Ancestors, Legends & Time

Carterville Crime Spree- A Carterville story shared by Julie Riley

Jeanne Newby

There were several gangs of desperadoes who stayed in or traveled through the Tri-State area in the ’20s and ’30s, such notables as Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, the Underhill Gang, and Ma Barker and her boys, plus others.

Money was not plentiful in those days, 1927. The gangsters seemed to give all law agencies quite a bit of trouble. But when Mrs. Allen was asked one day by two men and a woman if she would rent her home on the 600 block of East Main in Carterville, she probably thought little as to their real names or business.

As bank robberies began to increase, Joplin, Webb City, and Carterville police began to look with increasing suspicion at the little cozy home in the 600 block of East Main. Officers gathered at the filling station of Bill Hamilton and Ernie Hatcher on the corner of Pine and Main streets. Here, they laid plans to watch the house and all the activity.

Not much was hidden in a small town like Carterville. Rumors grew thick and heavy. Sometimes one car would be at 600 East Main, sometimes three or four. Everyone felt that sooner or later, something big was going to happen.

It was about dawn that cool Monday morning, Jan. 17, 1927, when Carl Pinkard’s back door rattled strongly. “Come on, let me in. ‘Quick!’ came the strange voice.

“What’s going on?” Carl asked sleepily. Police Officer Brown of Joplin shoved him aside. Wella Pinkard came in the room. “Get down on the floor, both of you. Quick!” the officer said. He waved the barrel of his shotgun toward Mrs. Allen’s rental house. “We’ve got them surrounded and lead is about to start flying.”

Instantly there was a crash of gunfire as a Packard loaded with law officers screeched to a halt before the white house. The officers scrambled out, ducking behind the big car.

Not too long before this eventful night, the police officers had been questioned by locals.

“Why don’t you investigate?” they were asking. Officers nodded. “We are waiting until a whole bunch of ’em are in the house at one time.”

Andy Bisher, Webb City police chief, detective Vandeventer, of Joplin, Grover Hatcher, Chester Ropp, Officer Brown as well as other officers were interested in the house on Main Street and its occupants. So when a bank in the vicinity was robbed, the decision was made to move in.

‘We’ll patrol the area of the house once each hour,” was the agreement among the officers. “If they come back and enter the house, we’ll demand a surrender.”

Nothing happened that long night while most of Carterville slept soundly. About morning, however, the word was received: “They’re here. They just pulled in.”

The circle of lawmen tightened around the corner house. “Come out fellows, we’ve got you hemmed in,” an officer called out.

Gunfire broke out of the house, and was answered from all sides by the lawmen. Ray Terrill, inside the house, dumped a box of paper currency on the floor, shoving handfuls of the cash in the stove while shooting through the window with his gun. “I can still see the chimney smoke that money made,” remembered Carl Pinkard.

Herman Barker, who was described by a Webb City man as a “very fine boy who was led astray by his eccentric mother [Ma Barker and her boys.] Herman grabbed a bucket of silver dollars and was trying to flush them down the drain. At the same time, he also fired at officers crouching behind fences, trees and houses.

Terrill gave himself up, but Herman made a run for it. He was just over the fence on the north side of the house when the buckshot from Officer Brown’s gun stopped him. “Just cut him down like you’d shoot a rabbit,” recalled Carl Pinkard. “I got a blanket and covered him up until the car finally got there and took him to Jane Chinn Hospital,” Carl added. “I didn’t see how he could live after all that blood he lost.”

According to reports, Herman Baker was transferred to St. John’s in Joplin, where he recovered, escaped his guard and fled to Wichita, Kan.

The talk around town began to piece the happenings together. Carl Pinkard said he had some fruit in the basement of the Allen house at 600 East Main. He went to get some of the fruit one morning and the people in the house opened the door about an inch while they looked him over. Carl thought they were acting weird, but they finally told him he could get the fruit.

Carl said, “When they would leave the house they would hang a white rag on the back door. When they got home, they would take the rag down. They also had a red bird in the front window. Sometimes it would be lit up and other times. not. They posed as book agents, but I felt there was something that wasn’t right about the whole set-up.”

Karl Madden, a Carterville grocer, said, “I was drawing water for mother to do the wash, when I heard guns start cracking. About that time a law officer ran by our house heading away from the gun fight. “I yelled at him, Where you going? He just moved faster.”

Another Carterville man said, “When the shooting started, one officer jumped in the bushes and didn’t fire a single shot, just laid there. I didn’t blame him either. Those gangsters were tough.”

Most of those Carterville residents are now gone. The well-kept house carried those bullet holes with pride and made for good conversation throughout the years. Many local folk said there was probably cash hidden in several compartments of the house, but none was ever found.

Officer Brown of Joplin, was shot and killed in Carterville a couple of years later.

A quiet small town was shaken that January morning, but the legend left behind made its mark on Carterville, Missouri… Gangsters Beware! 

Thanks Julie Riley for sharing this wonderful piece of Carterville history.

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.

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