Closed to Debate

Rex Copeland was the star of his team, but he was growing weary of the grueling practices, the constant traveling, and, most of all, an overly-demanding and never satisfied coach.


The twenty-year-old student attended college in football frenzied Alabama, but Rex was not an athlete. Instead, he was the star of his Samford University debate team. The debate was nowhere near the level of football, but it was a big deal at the school of approximately 5,000 students in Homewood, Alabama, five miles south of Birmingham. Samford had a long tradition of great debaters and had nearly won the national debate championship in 1989. The 1989-90 team, led by Rex, was poised for another run at the title.


Rex enjoyed arguing issues such concerning capital punishment as a deterrent to crime, the constitutionality of affirmative action, or the effectiveness of the trade embargo with Cuba. Now, however, his priorities had changed. He longed for more downtime to spend with his girlfriend, attend a few social events, and enjoy the remainder of his college career.
By early September, Rex decided to give up his craft. He wanted to be a lawyer, and debating had prepared him well for that career. Now, however, he was stretched too thin, and he wanted to focus on finishing college, preparing for law school, and having a little fun in between.

Forty-two-year-old Bill Slagle was a Stamford professor and the school’s debate coach. He was unmarried, had few close friends, and rarely socialized. Teaching and coaching debate were Slagle’s life, and he took both very seriously.

Slagle, regarded as one of the best debate coaches in America, was a drill sergeant in a suit and tie. He was always quick to ridicule and rarely prone to praise. One student described Slagle as the “Bob Knight of debate coaches.”

An athletics coach might make a player do 100 extra push-ups or run 100 more laps if he were not meeting the coach’s standards. Slagle would make a debate member read scores of articles and write briefs if he was not satisfied with the performance. Slagle produced winners, but many debaters quit the team because of their disdain for him.

Slagle had a saying; “School first, debate second.” Rex accepted the mantra for two years and probably would have continued to do so if there were more to it. For Slagle, however, that was the rule in its entirety; there were no third, fourth, or fifth facets.

On the morning of September 22, 1989, Rex’s debate teammate, Scott Barber, and girlfriend, Susan Dean, went to his off-campus apartment to check on him. They hadn’t heard from him since the previous day and were concerned. He hadn’t shown up for his classes and debate practices. He had told Susan he would meet her at a party on the evening of the 21st, but had not done so.

Upon arriving at Rex’s apartment complex, Scott and Susan found his car in the parking lot. They knocked on his door but received no answer. A maintenance man agreed to let them in.

As the door swung open, Scott and Susan fell back in shock. On the floor in front of the door lay Rex in a pool of blood. An autopsy later determined the college student had been stabbed 22 times.

After examining the crime scene, police found the perpetrator had wiped all fingerprints. Rex’s wallet was found in the apartment intact, so the police quickly ruled out robbery as a motive. Investigators determined the murder was not a random crime because there were no signs of forced entry into the apartment. Two glasses of soda were on the table, indicating Rex had voluntarily let someone into his apartment, likely someone he knew.

Police found a bloody handprint with five stretched fingermarks on the apartment door. They were Rex’s, indicating he had made a desperate attempt for the door before he died. Detective Mike Campbell said the image was one of the most haunting of his career as a homicide detective.

Rex’s valiant fight for his life led to the person who brutally took it. DNA was found on the glasses and elsewhere, but it is not what lead to his killer. At the time, the DNA analyzing process was slow, and labs were overloaded with cases. The tests could take weeks, possibly months.

Police believed Rex had inflicted cuts on his killer’s arms. Their hunch proved correct as such wounds provided the break in the case.

A local hospital informed police that on the evening of September 21, the night of the murder, a man came to the emergency room for treatment of deep lacerations on his forearm. The patient told doctors he had sustained the injures from grabbing a towel rack after slipping in the shower. The injured man’s name was Bill Slagle.

When Slagle attended Rex’s funeral, those around him said he appeared more nervous than sad. He offered his condolences to Rex’s father by shaking his hand and hugging him. William Copeland recalled Slagle wincing, saying he had hurt his arm from a fall in the shower.

