A second serving of Southern criminals turns up a lawman gone rogue, a conspirator of treason, a Southern gent of an outlaw, and a gangster made worse for love. These Southern legends are more than just stories of days gone by, they were real criminals leaving fear and destruction in their wake. Theirs are some of the most infamous names in the South.
- Tom Horn—Memphis, Missouri
Horn in custody after being arrested and tried for the murder of a rancher’s fourteen-year-old sonMisunderstood hero or rogue cowboy, Tom Horn spent time on both sides of the law before the law caught up with him.
The man Horn grew up to be was undoubtedly shaped by the abuse he suffered at his father’s hands. As a young teen Horn took his life into his own hands, leaving after a particularly severe beating. He looked to the West, earning a living by driving herds until he joined the Army. It was during his time as a scout that Horn made a name for himself as a marksman and a tracker, following the path of Apache hero and American foe Geronimo.
After his stint in the military, Horn utilized his learned skills as both a U.S. marshal and a deputy sheriff before becoming what he was known for long afterwards– hired killer. Working for the Pinkerton Detective Agency and later large Wyoming ranchers, Horn shot suspected cattle thieves and anyone else stirring up trouble in his claimed jurisdiction. While killing was not the necessary means in most situations Horn encountered, it was apparently his preference. He was once quoted as saying, “Killing is my specialty.”
But Horn’s spree of lawlessness—or lawfulness, depending on who you ask—ended with the murder of a rancher’s fourteen-year-old son in 1901. While many enthusiasts and historians now doubt his guilt, he was tried and sentenced to death. Horn was hanged in Cheyenne in 1903.
- Mary Surratt—Waterloo, Maryland The Surratt House circa 1890. It was in Surratt’s boarding house that she and her family became acquainted with John Wilkes Booth.
Born Mary Elizabeth Jenkins, she was a proper Southern girl by all accounts. At seventeen she married John Harrison Surratt of the District of Columbia. Surratt was a devoted wife and mother of three children, living a quiet, simple life. After moving to Maryland, the couple built a two-story house that served as the family home, as well as a tavern and post office.
When the Civil War broke out, the Surratt home and tavern became a known safe spot for the Confederate underground. As hard as times were for everyone, things fell apart for Surratt when John died late in the summer of 1862. Heavily in debt, two years following the death of her husband, Surratt rented her home and tavern to John Lloyd and moved her small family to a townhouse she owned in Washington, D.C. It was in this home turned boardinghouse that Surratt and her family met the man who sealed her fate—John Wilkes Booth.
As Lloyd later testified, Surratt allegedly told him to have “field glasses and carbines” ready for Booth and his accomplice, David Herold, on the night of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. She was arrested at her boarding house in D.C. on the night of April 17, 1865. Surratt and other co-conspirators went to trial and were found guilty. On July 7, 1865, Surratt was hanged, the first woman in U.S. history to be executed.
- Doc Holliday—Griffin, Georgia Holliday was known for his Southern charm and gentlemanly ways, but underneath it all was a quick temper and a quick draw.Known as a gentleman and for his lively and congenial character, the beloved yet infamous Doc Holliday was also a gambler, quick-tempered, and as fellow gunfighter and friend Wyatt Earp noted, “the deadliest man with a six-gun I ever knew.”
John Henry “Doc” Holliday was born to loving and influential parents. A highly intelligent student in his teens, Holliday threw himself further into his studies after the death of his mother from tuberculosis when he was fifteen. After his graduation from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery, Holliday received the grim diagnosis that he too had tuberculosis. Moving west to Dallas, Texas, believing the drier air would be best for his condition, Holliday’s future took a turn much different than the route his parents had laid before him.As the tuberculosis progressed and the coughing became worse, Holliday was forced to leave his dental career behind. A proficient gambler and a heavy drinker, he fled Dallas after killing a man over a disagreement. Thus began Holliday’s life as an outlaw, at one point having a large bounty on his head by U.S. marshals, leaving a string of dead men in his path.
Befriending Earp along the way, it was with the famed lawman that Holliday played his part in the legendary shootout at the OK Corral on October 26, 1881. Both men were arrested after the thirty-second fight, and both were later released. The pair rode together over the next year, this time with Earp on the other side of the law. But with his declining health, the time came for even Doc Holliday to lay down his guns. On November 8, 1887, Holliday died in a hotel room.
- George “Machine Gun” Kelly—Memphis, Tennessee “Machine Gun” Kelly and his wife, Kathryn Thorne, were charged in the kidnapping of oil tycoon Charles UrschelA small-time bootlegger for most of his crime career, George “Machine Gun” Kelly didn’t seem to have it in him to be a big-time gangster. That is until he met the love of his life and partner in crime Kathryn Thorne.George Kelly Barnes was born in 1895 to a wealthy Memphis family. Although he attended Mississippi A&M, his grades were poor, and he dropped out at nineteen to marry Geneva Ramsey. The couple struggled financially, especially after the births of their two sons. Kelly began to look outside of traditional work, as his stint as a cab driver couldn’t make ends meet.
Separated from his wife, Kelly began bootlegging. To protect his family name, he went by George R. Kelly. By 1929 he had been arrested several times and served multiple sentences in jail. It was also around this time that Kelly met Thorne, and the dynamic pair soon took Kelly’s crime spree to a new level, earning him a spot in gangster history.
Kelly and Thorne married shortly after they had met, and Thorne’s influence over him grew stronger. With a long history of crime herself, Thorne planned on making Kelly feared and respected in the underground community. Their crimes became larger, as they began to rob banks in addition to bootlegging. Thorne bought her husband a machine gun and passed out the used cartridges as souvenirs from “Machine Gun” Kelly.
But one crime made Kelly famous and resulted in a sentence for life. In July of 1933, with machine gun in tow, they stormed into the home of Charles Urschel, a wealthy oil tycoon in Oklahoma City. The kidnapping of Urschel made Kelly Public Enemy Number One. After receiving the $200,000 ransom, Urschel was released unharmed. The couple eluded the authorities but not for long. On September 26, 1933, they were arrested in the home of a friend.
Both Kelly and Thorne received life sentences for the kidnapping of Urschel. After bragging that he would escape, Kelly was transferred to Alcatraz. In 1951 he was transferred back to Leavenworth in Kansas. “Machine Gun” Kelly died of a heart attack in prison in 1954. He and Thorne were never reunited.