On September 22, 1930, Hunt Boyd Watson (alias Jimmie Yarrell alias B. B. Gathright alias Hunt Ward), A.P. Burton (alias George Clark Edwards), and Mike Eskew casually walked into the Farmerville Bank, unmasked, and forced William Wesley Porter, cashier, and Mrs. Edward Everett, the bank president’s wife, to throw up their hands. Eskew, standing lookout at the door, held the two at bay while the other two robbers emptied the safe and cash drawers of $10,831 in cash. Another man was supposedly waiting in a stolen car outside. As they drove off, someone took down the Louisiana license plate number 1352. The plate was determined to have been stolen in El Dorado from a car belonging to H. R. Kelly, a traveling salesman from New Orleans.
On October 2, 1930 Horace Nash, a fifty year old Lawson Arkansas farmer, and his father, M. C. Nash, were under surveillance by El Dorado police. The elder Nash was in an El Dorado hospital recovering from an attack of appendicitis. Horace was suspected of being the driver of the getaway car. The car was found on his farm – a small brown auto bearing a Texas license. Sheriff Murphy traveled to Little Rock to get extradition papers on Nash.
In the meantime, Mike Eskew, tenant on the Nash farm, was arrested at the home of his father in the Rigolette community in Rapides Parish by Deputy Sheriffs Brister and Marier on the same date. He was transferred to Farmerville where he was charged with being implicated in the robbery. His bond was fixed by the court at $25,000. On October 28, 1930 Nash was brought to Farmerville by Deputy Sheriff George Miller Edwards and lodged in jail.
On Monday morning, November 17, Sheriff F. W. Murphy received word from officers in Silver City, N. M. that three men and two women had been arrested and are being held there in connection with the robbery, Ward Hunt, alias Hunt Boyd Watson, and a second man whose name the sheriff was unable to give, are those being held. According to the information received by the sheriff, Mrs. Joe Kearns, wife of the first named man and also a Mrs. Davis are being held in connection with the affair. (Evidently the men captured were Watson and Burton. The two women were the Davis sisters, one of which was Watson’s wife.) Sheriff Murphy and Deputy G. M. Edwards left the next morning for New Mexico and brought the suspects back and they were lodged in Union Parish jail.
Watson, Burton, and Eskew were arraigned in the District Court before Judge F. L. Walker on charges of robbery to which they entered a plea of not guilty. After arraignment Sheriff Murphy and deputy Edwards proceeded to return them to the Ouachita parish jail. They were in a sedan with Deputy Edwards driving, with one of the perpetrators in the passenger seat beside him. Sheriff Murphy rode in the back seat with the other two. About five miles from Monroe, Burton, who was seated behind the driver, drew a 32 automatic that he had taped to his leg and pointed it at the back of Deputy Edward’s head. He stooped over and drew the weapon when Sheriff Murphy, who was constantly watching him, took his eyes off of him to open the window to throw out a cigarette stub. One, of the bandits, in the back seat located the keys to their handcuff and released all three men. The men proceeded to handcuff the officers and place them on the back seat.
One of the bandits got behind the wheel and sped back to the intersection of the Chatham road with the Dixie-Overland and proceeded on that road past Jonesville and to a point below Dodson. They stopped and the officers were ordered out of the car, marched about 200 yards from the road, and handcuffed to a tree. Mike Eskew, who seemed not to be part of the getaway scheme, was tied to another tree with a handkerchief. Burton and Watson returned to the road hailed a passing car and headed toward Texas.
Near Leesville the duo ditched their stolen car and fled across a field while being chased by the area sheriff who shot at them wounding one of them in the head. The other man escaped and on December 21, 1930 he hailed a car driven by W. L. Dixon near Many and forced him to speed toward Shreveport until they ran out of gas. Dixon and his 10-year-old-son were forced to sit by a fire until the bandit could hail another ride.
After several minutes, the officers succeeded in retrieving extra handcuff keys and releasing themselves. They returned to Farmerville together with Eskew who was lodged in the Farmerville jail. (Deputy Edwards said later that he was surprised that the men hadn’t killed them. He sure regretted losing his 44-40 pistol.)
On Monday April 20, 1931, at the request of Sheriff Pat Murphy, a posse of seven detectives located and arrested Burton in Beaumont, Texas. He was living with his young wife in the attic of his mother-in-law’s house in Beaumont. When officers finally located him and demanded his surrender, at first he refused threating to fight it out with them, but his young wife and mother-in-law pleaded with him to surrender after officers were ready to use tear gas bombs. He finally surrendered rather than subject the woman to the tear gas. When asked about his accomplice, Burton, he declared that he had not seen him since they separated in December and did not know where he was, but thought he went north.
