The Old County Jail, Part 3
In parts one and two of this Ozark Journey, we touched briefly on the structure of Ozark County’s old stone jail that still stands near the foot of Harlin Drive in Gainesville and a few memorable incidents that occurred there. During the 30 years this facility was in service, the crimes of several desperadoes from Ozark County drew statewide and even national attention. Perhaps the most notorious was Roscoe “Red” Jackson, a 33-year-old native of Howards Ridge.
Jackson’s brushes with the law started as a teenager when he was arrested in Ozark County for carrying a concealed firearm and was sentenced to prison. He was later paroled back to Ozark County but jumped bail and went to Oklahoma. Ozark County Sheriff Endicott tracked him down and returned him to Gainesville.
While in the local jail with another prisoner named Tackett, one of them got the attention of a nearby dog, poured coal oil on its hair and touched it with a match. The flaming dog ran down the main street of Gainesville and crawled under the hotel porch, setting it on fire. Jackson admitted being the guilty party and was returned to the state penitentiary in Jefferson City. When he was finally released from the prison, he moved to Oklahoma.
In August 1934, while under investigation for the killing of a man in Oklahoma, he headed back to Ozark County by hitchhiking. A traveling salesman from Indiana, Pearl Bozarth, was passing through the Ozarks at that time. Somewhere west of Taney County, their paths crossed, and Bozarth offered Jackson a ride. As they headed down a secondary road near Brown Branch, Jackson pulled a gun and ordered Bozarth to stop and get out of the car. In a field beside the road he shot and killed Bozarth, who had resisted Jackson’s attempt to rob him.
The murder took place on Aug. 2, 1934, and Jackson was apprehended less than a week later in Oklahoma with Bozarth’s car, which had been repainted. Jackson ended up in the Ava jail this time, and by Oct. 2 had escaped from there by sawing a jail bar and climbing from the second-story cell by knotting bedsheets together.
He was captured again in Ozark County a few weeks later and was taken to Forsyth under maximum security. His trial in Circuit Court in Galena was short, and Jackson was sentenced to death by hanging. After the expected appeals and proceedings, the execution took place in a public setting at Galena on May 21, 1937. Five hundred passes were issued to witness the hanging, several to residents of Ozark and Douglas counties. Crowds gathered at openings within the enclosure, and surrounding trees and rooftops were filled with climbers.
The story was carried in media from coast to coast with graphic photos. Jackson was surprisingly calm and content. The night before the hanging, he told the Ozark County Sheriff he had actually killed three other people besides Bozarth.
This turned out to be the last public hanging in the United States.
Bank robberies were fairly common during the Depression, and the Ozark County Jail housed more than a few bank robbers worthy of note. The Bank of Hammond was robbed on May 10, 1933, by notorious Springfield outlaws Orvis Hosea (aka Blackie Williams), Jack Dillon and Walter Gould Hartley. Hosea and Dillon were captured two days later by Sergeant Massie and other state troopers on the Arkansas border and placed in the Ozark County Jail at Gainesville. Hartley was not apprehended at that time.
On July 7, the two in Gainesville escaped but were recaptured a few days later. They were convicted in county court and sentenced to 40 years in prison—though later paroled.
Later, Hartley was captured and placed in the West Plains jail, but he also escaped. He was free and active for another year.
On Sergeant Massie’s second encounter with Hartley, which came in May 1934, the troopers recaptured Hartley, and he was returned to the Ozark County Jail to face charges on the Hammond Bank holdup a year earlier. He escaped from the county jail, and a third encounter became predictable.
Sergeant Massie and Trooper Ben Graham, along with Ozark Country Sheriff Sy Daniel and Deputy O.L. Ellison, tracked him down once again and a four-hour running engagement followed. On three occasions, it broke out into an open gun battle. Hartley was wounded in the first two rounds but continued to escape. On the third, near Dugginsville, he finally fell mortally wounded and died during transportation to Gainesville—ending an epic saga.
Today, echoes from the past are the only sounds emanating from the old jail. In 1939, a new jail was built into the top floor of the current courthouse, and the door and bars were transferred from the old one to the new one. The land itself on which the old jail sits was owned by the Boone family and was included in a trust that Peggy Boone Walker inherited. She sold the land and jail about a decade ago to my wife, Doris, and me. It is a constant reminder of a much different time and place.
Thank you for joining us on this Ozark Journey.