I grew up on the northwest corner of Tenth and Edgefield, deep in Winnetka Heights, and deep in the Jim Crow South. My family moved there in 1954, when I was 3, so that we could be near Seagoville Federal Penitentiary, where my father was finishing a sentence. My mother was a nurse anesthetist at Methodist Hospital, and with the aid of my Aunt Kay, raised us in St. Cecilia’s parish school.

Discharged from prison in 1957, my father, James Henry ‘Doc’ Dolan, went to work at Sears on Jefferson. In 1959, he became the head of the local office of American Guild of Variety Artists, or AGVA (we called it “agg-vuh”). As such, he looked after the careers of jugglers, knife throwers, comics, circus acts and … oh, yeah, strippers. He probably got this job through Mob connections. It was well known in those days that AGVA was a front of sorts and operated more as a protection racket.

In this role, he was in constant contact with the Weinsteins, Abe and Barney, owners of strip joints the Theater Lounge and the Colony Club, and one Jack Ruby, who owned the Carousel Club. The House Select Committee on Assassinations interviewed Doc about Ruby in 1978. 

He befriended Charles Meeker, producer of Dallas Summer Musicals. Charles got us tickets to the circus and the musicals, presented my dad with a Magnavox stereo record player, and when I was a teen, smoothed the way for me to work at Six Flags Over Texas. I am still unclear on the nature of their relationship, but it was at least superficially professional.

Doc was involved in every manner of skullduggery possible in old, sleazy Dallas of the late ’50s and early ’60s, to the point that AGVA could no longer stand the law enforcement exposure and terminated him. 

I have since discovered that while still working for AGVA, he was involved in prolific levels of crime across the South. The FBI referred to him as ‘one of the two or three most notorious hoodlums’ in Texas. He ran three-card Monte, rolled crooked dice, did holdups, burglaries, truck heists, robbed illegal poker games, took collections and enforcement contracts, was suspected in a few killings and at least one major hit in Las Vegas at the behest of Benny Binion. And I’m just skimming the surface here.

In later years, I learned that while my mother was raising me in the Church, Doc was involved with mafiosos like Santos Trafficante, Phil Alderisio, and Carlos Marcello, as well as mysterious figures like Eugene Hale Brading (look him up). Doc was also known to associate with local hard guy R.D. Matthews and with Dallas capos Joe Civello and Joe Ianni. His associations with these people and with Jack Ruby have ensured that his name is always mentioned in JFK conspiracy theories having to do with the Mob.  

But Doc was my dad, and for better or worse, I loved him. He always encouraged me in my career. While incarcerated at El Reno in the late ’70s and early ’80s, he wrote me dozens of letters full of fatherly advice and regret for the path he’d chosen, advising me to stay true to my ideals. 

After his death in San Antonio, I learned he’d been in the business of robbing drug dealers, trying to amass enough coin to retire. At the same time, I learned he was a ‘star’ witness in a federal probe — Operation Bushmaster — of organized crime in South Texas.

This life of mayhem ended when Doc, age 70, was murdered in his home by unseen assailants on Dec. 4, 1984. Never solved. Was it a hit, robbery or revenge? 

I’d love to know. 

R.I.P., Doc.

JIM DOLAN is a therapist in Oak Cliff. He is writing a memoir, a draft of which won third place at the Mayborn Festival of Literary Nonfiction.