Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Murder of Sheriff Turley

On Wednesday morning, February 27, 1889, in Van Buren, Missouri, a local citizen tried to collect on a $35 note that had Carter County sheriff Elvin G. Turley's name signed on it, but Turley realized immediately that someone had forged his signature. A quick investigation determined that Amp O. Thomason was the guilty culprit and that he had also forged the names of at least two other local men.
Twenty-two-year-old Thomason and another young man, James Taylor, had arrived from Kentucky about six months earlier and opened a saloon in Van Buren. Around the middle of February, they closed the Van Buren saloon and left for Winona, announcing they planned to open a new saloon there.
Still on Wednesday morning, Sheriff Turley, taking along Deputy George Henderson, set out for Winona by train. About noon, the officers chanced to meet Thomason and his sidekick at the depot in Low Wassie when the train made a stop there. When Turley stepped up to Thomason and told him he was under arrest, Thomason started to reach for his revolver, but both officers closed in on him before he could draw it, and the sheriff grabbed his hand. Thomason fell backward, trying to wrest his hand away, but the sheriff still had a grip on him. "Jim, if you ever mean to help me," Thomason yelled to his partner while still on the ground, "now is the time." Taylor, who was thought to be Thomason's half-brother, promptly pulled out a revolver and fired at the sheriff but missed. Stepping closer, he fired again, and Turley fell dead, dying almost instantly. Henderson made a move toward Taylor, but the desperate young man shot the deputy in the leg and made a break for some nearby woods with Thomason scrambling to his feet and straggling along behind.
A posse quickly organized and went in pursuit of the fugitives, but they escaped. Carter County offered a reward for their capture, and a week or so later, the Missouri governor placed a $300 bounty on Thomason's head and a $200 one on Taylor. Despite the rewards offered, no clues as to the whereabouts of the fugitives turned up. Turley's widow offered to up the reward so that it would be lucrative enough to attract professional bounty hunters if she could collect on her husband's $2,000 life insurance policy. However, the company refused to pay, reportedly because a pint bottle of whiskey was found in the sheriff's pocket after he was killed.
Twenty-five years went by with no word on where Thomason and Taylor might be. Finally, in February of 1914, Carter County authorities received a tip that the two fugitives might be holed up in Texas. At the request of the county officials, the Missouri governor renewed the state reward for the capture of the two men, except the amount was only a $100 now. Later in the year, acting on a supposedly reliable tip, Carter County sheriff Orren Munger traveled to Texas to try to effect an arrest, but the fugitives had left the place where they were supposed to be a couple of days before the lawman's arrival.
Thomason and Taylor were never apprehended, although a rumor filtered back to Missouri a couple of years after Munger's burnt run to Texas that Thomason had died of tuberculosis.

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