Saga of the Young Brothers Massacre

scan0007 young brothers book bw

AN EVENT HAPPENED near Springfield, Missouri on January 2, 1932 that has long since been forgotten.  It was a senseless and bloody tragedy that could have been prevented.  It did have one benefit, if you can call it that.

It changed forever the protocol in law enforcement for apprehending suspects.  A system of checks and balances would need to be implemented and followed to the letter to lessen future calamities such as the one that happened here.  Still, to this day, we occasionally hear of similar incidents happening in small outlying areas where no tactical support can be gained, or where law enforcement personnel are too impatient for the back-up to arrive.

Mr. and Mrs. Young had eleven children and lived on a farm near Brookline, a little southwest of Springfield.  They did not seem like an odd lot.  They went to church, most of them worked hard and as the oldest children left the nest, they married hard-working churchgoers themselves.  If you were in the family’s personal circles, you might learn, however, that there seemed to be an underling resentment of authority pulsing below the surface, and the family did end up having three really bad eggs.  Two of the Young brothers, Harry and Jennings, did not like regular work hours and preferred to involve themselves in nefarious and clandestine activities.  They stole merchandise from Springfield stores and also became involved in stealing cars.  Their car thievery seemed to involve cars in Texas and Missouri—they switched back and forth and had associates and hideouts in both places.  They often stole in one state, sold in the other.

The family cringed at their activities, but the family members also covered for them, enabled them and were often drawn into their schemes, unknowingly or knowingly.  It may also be good to mention that these two brothers were crack shots, and had won all kinds of marksmanship awards all over that part of Missouri and surrounding states.

In June of 1929, Harry Young had been pulled over for drunk driving by Marshal Noe of Republic.  The marshal was shot in the head, dead, right there on Main Street by Harry, so Harry, who fled the scene, was now a wanted man.

When Jennings and Harry’s sisters tried to re-sell a car in Springfield that was clearly stolen property, an alert car dealer notified the authorities.  The authorities promptly arrested and held the sisters, while they worked on them for the location of the two wayward brothers.

The sisters “sang.”  Their brothers were at the family farm.  The Springfield Chief of Police requested that the Sheriff, Marcell Hendrix, take the city officers out to the farm to arrest the brothers.  Sheriff Hendrix formed a posse including deputies Ollie Crosswhite and Wiley Mashburn, and officers Oliver, Meadows, and Houser.  A civilian named Wegman tagged along for the excitement and Mr. Wegman got more excitement than he bargained for.  At this moment all of their fates were sealed.  It was like a bell that could not be un-rung.

The posse going to the farm was equipped only with their own handguns and the ammunition that was already in those guns.  They also had two tear gas canisters.  On the other hand, the Young brothers had a Winchester 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun and a Remington repeating rifle.  They also had plenty of ammunition.

Sheriff Hendrix had once been a neighbor of the Youngs and he had lulled himself into the false sense of security that his former neighbors would just come peacefully and not give him any trouble.  He perhaps was overlooking that the brothers had been hardened by prison time, and Harry had not had any qualms about shooting Marshal Noe, dead.  A real gun battle was about to ensue.

When the officers arrived at the farm and traipsed through the yard, hollering for the boys to come out, they got no response.  One of the officers was convinced they heard talking inside, so they tried a tear gas canister.  Instead of waiting for it to take effect, three men at the back of the house decided to try to go in the back door.  Sheriff Hendrix and Mashburn were met by a shotgun blast and mortally wounded and Pike was wounded and fled. Death did not come quickly for the wounded.  It was torturous.

A gun battle commenced and all that remained of the posse used up their ammunition and tried to use trees on the lawn as cover.  The Young brothers just picked them off from inside the house, like they were in a shooting gallery.  Detective Oliver ordered three men to ride to town to get ammunition and help.  They were able to dodge a rain of bullets and escape in a vehicle.

Brown and the wounded Pike had no weapons left and had to escape on foot.

When some of the men reached Springfield, they organized a larger posse which included National Guard Troops.  When they arrived at the farm the Young brothers had made their escape.

Sheriff Hendrix, Ollie Crosswhite, Wiley Mashburn, Tony Oliver, Sid Meadows and Charles Houser were all either dead or groaning in agony seconds from death.

Tips came in about the brothers’ whereabouts, some good, some not.  They were eventually tracked down in Houston, Texas and the boarding house they were in was rushed by Houston police.  They had first fired tear gas into the house.  As they entered, shots came at them from the bathroom.

In the hail of bullets that followed from both sides, a haze of confusion filled the air.  The bathroom door opened then shut.  A voice inside the bathroom yelled, “We’re dead.  You can come and get us.”

When officers could survey the situation, they were indeed dead, or almost so.  They had either committed suicide or simultaneously shot each other in a suicide pact.

Ma Young was grateful.  She had once told her boys to do that so that mobs could not get at them.

Bringing their bodies back for burial was another story.  The man driving the hearse from Texas had to take the handles off of it so that angry citizens could not gain access to the bodies.  He also had to zig-zag and take side trips and hide his vehicle frequently to get them back into the area for burial.  The Young family was allowed to see the two brothers for only a few moments right before they were put into the ground.

The Young Brothers Massacre still holds a record for the largest number of police officers killed at once in the line of duty, except for the tragedy of 911.  Captain Jim Barber of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department has written an abbreviated and eloquent account of the tragedy involving his six fallen comrades.

A booklet, The Young Brothers Massacre was published by Springfield Publishing in the 1930s.  It is a gory and grisly accounting, but meant as a cautionary tale for law enforcement.  It also gives a Young family history.  Most copies have been lost, but it was re-typed by a couple of interested fellows and is available to read online.  It is not for the squeamish.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    Sara, if we had access to cable news back then, the Young Brothers massacre would have been the top story of the day for weeks, and their life and death episodes would have been the stuff of legend.

    • Sara Marie Hogg

      A grisly omen of things to come, Caleb as The Great Depression spawned many desperadoes that terrorized the Midwest and other parts of the USA. If you are not too sick of the subject due to your years on the “murder desk” I hope you will read the whole grisly account. It will give you chills. Two interested parties re-typed the little book. They admitted that their spell-checkers had a rough time with the “hillbillyisms” in the original. When the book comes up, the reader will need to click on “index” and it will take you to a TOC with 7 sections. What happened to Mashburn is an absolute horror.
      http://www.chrisanddavid.com/YoungBrothers/

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