"Relax! I've known these boys since they were kids, they wouldn't harm a hair on my head if they knew it was me" ..... Sherrif Marcel Hendrix
in, We're Dead
(Based on the true story of the most lawmen shot down in US History)
It may seem ironic that the record for gunning down the most lawmen in us history would not go to Gun slinging cowboys Jesse James or Billy the Kidd , Nor ruthless mobsters of prohibition Al Capone or Lucky Luciano. Not even celebrated machine gun packing gangsters of the thirty's Baby Face Nelson or John Dillinger. Rather, the nation's deadliest gunfight for law officers was perpetrated by two outlaws with little national notoriety. The criminals were relative youngsters Harry and Jennings Young. On Jan 2, the year 1932 they shot dead more lawmen in any shootout in US history..... It's known as the Young Brothers Massacre.
1932 in the Missouri Ozarks was hard times for most people. The Depression was in full swing, Prohibition was proving to be a failed experiment, and if you had any job at all you were in the minority. This story is one of violence, death, disappointment, and sadness. The simple story is one of good people dying, and bad people dying right along with them. The real story, as in life, is more complex. Because people – the reasons they do things, the way they treat each other, and where one man comes from, what motivates him, is often very different from what motivates another. Circumstance is as good a reason as any for why things happen, both good and bad. This story, as much as any, is about circumstance, about what happens when people are put in a situation where they pretty much do what comes natural to them, and consequences be damned.
The Young family had migrated to Missouri after the Civil war, first to Missouri, then Oklahoma, then settled back in Missouri near the growing and prosperous town of Springfield. They bought ninety acres of rich black dirt and, through hard work and fair weather, made a good living for themselves and their eventual 11 children. But Grandaddy Young had fought for the Confederacy and had no use for carpetbaggers and government in general. He regaled the family with tales of dishonest officials and thieving Yankees and before he died he passed that distrust along to his children and then the grand children. As time went on, the Youngs pretty much kept to themselves, worked hard, and gradually married into the surrounding farming community.
Out of all this came three Young brothers just a few years apart, Paul, Jennings, and finally Harry. Almost from the start they didn't care for farm work, and would slip off to hunt, drink, smoke, and get into mischief. One thing they did all become were expert shots with any sort of firearm, and before long were banned across the region from any turkey shoots or contests of target shooting. It just wasn't fair to the rest of the entrants.
As Paul and then Jennings grew a little older and bolder, they began to try their luck at burglary and car theft. Turned out they had a knack for it and though Springfield was a tight community and the law suspected the culprits, there just seemed no catching the Young brothers. They gradually branch out in their talents, and begin to prey on railroad boxcars – climb on to the trains in the yards and ride them a ways out, breaking into and throwing down the valuables to waiting partners. But Paul's part in their career ends when a snitch tips the authorities and Paul is caught red-handed and sent off to Missouri State Prison for a two year stretch. Though both Jennings and Harry are suspected, no charges are ever pressed.
About this time, with things being pretty hot around Springfield, Jennings and Harry branch out into car theft and expand their operation around the southern midwest. By all accounts they are good at it, stealing cars in Missouri to sell in Texas, stealing in Texas to sell in Oklahoma – the list goes on. During this time both Jennings and Harry are also apprehended on burglary counts and spend some time in both the Missouri State Penitentiary and Leavenworth. It is alleged that Jennings took the rap for his mother who was indicted on receiving stolen goods the boys had stored at the house. It is also in Leavenworth that Harry most certainly meets Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd and strikes up a friendship that continues once they are both released. Of one thing there is no doubt, the idea of rehabilitation then was unknown, certainly unpracticed, and the boys come out of prison as professional criminals, their craft honed and educated by the fellow inmates they meet while incarcerated.
On the night of June 2, 1929, things get worse for the hot-tempered Harry.
He has been drinking and decides to head into Springfield for a little Hell raising.
Having driven up and down the street several times, he attracts the attention
of local police officer Mark Noe. Noe and Young have had a previous altercation when Noe had taken a gun away from Harry. When Harry became abusive, Noe slapped him. There was no love lost between the two. According to witnesses, Noe approached the car and told Harry, “You've been drinking Harry and I'll have to take you in.” “No problem,” replied Harry. “Get in and we'll drive down there.” Noe gets in the car and it is the last time he is seen alive. His body is found the next day with three gunshot wounds, one in the arm, one in the chest, and one in the back of the head.
Harry has to hit the road, and hit it fast. He is now wanted for the murder of a police officer and will certainly hang if captured. He is last seen heading west out of Springfield, the clothes he had been wearing the night before, covered in blood, in a ditch beside the highway.
Sheriff Marcell Hendrix and deputy Ollie White pursue leads to Joplin, Wichita, Tulsa, and Independence, Missouri but never catch up to Harry. He has disappeared somewhere into the open country of the West.
