Thursday, September 24, 2009

My great-uncles' rap sheet

My father's uncles, Amos, Howard, and Leroy McLemore, were moonshiners. They ran a still on the Old Place in Forrest County, Mississippi, just outside of Eastabuchie. My father remembered watching them make whiskey. He said they would toast wood shavings and put them into the clear distilled alcohol to give it a nice whiskey color. He also remembers that one night an uncle tore out in his car towards the still at the back of the property with "revenue men" in pursuit -- the bolting car mowed down one of the front porch's supports en route and the porch collapsed.

Here is my great uncles' rap sheet so far as I have been able to assemble it (it's a work in progress). Except as indicated, the following rap sheet is assembled from entries in the Forrest County, Mississippi, Circuit Court Minutes, which appear to be incomplete.

* * *
Fall 1917: U.S. charges Howard with bringing five quarts of whiskey to Mississippi from New Orleans, Louisiana in violation of the Reed Act. (From squib in Biloxi Daily Herald on November 8, 1917.)

[To be done -- research to determine any additional federal charges, i.e., during Prohibition.]

1933: The states ratify the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition. Ratification is effective on December 5, 1933. From Ed Payne email message to me dated September 24, 2009:

You might want to note for your readers that Mississippi was the first state to adopt prohibition in 1907 (went into effect in 1908) and, following the repeal of national prohibition in 1933, remained dry until 1966--when it became the last state to repeat prohibition. Thereafter the state adopted local option. A map showing the current division of wet / dry counties (and cities within counties) can be found here:
April 27, 1933: Leroy charged with, and pleads not guilty to, Intoxicating Liquor [need to clarify nature of this charge]

December 5, 1933: Leroy pleads guilty to a charge of Having Whiskey; matter continued as to Howard. (Note that December 5, 1933 is the date on which the 21st Amendment becomes effective.)

December 23, 1933: Leroy sentenced: $300 fine and 90 days in jail (on Having Whiskey charge). Leroy was given an opportunity to speak but "had naught to say." Half of his sentence -- as to both fine and jail term -- is suspended.

December 27, 1933: Leroy is issued an unspecified citation (likely relating to the next entry, below).

January 17, 1934: Leroy's suspension of sentence is revoked; full fine of $300 and full jail term of 90 days is imposed.

June 11, 1934: Ruling on Leroy's appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirms the revocation of suspension of his sentence.

April 20, 1936: Amos and Leroy indicted for Possessing a Still.

February 1, 1937: Mississippi Supreme Court affirms Amos's conviction arising from the April 20, 1936 indictment. From the court's decision:
The evidence against appellant was obtained by agents of the Federal Government. They, having previously ascertained the location of a still, went up north of Hattiesburg, where the still was located, about 5:45 in the morning, to some point in the edge of a swamp on Leaf river, and saw there Leroy McLemore and another bring certain parts of a still. They again went to the place and found some mash almost ready to run. They again went to the place, on the day the appellant was arrested, and found a regular still for distilling whisky set up, and Leroy McLemore was building a fire around it, but they did not see any vessels in which the whisky, when made, was to be placed. They arrested Leroy McLemore, and one of the federal officers went to a point above the still, and between that and the McLemore residence, where there was a path leading to the still, and secreted himself. Shortly thereafter, Amos McLemore appeared with an empty keg on his shoulder and was walking toward the still; the federal officer followed him, and when appellant noticed this, he threw the keg down, whereupon the officer told him to go on to the still. When they reached the still where Leroy McLemore and the other person were, Leroy McLemore was asked to whom the still belonged. He stated that it belonged to him and the appellant. He was then asked upon whose land it was situated, and he stated that he did not know; that the McLemore estate had not been divided. These statements were made in the presence of appellant, were not denied, and thereafter appellant confessed ownership of the still, and requested the federal officers not to talk about the matter, as he (appellant) had a job on the G. & S. I. Railroad and feared he would lose it, and he also asked that they be taken to some jail other than that at Hattiesburg. The officers refused to do this, and Leroy McLemore and the appellant were placed in jail at Hattiesburg.

The appellant offered no evidence at all, and asked for no instructions, and the court admitted the above stated evidence.
McLemore v. State, 172 So. 139 (1937).

May 10, 1937
: Amos charged with Manufacturing Liquor.

November 10, 1937: Howard charged with Possessing Liquor and Possessing Still, enters not-guilty plea. Case set for trial "3rd Wednesday."

November 30, 1938: Leroy receives a jury trial on a charge of Possessing Liquor. Jury finds Leroy "guilty as charged, and recommend the mercy of the court." Leroy is given an opportunity to speak but declines to do so. He is sentenced to one year of hard labor in the state penitentiary [presumably at Parchman]. (Based on the June 5, 1939 opinion by the Mississippi Supreme Court, I deduce that Leroy was also charged and, on November 30, 1938, convicted with Possession of a Still.)

December 5, 1938: Howard receives a jury trial on a charge of Possessing Still. Jury finds Howard "guilty as charged." Sentencing is deferred to July 5, 1939.

