Buford Pusser

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Buford Pusser
Buford Pusser.jpg
Born Buford Hayse Pusser
(1937-12-12)December 12, 1937
Finger, Tennessee,
United States
Died August 21, 1974(1974-08-21) (aged 36)
Adamsville, Tennessee,
United States
Residence Adamsville, Tennessee
Occupation Police officer
Religion Churches of Christ
Spouse(s) Pauline Pusser
Website
http://sheriffbufordpusser.com/
Buford Pusser Home and Museum in Adamsville

Buford Hayse Pusser (December 12, 1937 – August 21, 1974) was the Sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee, from 1964 to 1970. Pusser is known for his virtual one-man war on moonshining, prostitution, gambling, and other vices on the Mississippi-Tennessee state-line. His efforts have inspired several books, songs,[1] movies, and a TV series. The Buford Pusser Museum[2] was established at the house he was in at the time of his death in 1974. A Buford Pusser Festival is held each May in his hometown of Adamsville, Tennessee.

Life and career[edit]

Buford Pusser was born to Carl and Helen Pusser in Finger, McNairy County, Tennessee. His father was the police chief of Adamsville, Tennessee. Buford Pusser was a high school football and basketball player and was 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) tall.

Pusser joined the United States Marine Corps when he graduated from high school. His service ended during his United States Marine Corps Recruit Training, when he was given a medical discharge for asthma.[3] In 1957, he moved to Chicago, where he married his wife, Pauline, on December 5, 1959. Pusser returned home in 1962.

Pusser was Adamsville's police chief and constable from 1962 to 1964. He then was elected sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee, after incumbent sheriff, James Dickey was killed in a freak auto accident, becoming the youngest sheriff in Tennessee's history. Pusser promptly began trying to eliminate the Dixie Mafia and the State Line Mob.

Pusser survived several assassination attempts. On February 1, 1966, Louise Hathcock attempted to kill Pusser during an on-site investigation of a robbery complaint at The Shamrock. Hathcock fired on Pusser with a concealed .38 pistol. Pusser returned fire and killed Hathcock. On January 2, 1967, Pusser was shot three times by an unidentified gunman.[4]

Already a local hero, Pusser's "war" on the State Line Mob was brought to national prominence when his wife, Pauline, was killed on August 12, 1967, during an assassination ambush intended for him. Pusser named Kirksey McCord Nix, Jr. as the contractor of his wife's killers, although Nix was never charged with the crime.

Pusser shot and killed an intoxicated Charles Russell Hamilton on December 25, 1968, after responding to a complaint that Hamilton had threatened his landlord with a gun.[5]

Pusser was ineligible for re-election in 1970 due to the term limit then in effect. He was defeated in his bid as sheriff in 1972. Pusser blamed the loss to incumbent Sheriff Clifford Coleman in part on the controversy surrounding the making of the semi-biographical movie, Walking Tall. He was again elected as constable of Adamsville by a majority of voters who wrote in his name on their ballots. He served as constable for two more years (1970–1972).

Death[edit]

Pusser died on August 21, 1974 from injuries sustained in a one-car automobile accident. Earlier in the day, Pusser had contracted with Bing Crosby Productions in Memphis to portray himself in the sequel to Walking Tall. That evening, Pusser, returning home alone from the McNairy County Fair in his specially and powerfully modified Corvette, struck an embankment at high speed, ejecting him from the vehicle. The car caught fire and burned.

Speculation as to cause included rumors of sabotage to the steering mechanism and the tie-rods. The Tennessee State Trooper who worked the accident, Paul Ervin, later became McNairy County sheriff. Both Pusser's mother, Helen (1908–1987) and his daughter, Dwana (1961–) believed he was murdered. Dwana, who was a passenger in another car, came upon the scene of the accident moments later.

No autopsy of Pusser's body was performed. As sheriff, Pusser survived seven stabbings and eight shootings.

Pusser's memorial service was held at the Adamsville Church of Christ.