By the time police attempted to question Slagle, he had skipped town, having withdrawn $10,000 from his bank account. A manhunt ensued for the debate coach.

One week later, the Homewood police received a letter from Nashville, Tennessee. It was from the coach turned fugitive. Slagle admitted killing Rex but claimed it was self-defense, saying Rex had pulled a knife on him, and Slagle wrestled it from him in self-defense. In the process, the coach said, he killed his top debater.

The following week, Slagle mailed a letter from Los Angeles International Airport, saying he was going to commit suicide.

No one believed Slagle was planning to end his life, but what he did next was nearly as unexpected.

On April 3, 1990, after six months on the run, Slagle calmly walked into the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department and said, “My name is William Slagle. I believe you are looking for me.” During questioning, he reiterated his claims of self-defense.

Slagle may have been one of the country’s top debate coaches, but at trial, his arguments fell flat. In less than an hour, the jury rejected his self-defense claims. Slagle’s claims fell flat as the evidence showed he had cleaned up the crime scene, removed evidence, and even locked the door to Rex’s apartment upon leaving.

In December of 1990, Slagle was sentenced to life in prison.

Slagle’s motive for murdering Rex probably stemmed from Rex’s desire to leave the debate team.

At debate practice on the afternoon of September 21, Slagle had been especially hard on Rex and berated him in front of the team for what Slagle considered a poor performance. The coach and student had a heated verbal argument that ended with Rex storming out of the room. Scott went after Rex to try to get him to return, but Rex would have none of it, telling his teammate he had had it with Slagle and was quitting debate.

Rex and Slagle had butted heads many times before, and Rex had made similar statements, but he always returned to debate. Scott believed Rex was blowing smoke again and would return when he calmed down. This time, however, Rex meant what he said.

Police believe Rex told Slagle later that day he was quitting debate and that Slagle went to Rex’s apartment that evening to ask him to reconsider. Slagle longed for the national championship, and he knew, even though he had demeaned Rex’s performance, that he was his best debater and could not win the title without him.

The University of Southern California (USC) was also a preeminent debating school and had asked Rex if he would consider transferring and debating on their team. Prosecutors believe Rex refused Slagle’s request to return to the Samford debate team. His mentioning of considering a transfer to USC may have been what pushed Slagle over the edge.

The great debate coach had plenty of time to prepare his case for appeal, but he was still unconvincing. Slagle was denied parole in 2001 and 2007. He died behind bars in 2010.

To the end, Bill Slagle was a coward who heinously and selfishly took a promising life. To that, there is no debate.

The Rex Copeland Award is given each year to the team that wins the National Debate Competition.

SOURCES:
• America’s Most Wanted
• Associated Press
• The Birmingham News
• Gadsen (Alabama) Times
• Orlando Sentinel
• Seattle Times
• Tuscaloosa News

THIS LIST OF LINKS IS NOT AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING SOURCE CITING. ALL OF THE INFORMATION USED IN THIS ARTICLE CAN BE EASILY FOUND ONLINE. LINKS BELOW WERE USED AS SOURCES AND ARE RECOMMENDED READING FOR SYNOVA’S READERS. SYNOVA STRIVES TO CITE ALL THE SOURCES USED DURING HER CASE STUDY, BUT OCCASIONALLY A SOURCE MAY BE MISSED BY MISTAKE. IT IS NOT INTENTIONAL, AND NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS INTENDED.


More About Our Wonderful Guest Blogger:

Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in  Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)


Support Synova’s Cause:

EACH WEEK SYNOVA HIGHLIGHTS OBSCURE COLD CASES ON HER BLOG AS A VICTIMS’ ADVOCATE WITH MISSOURI MISSING ORGANIZATION. SHE NEVER CHARGES FOR HER SERVICES. IF YOU’D LIKE TO SUPPORT HER IN THIS WORTHY CAUSE, PLEASE CHECK OUT THE AFFILIATE LINKS ON 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.


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If you’d like to check out Synova’s true crime books follow this link to her Amazon Author Page.


