Sunday, October 20, 2013

85 Years Ago - Gang War Heats Up

It's the 85th Anniversary of the Gang War between Charlie Birger and his men on one side and the Shelton Brothers on the other. Just one of the five main reasons why my home county is known as "Bloody Williamson."

The blood started spilling (in the Gang War) on Aug. 22, 1926, with a three-way shootout that left Harry Walker and Everett Smith dead at Thetford's roadhouse just north of Marion's Rosehill Cemetery on Illinois Route 37, yet still south of the J.W. Reynolds Monument Co. office on the east side the road.

No one took credit for the shooting though Harry's brother Ray was certain of the identity. Family members of the proprietor later told the story he had received a phone call warning him that the two men were there to kill him.

One of the more interesting tidbits about the incident involved the ethnicity of one of the band members. He was Hawaiian.

Early in the morning of Sept. 12 two gangsters Gary DeNeal's sources thought were Birger and Fred "Butch" Thomason opened fire at another two members of the Shelton Gang at the roadhouse on what's now Stotlar Road just east of the Burlington Northern R.R. crossing.

William "Wild Bill" Holland was hit and killed. Max Pulliam and his wife Mildred were wounded and taken to Herrin Hospital. Ray Walker and his wife were still inside the roadhouse when it happened and likely were the ones who took the Pulliams to the hospital.

Two days later Pulliam's family tried to sneak him out of the hospital in a hearse or ambulance (same vehicle was used for both) though it's not certain if they were trying to stage a funeral procession. Just outside Benton Birger and his men caught up with the ambulance and forced it to stop. If it wasn't for Pulliam's mother using her body to protect her son from Birger's blows, he likely would have been killed as well.

Later Birger would even admit to his role in the attack, "I and my men drove up and conked that fellow (hit him on the head)  until he fainted away. We showed him."

A day later on the 17th, Birger's men picked up another Franklin County felon named Lyle "Shag" Worsham they thought was snitching to the Sheltons. Newspapers had already identified Lyle's brother "Satan" Worsham as an associated of the them. Birger's men took Worsham south of Carterville where the machine-gunned him down in the road before taking him to an abandoned house by Pulley's Mill where they burned the body and house around it.

Meanwhile the Shelton Gang reconfigured one of their beer-running fuel trucks to an armored car. They debuted it on Oct. 4, with a machine gun attack on Birger's Shady Rest, a drive-by shooting of Art Newman and his wife in a car in Saline County, and another drive-by attack on Shaw's Gardens, a Birger-aligned roadhouse between Johnston City and West Frankfort on the Franklin-Williamson county line.

On Oct. 13 (or 14th according to some sources), Birger's men attacked the Shelton's main joint north of Herrin on what's now Illinois Route 148. On the 16th they raided the fluorspar mine in Rosiclare in order to steal their two machine guns they had locked up.

For more information on the Gang War and what happened next, check out my books Secrets of the Herrin Gangs co-authored by the Shelton's business manager and Inside the Shelton Gang co-authored and published earlier this year with Ruthie Shelton, the daughter of "Little Carl" Shelton, one of the nephews involved in that family's infamous activities.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hi my father loves reading about southern illinois history.. do u kno w of any more free sites that have alot of information on southern illinois especially the early 1900=1950s thanks tamara