robert

One of the many enjoyable past-times the Time-Traveler experiences are the late-night trips made to the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina for an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show.”

The episodes which are among the most entertaining include the occasional bluegrass jams with the Darlin gang or when Sheriff Andy simply strums his guitar on the front porch swing. The most suspenseful plot lines involve ones which feature a criminal on the lam who randomly wanders, or sometimes purposely sneaks into Mayberry, and causes momentary havoc and mayhem.

I guess this just goes to prove that even in an idyllic setting, crime and sinister forces are an unwelcome intruder.

DeSoto County, in the early 1960s, was very similar to Mayberry, USA. City halls closed early on Thursdays — beauty shop day for many clerks at the time — at least in the DeSoto County seat. County fairs were still the main attraction and soda jerks and beauty queens reigned supreme.

A story in the newspaper which elicited echoes of Mayberry involved the hold-up and robbery of the W.T. Woods Drug Store in Olive Branch on March 10, 1960.

While no doubt a serious and harrowing event for the drugstore owners, a well-esteemed and  beloved couple, the robbery took on a decidedly Mayberry aspect when the hold-up man, kidnapper and robber was said to actually have waited on customers before fleeing. He apparently sold them a few items, after having tied up the couple in an upstairs room above the drugstore.

Upon coming down the stairs, he suddenly encountered two customers who came into the store after the robbery.

The newspaper picks it up from there.

“The robber tied up Woods and his wife in an upstairs office. The unmasked gunman had enough composure to wait on two customers downstairs before he fled. He sold one of them a package of chewing gum and the other a roll of adhesive tape.”

The robber could have tied up the two customers and robbed them as well, but he opted to play it cool.

Thank goodness, it seems that the Woods couple, although shaken, were otherwise unharmed.

Maybe the robber realized he was in enough trouble and decided to show a little mercy. Or just maybe he wanted to get away … 

During the days of Prohibition — which in the State of Mississippi existed until 1966 — bootleggers seen racing through the backwoods of DeSoto County were often accompanied by lawmen in hot pursuit.

It seems that a pair of bootleggers decided to run a roadblock in order to hide their illegal liquor running operation.

Constable W.A. “Hoppy” Durdin of Horn Lake was hot on their trail.

Two men, with the head henchman being identified as Julius Leachman, were using the truck to haul corn whiskey from Memphis to DeSoto County.

The Mississippi Highway Patrol had set up a roadblock just below the state line on U.S. Highway 51.

“Officers shot out the tires of the truck as it roared through,” the story in the newspaper said. “Durdin said the runaway truck stopped a quarter mile down the highway and the occupants jumped out and ran.”

One bootlegger was caught and the other, later identified as Leachman, got away — for a brief time, that is.

Since the truck had made it across the state line into Tennessee, Durdin asked Memphis police to arrest Leachman on a warrant charging him with illegal transportation and possession of liquor.

Leachman, it seems, devised an elaborate scheme to allege his truck had been stolen by a pair of bootleggers and actually came into police headquarters the next day to find out about his “stolen” truck.

Having already been fingered by his accomplice, Leachman was arrested on the spot.

Both episodes would seem to suggest that only does crime not pay, it can cost you the most valuable thing you or anyone can hope to possess, freedom.

 ROBERT LEE LONG  is Curator of the DeSoto County Museum.

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