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Mobster Monday – Alvin “Creepy” Karpis – Guest Post

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Born August 10, 1907, in Montreal,  Alvin Francis Karpis was raised by Lithuanian parents in Kansas. By the age of ten, he was already blazing his path. While observing the shady works of pimps and conmen, Karpis learned from the best.  After a ten year stint in the State Industrial Reformatory in Hutchinson, Kansas, Karpis escaped and embarked on a crime spree that ended in Kansas City, Missouri, returning him to prison to complete his term.  While doing his time at the Kansas State Penitentiary, he fell in with Fred Barker of the notorious Barker Gang. This union formed one of the most intimidating gangs in history, the Karpis-Barker Gang.

On December 19, 1931, Karpis and Barker murdered Sheriff C. Roy Kelley in West Plains, Missouri. Soon after, the gang fled to Minnesota. In 1933, they kidnapped William Hamm, a wealthy brewer from Minnesota. This netted the gang $100,000, which provoked them to kidnap again, this time Mr. Edward Bremer, a St. Paul banker, which resulted in a $200,000 payout. This proved to be the gangs undoing, however, as Bremer had friends in high places. Bremer was friends with none other than  President Roosevelt, who ordered a rigorous investigation. The FBI formed a task force of highly trained individuals with experience in gang activity. This task force called the “flying squads” resulted in the capture of several elusive gangsters, including Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, and Baby Face Nelson.

After the FBI shootout with Fred Barker and his mother on January 16, 1935, Alvin Karpis narrowly escaped the clutches of death. Having been located in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Karpis was nearly killed in a shootout with the FBI. His girlfriend, Dolores Delaney, was shot in the thigh while heavily pregnant. Their son was born healthy and raised by Karpis’ parents.

During this harrowing time in history, the FBI began to take shape with leadership from its new head, J. Edgar Hoover. Far from perfect, the agency had growing pains but during that time was diligent in reducing gangland crime. Hoover took the capture of Karpis personally and vowed to arrest him.

On May 2, 1936, Karpis was discovered hiding out in New Orleans, Louisiana. Hoover was present at the arrest, while there is controversy regarding if Hoover himself actually made the arrest himself.

After pleading guilty to the Bremer abduction, Karpis was sentenced to life in prison at the newly constructed Alcatraz. There he spent his time from August 1946 to April 1962. He worked as a baker while maintaining his prior gangster attributes. He was frequently punished for fighting. During his later years at the prison, he became friends with Charles Manson.

In 1969, Karpis was paroled. He had served  “the longest sentence of any prisoner at Alcatraz: 26 years.” He was deported to Canada, where he had issues claiming residency due to the fact that he had commissioned Dr. Joseph Moran to remove his fingerprints in 1934. He ultimately ended up back in Montreal.

After publishing his memoir in 1971, Karpis toured Canada promoting his book for years. He moved to Spain in 1973 where he lived quietly until his mysterious death on August 26, 1979. It was at first ruled a suicide when pills were found next to him, but the death was later ruled natural after a short investigation.

Alvin “Creepy” Karpis began his criminal career early and he lived a long life of crime. Following his death there was no autopsy, and he was buried in Spain.


THIS LIST OF LINKS IS NOT AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING SOURCE CITING. ALL OF THE INFORMATION USED IN THIS ARTICLE CAN BE EASILY FOUND ONLINE. LINKS BELOW WERE USED AS SOURCES AND ARE RECOMMENDED READING FOR SYNOVA’S READERS. SYNOVA STRIVES TO CITE ALL THE SOURCES USED DURING HER CASE STUDY, BUT OCCASIONALLY A SOURCE MAY BE MISSED BY MISTAKE. IT IS NOT INTENTIONAL, AND NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS INTENDED.


Further Reading:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Karpis

https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/barker-karpis-gang

https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/alvin-karpis/17825


Recommended Reading:


More About Our Wonderful Guest Blogger:

Synova Ink would like to welcome our newest guest blogger. Karen Reep is a new true crime writer learning to spread her wings on our Mobster Monday posts. Look for more of her writing in the near future.


