A Texas Tall Tale: The Curious Case of Mike Martin
Devil worship, deception, and the downfall of a creationist crusader.
Note: I’ve wanted to tell the story of Mike Martin again, so it’s on Lone Star Left and not lost in an old decommissioned website. I told this story a few years back, so you may be familiar if you followed me back on Living Blue TX. If you don’t know the story of Mike Martin, he’s a good reminder of how we’ve been dealing with nutty Republicans ever since the Moral Majority.
Michael “Mike” W. Martin was a 28-year-old Republican from Longview, Texas. He ran on a single-issue item. To bring the story of biblical creationism back to schools. In the late 1970s, America witnessed the marriage of Religious Conservatism and Political Conservatism brought on by Jerry Falwell, Ronald Reagan, and others involved in the Moral Majority.
Martin won his 1980 election to House District 13 (HD13), and during the 67th Legislative Session, he only filed one bill. HB1901 said, “requiring balanced treatment of creation-science and evolution-science in public schools.”
Martin was the first-ever Republican to win the seat over Gregg County, currently House District 07 (held by Jay Dean). A Democrat hasn’t won this seat since.
What is creation science?
Creation science is pseudoscience nonsense. However, it’s a fight the far-right has been having for almost 100 years. It is a concept based on the belief that the universe and life originated from specific acts of divine creation, as described in religious texts, most notably the Book of Genesis in the Bible.
Far-right believers in creation science argue against various aspects of scientific consensus, such as the theory of evolution and the geological evidence for the age of the Earth, proposing instead that the Earth is much younger and that life forms appeared simultaneously. They believe the universe and life originated from specific acts of divine creation, as described in the Bible’s Book of Genesis.
The fight over “creation science” began in 1925 when Tennessee banned teaching evolution in public schools. But, science teacher John Scopes taught it anyway and was subsequently prosecuted. This led to what’s now known as the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial.
The trial brought national attention to political and legal conflicts between creationists and scientists. Moreover, it catapulted the creation science movement in many states that enacted anti-evolution bills over the next several years.
Luckily, humans didn’t stay stupid forever. When the space race and colored televisions came around, America became more trusting in science. During the 1960s, many of these anti-evolution laws were overturned. Then, in 1968, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 on the Epperson v. Arkansas case, which determined a law forbidding the teaching of evolution violates free speech rights.
Creationism in public schools was a hot-button issue as schools everywhere replaced it with evolution.
Putting creationism back in Texas schools was the only reason Mike Martin ran for office. He was a single-issue legislator.
Martin stated that the bill aimed to “protect the academic freedom of students with differing values and beliefs.” During the 67th Legislative Session, HB1901 was referred to the Committee on Public Education, where they held a public hearing. Eight people testified in favor of the bill, and five testified against it. Finally, the bill was referred to a subcommittee, which ultimately died.
But the session didn’t end without Martin trying to stuff an amendment into another public school bill that required equal time for the teaching of creationism. This amendment was backed by and campaigned for by the accused murderer and oil tycoon T. Cullen Davis. The amendment was blocked.
Mike Martin had only one goal in his legislative career, and he failed to achieve it.
On July 31, 1981, Mike Martin was shot.
On July 31, 1981, Representative Mike W. Martin was shot four times in his left arm with double-0 buckshot pellets from a 12-gauge shotgun in the parking lot of the trailer park in Austin, where he lived during the legislative session.
It appeared as if there was a car between Martin and the gunman, and the gunman shot at Martin through the closed windows of the vehicle.
Police reported not having any suspects or theory of motive. However, Martin’s campaign manager claimed that Martin had been threatened, and the trailer park manager speculated it was a case of mistaken identity.
According to Martin, he pulled into the parking lot of the trailer park in the early morning hours. He didn’t notice anyone following him and sat in his car for a few minutes, going through a book. He then got out of his car and looked at his watch, but didn’t know what time it was because it was too dark.
Martin claimed that he stretched and yawned and heard three shots. Martin hit the ground behind the car and didn’t get up until he heard car tires screeching away.
The Gregg County GOP Chairman, Hershel Wayne House, was staying with Martin and was awakened by the gunshots. Martin somehow got back in his car, honked the horn, then left the vehicle to lie on the ground.
Here is a short news clip of the scene and House explaining what happened:
The newspaper added at the end of the article detailing the shooting, “During the special session, he was one of the only three legislatures to vote against commending Ronald Reagan to Sandra Day O’Connor’s appointment to the Supreme Court;” and “Texas Monthly listed him as one of the top ten worst legislators.”
Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman nominated and appointed to the Supreme Court.
But this story was far from over.
By the end of the following week, the police didn’t have any leads, so they had a dramatization filmed and played on Crime Stoppers on the local TV channel. I looked high and low for that footage but could not find any.
Things started moving fast after that. By August 18, Martin told everyone he was shot by a devil-worshiping cult called “Guardian Angels of the Underworld.”
Here is Mike Martin speaking directly to the news on August 21. The volume is low, but he says, “Some of the policemen tell me that it looks like it was pretty well set up for quite some time. Basically, for the past two weeks, I’ve had a chauffeur, a person driving me back and forth all the time, including working with me late at the Capitol.”
I also searched for the existence of the group “Guardian Angels of the Underworld.” As far as I could tell, they never existed. The only reference I found to them in old records was in articles relating to Mike Martin.
Satanic Panic in the 1980s.
Those of us old enough to remember recall the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s. It was the Salem Witch Trials all over again. Nice white families from the suburbs were somehow convinced there were Satanic Cults everywhere.
In towns all across America, there were places, dead trees, or run-down buildings that were the rumored spots where devil worshipers gathered for midnight covens to sacrifice people to Satan.
