When one thinks of a dynamic duo where crime fighting is concerned, Batman and Robin immediately come to mind. Many years ago, Lamar County, Alabama had their own legendary crusaders. Unlike the fictional heroes protecting Gotham City, Sheriff Murray Virgil Smith and Deputy Sheriff Herschel C. Smith were the real deal.
I decided to look into some of their more illustrious cases. There were plenty to choose from going through over 30 years of archived newspaper records.
Murray V. Smith began his law enforcement career it appears in 1923. Before that time he was in the military and most likely served in WWI.
Perhaps the most unusual case Sheriff Murray Smith solved was before sidekick Deputy Herschel came along. It involved of all things, stolen chickens.
A couple of outsiders, Fred Felkins and Leonard Simpson, drove into Lamar County early one morning with near 200 of the birds in a truck. They attempted to peddle them to local farmers. The following excerpt is a word by word account taken from an October 1, 1930, The Lamar Democrat,
“Suspicious of the characters, Murray trailed both men back to a residence in Gattman, Mississippi, where he found signs of chickens recently handled.”
After a quick and through investigation it was discovered the chickens were stolen from six different farms in Caledonia, Mississippi. The chicken thieves eventually had their day in court.
Sheriff Smith, in January 1936, had to investigate a tragic hanging. A young girl of 18, Miss Laura Veal, was found by farmers hanging from a tree. With some believing that foul play was involved, Murray Smith, after investigating the scene sadly concluded that it was suicide. Over the years, Officer Smith along with his deputy had to look into several suicides in the county.
Murry’s younger nephew, Herschel Smith, started working alongside the veteran cop a few years later. During that time they flip flopped job titles a couple of times. The Lamar County sheriff position was voted for back then as it is today.
Archived newspaper accounts show Murray and Herschel Smith were well-respected officers. That explains them continuously being reelected.
On November 2, 1937, two strangers came wheeling into Vernon in a 1934 V-8 Ford Deluxe. This vehicle was akin to the one Bonnie and Clyde preferred in bank robberies because of its speed. For reasons unexplained, a fellow at the wheel lost control and crashed. Both him and his passenger were taken to a local Vernon clinic.
While Sheriff Murray Smith tended to them, Deputy Sheriff Herschel Smith poked around underneath the wrecked Ford’s seat. He located a suspicious amount of money.
Phone calls along with an investigation showed Otis Dickie and Charlie Owens had robbed The First National Bank in Huntland, Tennessee days earlier. Their fast getaway car was stolen in Russellville, Alabama. The on-the-run crooks were quickly tossed in jail, with news of their arrest spreading across the country. Both Lamar policemen were congratulated for their quick thinking.
Numerous moonshine operations in and around Lamar County were broken up by the savvy cops during their long career. One raid in 1939 netted 2500 gallons of mash. That was enough to create 1200 gallons or more of booze. Officer’s Smith & Smith succeeded over the years in pouring thousands of gallons of illegal liquor down the drain.
There are several archived newspaper articles showing where the infamous law enforcement officers solved robberies and burglaries. They were a team to be reckoned with when crooks came to town.
Sheriff Murray V. Smith retired from law enforcement in 1947. On February 8, 1950, Murray was strolling along a sidewalk near the Bank of Vernon when he dropped dead of a heart attack. His funeral was reported to have been attended by many.
Sheriff Herschel V. Smith continued in his capacity as Lamar County Sheriff. On August 8, 1951, the sheriff was helping Winston County lawmen search for a man named Taylor Peoples. Taylor was know as a violent person and had critically shot two Mississippi officers. One of them, Sheriff Clifford Peak, eventually died. Taylor People’s own family feared for their lives.
As Sheriff Smith walked through the brush, a shotgun blast rang out. Taylor Peoples had been hiding behind a bush. Herschel was hit in the chest and face by pellets. Even though unable to clearly see, Smith fired several shots back at the assailant from his service revolver. Taylor Peoples immediately dropped his shotgun and surrendered.
It seems that unfortunate incident ended Sheriff Herschel V. Smith’s career. A newspaper article right afterwards mentioned he might possibly lose an eye. A newspaper photo taken in a hospital bed showed Smith considerably bandaged up.
I found nothing about Herschel continuing to be in law enforcement after that incident.
Sheriff Herschel C. Smith died June 22, 1969. He’s buried at the Friendship Baptist Church Cemetery in Sulligent.
Batman and Robin Smith are gone, but other heroes have come along.
God bless all Lamar County Police officers and personnel continuing to fill Murray and Herschel’s shoes!