Support Synova’s Cause:

EACH WEEK SYNOVA HIGHLIGHTS OBSCURE COLD CASES ON HER BLOG AS A VICTIMS’ ADVOCATE WITH MISSOURI MISSING ORGANIZATION. SHE NEVER CHARGES FOR HER SERVICES. IF YOU’D LIKE TO SUPPORT HER IN THIS WORTHY CAUSE, PLEASE CHECK OUT THE AFFILIATE LINKS ON 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.


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.

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SIGN UP HERE


If you’d like to check out Synova’s true crime books follow this link to her Amazon Author Page.


Synova’s Amazon Author Page


ALL INFORMATION USED TO CREATE THIS CONTENT IS A MATTER OF PUBLIC RECORD AND CAN BE EASILY FOUND ONLINE OR CAN BE VERIFIED BY THE GUEST BLOGGER. 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. I DO NOT OWN THE PHOTOS USED IN THIS POST. ALL PHOTOS ARE USED UNDER THE FAIR USE ACT. NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED. ANY AND ALL OPINIONS ARE THAT OF THE GUEST BLOGGER AND DON’T NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF SYNOVA INK©2017-2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Silenced by the Dixie Mafia – Part 1: Buford Pusser Story

Buford_Pusser

Photo courtesy Wikipedia: fair use

The movie Walking Tall tells the Hollywood version of the real-life story of Sherriff Buford Pusser’s war with the Dixie Mafia. A two-hour film cannot possibly explain the entire story, nor can it relate the stories of all the secondary characters. Unfortunately, the story of murder, betrayal, and cover-ups didn’t end with the death of Sherriff Pusser. I will try to relate this massive tale to you, but it may take more than one post.

1967:
The Dixie Mafia was known as the State Line Mob and was led by Carl Douglas “Towhead” White. White was in prison when his lover, Louise Hathcock pulled a gun on Sherriff Pusser and was killed. Upon hearing the news, White called his friend Kirksey Nix, Jr and ordered the hit on Sherriff Pusser and his wife, Pauline.

August 12, 1967:
Sherriff Pusser received a disturbance call in the wee hours before dawn. Pauline Pusser decided to ride along with her husband as she had done on many occasions. The pair drove out to New Hope Road to check it out. The disturbance was a ruse to ambush the young sheriff and his wife.
Pusser passed the New Hope Methodist church looking for the reported disturbance but continued driving when he found the place quiet. A black Cadillac pulled out from behind the church and followed the sheriff with its lights off. As the two cars reached a narrow bridge, the Cadillac flashed on its headlights and came racing up beside the officer’s car.
The Cadillac’s passenger opened fire hitting Pauline in the head. The sheriff ducked stepped on the gas. The engine roared to life, and the car lurched ahead of the assassins. He sped up the road a couple of miles until he was sure he had lost his tail, and then pulled over to check on Pauline. Moments later the assassins again found their mark and gunshots rang out hitting Sherriff Pusser in the face and jaw blowing it apart. Somehow the sheriff would survive the attack, but Pauline was killed.
At first, Pusser declared he knew precisely who was responsible and named Towhead White, George McGann, Gary McDaniel, and Kirksey Nix. After 18 days in the hospital and a dozen surgeries to repair his face, Pusser declared he couldn’t tell who had shot him.

Was it the trauma that caused his amnesia or was the hard-nosed police officer going to exact his own revenge?

Time would witness the deaths of three of the conspirators, but Kirksey Nix would remain on the loose. Legends would be told about the great Buford Pusser, but the story didn’t end with his death in a 1974 car wreck. Kirksey Nix continued and became the head of the Dixie Mafia. By 1987, Nix would be embroiled in another major hit.

Here is where the side stories start creeping into this case. The Dixie Mafia and the State Line Mob were prevalent in the area due to the payoffs of local officials and the coverups by local police departments. This allowed the mob to rule without much interference. Although a few shady officers corrupted the police departments, other lawmen were threatened into silence. At this point in the story, I would like to interject one officer named Lieutenant Dan Anderson of the Harrison County Sherriff’s Department.
Six weeks after the ambush of Sherriff Pusser on New Hope Rd, Lt. Dan Anderson’s son, Ronnie Anderson was shot and killed in his apartment. The case was immediately ruled suicide despite massive evidence to the contrary.