It doesn't take long for Harry to hook back up with his brothers and expand their car theft and burglary ring between St. Louis, Springfield, and Houston. Harry takes a job as a morning milk delivery man in Houston and assumes the alias Claude Walker. He also takes a bride, Florence Calvert, a local shopgirl. It is a mystery how much Florence knew of the Young Brother's side activities but certainly Harry's daytime job leaves him plenty of time at night to pursue other, less respectable activities. And so he does.
It is common knowledge that the Young Brothers often make visits back to Springfield, usually at night, to visit family and hide out for a few days, usually with at least one stolen car in tow. But it is difficult for them to fence the cars anywhere in the Springfield area because of their notoriety. This is where the two younger sisters, Lorena and Vanita begin to help them.
It was on a visit to the farm over Christmas, 1931, that time begins to run out for the Youngs. A few days before New Years Day, 1932, a tip comes in to the to the sheriff’s department that a man matching the description of Jennings Young has tried to sell a car in Aurora, Missouri. Two men waiting outside match the descriptions of Harry Young and “Pretty Boy” Floyd. Suspicious, the car dealer declines and the men quickly leave. On New Years Eve day, the brothers enlist the help of their sisters, who take the stolen Ford Coupe to Clyde Medley's downtown Springfield auto dealership. Mr. Medley likes the car and the $250 price is right but the paperwork isn't in order and he asks the girls to return the next day with the proper documentation. He also immediately calls Sheriff Marcell Hendrix' office and reports the event, with the additional information that the girls will be returning the following day to complete the transaction.
When the girls do return the following morning they are arrested and taken to the station where both refuse to give any information to the officers. From these interrogations, however, it is surmised that Harry, Jennings, and possible Paul are at the farmhouse, probably waiting for the girls to return with the money from the sale of the Ford.
Sheriff Hendrix does not immediately act on the information. The sheriff and his men have been on a liquor raid that morning and by the time they re-group it is late afternoon before nine officers are assembled to head out to the Young homestead. Harry and Jennings are almost certainly prepared. After the girls hadn't returned earlier in the day they suspect something is awry. They have been on the run long enough to smell trouble when it comes within range.
January 2, 1932 in Springfield, Missouri is gloomy, cold, and gray. The officers approach the Young homestead and stop a distance off to ponder their strategy. One car contains the Sheriff, deputies Ollie Crosswhite and Wiley Mashburn. Detective Virgil Johnson also accompanies them. In another car Officer Tony Oliver, Sid Meadows, and Ben Bilyeu follow behind. Officer Charlie Howser is driving. Just as the two cars come to a stop in the driveway, another cruiser pulls up containing officers Frank Pike and Owen Brown. Now they are nine. These are the men who, in the next hour or so, will be the unfortunate participants in the largest one-day massacre of lawmen in the history of the United States. By two men, one with a birdshot-loaded 12 gauge shotgun and the other a 25-20 lever action rifle.
Among the lawmen suggestions are passed back and forth. The Sheriff has been a neighbor of the the Youngs for years. He has watched the boys grow up and has no fear they will give him any serious trouble. He is more worried about their escape and so sends three men onto the property through an old muddy back orchard road The other two cruisers drive straight up the lane which leads to the house and outbuildings. In the meantime another car has arrived with three more deputies. Twelve men now surround the house in the fading light. They are not even sure it is occupied. They debark from their cars and slowly approach the house. They discuss their options. Deputy Ollie Crosswhite looks in a window. Four of the other detectives step up onto the porch and call out to boys, “Hello Harry, hello Jennings, hello Paul. You boys in there?”
“I know I heard somebody walking in there, said Crosswhite. Clear as day.”
“I don't believe they are in there,” replies the Sheriff. Else they would have responded by now. Anyway, there's only one way to find out. Step up on the porch and knock on the door”
“Hold on, says the Sheriff, let's fire a gas round into the upstairs. I know they're not downstairs, we ain't heard or seen a peep out of them.”|
A tear gas gun was produced and a shell fired into the upstairs bedroom window. It shatters the window and goes inside. While the gas works, Sheriff Hendrix and Deputy Wiley Mashburn walk around to the back kitchen door.
“Boys, if you're in there come on out. We're tired of waiting. Let's make this easy on all of us.”
“Well, let's hit it Wiley,”orders the Sheriff. The Sheriff and Mashburn throw the weight of their shoulders against the door and after a second push it flies open.
Almost immediately a shotgun blast rings out. It hits the Sheriff square in the chest and he falls back off the porch, dead. An instant later a second blast hits Wiley Mashburn almost directly in the face. He staggers, steps off the
porch, throws his hands in the air, and collapses, his unfired pistol at his side. The blast has almost splits his face in two and knocks his left eye out of its socket. He stumbles back and collapses beside a pile of wood. Firing erupts from all the officers outside, with no real targets and not even sure what they're shooting at. They all scramble and run to get farther from the house and behind some cover. Oliver, Pike and Meadows take shelter behind some trees a distance from the house. Houser, a large man, behind a tree to the side of the house, and Crosswhite has retreated behind the root cellar in the back yard.
Detective Johnson, realizing they need more help, makes a mad dash for the car, with Detective Ben Bilyeu and civilian RG Wedgemen right behind him.
