He was a different breed of law enforcement, but he was perfectly matched to battle it out with the State Line Mo. Beyond the myth & legend, did Buford Pusser’s ambition to wipe out the mob lead to his wife’s murder?
This week we delve into the facts and fiction behind the legendary sheriff Buford Pusser. His life was immortalized in the series of “Walking Tall” movies, but how much of those scripts were accurate?
Can one man take on the Dixie Mafia and win?
Whatever your opinion of the man, Buford Pusser had the moxie to try. He refused to take bribes like he’d seen other law enforcement officials do and tried to clean up the state line.
It was a different world back then.
Law enforcement officials weren’t tied down with as many rules and regulations back then. Pusser’s “strong arm” tactics wouldn’t be allowed in this politically correct world. If you didn’t break the law then he was a hero. If you did, he was an evil thug.
Back in the 1960’s & 1970’s the phrase “strong arm of the law” meant something entirely different then it does now, but B.P. was still criticized back in the day. The High Point Enterprise ran an article on April 7, 1974 titled, “Buford Pusser: Hero or Thug?” The title explains a lot. Even back then some people questions the lawman’s methods.
The six years he was sheriff were filled with blood and violence. He patrolled the state line waging war on prostitution, illegal gambling & moonshine. Pusser was 6’6″ giant of a man weighing in at 250 lbs. During his wrestling days he was known as “Buford the Bull.”
Born on December 12, 1937 in Finger, Tennessee the Bull would rage through life until his death in 1974. He was only 36. Some claim he was a hero who died to soon and others wonder if he left more pain in his wake than necessary. Was he a hero or a thug? We may never know. People still argue over this man’s exploits four decades after his death.
In 1964, Buford Pusser became the Sheriff of McNairy County Tennessee and the war began. Shortly after receiving his new title, the State Line Mob offered Pusser $1,000/month to look the other way, but the big man refused. During his tenure, the sheriff jailed 7,500 criminals and dismantled 85 moonshine stills. Legend says he did this all in the year of 1965, but I was unable to verify that. It is more likely that he did that in the span of six years. Who knows? Maybe someone will come forward after reading this article and show me documentation to prove otherwise.
It was a known fact that B.P. didn’t carry a weapon into his battles with criminals. Instead, he depended on his brawn to take down the bad guys. This would all change in November 1965 when he was attacked by a group of hired assassins. Pusser was left to die with seven stab wounds. Perhaps it was grit and determination, or maybe it was divine guidance, but either way Pusser recovered and jumped right back into the fight, only this time he jumped in with a .41 magnum Smith & Wesson.
February 2, 1966, Sheriff Pusser was called to the Shamrock Hotel. Someone had filed another complaint against the owner Louise Hathcock. A couple unsuspecting visitors were robbed while staying at the infamous hotel. It was a familiar story. Hathcock currently had two warrants out against her for theft and possession of an illegal substance (moonshine.)
The sheriff took off towards the hotel with his gun in the glove box, but his deputy suggested he stop and strap on his gun. That decision would either save his life or allow him to commit murder. It all depends on which side of the fence you sit on.
During the visit a drunken Louise pulled her .38 and shot at Buford. In her delirious state, she missed giving B.P. enough time to fire off a few rounds in return. Of course this killing was justifiable in the eyes of the grand jury and the sheriff faced no charges in the ordeal. Pusser’s critics, however, claim Louise Hathcock was shot in the back therefore constituting murder. I have not been able to find an official autopsy to confirm this theory. I have, however, found many of the original reports on the incident, all of which point to self defense.
Whatever happened in that room, it triggered a series of blood letting that would make history. When the dust finally settled seven years later, the great lawman an most of the State Line Mob were dead. Two big names would survive and become the next generation of the Dixie Mafia.
Next week we will get into the ambush of Sheriff Pusser and his wife on New Hope Rd and the blood bath that ensued. Stay tune folks this tale is far from over.
The following links are for the benefit of Synova’s readers and are not an all inclusive source listing.
All information used to create this content is a matter of public record and can be easily found online. Any participation or alleged involvement of any party mentioned within this site is purely speculation. As the law states, an individual is Innocent until PROVEN guilty. ©2017-2019. All rights reserved.
If you enjoy this content don’t forget to sign up for Synova’s Weekly True Crime Newsletter. You will receive exclusive content directly in your inbox. As a gift for joining you will also receive the Grim Justice ebook free.
Each week Synova highlights obscure cold cases on her blog as a victim’s advocate with the Missouri Missing organization. She never charges for her services. If you’d like to help support Synova in this worthy cause, please check out the affiliate links below and on the sidebar of this page. By purchasing one of her books or using these links, you will be supporting Synova’s work on cold cases and will ensure her ability to continue to give a voice to the victim’s family. Thank you.
Synova’s True Crime books are also available on Amazon.com