|Founder||Billy “Sunday” Birt|
|Founding location||Winder, Georgia, United States|
|Years active||Late 1960s–present|
|Territory||Southeastern United States|
|Activities||Illegal gambling, drug trafficking, prostitution, robbery, murder, arson, extortion, fraud, bootlegging, rumrunning, political corruption and contract killing|
|Allies||New Orleans crime family|
The Dixie Mafia is a criminal organization composed mainly of white Southerners and based in Biloxi, Mississippi, operating primarily throughout the Southern United States since at least the 1970s. The group used each member's talents in various crime categories to help move stolen merchandise, illegal alcohol, and illegal drugs. It is also particularly well known for violence. The organization’s name is merely a play on “Dixie” and the original Mafia’s name; the Dixie Mafia is not related to the original Mafia or Italian-American Mafia.
Beginning in the late 1960s, the Dixie Mafia began working as a loosely knit group of traveling criminals performing residential burglary, robbery, and theft. The gang did not function with a set chain of command, but was led by whoever had the most money. Despite the informal structure, the Dixie Mafia had one rule that members were expected to obey: "Thou shall not snitch to the cops".
Unlike members of the American Mafia, the members of the Dixie Mafia were not connected by family or country of origin. They were loosely connected individuals of many nationalities with a common goal - to make money and wield control over illegal moneymaking operations by any means, including influence peddling, bribery of public officials, and murder.
The gang became known for carrying out contract killings, particularly against former members. During its peak, from the early 1960s to the late 1980s, dozens of people were murdered (usually shot) by its members. Victims were most often murdered because they testified, or threatened to testify, against fellow members.
"The Strip" in Biloxi, Mississippi, was home base for the Dixie Mafia, and Mike Gillich, Jr., was the group's unofficial but de facto kingpin. Of Croatian descent and from a large, poor family, he had raised himself in the city's Point Cadet section to become a wealthy entrepreneur along "The Strip". He owned a string of motels, nightclubs that doubled as strip joints and gambling dens, and a bingo parlor. He was known and trusted by almost every member of the Dixie Mafia, especially those who trusted no one else. In the words of one investigator of the Sherry murders, "Mr. Mike runs the criminals' post office. He's their banker."
Gillich was also patron and protector of Kirksey McCord Nix, Jr., one of the gang's most notable members. In December, 1965, at the age of 22, Nix was caught carrying illegal automatic weapons in Fort Smith, Arkansas. An old friend of his, Juanda Jones, ran a bordello there, and Nix became involved with Jones' adolescent daughter, Sheri LaRa. In later years, she played a key role in his operations, including direct ties to the murders of Vince and Margaret Sherry. Edward Humes, in his 1994 book, Mississippi Mud, chronicled their murders, and the subsequent investigation of Gillich, Nix, Bobby Fabian, and others who were involved either loosely or actively in the murders. With the aid of his father's connections in neighboring Oklahoma, Nix beat the weapons charges in Fort Smith and moved on to other crimes. He was suspected in the gangland-style murder of a gambler named Harry Bennett, who was about to turn state's evidence against several Dixie Mafia members. Although Nix's involvement in Bennett's murder was never proven, this incident precipitated a string of killings that left 25 people dead in six states over the next four years.
Nix was a suspect in the attempted assassination of McNairy County, Tennessee Sheriff Buford Pusser, and in the murder of Pusser's wife. Nix was also convicted of murdering wealthy New Orleans grocery owner Frank Corso. At the time of the murder, Nix was believed to be employed by Darrel Ward in Clarksville, Texas. Ward was a noted associate of Chicago Mob boss Sam Giancana, and is thought to have controlled organized crime and bootlegging throughout Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. The Dixie Mafia was strongly connected to the State Line Mob and its leader, Carl Douglas White.
