Anarchy in Amarillo

Being a punk in the Panhandle was never easy. But when Brian Deneke crossed paths with an angry mob of football jocks, he never imagined it could get him killed.

Along with skateboarding came punk music. And as Brian grew older, the music would eclipse his hobby.

Subhumans, Naked Aggression, Blanks 77, Logical Nonsense -- Deneke's buddies list the names of his favorite bands, several of which he lured to Amarillo for live performances. "He'd write 'em and ask them to play here, as many times as it took for them finally to agree," says John King, one of Deneke's closest friends. "He'd take money out of his own pocket and rent a place for them to play."

Deneke couldn't play any instruments himself, but his passion for music got him singing in a local band. The name, White Slave Traders, had the requisite dose of outrage. But if he got overly bored at home, he'd hitchhike cross-country, meeting up with punk "squatters" in other towns, getting drunk, watching bands, surviving by "spanging" -- as in "spare-changing."

Elise Thompson was sitting in the back seat of Camp's Cadillac when he mowed down Deneke. Her terrifying recollections would become the prosecution's strongest evidence supporting a murder conviction.
Mark Graham
Elise Thompson was sitting in the back seat of Camp's Cadillac when he mowed down Deneke. Her terrifying recollections would become the prosecution's strongest evidence supporting a murder conviction.
"I'm a punk," John King says, defining himself. He testified that he clobbered a jock in the head as hard as he could with his expandable police baton.
Mark Graham
"I'm a punk," John King says, defining himself. He testified that he clobbered a jock in the head as hard as he could with his expandable police baton.

In Amarillo, Deneke was gainfully employed. He painted whimsical road signs for local entrepreneur and pop-art enthusiast Stanley Marsh III, the force behind the city's famed roadside sculpture, Cadillac Ranch. He often used his paycheck to cover the bills at a series of communal homes the punks shared, which sometimes doubled as underground clubs.

Like many of his friends, Deneke would shave, bob, and spike his hair in odd configurations and apply lurid hues that eventually faded to the default color of all homemade dye jobs, a certain sickly green. He wore a black leather jacket, camouflage trousers, spiked belts, and dog collars -- all trademarks of a look that reached its peak in Britain in the late '70s. It survives today, thousands of prairie miles from its historical context, in places where kids know little about "Break Free From Oppression" and "Smash Government Corruption," two of the vaguely punk slogans Deneke stenciled onto his thermal underwear.

Wardrobe aside, Deneke possessed a personal magnetism that separated him from his peers. "He was real cute. He was," says Jennifer Hix, Deneke's onetime girlfriend. "He had a really positive, outgoing personality. Instead of sitting on his ass, he'd rather do something. He was real fun."

That energy and charm fit perfectly with his role as Amarillo's 19-year-old punk impresario. He lured bands from as far away as L.A., put on his own shows, and got to know just about everyone whose musical tastes ventured into the margins. At gathering places such as The Egg and a sprawling communal home for punks on 8th Street, kids would assemble for shows, dancing and downing pints of bottled Guinness, their preferred drink.

The punks repeatedly talk about Deneke's ability to generate excitement out of nothing. And Amarillo, they remind you, is pretty close to nothing on the thrills spectrum. Daniel Kelso, who worked with Deneke, identifies him as the chief figure behind Amarillo's punk scene and explains his unusual charisma: "Brian was probably the most self-aware, self-realized, and happy-go-lucky 19-year-old I've ever run into. He was always in a good mood, always smiling, even when bad shit happened."

Rumbling with the jocks probably never fit into Deneke's idea of a good time. But punks saw confrontation and provocation as regular features of their lives and were prepared to deal with it. "You don't have to go looking for trouble in this town," King says. "If you look different, it will come to you."


"Faggot! Freak!"

Chris Oles, a tall, gangly punk with a hollow "American Gothic" face, salvaged his pride the best he could: by blowing gentle kisses to the table of jocks gathered in the side room at IHOP on December 6, a week before Brian Deneke's death.

Who started it is a cause of much dispute. Oles, now 23, says the jocks began harassing him when he was forced to walk past them on the way to the restroom; one of the jocks, Justin Devore, says Oles egged them on by repeatedly pulling up his shirt and exposing what appeared to be a knife handle. Oles denies this.

Whatever the case, the conflict amped up several notches when two other guys at the IHOP -- John King and Dustin Camp -- got in each other's faces.

Neither kid knew the other. But amidst the exchange of macho epithets, witnesses say Camp, a pudgy football player from Tascosa High, jabbed his finger into King's chest.

Wrong guy. Of all the punks, King, now 19, is known for his short fuse. Slouched in a chair and gazing at you with half-lit eyes, he talks quietly about smashing in someone's head with a police baton. "I'm a punk," he says. He could very well mean thug.

That night, King just gave Camp a hard shove. Chris Oles tried to break things up, he says, putting his friend in a headlock and pulling him away while someone else hustled Camp out the door.

Outside, Oles met up with some allies, including Brian Deneke. Meanwhile, King strolled up to Camp's car and offered a few parting words.

Camp suddenly peeled out of the parking lot and hopped over a median, recalls Kendra Petitt, who had joined the punks. "He came up behind [the punks]. I'll never know how they moved -- it all happened so fast -- but they had to jump out of the way. He was trying to hit them. He had it floored. His tires were screeching."

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