What happened to this 17-yr-old polo victim in leg braces?

What kind of threat could he really have been?

I will dive deeper into the case of Ronald Anderson next week and follow up with the murder of his father, Dan. Along the way, we will highlight the nationally publicized case of the slaying of Judge Sherry and his wife. All these bizarre murders are tied together with a delicate string. That string is the Dixie Mafia. Find out more next week when this cold case story continues.

The Lonesome Lawman – Guest Post

A character in Larry McMurtry’s novel “Lonesome Dove,” and later in the television miniseries, infamous 19th-century outlaw Bluford “Blue” Duck, wreaked havoc across Indian Territory. In 1884, while drunk near in what is now eastern Oklahoma, Blue Duck and a cohort emptied their revolvers into an unsuspecting farmer, killing him. The two were quickly caught, convicted of murder, and sentenced to life in prison. Blue Duck, a romantic love interest of famed female Old West outlaw Belle Starr, died in 1895. He is buried in his home town of Catoosa, in northeast Oklahoma.

In 1978, Catoosa, the home and final resting site of Oklahoma’s infamous 19th-century killer was itself the scene of a noted murder in the Sooner State during the 20th century.

The small town which produced a “Lonesome Dove” character experienced the murder of its lone lawman, Police Chief J.B. Hamby.

Oklahoma distributed automobile licenses through privately owned franchises called Tag Agencies in the 1970s. The agencies kept little cash on hand at their offices, but they were still frequently targeted by robbers who trafficked stolen vehicles. One Tag Agency office was in the small town of Catoosa, a suburb of Tulsa.

Two women were working in the Catoosa Tag Agency building on the morning of September 1, 1978. Shortly after 8:00 a.m., two hooded men entered the building with guns drawn.

One woman was on the telephone at the time and, before she was enslaved by one of the gunmen, told the caller they were being robbed. That person called the police, and Catoosa’s only lawman, 24-year veteran Chief J.B. Hamby, responded to the call.

As Chief Hamby entered the agency, he was greeted by the sound of gunfire. A shootout commenced between him and the gunmen. Twenty rounds of ammunition were exchanged through the small office in a matter of seconds, several of which struck J.B. He managed to stagger to the next door laundromat where customers summoned help. The chief, however, died before paramedics arrived.

One of the robbers, Jackie Young, was killed at the scene. Reports conflict about how he died: some say he took his own life; others say he accidentally shot himself to death; some state he was killed by the ricochet of the hail of bullets.

Miraculously, despite the barrage of bullets, the two women clerks were unharmed.

The second robber was shot several times in his leg and groin but managed to escape. He was identified as 25-year-old David Smith, the son of prominent professors and described as the “All-American Boy.” The incident was the Stillwater native’s first brush with the law.

Smith was apprehended two hours later while being treated for the gunshot wounds at a nearby hospital.

Smith’s physical wounds healed, but his good-boy image was permanently scarred. He was charged with murder after ballistics tests proved the bullet that killed Chief Hamby had been fired from Smith’s gun.

Smith took the stand in his own defense at his trial, claiming he participated in the robbery only because of death threats from Young.

Smith testified Young was his neighbor at his apartment complex and that they had worked on cars together. Smith claimed he and Young planned to defraud Young’s insurance company by claiming Young’s car was stolen, collecting the insurance money, and selling the vehicle. He said Young paid him $500 to participate in the scam by moving his car to a hidden locale.

Smith claimed he only learned of Young’s plan to rob the tag agency while they were moving the car. After he refused to participate, Smith claimed Young pulled a gun on him and threatened to kill him and his fiancé if he did not do so. Smith claimed he only committed the robbery out of fear of Young.

Smith’s defense team also tried to dispute the ballistic determination that Smith had fired the fatal shot that killed Chief Hamby.

All of Smith’s arguments, however, were unsuccessful. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after serving 15 years.