Dixie Mafia's locales
The Dixie Mafia's origins were in the Appalachian states, which had a regionalism dating back to the Whiskey Rebellion and the secessionist movement resulting, briefly, in the state of Franklin (Eastern Tennessee). This view that the federal government is oppressive and that criminal enterprise against it is justified spread from its place of origin to wealthier regions where the Dixie Mafia operated; primarily in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama, particularly around the cities of Birmingham, Baton Rouge, Hattiesburg, Corinth, Dallas, and Atlanta. Some of the group's criminal activities were in more obscure parts of their major areas of operation, making the group and their activities harder to pinpoint.
The Dixie Mafia committed most of their crimes in areas that lacked strong, coordinated law enforcement, particularly in small communities throughout the South (such as Amity, Arkansas). In doing so, murders, intimidation, or other criminal activities could take place with less risk of local law enforcement being able to directly link the crimes to the organization. Small-town and county law enforcement agencies, especially in poorer sections of the South up to the 1990s, were usually inadequately equipped, and rarely had officers with extensive experience in the investigation of homicide or organized crime.
The members of the Dixie Mafia usually created small, seemingly legitimate businesses such as buying and selling junk or antiques. These businesses provided fronts for the operators to buy and sell stolen items provided by others within the network. The businesses usually operated until they aroused suspicion, then move to another location.
Many members of the Dixie Mafia were former state or federal prisoners. Members were usually recruited while in prison; a history of violent behavior was generally a prerequisite to becoming a member. According to an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the gang was well known for its violence in collecting debts owed to gambling houses and strip clubs.
The terms "Dixie Mafia" and "Southern Mafia" have been used interchangeably. Documented use of the two terms existed as early as 1993, when Scarfone wrote about the "Dixie Mafia" or the "Southern Mafia" working together with the "Italian Mafia" in the South. His accounts of the "Good Ol' Boy's Southern-Mafia" in parts 3 and 4 of the article describe the group's indigenous nature. Whether or not all journalistic and literary references to the "Dixie Mafia" and the "Southern Mafia" refer to the same group of individuals is unclear. Therefore, these terms have become a general reference to any illegal enterprise in the Southern states that, for cultural reasons, can expect a certain amount of support, both intended and unintended, from the local population.
In popular culture
The movie Arkansas references the "Dixie mafia" in the beginning, and features a drug-dealing kingpin who runs an antique store.
The Dixie mafia are mentioned in the 2014 independent crime drama Cold in July (film).
They also appear as minor antagonists in the video game Mafia III.
- Burley tobacco—cash crop whose harvesting, warehousing, and curing technology has been adapted, with little alteration, to marijuana
- Two Mobs Jeff Kunerth, Orlando Sentinel (February 16, 1992)
- A Byte Out of History: Murder and the Dixie Mafia fbi.gov (September 4, 2012)
- The Dixie Mafia: The Mob You Never Knew crimecapsule.com (February 24, 2020)
- Dixie Mafia Russell McDermott, Texarkana Gazette (December 12, 2013)
- Dixie Mafia: Prison Gang Profile
- Morris, W. R. (2001) The State Line Mob: A True Story of Murder and Intrigue, Rutledge Hill Press.
- Morris, W. R. (1997) The Legacy of Buford Pusser: A Pictorial History of the "Walking Tall" Sheriff, Turner Pub. Co.
- Humes, Edward (1995) Mississippi Mud: Southern Justice and the Dixie Mafia, Pocket Press.
- Morris, W. R. (1971) The Twelfth of August: The Story of Buford Pusser, Aurora Publishers.
- Steven R. Boyd, ed., The Whiskey Rebellion (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985).
- Evans-Pritchard, Ambrose (1994) "Smugglers linked to Contra arms deals," The Telegraph plc.
- Scarfone, R. J., (1993) If I Had Wings I'd Help Them Fly? or "As Long As The Voices Sing"? (you make the choice) A Book Of Choices, M.A.G.I.C. Press, Lawrenceville, Georgia.
- Bruce Yandle, "Bootleggers and Baptists: The Education of a Regulatory Economist." Regulation 7, no. 3 (1983): 12.