December 6, 1938: Howard sentenced to two years' hard labor in State Penitentiary on Possessing Still conviction.

[Note that the dates for the preceding two entries are reversed in the Forrest County Circuit Court minute books. Needless to say, Howard couldn't possibly have been sentenced before he was tried, so I restored the dates to their logical chronological order.]

December 9, 1938: Howard moves to set aside the verdict and for a new trial.

May 5, 1939: Howard charged with "Contempt of Court committed in the presence and hearing of the court. Adjudged to be in contempt of court." Fined $100 and sentenced to 30 days in jail. A margin note indicates "certif. of appeal 5/16/1939."

June 5, 1939: Mississippi Supreme Court issues decision on Leroy's conviction for "possession of a still," presumably on appeal of his November 30, 1938 conviction. The decision recites in part:
The evidence in regard to the still was procured by United States officers, who, discovering the still on certain lands, with mash ready for distillation, secreted themselves nearby. When LeRoy McLemore came upon the scene early in the morning, dipped some of the mash from the barrels, placed it in the still, and lighted the fire under the distillery, one of the officers approached and placed him under arrest. According to their evidence he made a voluntary statement, to the effect that the still belonged to him and his brother jointly, and was jointly operated by them. There was ample evidence to show that the confession was voluntary, and that no promise or threat was made to secure it.
The still was located upon land formerly owned by the appellant's father, who had died, and which his mother occupied as her home. There was no proof to show that the appellant occupied the property as an heir, or that he was occupying it at all, any further than to operate the still upon it. The federal officers had no search warrant, but under the law of the state the widow of a homesteader is entitled to use the homestead during her lifetime, and consequently she has the right of possession to the exempt homestead, and to its proceeds, for her support, during her lifetime or the period of her widowhood
McLemore v. State, 189 So. 525 (1939).

November 28, 1939: Leroy charged with Manufacturing Liquor.

November 29, 1939: Howard charged with Possessing Liquor.

December 9, 1939: Hearing on Howard's motion to set aside verdict/for new trial for Possessing Still and on his motion to set aside judgment on his contempt conviction. His motion is overruled, but judgment is modified. The $100 fine stands, but his 30-day sentence is suspended pending good behavior.

January 26, 1940: The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issues its decision in an appeal from a judgment of forfeiture of a two-door Ford sedan that had been found to have been used by Leroy in the unlawful manufacture of liquor. From the Fifth Circuit's decision:
The district court found that Howard McLemore, who bought the car, had a record for handling tax-unpaid liquor, having been previously convicted of violating the internal revenue laws with reference thereto, and that this reputation was known to appellant [the Federal Credit Company] before it acquired the paper evidencing the unpaid purchase price of the car, but that the Credit Company had a conversation with Howard McLemore, and from this conversation reached the conclusion that it would be safe in buying the paper, as he would not use the car for handling such liquor, but would keep it for use principally by his wife as a family car; that thereafter Howard lent the car to his brother, Leroy McLemore, who at the time was engaged in the unlawful manufacture of whiskey, and who placed two kegs in it that were intended to be used for the purpose of depositing and concealing whiskey, upon which the tax had not been paid, with the intent of defrauding the Government of the revenue thereon.

The car was seized by federal officers as Leory [sic] McLemore drove up in it and stopped in front of a house in the rear of which an illicit still, in which Leroy had an interest, was located. The officers had previously seized the still, and were awaiting the arrival of the owner or operator, as they observed no place to store the daily output thereof and expected some one to come who would haul away the whiskey that had ben run that day. It was early in the night when Leroy drove up in the car, stopped, left his lights on for a while, and sat there a few minutes to get his bearings; then turned off his lights, threw a ten-gallong [sic] keg on the ground, got out and walked around the car, flashed an electric light, picked up the keg, put it on his shoulder, started toward the path leading to the side of the house, and whistled. One of the officer [sic] answered the whistle, and arrested him. Upon searching the car, they found the rear seat completely gone, and another ten-gallong [sic] keg and particles of rye, sugar, and charcoal in the back of the car where the seat had been. Both kegs had the odor of whiskey in them, and were of the type commonly used by men engaged in the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquor.

Purchase slips and receipts were found on the person of Leroy McLemore at the time of his arrest, which listed articles and equipment similar to those found at the site of the still. Some of the slips listed rye, sugar, charcoal, and other materials generally used in connection with the operation of a whiskey distillery. These and other circumstances in evidence convinced the court below that the kegs and other materials in the car were used and intended to be used in the manufacture and sale of tax-unpaid intoxicating liquor.
Federal Credit Co. v. United States (1940).

1 comment:

  1. Ingrid, I absolutely love your blog! What great strides you are making, with help from the indomitable Ed Payne, in not only discovering your roots, but analyzing them. I've got to get in on this peckerwood stuff. But first I need to go link your website to mine. also want to write up an announcement of your blog ASAP.

    Vikki Bynum,