Criminal Activities

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Sanders, Jim (Lynching of)

On the night of May 28, 1882, a mob removed a young African American named Jim Sanders from the custody of authorities and killed him, using “enough buckshot to kill a score of men,” according to one account. The previous day, he had allegedly attacked Nancie (sometimes referred to as Nannie) Carr as she was cleaning the schoolhouse in the Parker community of Union Township in Pulaski County. There is very little information about Jim Sanders, whom the Arkansas Gazette refers to as a “youth.” There were two African Americans named James Sanders in Pulaski County in 1880; the most likely match is James Sanders, born around 1872, who was living in Badgett Township with his parents, Charlie and Julia …

Scott-Selden Duel

aka: Selden-Scott Duel
The Scott-Selden Duel was fought on May 26, 1824, between Andrew Horatio Scott and Joseph Selden, both judges of the territorial Superior Court of the Arkansas Territory. Judges Scott and Selden worked together on the Superior Court from 1821 until the duel, which resulted in Selden’s death. Arkansas was created as a separate territory from Missouri in 1819. Congress vested the judicial power of the territorial government in a Superior Court, consisting of three judges appointed by the president for four-year terms, and in such other inferior courts as the territorial legislature might create. In 1819, Andrew Scott, Charles Jouett of Michigan, and Robert Letcher of Kentucky were appointed to be the first judges of the Superior Court. Jouett and …

Scruggs, David (Lynching of)

In late July 1885, an African-American man named David Scruggs was lynched by a mob of black citizens near Redfield (Jefferson County) for allegedly committing incest with his daughter. In 1880, farmer David Scruggs was living in Victoria (Jefferson County) with his wife, Nancy; an eleven-year-old daughter named Julia; and a ten-year-old grandchild. His wife was working as a laborer. Although some sources say that the lynching occurred on July 24, an Arkansas Gazette article datelined Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), July 24, gives the date as “one night this week.” As July 24 was a Friday, it is probable that the lynching occurred earlier in the week. The Alexandria Gazette says that it happened on Thursday night, which would make …

Sevier County Lynching of 1881

In late May 1881, three African-American men were lynched in Sevier County for allegedly attacking a man who requested their help in crossing Rolling Fork Creek. The descriptions of the victim are confusing. The Arkansas Gazette described him as “an old man named Holly.” The St. Paul Globe reported that he was a prominent Sevier County farmer named R. F. Hall; the Memphis Daily Appeal concurred, adding that he was eccentric. The Nebraska Advertiser gave his name as A. F. Hall. In his “Early Days in Sevier County,” W. S. Ray wrote that he was a “simple-minded man named Hall” who was passing through the county. Public records do nothing to clarify his identity. His alleged attackers were not identified …

Shivery, George (Lynching of)

George Shivery (or Shiverey), a white man, was lynched in Pocahontas (Randolph County) on March 23, 1901, at 1:30 a.m. for the alleged crime of killing a city marshal. He was one of only two men, both of them white, ever to be lynched in Randolph County; George Cole had been lynched in 1872. According to the Arkansas Gazette, Shivery resided in a houseboat along the Black River with his wife and four children. On the evening of March 20, Shivery allegedly shot and killed John Norris, a city marshal. Initial reports in both the Gazette and the Arkansas Democrat reported that Shivery (whose name was initially given as James Chavari) had confronted Norris regarding the latter’s attempt to cut …

Simmons, Ronald Gene

On December 22, 1987, Ronald Gene Simmons began a killing spree that would be the worst mass murder in Arkansas history and the worst crime involving one family in the history of the country. His rampage ended on December 28, 1987, leaving dead fourteen members of his immediate family and two former coworkers. Ronald Gene Simmons was born on July 15, 1940, in Chicago, Illinois, to Loretta and William Simmons. On January 31, 1943, William Simmons died of a stroke. Within a year, Simmons’s mother married again, this time to William D. Griffen, a civil engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps moved Griffen to Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1946, the first of several transfers that …

Slater, Philip (Lynching of)

On March 22, 1921, fifty-year-old Philip Slater was hanged on the public square in Monticello (Drew County) for allegedly assaulting a white woman in nearby Wilmar (Drew County). Philip Slater was one of many African Americans who worked in Drew County’s timber industry, the largest industry in the county in 1920. According to the 1920 census, Slater and his wife, Jimmie, were boarding with Addie Green on Buber Street in Wilmar. Both Philip and Jimmie could read and write, and he was working as a laborer in a lumber mill. This may have been the large Gates Lumber Company, which was located in Wilmar. Slater was reportedly fifty years old when he was murdered. According to the Arkansas Gazette, on …