In 1982, after three years as a model prisoner, Smith was given trustee status, meaning he had significantly more freedom. He attained the highest level of trust as he was approved to live and work outside of the prison.

Smith was assigned to live and work alone at a small water pumping station where his job was to monitor equipment at a nearby lake. Guards assigned to check on him regularly found him always at the station performing his duties.

The imprisoned Smith married his fiancé, Jo Beth McNary, on June 26, 1982. He remained a model prisoner for three more years, until October 28, 1985.

That morning, a prison guard stopped by for his regular 1:00 a.m. check of Smith’s sleeping quarters at the lake. To his shock, the trusted inmate was not there.

Prison officials believe Smith walked from his sleeping quarters at the lake to the nearest highway, approximately one mile away, where Jo Beth was waiting. Authorities determined the couple mailed two letters from Macalester, a mile away.

It was also determined that Jo Beth had closed out her bank account, sold her furniture, and borrowed $1000 from friends during the previous week. She told her travel agent she was going to Mexico, but investigators found no evidence the fugitive couple traveled south of the border.

Instead, in February of 1986, the two were seen at a convenience store in western Arkansas, only 90 miles from where Smith had escaped five months earlier. The police were notified, but by the time they arrived, the duo had vanished.

David Smith eluded detection for eight years.

“Unsolved Mysteries” profiled Smith’s case twice. After the second airing in March of 1993, the Tulsa FBI office received an anonymous tip saying Smith was working as a service manager at an automobile dealership in Spearfish, South Dakota. Local authorities, along with the FBI, arrested him at the dealership.

In December of 1993, over eight years after he walked away from “prison” Smith was sentenced to an additional four years for escape on top of his previous life sentence.

Charges filed against Jo Beth in South Dakota for accessory to a felony and impersonation to deceive law enforcement were later dropped. I could not find any source stating if charges were filed against her in Oklahoma for aiding the escape of a prisoner, nor could I see if federal charges were filed against her.

Jo Beth Smith died in 2003 at age 49.

The now 66-year-old David Smith remains imprisoned at the Lexington Correctional Center in Lexington, Oklahoma. He has not regained his trustee status but, perplexingly, is still eligible for parole, as records state he was denied parole in 2008.

Smith’s appeal to have his conviction dismissed was denied by the Tenth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals in 2010. Current Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was then a Circuit Judge on the Tenth Circuit, wrote the summary and opinion rejecting the appeal.

Similar to Blue Duck in the 19th century, Catoosa’s most infamous 20th-century outlaw appears out of luck.

SOURCES:
• Claremore Daily Progress
• JUSTIA US Law
• KOTV-DT Tulsa CBS Affiliate Channel 6
• Los Angeles Times
• The Oklahoman
• Rapid City (south Dakota) Journal
• Tulsa World
• Unsolved Mysteries

THIS LIST OF LINKS IS NOT AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING SOURCE CITING. ALL OF THE INFORMATION USED IN THIS ARTICLE CAN BE EASILY FOUND ONLINE. LINKS BELOW WERE USED AS SOURCES AND ARE RECOMMENDED READING FOR SYNOVA’S READERS. SYNOVA STRIVES TO CITE ALL THE SOURCES USED DURING HER CASE STUDY, BUT OCCASIONALLY A SOURCE MAY BE MISSED BY MISTAKE. IT IS NOT INTENTIONAL, AND NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS INTENDED.


Recommended Reading:

Get Your copy Of Lonesome Dove Here:


More About Our Wonderful Guest Blogger:

Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in  Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)


Support Synova’s Cause:

EACH WEEK SYNOVA HIGHLIGHTS OBSCURE COLD CASES ON HER BLOG AS A VICTIMS’ ADVOCATE WITH MISSOURI MISSING ORGANIZATION. SHE NEVER CHARGES FOR HER SERVICES. IF YOU’D LIKE TO SUPPORT HER IN THIS WORTHY CAUSE, PLEASE CHECK OUT THE AFFILIATE LINKS ON 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.


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.

2ndDIYpackage-templates

SIGN UP HERE


If you’d like to check out Synova’s true crime books follow this link to her Amazon Author Page.


