My Desperadoes book contains a chapter about Wilbur Underhill, whose escapades during the 1920s in southwest Missouri, southeast Kansas, and northeast Oklahoma earned him the nickname the "Tri State Terror." By the early 1930s, as his crimes escalated, he was also known as the "Mad Dog of the Underworld," and he rose to the top of America's most wanted list. When he was finally gunned down by lawmen in Oklahoma in late 1933 and died a few days later, he became the first criminal killed by officers of the fledgling agency that would become known as the FBI. (Photo above is Underhill's headstone at Ozark Memorial Park Cemetery in Joplin.)
Yet, Underhill is not nearly as well known as gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s such as Bonnie and Clyde or the Barkers, because he was never romanticized in the press. And no one ever made a movie about Wilbur Underhill (at least not a commercially successful one). Maybe Underhill was just too mean. But as I say in the book, that, too, is little more than a caricature. For the real story of Wilbur Underhill, you have to go back to where he got his start--growing up on the streets of the rough and tumble mining town of Joplin in the early 1900s.
Labels: Wilbur Underhill