Slaughter, Tom

Dead before his twenty-fifth birthday, Tom Slaughter was a violent, arrogant, and handsome conman, bank robber, and killer. When he died on December 9, 1921, in Benton (Saline County), Slaughter had been given the death sentence for murder. Tom Slaughter was born in Bernice, Louisiana, on December 25, 1896, but he lived in the Dallas, Texas, area until he was fourteen. Slaughter then moved to Pope County, Arkansas, where he was convicted of stealing a calf in 1911. Slaughter was sentenced to the Arkansas Boys’ Industrial Home. A few months later, he escaped. He returned to Russellville (Pope County), where he paraded before Sheriff Oates, who arrested him. He escaped from jail the second night. For the next ten years, …

Smackover Riot of 1922

In late November 1922, a hooded and robed “cleanup committee”—possibly members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) or some related group—rode through the Smackover (Union County) oil fields in order to drive away “undesirable” people, such as saloon owners and gamblers. The vigilantes killed at least one person, shot at others, and destroyed buildings, and there were widespread reports of floggings and even cases of people being tarred and feathered. This multi-day riot mirrored other vigilante actions in the newly established oil fields in Arkansas. The previous February, the citizens of El Dorado (Union County) had formed a “Law Enforcement League” for the same purpose. Smackover is located twelve miles north of El Dorado in Union County, an area that had relied on …

Smith, Leroy (Lynching of)

On May 11, 1921, fourteen-year-old Leroy Smith was hanged at McGehee (Desha County) for allegedly attacking J. P. Sims and Arabella Bond as they drove along a road between McGehee and Arkansas City (Desha County). It is one of many accounts of alleged roadside attacks, some of which are referred to in historian Kristina DuRocher’s book, Raising Racists. Although early reports, including the one in the Arkansas Gazette, indicated that the name of the lynching victim was unknown, an article in the St. Louis Argus identified him as Leroy Smith, a teenager from Lake Providence, Louisiana, which is about sixty miles from McGehee. The 1920 census lists a teenager named “Lawyer” Smith, born around 1908, living in Police Jury Ward …

Smith, Less (Lynching of)

On December 9, 1922, an African-American man named Less Smith was lynched in Morrilton (Conway County) for the alleged murder of deputy sheriff Granville Edward Farish. Farish had been in Conway County since at least 1900, when he was twelve years old and living in Welborn Township with his parents, Columbus and Bell Farish. At the age of seventeen, he married sixteen-year-old Carrie Spears in Morrilton. Carrie might have died, because in 1909 he married a woman named Myrtle, and in 1910 they were living and farming in Welborn Township. In 1920, he and Myrtle were living in Welborn Township with their children Thetus (age eight), Cessna (age seven), Harrell (age five), Janie (age three), and Dorothy (age one). As …

Smithee-Adams Duel

What has often been described as “the last duel fought in Arkansas” was an exchange of gunshots in the streets of Little Rock (Pulaski County) between James Newton (J. N.) Smithee and John D. Adams on May 5, 1878. This event was also an early episode in the long newspaper war conducted between the Arkansas Gazette (then the Daily Arkansas Gazette) and the Arkansas Democrat. Adams became owner, with William D. Blocher, of the Gazette on November 11, 1876. They hired James Mitchell to be editor-in-chief of the newspaper; Mitchell had been a professor of English literature at Arkansas Industrial University, now the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). Smithee competed with the Gazette by purchasing the printing …

Snell, Richard Wayne

Richard Wayne Snell—a member of a number of white supremacy groups, including the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSA), which was founded in 1971 in Elijah, Missouri, by polygamist James Ellison—was also reported to be a member of the Aryan Nation. In addition, there are unsubstantiated reports connecting Snell to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh; perhaps not coincidentally, McVeigh’s act of domestic terrorism occurred only hours before Snell’s execution for two murders he had committed in the 1980s. Richard Wayne Snell was born in Iowa on May 21, 1930, to Charles Edwin Snell and Mary Jane Snell. Snell’s father was a pastor of the Church of Nazarene, and Snell himself trained in the ministry but did …

Southern Arkansas Race Riots of Late 1896

During November and December 1896, there were three separate racial incidents on job sites in and around El Dorado (Union County). In mid-November 1896, there was a “race war” between white and black workers at Hawthorne Mills, twelve miles southwest of El Dorado. On Tuesday, December 1, 1896, five African-American section men who were working on the line of the Cotton Belt Railroad between Camden (Ouachita County) and Bearden (Ouachita County) were killed by a group of unidentified men. In late December, near McNeil (Columbia County), approximately twenty African Americans were shot when white men raided a sawmill. This was part of a widespread pattern of intimidation of black laborers in southern Arkansas in the 1890s, a practice that seems to …

