Travellers have long history in Tarrant County

Five young Irish Travellers, all boys, were killed in a January 2000 crash on Interstate 30.
Five young Irish Travellers, all boys, were killed in a January 2000 crash on Interstate 30. Star-Telegram archives

The Irish Travellers are a secretive clan that shuns the spotlight.

But over the past 15 years, the nomads who marry within their circle and make their fortunes on the road have unwittingly found themselves in its glare.

Usually the stories involve arrests or warnings from police about roofing or asphalt scams for which the Travellers have gained a reputation. But on occasion the news is much graver, including in Tarrant County, where an enclave of Travellers lives.

One such instance came in January 2000, when five Traveller boys were killed in a horrific Fort Worth truck wreck. Relatives of the victims were uncooperative with authorities, and after questions arose about the boys’ names and ages, the Tarrant County medical examiner took the unusual step of fingerprinting them in their coffins to try to learn their true identities.

Two years later, their culture and lifestyle made national news when Madelyn Gorman Toogood — an Irish Traveller with Fort Worth ties — was caught on video beating her 4-year-old daughter outside an Indiana store.

Now, two Irish Travellers — a father and son with local ties who most recently lived in the Houston area — have been accused in the death of Anita Fox, an Alvarado grandmother. The housekeeper was killed Sept. 23 as she worked in a Colleyville home.

Colleyville police accuse the pair of stalking and killing Fox, with plans to collect on a $1 million life insurance policy.

Before he could be arrested, Gerard “Joe” Gorman — the father — was found dead in a Houston-area motel room of apparent natural causes.

His son, 26-year-old Bernard “Little Joe” Gorman, was arrested in Florida last month and is now in the Tarrant County Jail on a murder charge. His attorney, Steven Rocket Rosen, has represented several Travellers in his 34-year career, including Toogood.

Mostly in the South

Those familiar with Travellers, who are of Irish, English or Scottish descent, estimate that 30,000 live in the United States, mostly in Southern states such as Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas.

They move with the seasons, traveling north in the spring and returning to their home base when it gets cold.

In Tarrant County, hundreds of Irish Travellers drop anchor in White Settlement and Fort Worth. The group, known as the Greenhorns, has wintered in the area since the late 1800s.

The Irish Traveller subclan based in the Fort Worth area has the surnames of Gorman, Carroll, Jennings, Daley, McDonald and Toogood. All the members are related by blood or marriage.

They live in upscale travel trailers or nice homes in subdivisions and have a penchant for expensive cars, exquisite jewelry and brand-name clothes.

Both good and bad

To fund their lifestyle, many are accomplished scam artists, law enforcement officials say, working in trades like paving, roofing and painting but doing shoddy work or leaving jobs incomplete. By the time the customer figures it out, the Traveller is down the road in the next town.

Last year, reports from North Dakota indicated that some local Travellers were working there, taking advantage of the oil boom in the Bakken Shale.

Over the years, their schemes have become more sophisticated, with insurance fraud increasingly prevalent.

“They operate under illusion and confusion,” said Dirk Moore, a communications supervisor with the Lavaca County Sheriff’s Department who has investigated criminal Travellers for more than two decades. “That is the way they want it.”

Still, he said, not all of them are criminals.

“There is good and there is bad in all of the different groups,” he said. “I’ve been doing this 25 years, and I know a whole slew of people out there that have never done anything wrong.”

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd

Travellers in North Texas

Events and deaths involving local Irish Travellers in the past 15 years:

Jan. 2, 2000: Five boys, all Irish Travellers, were killed when the pickup they were riding in flipped over a median on Interstate 30 in west Fort Worth and landed upside down on another truck. The dead youths had identifications from Oklahoma, Georgia and Kansas indicating that three were at least 18. But at their funeral in downtown Fort Worth, a program listed none older than 14. Those killed were James “Jim MC” McDonald, 13; John “Johnny Boy” McDonald, 13; Martin “Little Mart” McDonald, 12; Edward “Little Ed” Jennings, 14; and Harry “Hankster” Gorman, 13.

Feb. 23, 2000: Michael Gorman, 32, was found dead in Cobb Park in Fort Worth, with gunshot wounds to his head and palm. His white 1999 Ford pickup, filled with work equipment, was near his body.

October 2002: Mark McDonald, the father of one of the five boys, died after being run over in a restaurant parking lot in Speedway, Ind., by another son, Martin. The two got into a fight in the parking lot, and Martin tried to drive off in his pickup as his father tried to get in on the passenger side. Mark was dragged for a short distance before he fell and was run over. Martin was arrested and pleaded guilty to criminal recklessness. He was sentenced to 545 days’ probation, according to court records.

September 2002: Madelyn Gorman Toogood became the subject of a nationwide search after a security camera outside a Kohl’s store in Mishawaka, Ind., filmed her beating her 4-year-old daughter. She was already wanted in White Settlement for failing to pay a traffic ticket and in Fort Worth for failing to appear in court to face charges in the theft of clothes. Toogood turned herself in and held a news conference, tearfully proclaiming that she was “not a monster.” Toogood’s children were removed for a time, but she took parenting classes, pleaded guilty to a felony battery charge, and received one year of probation and a $500 fine.

2005: Edward Jennings, the father of one of the boys killed in the wreck, and his brother-in-law Edward T. McDonald went to federal prison for three years for defrauding elderly people in home repair scams in Alaska, Oregon, Arizona, California and Kansas.

Oct. 10, 2007: Margaret Gorman, 48, the mother of one of the boys killed in the wreck, died of an accidental overdose of a mixture of prescription pain relievers, according to an autopsy report.

Oct. 15, 2010: Pete “Blue” Daley, a 73-year-old Houston Irish Traveller with local ties, was fatally shot outside a motel near Atlanta. His murder remains unsolved.

Sept. 23, 2014: Anita Fox of Alvarado, who had ties to the English Travellers, was killed while cleaning a house in Colleyville. Police say Gerard Gorman and his 26-year-old son, Bernard Gorman, both Irish Travellers, stalked and killed Fox, with plans to collect on a $1 million life insurance policy that Fox didn’t know she had. Little Joe Gorman is the grandson of “Blue” Daley, the Traveller slain in 2010 in Georgia.

Source: Star-Telegram archives

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