Saturday, July 12, 2014

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CXXIV): Crime reported, criminal cases adjudicated (and a bit of history about moonshine)

This post is one of my periodic updates about crime and punishment in Newton County, Arkansas the persistent poverty in the Ozarks where I grew up.  Of particular interest to me is the final item--a "Gone but Not Forgotten" column that recounts the seizure of "moonshine" or "wildcat" stills in Newton County during the 1940s.  Those seizures were made by federal agents with the assistance of the local sheriff.

The June 11, 2014 issue of the Newton County Times features some big crime headlines on the front page.  First, "Two arrests following shooting" reports that two men, a 37-year-old and an 18-year-old, threatened to kill a woman at her home and also to take two girls from the home.  The two men had earlier that day used a firearm to threaten a man at a home nearby.  The men have been charged with residential burglary and terroristic threatening, with bonds set at $25,000 and $15,000 respectively. Both have posted bond.

The other story is headlined, "Burglar unmasked before escape," and it reports a "break-in attempt at a rural country store was foiled by the owner when he responded to the alarm and confronted the make burglar."  Arriving at the store in response to an alarm, the owner "followed the suspect to a vehicle where he yanked a mask off of the alleged burglar."  The owner recognized the man, who then fled.  The vehicle in which the man fled was reported on fire a short time later.  Deputies at the scene of the vehicle fire were able to recover some of the items stolen from the store, as well as some DNA evidence.  A 27-year-old man was arrested a short time later and has been charged with commercial burglary, theft of property, criminal mischief and criminal trespass.

The July 9, 2014 issue of the paper reports that a 60-year-old man was charged with killing the 75-year-old female owner of a Boone County business, the Ozark Emporium.  The man, who has a record of serious crimes and lengthy prison terms,  told investigators that he was hired to rob the store.  He has not admitted killing the woman, who was strangled to death.  The killer apparently took property worth about $300,000 from the store.  A security video at the store captured images of the man and his vehicle, which facilitated his arrest a short time after the incident.

In other law and order news, the May 28, 2014 issue of the Newton County Times reports the following:
  •  a 24-year-old mother was sentenced to two years (as part of a plea deal) for endangering the welfare of a minor (a Class D felony) after her 3-year-old child was shot in the foot.    The woman apparently allowed her child to ride in the pickup truck of a man knowing that he had two handguns in the truck.  The child picked up one of the guns and dropped it, causing it to discharge and shoot the child in the foot.   The mother allegedly endangered her child further by delaying medical attention--this involved going to the home of the child's grandmother and getting the grandmother to drive them to the hospital. The woman's sentence is being served concurrently with a sentence on unspecified charges from Benton County.  I don't know how serious the Benton County charges are, but a two-year sentence for child endangerment seems steep.
  • A 50-year-old woman was charged with two counts of forgery for writing two checks to Harp's Grocery, one for gas and one for food, totaling $120.14.  The checks were written on an account belonging to another person.  As part of a plea deal, the woman was sentenced to six years probation, to be served concurrently with another sentence out of Boone County.  She was also ordered to pay restitution, costs and fees.  
  • A 48 year old man and his 35 year old wife pleaded guilty to drug charges related to possession of marijuana.  The marijuana was discovered after an alarm went off at the couple's residence, apparently justifying law enforcement arrival at the home, where they smelled marijuana.  They soon returned with a warrant and seized firearms, marijuana, and "homemade smoking devices."  Because the couple's three-year-old child was present, they were also charged with endangering the health of a minor.   The plea agreement involved dropping all charges against the wife and the surrender of "the evidentiary items seized," plus a $500 fine and court costs.  
  • A 20-year-old man pleased guilty for failing to register as a sex offender after he moved to Newton County from Crawford County.  Attention was drawn to him after he was found with a 16-year-old woman whom he had encouraged to stay home from school.  He was sentenced to 36 months probation for felony failure to register as a sex offender and for misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a minor.  He was also fined $1250 and ordered to have no further contact with the juvenile.  
  • A 27-year-old man pleaded guilty to "unauthorized use of a motor vehicle," a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to 12 months probation plus court fees and costs for stealing a vehicle last August.    
A "Gone but not Forgotten" column in the July 9 issue of the paper is headlined, "Illegal Stills in Newton County."  It recounts a Nov. 28, 1947 headline, "Officers Capture 55-Gallon Still."  Here is the story:
A 55-gallon still was captured Monday on the farm of Harley Houston, one-half mile northwest of Pruitt, by Federal Officers Tom Harris and Al P. Knapp, assisted by sheriff Russell Burdine and Deputy Ray Brazel.   
Part of the boiler of the still was found in the house where Houston lives and part was found in the hen house, officers said.  Mash was found about 100 yards from the front gate on the same farm.   
In the barn, ten empty bottles bearing the Arkansas revenue stamp were found, officers related and fruit jars smelled of whiskey also were located in the house, according to officers.   
As the Newton County Times goes to press no arrest has been made.   
The search on Monday was the third which had been made for a still on the Houston farm, Sheriff Burdine said.   
The law now allows the sheriff to pick up any whiskey in bottles bearing the Arkansas revenue stamp which have been broken into in order that he may send the contents to Little Rock to be analyzed to determine whether the whiskey is "wildcat" or licensed.  
A preface to the column provides some historical context:
In the months leading up to the local option election of June 4, 1946, there were news account of raids of local stills and a court case that ended in a mistrial.  This is but one account that published in the Newton County Times during that era.   

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