. Henry, worked as a bank teller at the First National Bank of Austin for a time. Later, after he had left that post and moved to Houston, he was indicted for embezzlement at the bank and eventually tried, found guilty, and given a five-year sentence. He was released after three years for good behavior. The letters, discovered in El Prado, New Mexico, at a resort that was formerly a stop on the Pony Express, are on display in a new exhibit at the O. Henry Museum, Porter’s historical home. They show correspondence between him and J.L. Watson, the business manager of The Houston Post, where Porter worked as a columnist at the time he was indicted. “I want to state to you that the charges against me are not only unfounded, but are, I think, the work of spite as well,” Porter wrote to Watson in one of the letters on display. Some claim that Porter was a fall guy for the bank. After his death, several official requests for a presidential pardon were made on his behalf, but they were not successful. He was also featured on a U.S. postage stamp, an honor he shares with only one other person convicted of a federal crime, Susan B. Anthony. The display, “In Defense of Prisoner #30664,” officially opens on Austin Museum Day, September 23, 2018, from noon to 4:00 pm.

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