The gunmen in the house open up on the car with rifle and shotgun fire. Bullets smash the windshield in front of Johnson's head and he is hit two or three times with birdshot. Bilyue and Wedgemen scramble into the back seat as Johnson manages to start the car and speed off down the lane and back to the Springfield police station.
The plan to cover all exits has now backfired and left the lawmen as sitting ducks, their cars are out of reach, the ground is flat and only a few trees between them and the dark house. The curtains are drawn, the killers inside are crack shots, have the advantage of darkness, cover, stealth and an apparent unlimited amount of ammunition. The lawmen outside, have no idea where the shooters are, they have but a few trees, their six shooters and a lot open space between them and certain death, it’s a horrifying predicament, hearts pound and rightly so.
Charlie Howser, behind a smaller tree, takes a peek around to look for a better spot. Immediately he is hit by a rifle shot right between the eyes and falls dead at the foot of the tree. Sid Meadows, out of ammunition, feels round in his pockets as the shooters begin to pour birdshot into the tree he is standing behind. Meadows, trying to locate a better piece of cover, takes a quick glance around the tree. Immediately we see the back of his head fly apart as he takes a bullet to the face. He slumps to the ground immediately, never making another move, hands still in his pockets.
Chief Oliver, slightly exposed, takes a bullet square in the shoulder. He turns to run for cover behind the Sheriff’s car to the east. As he runs, another bullet hits him in the back. He crawls to the side of the car, where he lies, scuffling with his feet and pawing at the dirt with his hands. He will be dead in twenty minutes.
In the back yard, Ollie Crosswhite is firing into a rear window, the killers returning his fire and pinning him down until he runs out of ammunition. While his attention is diverted to reload, the other brother sneaks out the kitchen door, out of Crosswhite's line of vision and shoots him pointblank in the back of the head. He dies instantly. That makes six officers dead in a little over twenty minutes.
In the meantime Detective Johnson and Ben Bilyeu and RG Wedgmen, were in town rounding up the townspeople to come help with the gunfight underway, hundreds responded, but stopped just short of the crime scene, not knowing if the killers were still inside, nobody wanted to become the next victim. But the situation was desperate, at least 6 lawmen were dead or dying and needed to be rescued from the scene. It wasn’t until a local businessman, Lon Scott snuck through the cornfields expecting to be shot himself at any second, that he made his way to Deputy Mashburn, still alive, Mashburns wounds were so horrendous that rescuers grew ill and vomited at the horror at hand. After Scott had made it as far as he had and lived to yell for help the crowd moved forward to finish the rescue of the dead and dying. Mashburn survived a few agonizing hours and was conscious until late night. Blind and horrifically wounded, he commented that he didn’t suppose they had done any good out there before passing that night.
He was right, the Young Brothers quickly make their getaway, after gathering all the available guns from the dead officers and pulling the spark plug wires from the sheriffs car. They head for Houston, with the possible idea of an escape to Mexico.
It is not to be. Outside of Houston, the Youngs run their car off the road and into a ditch, hard enough to rough them up pretty bad. While standing beside the road, a local farmer approaches and offers to pull the car out of the ditch with his mule team. The Young brothers quickly agree but when the farmer returns they have disappeared. He sees a rifle and shotgun in the back seat and his daughter has noticed the men remove the license plate and throw it out into the field. A quick search and call to the local police reveal the plate to be the plate of the car the Youngs have escaped in from Missouri. This is a huge break for law enforcement as they now know the Youngs are in the Houston area.
The next day a carpenter named J.F. Tomlinson living at 4710 Walker Ave. personally calls the Houston chief of police Percy F. Heard to tell him that he had rented a room the previous afternoon to two men who closely matched the description of the Young Brothers he has seen in the morning paper. Heard quickly assembled a well-armed team of Houston police officers and Texas Rangers, who by 9 AM had the cottage completely surrounded. Gas grenades were fired into the windows of the room the brothers had rented and given time to work. After a short period four officers entered through the front door and cautiously move toward the back bedroom where the Youngs are located. A quick peek inside reveals the room to be empty but the bathroom door closed. When one of the officers turn the handle of the door two shots ring out, barely missing them. They back away and fire a point blank blast of buckshot at the knob, blowing the door partially open and probably injuring one of the brothers. After a moment multiple shots ring out from inside the bathroom, followed by the words... “Come on in we're dead.” Cautiously the officers wait a few more minutes before stepping up and pushing the bathroom door open. Inside they find Jennings Young dead in a pool of blood and Harry beside him not yet dead but bleeding profusely. He dies on the way to the hospital, never regaining conscientiousness. It appears that they have killed each other in a suicide pact and an agreement never to be captured, tried, and hanged.
For the brothers the saga is over but, now, they are more famous in death than they had ever been in life. Their bodied are carried back to Springfield on cots in the back of a hearse, with every stop bringing out a crowd of onlookers eager to get a look at the corpses. A large grave is dug in the Springfield cemetery next to their father but the people of Springfield protest so loudly that they are finally laid to rest up the road in Joplin, Missouri.