Spence, Helen

Helen Ruth Spence of Arkansas County was a famous outlaw and prisoner whose story captured the imaginations of many during her life and engendered a body of legend afterward. She was the focus of unprecedented media coverage in her day, up until her death at the hands of Arkansas prison officials. The July 12, 1934, issues of the Washington Post and New York Times published accounts of Spence’s death on the previous day. The date of her birth aboard a houseboat on the White River near St. Charles (Arkansas County) was listed by the funeral home as February 23, 1912. Arkansas’s houseboat-dwelling “river rats” were eventually expelled from the area as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tamed the White …

Springer, Andrew (Lynching of)

Andrew Springer, a white man, was lynched in Powhatan (Lawrence County) on May 21, 1887. His is the only lynching recorded as happening in Lawrence County and occurred during a decade when whites and African Americans were lynched in relatively equal numbers. That would change the following decade as lynching violence became more exclusively anti-black. The lynching of Springer became the subject of the October “Ghost Walk” held at the Powhatan Historic State Park each year and is a significant component of local folklore. The event was mentioned by newspapers as far away as Perth, Australia. The exact identity of Springer remains a mystery. Some newspapers reported that he was originally from Cook County, Illinois, but the four possible matches …

St. Charles Lynching of 1904

Over the course of four days in the first week of spring 1904, a succession of white mobs terrorized the black population of St. Charles (Arkansas County). They murdered thirteen black males in this town of about 500. Given the death toll, it may have been the deadliest lynching in American history. The murderers were never identified in either public reports or eyewitness accounts, and the scant surviving evidence in newspapers and manuscripts lists only the victims, not the killers or their possible motives. On Monday, March 21, on the dock at the White River crossing in St. Charles, Jim Searcy, a white man, argued over a game of chance with a black man named Griffin, with whom he was …

Starr, Belle

aka: Myra Maybelle Shirley
In the late 1800s, Belle Starr was known as a notorious female outlaw in America’s “Old West.” As a resident of Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, she came under the jurisdiction of Judge Isaac C. Parker in Fort Smith (Sebastian County). Her close friends included the legendary American outlaws Cole Younger and Frank and Jesse James. Her reputation as an outlaw, the novelty of being a woman outlaw, and her violent, mysterious death led to her being called “The Bandit Queen.” Belle Starr was born Myra Maybelle Shirley near Carthage, Missouri, on February 5, 1848. Her father was John R. Shirley, a farmer who later owned a local inn. Her mother, twenty years younger than her husband, was Elizabeth (Eliza) Hatfield …

Stewart, Charles (Lynching of)

Charles Stewart, a white man, was lynched in Perryville (Perry County) on May 17, 1892, after killing Deputy Sheriff Tom Holmes in a failed attempt to escape jail. This was the only recorded lynching in Perry County. Given the absence of enumeration sheets for the 1890 census, determining the identity of Charles Stewart is difficult. However, there was a Charley Straut living in neighboring Yell County in 1880; his age was given as six years old (making him about eighteen in 1892, when the crime and lyching took place). Reports on the lynching present little biographical information. According to the Arkansas Gazette, Stewart had been jailed in Perryville “for attempted outrage on the 11-year-old daughter of J. W. Guin, and …

Stuttgart Lynching of 1916

An unidentified African-American man was taken from the jail in DeWitt (Arkansas County) and lynched in Stuttgart (Arkansas County) on August 9, 1916, for having allegedly attacked a sixteen-year-old white girl. This was the first of two lynchings to occur in Arkansas County that year—on October 8, 1916, Frank Dodd was also taken from the jail at DeWitt, though he was lynched in town. According to the Arkansas Gazette, on Monday, August 7, the unidentified man—described only as “about 25 years old and unknown here”—attacked the sixteen-year-old daughter of farmer Ernest Wittman in a field south of Stuttgart. The narrative is vague, indicating that the unknown man was arrested after having been attacked and wounded by a posse; he was subsequently …

Sullivan, Walter (Lynching of)

On October 1, 1902, a young African American named Walter Sullivan was murdered in Portland (Ashley County) for allegedly shooting a prominent merchant. In the 1900 census, there was a fifteen-year-old youth named Walter Sullivan living in Bonita, Louisiana, on the Wilmot Highway just south of the Arkansas line. He was living with his parents, Daniel and Malindy Sullivan, and two brothers, Vigil (age eighteen) and Cud (eight). Although newspaper accounts refer to Mr. Roddy as either D. D. Roddy or D. J. Roddy, he was probably William D. Roddy, a fifty-three-year-old widower who was a merchant in Portland in 1900. Roddy may have formerly been a farmer in Drew County, as a farmer of the same name and age …