Location of crash site: 35°12′21″N 88°27′35.7″W / 35.20583°N 88.459917°W / 35.20583; -88.459917 (Buford Pusser crash/death site)

Murder of Pauline Pusser[edit]

According to Pusser, on the pre-dawn morning of August 12, 1967, Pusser's phone rang, informing him of a disturbance call on New Hope Road in McNairy County. He responded, with his wife Pauline joining him for this particular ride. Shortly after they passed the New Hope Methodist Church, a car came alongside Pusser's; and the occupants opened fire, killing Pauline and leaving Pusser, who had suffered a bullet wound to the chin, for dead. He spent eighteen days in the hospital before returning home and would need several more surgeries to restore his appearance,

Pusser vowed to bring all involved with his wife's death to justice. He identified four assassins: Louise Hathcock's former boyfriend, Carl Douglas "Towhead" White, George McGann, Gary McDaniel, and Kirksey Nix; but he later changed his story as to who the assassins were when he couldn't identify them from pictures and in person.

On April 4, 1969 White was gunned down in front of the El Ray Motel on U.S. Highway 45 in Corinth, Mississippi. The alleged triggerman was a small-time hood named Berry Smith. W.R. Morris, author of The State Line Mob: A True Story of Murder and Intrigue, wrote in 1990 that Pusser himself had hired the hit man who killed White with one shotgun blast to the head.

In late 1970, both McDaniel and McGann were found shot to death in Texas. According to Edward Humes in Mississippi Mud: Southern Justice and the Dixie Mafia (1994), Pusser was suspected by some law enforcement officials of having killed both. However, McGann was killed as a result of an unrelated matter by one Ronny Weeden, who was tried and convicted of the crime.

Pusser never brought Kirksey Nix to justice. Nix was sentenced to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola for the Easter Saturday 1971 murder of a New Orleans grocer, Frank J. Corso. Nix was later involved in the 1987 murder-for-hire of Judge Vincent Sherry and his wife Margaret, in Biloxi, Mississippi. His co-conspirator, Biloxi Mayor Pete Halat, had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from Nix and blamed it on his law partner, Judge Sherry. Nix ordered a hit from prison and was later sentenced to isolation for the rest of his life. Nix has repeatedly refused to comment about Pusser's claims that he was one of Pauline Pusser's killers.

Pop culture[edit]

Buford Pusser's official sheriff badge.

Pusser was the subject of three biographical books written by W.R. Morris: The Twelfth Of August: The Story of Buford Pusser (1971), Buford: True Story of "Walking Tall" Sheriff Buford Pusser (1984) and The State Line Mob: A True Story of Murder and Intrigue (1990). In addition, Morris also created a pictorial history book of Buford called The Legacy of Buford Pusser: A Pictorial History of the "Walking Tall" Sheriff (1997). Pusser's daughter Dwana, released a book in 2009 entitled "Walking On," which is also an account of his life.

The 1973 movie, Walking Tall was based on Pusser's true story. It was a combination of very loosely based fact and Hollywood revisionism. This has since become a well known cult classic with two direct sequels of its own in 1975 and 1977, a TV movie in 1978 and a brief TV series in 1981.

A remake by the same name was released in 2004 as a somewhat less realistic and more mainstream film. Also dedicated to Pusser, the remake stars Dwayne Johnson and again takes liberties with the story, giving the action a more modern setting and premise. In this version the main character is not referred to as Buford Pusser but as Chris Vaughn.

After the success of the 2004 film, Walking Tall: The Payback was released in 2007 direct-to-video. The main character (Kevin Sorbo)'s name was changed to Nick Prescott, and the movie was set in the Dallas area. Later that year on September 25, 2007 Kevin Sorbo returned in Walking Tall: Lone Justice.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Records". Drive-By Truckers. Retrieved 2010-11-16. 
  2. ^ "Buford Pusser Home & Museum". Bufordpussermuseum.com. 1968-12-25. Retrieved 2010-11-16. 
  3. ^ "How Tall Did Buford Pusser Really Walk". People Magazine. 
  4. ^ Brewer, Wiley. "Pusser Shot After Stopping Speeding Auto". Daily Corinthian, January 3, 1967. Retrieved on January 11, 2008.
  5. ^ Casey, James. "Sheriff Slays Killer of Four In McNairy". The Jackson Sun. Retrieved on January 11, 2008.

Printed Sources[edit]

  • Morris, W.R. (1990). The State Line Mob. Rutledge Hill Press. ISBN 1-55853-861-5. 

External links[edit]