Synova’s Amazon Author Page


DIXIE MAFIA TALES – KILLER CHARLES “RUSS” HAMILTON – GUEST BLOG


I grew up in McNairy County, Tennessee, the home of Sheriff Buford Pusser of “Walking Tall” fame. Stories about Pusser and the Stateline Mob were as common to me as talking about my cousin who lived down the road. I fondly remember sitting on the sun-bleached, rain weathered front porch of my Grandparent’s log house and soaking in tales of mystery, intrigue, and murder. 

Maybe these were not the best choices of stories for young ears, but they are a part of my heritage and a part of me. I learned the chemical compositions that can dissolve a body by hearing about a man who killed his wife, put her body in an abandoned well and poured lye on it, so it would quickly dissolve. Bribery and bootleg whiskey was always a common topic. 

One tale, however, always stood out. In Chewalla, Tennessee, a neighboring town, there lived a man, who by today’s terminology, would be considered a serial killer. Russ Hamilton would meet his demise in 1968, in a Christmas Day shootout with Sheriff Pusser. This was two years before my birth, and certainly not a “hot” news story by the time I was listening to front porch storytelling. In fact, I never had a name to attach to the horrific tale of how he murdered one of his wives until I was an adult and began researching for my writing. As a child, my Grandfather would recount how in 1940, Russ tortured and killed Grace Burns, his “wife” (no one can confirm if they were, indeed, legally married), tied her up in the woods and left her to die. Body parts were strewn by animals through the woods, ultimately leading to her body being found. Other versions of the story state that he had dismembered her. At any rate, it was quite a lot for a child’s imagination. 

This is where the story takes a sharp left turn, not in the details of the horrific murder, but rather in learning how close a connection my Grandfather had to this man! They were “running buddies”! Grandpa, who had long passed when I began my research, is quoted as often saying that Russ, “…was the nicest man you would ever want to meet unless he had been drinking.” That seems to ring true, when you look at his life history, although I am not certain that bootleg whiskey, alone, was the catalyst for his callousness and evil temper. 

No one knows exactly when Russ started killing. It seems that he was an odd child and possessed the stereotypical serial killer characteristic of torturing and killing helpless animals. Family members, transients and lovers suffered unusual and untimely deaths or simply disappeared. The first documented murder was in 1931 when he killed Deputy John York in Chewalla, Tennessee. In 1933, he went to the Tennessee State Penitentiary for that killing but was paroled and pardoned in 1938. 

In late August/early September of 1940, he brutally tortured and murdered his wife, Grace, for which he would negotiate a plea deal of 2nd Degree murder with a ten-year sentence. However, he was paroled on June 29, 1948. In January 1951, his mother, Ben Ella Hamilton, was found dead and although he was never charged, it is commonly held that Russ 

killed her. While being questioned about her death, he was found to be in violation of parole and did go back to prison. (Maybe a measure of justice there.) He was paroled, again, on January 1, 1953, but was arrested for assault and battery, less than two months later and returned to prison until June of that year, when he was finally discharged. 

Russ tended to bounce between the McNairy County, Tennessee area and Lauderdale County, Alabama and it was there, in October of 1960, that he killed a co-worker, John G. Grossheim. He was found guilty of 2nd Degree murder and sentenced to 40 years to life. However, he was granted a new trial in 1963 and the jury returned a verdict of 1st Degree manslaughter with a ten-year sentence.

He was released in February of 1967 and went to live with a cousin, Don Pipkin, in Selmer, Tennessee, who owned a small apartment that Russ would rent for $20 a month. On Christmas Day, 1968, one of Russ’ drunken rampages would end his life. He fell through a plate glass window during a Christmas celebration and when Don took him home, he became belligerent and drew a gun on him. Don retreated and called the law. When Sheriff Buford Pusser arrived at the front door and announced himself, Russ started firing as he came through the door. Sheriff Pusser was wounded but returned fire and shot Russ right between the eyes. A lifetime of killing was brought to an end by one bullet. 


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Further Reading:

Find A Grave

Christmas Day Shootout with Buford Pusser

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