It’s a story of an outlaw, a sheriff and a drug bust. It’s also a story that most West Texans probably know. Witnessed: Borderlands is a new true-crime podcast from journalist Rob D’Amico, set during the peak of the War On Drugs. Throughout the series, D’Amico retells the story of Sheriff Rick Thompson and Rob Chambers, and the bust that brought them down.
By Bárbara Anguiano
Before the infamous drug bust that brought down Sheriff Rick Thompson, Presidio and Brewster Counties had become an epicenter of drug trafficking — due in part to the region’s isolation and sparse population.
Marfa Public Radio’s Morning Edition host Bárbara Anguiano sat down with journalist Rob D’Amico to talk about this time in Far West Texas, Thompson’s story, and the process of putting the podcast together.
D’Amico said he first heard the about the story of onetime Presidio County Sheriff Rick Thompson while sitting at a bar. He said he wasn’t familiar with the story; but when he started looking into it, he immediately became curious about Thompson’s motivations: Why would an iconic lawman risk so much to bond with an outlaw?
“It became much more than, you know, simple motivation for money,” said D’Amico in an interview with Marfa Public Radio. “It became this strange kind of working relationship that he may have been trying his best to protect, you know, Presidio County and serve it. But of course, it didn’t end up that way,” D’Amico says.
Adding New Voices To A Familiar Story
Because of the time that has passed since Thompson’s story first unfolded, D’Amico said he was able to incorporate what he called “unique voices” from the Big Bend region, voices that didn’t make it in newspapers at the time.
“Of course, a lot of the stuff was reported at the time, particularly in the Marfa paper,” D’Amico said. “But you know, a lot of the stories around Sheriff Rick Thompson and Robert Chambers were never told.”
While researching the podcast, D’Amico said he was surprised to realize, “how crazy and wild” life was like in the Big Bend region during the late 70s and 80s.
But this idea of a wild and carefree spirit in Far West Texas was tainted by an astonishing amount of violence: There were “people getting shot, people dying and people suffering from the impact of the drug trade,” said D’Amico.
D’Amico said one of the things he thinks about a lot is impact the drug trade has had on Mexico and Mexicans.
“That’s something that’s significant,” he said. “And I think that we quite frankly, didn’t get to tell enough stories from that side of the border. So that’s one thing that if I had to do it again, I wish I could get.”