Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, 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 sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Walter Hartley, Ozarks Bad Man

Walter Hartley left behind a long history of criminal behavior when he was finally killed in a shootout with law officers on May 18, 1934, near Dugginsville, Missouri, just across the state line in Marion County, Arkansas. The "Ozarks desperado" had a record of bank robbery dating back over ten years.
Hartley was about twenty-five years old when he first got into serious trouble in January of 1924 for holding up the Cabool State Bank, located just a few miles east of the Dunn community near where he'd grown up in rural Texas County. Hartley and a sidekick, Ernest Atkinson, entered the bank wearing false mustaches and brandishing revolvers just after closing time on the 21st. They herded three bank officials into the vault, locked it, and then scooped up all the loot contained in the cash drawer. They got about $2,500 but overlooked over $10,000 in an open safe. The crooks made their getaway in a Ford roadster but were captured late the same afternoon at the Cabool train station, where they were waiting to catch a westbound train.
Hartley was tried at a special January term of the Texas County Circuit Court. Found guilty of bank robbery, he was sentenced to ten years in the state pen but was discharged under merit time on October 1, 1929, after serving barely over half his term.
Hartley and his first wife, Blanche, split either while he was in prison or shortly after he got out, because Hartley, now about 35 years old, married a 17 or 18-year-old girl not long after he came home from Jeff City. The young woman, though, apparently did little to corral her husband's restless, criminal spirit. Hartley was arrested in January of 1932 and charged in Christian County with robbing the Bank of Sparta, along with an accomplice, on November 6, 1931, and with robbing the Bank Highlandville by himself on December 11, 1931. He was also suspected but not charged in the September, 1928 robbery of the Bank of Chadwick.
Tried first for the Highlandville heist, Hartley was convicted in early February 1932 and sentenced to 20 years in the penitentiary. The case was appealed, however, and Hartley was released on $20,000 bond.
While still free on bond, Hartley was charged in July of 1933 as a participant in the robbery of the Bank of Hammond in Ozark County two months earlier. Held initially at Gainesville in default of $20,000 bond, he was transferred to the West Plains jail in neighboring Howell County. Shortly after the transfer, he escaped and fled the territory.
Hartley was recaptured in Oklahoma in April of 1934 during a dragnet that had spread over that state in search of Clyde Barrow in the wake of the Barrow gang's notorious shootout with police in Joplin, Missouri.
Brought back to Missouri, Hartley was lodged in the Ozark County Jail at Gainesville on the Hammond Bank robbery charge. Less than a month later, on May 12, 1934, Hartley brandished a knife and overpowered Sheriff S.W. Daniel when the lawman came to feed Hartley and another inmate. Hartley took the lawman's gun and made his escape.
Hartley became the object of a widespread manhunt. He was located on the morning of May 18 by Sheriff Daniel, a deputy, and Missouri Highway Patrol officers Nathan Massie and Ben Graham, holed up in a house south of Dugginsville. Surprised, Hartley came out firing, and the officers returned fire. Hartley dropped to the ground, apparently dead, and Graham and the deputy left to get their vehicles. While they were gone, Hartley suddenly revived and again opened fire on the remaining two officers before fleeing into the underbrush. Graham and Massie finally located the fugitive again later the same day and mortally wounded him in another exchange of fire. Hartley died 45 minutes later while being transported back to Gainesville.


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