Johnson City’s Lackey, the Ghost on Highway 281

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Tony Maples Photography


Of course, it’s never a good idea to pick up a hitchhiker, but if you are ever driving on Highway 281 in the Texas Hill Country, between Johnson City and Blanco, and spot someone on the shoulder of the road with a large bloodstain on his shirt, do yourself a favor and keep on driving.

Go ahead and call 9-1-1 if it makes you feel better, but don’t stop and try to render aid, thinking this is a poor, injured fellow traveler, especially if you’re all alone. Because if the stories about that stretch of road are true, there’s nothing even a paramedic could do for this man:  He’s already dead.

His name is Lackey. And chances are he’s holding a foot-long knife.

Blanco County Courthouse

Photo: Barbara Shallue

Legend has it that years and years ago, this man named Lackey, from Johnson City, took a great disliking to some of his relatives and started stabbing them to death, one by one. Before he could kill them all, he was caught and put in jail in Blanco, the county seat.

One night, before he could be brought to trial, about a dozen men on horseback showed up at the jail with a wagon. Perhaps they were friends of relatives he had killed … or maybe relatives he hadn’t gotten to yet.

At any rate, they didn’t like Lackey, and didn’t trust the courts to bring him to justice for his crimes. So while holding the jailer at gunpoint, they tied Lackey up, threw him in the wagon, and headed north. Halfway to Johnson City, on a wagon road 200 yards west of the present-day Highway 281, they found a tree and hanged him.

Tree in fog

Photo: Barbara Shallue

Supposedly, his last words were something like “If you turn me loose and give me a knife, I’ll go to Johnson City and finish what I started.”

Since these were either relatives who had survived his killing spree, or friends of relatives who hadn’t, this wasn’t a very smart thing for Lackey to say. They yanked that wagon out from under him.

Unfortunately for Lackey, it wasn’t a clean hang. The rope they used was a lariat, really too thin for a proper hanging. It cut his neck, and the blood stained his light blue shirt. But eventually he died and the judgement team left.

The sheriff found him the next morning. Since his relatives weren’t inclined to claim the body, Lackey was buried in a pauper’s grave in Blanco. No one knows exactly where.

But people living in the area know not to pick up any hitchhikers late at night between Johnson City and Blanco. And now you do, too.