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True Crime author and blogger Synova Cantrell tells the true story behind the murder of Tennessee Sheriff Buford Pusser. The well-known Walking Tall movies depict the story of this tough southern named Sheriff Buford Pusser and his fight with the State Line Mafia or more [popularly known as the Dixie Mafia. Actors like Joe Don Baker, Bo Svenson, and, in the most recent remake, “Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have portrayed this modern-day Wyatt Earp as he took a stand against this southern-fried version of the mob. Buford Pusser’s story of his battle against The Dixie Mafia was more than an action movie. He was real and so was the Dixie Mafia.
The Dixie Mafia
The Dixie Mafia was also known as the State Line Mob and they controlled many rural counties in the Mid-South states of Tennesse and Kentucky. A man named Carl Douglas “Towhead” White was an important lieutenant in this organization. White was in prison when Sheriff Burford Pusser had a confrontation with his girlfriend Louis Hathcock. She tried to get the drop on Sheriff Pusser and he retaliated killing her. Towhead White was enraged and he called his boss Kirksey Nix who ordered his men to set up and kill Sherriff Pusser and his wife, Pauline.
Later that same year, 1967, Sherriff Buford Pusser and his wife Pauline were responding to the report of a disturbance in the early morning hours before dawn. As they passed a rural church where this disturbance was reported they found nobody was in sight. As they passed the New Hope Church, a black car drove out from behind the building and started following the Pusser’s car. The driver of the Cadillac flashed on its headlights raced up beside Pusser’s police car and opened fire. Pusser stomped on the accelerator and pulled away from their pursuers. They backed off and in a few miles he pulled over to check on his wife. The unknown assailants had hit Pauline Pusser in the head and as he checked on her, the Cadillac appeared again and shot Pusser in his face. He will survive but his wife died from her wounds.
The Cadillac’s passenger opened fire, hitting Pauline in the head. The sheriff ducked and stepped on the gas. The engine roared to life, and the car lurched ahead of the assassins. He sped up the road a couple of miles until he was sure he had lost his tail, and then pulled over to check on Pauline. Moments later, the assassins again found their mark, and gunshots rang out, hitting Sherriff Pusser in the face and jaw blowing it apart. Somehow the sheriff would survive the attack, but Pauline was killed.
At first, Pusser declared he knew who was responsible and named Towhead White, George McGann, Gary McDaniel, and Kirksey Nix. After 18 days in the hospital and a dozen surgeries to repair his face, Pusser declared he couldn’t tell who had shot him. This set into motion a vendetta that ended only when Buford Pusser died in a suspicious one-car accident.
Synova Cantrell is a prolific true crime author and blogger as well as an expert coach and teacher in the art of writing. She is well-known for her distinctive fedora. Ms. Cantrell not only documents historical accounts of criminal activity and she volunteers with the Missouri Missing organization. Synova blogs on cold cases to hopefully generate new witnesses and suspect information. She publishes the Murdered In Mississippi website and the synovaink.com website and she features Mobster Monday posts highlighting stories about the Dixie Mafia. Synova is available for coaching and consulting of new authors via her Synova’s Simply Biz author coaching service.
Synova authored Unorganized Crime; a biography of the ex-gangster Sidney Heard of Chicago, IL. Check back for an interview in Gangland Wire about this thrilling tale of a Chicago gangster who brought the mob to Lubbock Texas. She has a best-selling series, Seriously Stupid Criminals, in both paperback and e-book formats. She is the winner of the Poisoned Cup Award from Crime Masters of America in 2019 and a flag was flown over Washington D.C. in honor of her cold casework.
Show notes by Gary Jenkins
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I began my twenty-five-year career with the Little Rock Police Department in July of 1965, nineteen years old and just out of high school. I was the third person hired as a Little Rock Police Cadet. April 4, 1967, the day I turned twenty-one, I was sworn in as a police officer. I was first assigned to the patrol division working in high crime areas of Little Rock. After two and a half years I was transferred from the Patrol Division to the Detective Division.
At twenty-three years old, I was one of the youngest officers to become a detective. I was first assigned to the Burglary Squad where I investigated residential and commercial burglaries.
After a couple of years, I was reassigned to the Homicide Squad where I participated in the investigations of numerous crimes against people which included homicides, armed robbery, assault, rape, and kidnapping.
This was before the era of DNA, cell phone forensics, and cameras being everywhere. Many crimes are currently solved using these technologies which were unavailable to detectives until the late 1980s. Before the late 1980’s investigators interviewed witnesses, victims, and suspects in addition to conducting their own crime scene investigations. Investigators fingerprinted, photographed and took measurements at crime scenes. Now there are specialists, Crime Scene Investigators, assigned to conduct these tasks.
I was later transferred to the Organized Crime and Intelligence Unit where I worked for several years investigating the Dixie Mafia, traveling criminals, and especially prolific gangs in Little Rock.
I was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and assigned to the Patrol Division and placed in charge of eight to ten patrolmen. Later, I was assigned Sergeant in charge of the Street Crimes Unit, a plainclothes unit consisting of eight officers assigned to work undercover in high crime areas of Little Rock.
I was later promoted to the rank of Lieutenant where I served in the Patrol Division, Detective Division, and was the Lieutenant in charge of the Vice, Narcotics, and Intelligence units.
Oftentimes I would be the highest-ranking Police Officer on duty. This would usually occur after 5 pm and on weekends.
I retired from the Little Rock Police Department in 1991 to pursue a thirty-year career as the owner, operator of a private investigation company that I founded.
Your career is almost the same as mine with the KCPD. Do you have any work stories you would like to share on my show? email me at email@example.com
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