I want to say that we’re smarter now as a society, but then I’d have no way to explain QAnon.
A Grand Jury convened.
Martin’s former spokesperson, Les Smith, and other associates testified before the grand jury that they didn’t believe his story. Smith was quoted in the Baytown Sun on August 19, 1981, saying, “It’s obvious there’s a problem. I have no earthly idea what it is.”
Martin missed his appointment with the Grand Jury. Twice.
Then, on August 21, the Gregg County Sheriff’s Department reported that they had identified a suspect and recovered a shotgun.
Martin and his cousin, Charles Geoff, were arrested two days later. This was when the Gregg County Sheriff told the media that Martin had been on the lamb for five days and hid at his parent’s ranch in East Mountain, Texas.
Martin was arrested on an 18-month-old misdemeanor assault warrant (he allegedly punched a man in the face). In addition, Geoff was charged with making a terroristic threat to Martin’s aide, Jim Beasley.
Here is Martin finally going to speak to the Grand Jury on August 25:
Charles Geoff fessed up to everything and told investigators that he shot his cousin and Mike Martin set it all up.
According to Geoff, he shot his cousin, Representative Mike W. Martin, in Austin at his request. Then, Martin told Geoff to call his aide and pretend to be a devil-worshipper. But somehow, Geoff slipped up when he talked to Beasley and mentioned details about Martin that only someone close to Martin would know. Investigators finally had their first lead.
Initially, Martin denied everything and claimed his cousin was a liar. Martin’s mother told the press that her nephew was brainwashed and tortured by Gregg County Sheriffs. However, Geoff maintained his story and said Martin staged the shooting to gain publicity.
While this was happening, news broke that Martin had overspent his House allowance by $11,000, and the House Administrations Committee suspended his allowance, leaving his staff without paychecks. By September 3, House Speaker Bill Clayton called for Martin to resign.
Mike Martin’s political career was over, and he became the laughingstock of the nation.
In October 1981, Texas House Rep. Bill Haley handled his 12-gauge shotgun and accidentally shot his foot. The blast blew away his boot but missed his toes by centimeters. After that, other legislators jokingly awarded him the “Mike Martin Marksmanship Award.”
Martin rocketed to national fame, not as a lawmaker, but as the punchline of every political joke from coast to coast. First, the Travis County area TV stations aired satire about the incident. Then, believing he wouldn’t get a fair trial in Austin, his lawyers made a change of venue request and said, “He needs to get someplace as close to Alaska as possible.” Ultimately, the trial was moved to Fredricksburg.
Mike Martin paid the filing fees to run for a second term as his trial approached. However, Martin took a plea bargain that reduced the charge to misdemeanor perjury in exchange for withdrawing his candidacy and resigning from office.
On April 22, 1982, Mike W. Martin officially resigned from office. He never again held a politically elected seat.
However, that wasn’t the end of the Mike Martin Saga.
Instead of disappearing into obscurity, Martin was in the news again several years later after he kidnapped his children. In 1986, two years after his divorce, Martin disappeared with his two young children (ages five and nine).
He was indicted on state charges of interfering with custody and federal charges of fleeing from prosecution. In 1988, after two years in hiding, the FBI found him and the children living in Wellington, New Zealand. He returned his children to their mother in Texas and then returned to New Zealand.
In 2007, Mike Martin went public with a story about the shooting.
Mike Martin published a story on the internet in 2007 which claimed that the 1981 shooting stemmed from an incident of road rage. However, it is not just any road rage. He claimed he was shot at by a car full of Hispanic men with tattoos, who yelled at him in Spanish. He also claimed to have returned fire.
According to Martin’s 2007 story, he drove to the police station and got out of his car but then changed his mind, thinking about how he had emptied his clip into a car full of people. So, he drove back home. When he got there, the same vehicle reappeared and shot at him again, hitting him.
Martin claimed he told investigators that he didn’t know who shot him because he didn’t want it to publicly reveal that he was involved in a road rage shooting. Martin claimed he later concocted the story about devil worshipers based on prank phone calls he was getting.
His story was not kind to his cousin, either. He said Charles Geoff had just shown up out of the blue after getting out of jail, was a criminal and the black sheep of the family, and he was mad that Geoff didn’t show up at Matin’s father’s funeral. Martin then accuses law enforcement of offering Geoff a deal on other crimes he was in trouble for in exchange for setting him up.
It’s one hell of a tale by Mike Martin, which you can still read here.
Was Martin’s 2007 account true?
Why did it take him 26 years to tell it if it was true? It’s an interesting read but likely more fiction than fact. He also claimed many other possible falsehoods and ended the article with, “Goff ended up in Huntsville Prison in 1989 for killing a man while fishing on the Sabine River and eventually died of unknown causes.”
Mike Martin was a Texas House Representative in the 67th Legislature, a fundamentalist, and a proud Conservative Republican. He only ran for office to push his religious beliefs down other people’s throats because of a perceived moral superiority of his religion over others. Despite the claims of moral superiority, Mike Martin had himself shot, lied to everyone, made up stories about non-existent devil worshipers, kidnapped his children, and then waited for 26 years to rewrite history completely.
Martin set a precedent in Texas. Over the next several decades, many Conservatives will try to harm Texans based on their religious beliefs, only to be later indicted for one thing or another.
Where is Mike Martin now?
Martin would now be in his 70s. He could still be in New Zealand. Or perhaps he’s moved back to Texas. Unfortunately, we were unable to track him down. But wherever he is, you can guarantee he’s telling tall tales of that fateful evening that ended his career and made him the laughingstock of Texas.
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