Wednesday, February 19, 2014 12:00 AM
In late fall of 1938, Major T.B. Birdsong of the State Highway Patrol of Mississippi and Major Murphy Roden of the Louisiana Highway Patrol began working on locating Chapman after receiving a tip that he was visiting his wife in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
On November 1, 1938, five government agents from New Orleans, along with local law officers, arrived at one of James Grady White's honky-tonks, about two miles west of Philadelphia. Just as the lawmen arrived with flashing lights and wailing sirens, Chapman stepped from an automobile, and fled into the woods, firing left-handed and under-handed, north of the dance hall, amid a multitude of "barking guns."
Major Birdsong believed that one of the rounds struck the outlaw in the thigh, but the elusive one escaped again. The authorities had blasted away with pistols, shotguns and machine guns, and later ballistic experts could not understand how he survived that ambush.
Grady White was eventually tried in a federal court on charges of harboring a federal fugitive, and served six months in a New Orleans prison unit. Months later in 1939, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover named Irving Carl "Charles" Chapman Public Enemy #1 joining the likes of Al Capone, John Dillinger and Alvin Karpis with that infamous designation.
About 7:30 p.m., on January 14, 1942, near the railroad crossing of 11th Avenue in Meridian, Mississippi, Charlie Chapman committed his final crime, the cold-blooded shooting of a part time Meridian police officer.
Ralph McNair, a popular minor league baseball player, and brother of Eric McNair, a shortstop for the Detroit Tigers, along with fellow officer, R.R. Gunn, were patrolling that beat when they spotted two men leaving a tavern at 11th and Front Street.
Later, McNair said the two officers did not plan to arrest either of the pair, but did so when one identified as Alfred Ward attempted to enter the driver's side of their vehicle, and was in McNair's own words "too drunk to drive."
After Gunn arrested Ward, Chapman approached McNair and said, "Don't arrest me; you do not know who you are fooling with," and walked away. After following the fugitive for a few steps, McNair said the man "pulled a long barreled 38 from under his shirt," and fired three times.
The first bullet tore through his coat, the second entered his side, knocking him down and the third barely missed his neck, "splattering cinders into the flesh under his chin." McNair added, "I put my head down like I was dead and he ran off."
The missile that penetrated his body broke a rib, punctured the liver and the colon, and sent the policeman to Riley Hospital in critical condition. After four days of touch and go between life and death, McNair survived the ordeal.
As Terry Keeter wrote in a July 26, 1970 issue of The Meridian Star," This was the beginning of the end of the good times for "Good Time Charlie Chapman.' "
Joining a task force created by Percy Wyly, II, Chief of the Mississippi Field Office of the FBI were: FBI Agent John D. Sullivan and four agents from the Memphis Bureau; Meridian Police officers Assistant Chief Roy Gunn, L.L. Scarbrough, Sr. and A.W. "Fatty" Creel; Mississippi Highway Patrolmen C.W. Pitts, A.B. Ruffin and Emmett Rollins, Sheriff Will Brantley of Neshoba County and Sheriff Leslie McDonald of Kemper County.
Of the McNair attack, Wyly stated: "This was the first criminal act on the part of Chapman in his own community. Folks think of him as a Robin Hood, robbing the rich and giving to the poor. His act of shooting McNair, however, shows he cared nothing for anyone, in fact, used his friends to accomplish his aims."
Chief Gunn added, "But after he shot McNair, those people began to fall off of him like leaves off a tree... his friends left him." The task forces plan to capture Chapman involved hours of surveillance, waiting in the woods, on a lonely dirt road in eastern Neshoba County for Chapman to appear. During a Sunday night in late February 1942, a "battered" black two-door 1936 Ford sedan crept down the Sandtown Road and entered the driveway of a local Negro's home.
Chapman and driver Alfred Ward exited the vehicle and began unloading kegs of illegal moonshine. Just a short distance away, law officers moved into predetermined positions. Roadblocks were manned about a block away from the home, awaiting a signal - a white flare to be fired by FBI Chief Wyly.
After a brief period of time, the two men, with Ward at the wheel, moved forward on the darkened road toward Philadelphia. As the automobile neared the barricade, the flare rose into the darkness, and searchlights were illuminated, brightening the sky.
Immediately, Alfred Ward jumped from his seat and rolled underneath the car for protection, leading many to believe he was aware of the lawmen's plan. Wyly ordered Chapman, "Come out of your car with your hands up!" Chapman defiantly answered, "Go ahead and shoot." Immediately, officers fired, by one estimate, 500 rounds, and within seconds the attack was over, with the most-wanted man slumped against the steering wheel.
After the fusillade of bullets, buckshot and fire from pistols, shotguns and tommy-guns, authorities wired FBI headquarters the following: "At 8:30 p.m., February 22, 1942, Irving Charles Chapman, age 43, died instantly with twenty holes in his body." Someday, an epithet for "Goodtime Charlie" Chapman may be written: "Here lies a man who made thousands of dollars, spent thousand, lost thousands, and robbed thousands more, and a man who died with $5.65 in his pocket."
*Factual information for this article was obtained from a binder in the Neshoba County Public Library that contains copies of a FBI informational report as well as a series of newspaper articles from multiple newspapers across the country written as the events occurred. Included among others: St. Paul, Mn., Daily News and Pioneer Press; Little Rock, Ar., Democrat and Gazette; Meridian, Ms., Star; Dallas, Tx., Daily News; Milwaukee, Wi., Journal; New York, N.Y., Herald-Tribune; Washington D.C., Star and Post; Houston, Tx., Press; Clarksburg, W.V., Telegram; Seattle, Wa, Times; New Orleans, La., State Times; Pittsburg, Pa., Press and Sun Telegraph; Huntington, W.V., Advertiser; Cincinnati, Oh., Post; and Texarkana, Tx., Gazette.
Civil War Veterans
Combs, Thomas B. - Private; Third Sergeant; enlisted April 24, 1861, at Philadelphia, Mississippi, in Company D, 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment; age nineteen; farmer; Muster Roll, September 1861-February 1862: "Present;" hospitalized with pneumonia at Chimborazo Hospital #1 at Richmond, Virginia, March 30 to April 30, 1862; received $44.00 for four months of pay (private's rank - $11.00 per month), July 5, 1862; appointed third sergeant, probably July 1862; received four months of pay at $17.00 per month (sergeant's rank) to December 31, 1862; died with small pox near Franklin, Virginia, February 28, 1863; death benefits claim filed by his father, Thomas Duren Collins, April 2, 1863.
World War II Veterans
Collins, William E. - Private to Private First Class; enlisted on July 1, 1944, at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in the United States Army; age twenty-six; laborer; served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, August 1944; sailed to Europe aboard the U.S.S. Aquatia, December 21, 1944; served also in the European Theatre of Operations as a rifleman with Company B, 134th Regimental Combat Team, 35th Infantry "Santa Fe" Division; participated in the campaigns in the Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe; wounded in action, March 28, 1945; awarded the American Campaign Medal, European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal , Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal and the Purple Heart; discharged at Camp Shelby, November 13, 1945, demobilization; described as five feet ten and one-half inches tall, weighing 173 pounds, with black hair and hazel eyes.
Philadelphia-Neshoba County Historical Museum
Steven H. Stubbs, Curator
303 Water Avenue South Philadelphia, Mississippi 39350 (601) 656-1284
10 a.m. - 3 p.m.;
Monday thru Friday