After graduating from college in 1967, I spent the summer and early fall as a radio announcer at a small, local AM radio station in Slidell, Louisiana. The job was playing music — mostly C&W but occasionally pop and light rock — reading news, and some commercials, from mid-afternoon weekdays until sign-off in the early evening.
The summer of 1967 was not the tumultuous one of the next year, but neither was it the Summer of Love touted by nostalgic unreconstructed hippies. Protests against the Vietnam War were growing and serious riots were occurring in many large cities across the land. Regional news in small southern towns was more important to local media. I recall a news item that came off the AP wire that a sheriff in southwestern Tennessee had been ambushed, seriously wounded, and his wife was killed on August 12. Didn’t think much more about it.
In the 1970s, Walking Tall, a motion picture loosely based on Sheriff Buford Pusser’s career in McNairy County Tennessee came to theaters. McNairy County in the 1960s was a hotbed of criminal activities consisting of illegal gambling, various swindles, prostitution, robbery, and drug dealing. This movie, possessed no doubt of much dramatic license, portrayed Pusser as a crusading law enforcement official using his authority and resolve in an attempt to suppress criminal activities in his county. In doing so, he raised the ire of various crooks and others who financially benefitted from these activities.
McNairy County’s criminal activities were perpetrated mainly by the Dixie Mafia and its affiliate called State Line Mob. This group had no relation to the so-called Italian Mafia, but rather were a loose group of traveling criminals who operated throughout a number of southern states, mainly Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Texas. A prominent member of this gang was one Kirksey Nix. The word on the street was that Nix, who together with his associate Carl Douglas “Towhead” White, who ran the illegal operations in McNairy County, were tired of being hassled by Pusser and ordered the hit whereby Pusser was wounded and his wife killed. This is never proven, but many in law enforcement believe the attack was carried out by Nix or one of his henchmen. Around the same time, Nix was charged with the murder of a New Orleans grocer, tried, and sentenced to life in prison without parole To this day he remains a prisoner at the Terre Haute federal prison Communications Management Unit that restricts contact with the outside world.
When I was relieved from active duty in the U. S. Army, one of the first things that greeted me upon returning to Dallas was a jury summons. I dutifully appeared at the then new courthouse (now named the George L. Allen Courts Building) and was selected to serve on a criminal jury trying a man for committing a home invasion robbery of a wealthy resident in North Dallas. The trial, and both the lawyers, and the police detectives who were the main witnesses apart from an accomplice, was fascinating to me. So much so that I blame or credit the rest of my career in law and law enforcement to the experience. After an all week trial, we convicted the perpetrator, and the judge sentenced him to life as a habitual criminal. The prosecutors debriefed us and explained that the now convicted robber, and his gang of five who carried out the crime, were Dixie Mafia associates who had pulled many such robberies and other crimes in the area and throughout the state.
Subsequently, 5 years to the month after the attack on Pusser, I was a brand-new Dallas police officer when I heard the news about the demise of a known associate of Kirksey Nix, who was supposedly an “enforcer” for the Dixie Mafia. Stanley Lee “Creeper” Cook was ambushed and shot to death. Cook was leaving a dive bar known as the Lemon Twist at the corner of Lemmon Avenue and Wycliff Street around midnight August 30, 1972, when a rifle bullet put a hole in his liver. Some of the veteran officers, who were familiar with the Dixie Mafia people, speculated that this was a revenge killing by Sheriff Pusser, who was known to be in the Dallas area at the time. I was never privy to the Dallas detectives’ investigation of this homicide, but in those days (and I suspect sub rosa even today) the attitude of most police officers is that as long as it’s criminals killing each other, nothing but good can come from it. No one was ever arrested or charged with Cook’s killing, and it was chalked up to good riddance. Two years later Pusser, who had resigned as Sheriff in the meantime, was killed in one car wreck on a highway in Tennessee. There was no evidence of foul play, even though there has been a good deal of speculation.
So much for one of my rather attenuated brushes with law enforcement history.
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