Howard often wrote of the desperadoes terrorizing the South and Midwest during the early 1930s to his fellow Weird Tales writer H.P. Lovecraft. On July 13, 1932 he included this bit of information on Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd and Harry and Jennings Young in his letter to HPL:
Referring to “Pretty-Boy” Floyd, he’s still at large, as near as I can learn, having recently shot his way out of a trap where the police had him surrounded. It’s rumored that he was in the farm-house in Missouri the night the Young brothers massacred those six officers, and I think it quite probable. You know the Youngs were cornered in Houston and killed themselves. I don’t think Floyd will go out that way. He’ll probably be shot in the back by one of his own gang who wants the big reward.
Despite Howard’s assertion that Pretty Boy Floyd was a participant in the massacre, it was merely a popular rumor at the time. While Harry Young and Floyd undoubtedly met in the Missouri prison where both were incarcerated during 1927 and 1928, Floyd was not at the Young farm that fateful day. What started out as a simple arrest, turned into the worst loss of life in law enforcement history resulting from a single incident. Six officers died that day, a deadly record that stood until September 11, 2001.
James David Young, was a Christian and honest man, but had to hang his head in shame when three of his eleven children turned to a life a crime and he was powerless to stop their slide down that slippery slope. Three of his sons, Paul, Jennings and Harry, became gun-toting wise guys who believed they were above the law and disdainful of honest, law abiding citizens. Indeed, they felt entitled to appropriate any property they wanted from those citizens they so despised. His wife, Willie Florence Young, was supportive of all her children, even the ones who went astray. The family lived on a 100 acre farm just southwest of Springfield, Missouri, located in the Ozarks region of that state.
The three brothers, who called themselves the Young Triumvirate, were suspected of committing both petty and major crimes, but despite the efforts of law enforcement, nothing could be pinned on them. A reckoning came in 1919 when Paul and Jennings broke into a small-town store south of Springfield, and were quickly caught with stolen merchandise. In light of the overwhelming evidence, they confessed to the theft and were sent to the state penitentiary in Jefferson City.
The pair was indifferent to the shame and humiliation their father felt in the presence of his friends and kin. The rest of the Young children shared their father’s grief, but Mrs. Young held Paul and Jennings blameless in the crime. She pleaded frame-up, double-cross and misplaced justice. She became the defender of her sons’ transgressions, especially Harry who was her favorite.
Their father was inconsolable over the actions of his sons. All he wanted was peace and quiet, but the burden of what his sons had become was too much for him to carry. He became sicker and sicker — his heart broken, he died while Jennings and Paul were in prison.
A one point in the brothers’ lengthy crime spree, Mrs. Young was nearly arrested after police officers found stolen merchandise in her home. She claimed she knew nothing of the items (tires and rugs) stored in the farm house and Jennings stepped up and took the fall so his mother wouldn’t be charged with possession of stolen merchandise. While he cooled his heels in prison, brothers Paul and Harry kept up the family traditions of robbery and burglary. Harry was sent to the penitentiary in 1927, but soon all three were free again.
On June 2, 1929, Harry was driving recklessly through Republic, Missouri, when he was apprehended by City Marshal Mark Noe for drunk driving. Marshal Noe’s body was found in a roadside ditch several miles out of town the next day. Harry was hunted in big cities and small towns throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. Now and then officials would hear of him and often they read of crimes they thought were his, but he was like a ghost, eluding capture for over a year.
Around Thanksgiving 1931 it was learned that Harry, Paul and Jennings were stealing cars and peace officers were on the lookout for the trio of criminals. Federal warrants were out in many jurisdictions for them on violations of the Dyer Act, and there were numerous state warrants too, for offenses including the charge of murder against Harry. Greene County Sheriff Marcell Hendrix spread the false story in the Youngs’ neighborhood he was tired of looking for Harry and that in all probability he had fled to Mexico anyway. It was generally agreed among the sheriff’s forces and the Springfield police they would bide their time flushing the Youngs out of the farm house. They also did not want to tip off Mrs. Young in advance of the raid, fearing she would alert her sons who returned home now and then for short visits.
Federal and State officers in Oklahoma and Texas had traced stolen cars to Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa and Illinois, and they had evidence the Youngs were responsible for the thefts. And then there were an equal number of stolen cars taken from Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Illinois into Oklahoma and Texas for disposal there. At the time, their elaborate auto theft ring was one of the largest the FBI had ever seen. Clearly the Young brothers needed to be dealt with, and sooner or later officials knew some of them would stop off at the home place for a visit with their mother. A few days after Thanksgiving it was learned that Jennings was actually at home. He soon left, probably on his way to Illinois with a stolen car and returned shortly on his way back to Texas with a stolen Illinois car, and then on another trip through the Ozarks he actually came into Springfield.
On Saturday, January 2, 1932, evidence indicated that Jennings and probably Paul and Harry were at the family farm. Sheriff Hendrix collected ammunition, deputies and detectives to make the raid. A total of eleven men headed for the farm seven miles southwest of Springfield that fateful day. Since the farm was outside the city limits of Springfield, Chief of Police Ed Waddle handed the matter off the the County Sheriff to deal with. Sheriff Hendrix had been a friend and neighbor of the Youngs for many years and believed they would not harm him. When they arrived, the men milled about the farmhouse for a few minutes, banging on doors and yelling. They thought they heard noises coming from inside and came up with a plan to safely force the occupants out of the house. Getting no response from the occupants, it was agreed that the officers would fan out around the front of the house, fire a gas canister into one of the upstairs windows, and after the gas had time to saturate the second floor, the Sheriff and a few others would force their way in the back door and flush the brothers out the front door. Detective Johnson fired a gas canister through one of the upstairs windows while the group of officers waited a few minutes before taking up their assigned positions.
Sheriff Hendrix and Deputy Sheriff Wiley Mashburn, followed by Detective Virgil Johnson, left the southeast corner of the house and walked to the kitchen door. In order to cover them and observe their movements, Chief of Detectives Tony Oliver took cover behind a tree on the outside of a small lawn fence. Patrolman Charles Houser stood unprotected by the lawn gate. Detective Sid Meadows stood behind a tree outside the lawn fence on the north side where he might observe any exit from the northwest corner of the house. Detective Ben Bilyeu stood in the open close to Oliver. Detective Frank Pike and civilian R. G. Wegman were ordered to the rear of the officer’s cars to keep careful watch of the barn and shed. Detective Owen Brown and Deputy Sheriff Ollie Crosswhite took up positions at the northeast corner of the house so Crosswhite could look in the window.
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