By Brad Dison
In 1960, Bertha Wolfe was employed as a maid by the Ed Jones family in Stephenville, Texas. In her capacity as the family’s maid, Bertha kept the home clean, changed sheets, washed dishes, washed laundry, picked up groceries, and a myriad of other housekeeping chores. Eddie Jones, son of Ed Jones, loved to drive fast. No matter where he was going, even when he had no particular place to go, Eddie drove too fast. His family told him to slow down on numerous occasions. Bertha may have even cautioned him a time or two. Eddie paid little attention to their warnings and had several minor accidents which only resulted in scrapes and bruises. Eddie’s driving had never physically injured anyone but himself.
That all changed on August 26, 1960. Eddie was driving his vehicle too fast as usual and had an accident. Rather than striking another vehicle, Eddie ran his vehicle into a person. His victim was none other than his family’s maid, Bertha Wolfe. As a result of the accident, Bertha suffered a broken hip along with other “extensive injuries and mental anguish.” By January 1961, whether by her decision or theirs, Bertha was no longer employed by the Jones family.
On January 24, 1961, Homer Wolfe, husband of Bertha, filed a suit for damages in District Court against Ed Jones, head of the Jones family. The suit colorfully alleged that Eddie “gathered a full head of steam and without a warning yell of any nature, propelled his vehicle with great force into the body of Bertha Wolfe while her back was turned.” Homer Wolfe argued in the petition that Ed Jones knew his son “was a reckless and incompetent operator” of the vehicle. Homer Wolfe was asking for $50,000 in damages for the “extensive injuries and mental anguish” to his wife caused by Eddie recklessness.
Through their respective attorneys, Homer Wolfe and Ed Jones worked for months to settle the dispute. By November 1961, Homer Wolfe had reduced the request for damages to the strangely precise amount of $30,565.65. Ed Jones’s attorneys stood firm and refused the offer. A court date was set for November 27, 1961. On that morning, the courtroom was filled with plaintiffs and defendants who were ready to argue their side in numerous cases. When it was time for Homer Wolfe’s case to be heard, the judge, the courtroom staff, Homer Wolfe, Bertha Wolfe, and their attorney were all surprised to learn that no one on the defendant’s side had shown up. Ed Jones and his family’s attorney were absent from the courtroom. The Wolfe’s attorney explained that they had been trying work out the case with the opposing attorney, but they were unable to agree on a settlement. In December, the attorneys finally agreed and settled out of court. As per their agreement, Bertha was not paid the $50,000 initially demanded, nor did she receive their second offer of $30,565.65. For her broken hip, and her other “extensive injuries and mental anguish,” Bertha received just $1,500.
Accidents in which vehicles are driven at a high rate of speed occurs so regularly that, under normal circumstances, the true story of Eddie’s crashing into Bertha should be relegated to obscurity. However, the accident did not occur on one of the many streets in Stephenville, but on the Jones’s own property…inside their home. You see, Eddie was just three years old when the accident occurred. The vehicle he was driving was a tricycle.
- The Journal Times, January 25, 1961, p.21.
- Fort Worth Star-Telegram, November 28, 1961, p.15.
- Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 19, 1961, p.16.