“On Saturday, January 2, 1932, a particularly tragic incident was proclaimed in banner headlines throughout the country. An event later known as the Young Brothers Massacre claimed the lives of six officers from the Greene County Sheriff’s Department and the Springfield, Missouri, Police Department. Until the tragedy of September 11, 2001, in New York City and Washington D.C., the massacre held the record for the largest number of law enforcement officers killed in a single incident.
Before even reaching their late teens, Paul and Jennings Young had established a reputation in the Springfield, Missouri, area as petty thieves with violent temperaments. Both would receive short prison sentences for breaking and entering after robbing a store near the family’s Brookline farm. By the late 1920s, Paul, Jennings, and Harry, the younger brother, had developed a reputation in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and southwestern Missouri as thieves and brokers of stolen merchandise. Evidence for arrest and conviction, however, proved elusive even though the family farm was searched often. The Young brothers’ crime spree took a violent turn on June 2, 1929, when Harry Young murdered City Marshal Mark Noe of Republic, Missouri, during a drunk driving stop. Harry fled to Texas and lived under the alias Claude Walker while working for a dairy farmer. He also assisted his brothers in the development of a multistate automobile-theft ring.” Excerpt from Murder & Mayhem on the Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66
The research for this new book led me to some very dark places along Route 66 and the National Old Trails Road, the Main Street of America. It also led to the discovery of some incredible and tragic stories that have, with the passing of time, been forgotten. One of these was the incident known as the Young brothers massacre that took place at a farm near Springfield, Missouri. Even in an era when newspapers carried stories of brutal murders, bank robberies, and police shootings committed by viscous outlaw gangs almost daily, this incident was unprecedented.
“The police shot a tear gas shell through a window. The sheriff and Mashburn positioned themselves near the kitchen door. Oliver positioned himself behind a tree to cover them. Houser stood by the lawn gate, and Detective Sid Meadows took cover behind a nearby tree. Detective Ben Bilyeu stood close to Oliver, and Detective Frank Pike and R. G. Wegman were ordered to the rear of the cars to watch the barn and shed. Detective Owen Brown and Deputy Sheriff Crosswhite took up positions at the northeast corner of the house. Sheriff Hendrix and Deputy Mashburn knocked on the kitchen door and called out the boys’ names several times.
Detective Johnson, with Mashburn on the left and Hendrix on the right, shoved hard against the door with their left shoulders. It opened enough for Mashburn to step inside, but he was immediately blasted on the left side of his face by a shotgun. Sheriff Hendrix reportedly said, “God, boys, they mean business,” as he stepped into the opening to the left of Mashburn. He was shot at nearly point-blank range in the chest, a fatal shot. Mashburn, critically wounded and blinded, stumbled back through the door.”
When we think about Prohibition-era gangsters, it is Chicago, Al Capone, and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre that often come to mind. Tulsa, however, was where some of the most violent gangsters of this period got their start and honed their skills. Many would profit from the lessons they learned in Tulsa by working for syndicates in Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit, contributing to the rise of gangster empires such as Al Capone’s in the mid-1920s. In Tulsa’s Central Park district at 6th Street and Peoria Avenue during the years bracketing World War I, juvenile gangs ran rampant. The roster of ruffians reads like a Who’s Who of notorious Midwestern gangsters in the late 1920s and 1930s. Volney Davis, Wilbur Underhill, Ray Terrill, and Elmer Inman were just a few. The infamous Barker gang led by Ma Barker got their start in this district as well.
Another training ground for ruthless gangsters was St. Louis and East St. Louis. For more than a decade Egan’s Rats ruled the cities with violence, extortion and intimidation. With the waning power of the gang the heavy hitters moved and became hired guns for Capone, for Detroit’s Purple Gang, and free lancers that worked for the highest paying gangs.
This fall, to promote the new book, I will also be making a newly developed presentation that takes the audience with me on a walk on the dark side of Route 66. It’s stories of serial killers, brutal race riots, gangsters, mobsters, and viscous killers like the Young brothers. I will introduce listeners to the seedy side of Tulsa and St. Louis. Follow my schedule on our Facebook page for dates and locations. And if you have interest in scheduling a presentation, drop me a note. As it will be in October, I am confident that a few folks will find it quite appropriate for Halloween.