“The young wife”, Clara Modelle nee Davis, had previously been married to two other bank robbers, Clarence Loland Young and John Clifton Owen. She and her two sisters, Beryl Ione and Estelle were instrumental in smuggling weapons and aiding in several jail breaks. They aided in the escape of notorious “Blackie” Thompson who was later killed in a gunfight with officers in Texas on December 6, 1934. They also aided in the escape of Raymond Hamilton and Joe Palmer who were part of the Bonnie and Clyde gang.
Sheriff Murphy was notified of the capture of his quarry by telephone and he and Deputy Edwards left for Texas at 9 AM the next morning and arrived in Beaumont at 9 PM. By 6 AM next morning the prisoner to pick up his prisoner. The Sheriff brought the perpetrator back the Farmerville where he was booked and charged with bank robbery.
Watson confessed to his crime and was sentenced on Friday, April 24, 1931, to not less than nine nor more than fourteen years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. He was afraid of being sent back to Texas where bank robbery with a weapon could bring the death sentence. Sheriff Pat Murphy and four deputies, G. M. Edwards, J. D. Miller, J. C. Stevenson, Brooks Mabry left Farmerville at 4 o’clock Saturday morning in two vehicles and transferred Watson to the state penitentiary.
True to his boast, that no prison could hold him, he escaped prison on February 16, 1932. On August 19, 1932, Watson and some accomplices robbed the State Bank at Olla. On Friday September 9, 1932, Burton was captured in Indianapolis, Indiana. At the time of his capture he only had $150 left of the $5,000 he had when he arrived in Indiana.
Burton was again sentenced to Louisiana State Prison and on February 16, 1933 made another escape. This time he was captured on the prison farm on the next Monday, February 20, 1933.
On April 24, 1931, Burton was indicted by the Rapides parish grand jury for the robbery of the Bank of LeCompte following his confession, but denied that his sixteen year old bride was with him at the time of the robbery.
Eskew’s first trial resulted in a hung jury and was deemed a mistrial by the judge. He was finally convicted on his second trial and sentenced on April 19, 1933 to not less than four years nor more than eight years in the state penitentiary.
On Sunday, September 10, 1933, eleven heavily armed convicts, one of which was Watson escaped from the Louisiana Penal Farm at Angola during a riot at a baseball game in which three men were killed and six were wounded. The escapees broke into the armory of Camp E, seized arms and ammunition, and shot their way out. Clara Watson nee Davis and her accomplices smuggled arms in to Watson several days before the break. After the prisoners raided the armory, they shot their way out of the crowd of people attending the ball game to an automobile that belonged to one of the guests at the farm. Six men were wounded and two were killed, one of whom was Arnold Davis, the guard who killed Watson in his attempt to escape from the farm.
Hunt Boyd Watson was truly the most notorious bank robber around in Louisiana at the time with the possible exception of Bonnie and Clyde. Warden Wade H. Long reported that the burial of Watson was arranged after several unsuccessful attempts to contact his relatives. He was laid to rest in Wallace Mountain Cemetery, Dripping Springs, Hays County, Texas. The inscription reads: Born November 3, 1903; Died September 7, 1933. Within a year his widow had remarried and again to a bank robber.
In May 1937, after A.P. Burton had served a five-year prison term in the Missouri Penitentiary at Springfield for post office and many other robberies and was released to local authorities upon his dismissal from that institution early in April. The last of the bank robbers was in the hands of local authorities being held in the Ouachita Parish jail in Monroe.
When Burton was brought before Judge E. L. Walker in Farmerville in April for arraignment, he entered a plea of not guilty, and T. C.Bergeron, District Attorney, said the case would be tried in either September or October. However, when it was learned that the robber was ready to plead guilty, he was brought before the judge on the next Monday and was sentenced to serve not less than four nor more than fourteen years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. The prisoner was taken to the penitentiary by Deputy Sheriffs George Miller Edwards and Cloyd Edwards.
Evidently charges were dropped against Horace Nash and his father for lack of evidence. No record of any indictment appears in the public records.
Gene Barron is a native of Spearsville, Union Parish, Louisiana. He has a genealogy database of 182,000 names, who are all connected to his family.
Gene has also written three historical books on Union Parish. I highly recommend both.