Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sheriff Hutcheson gunned down on Hwy 33 Bridge

The fine looking gentleman in the picture is none other than, Sheriff Lewis Bratch (L.B.) Hutcheson. The photo was sent to me by his granddaughter Linda Compton.

Just in case you aren't aware of exactly who Sheriff Hutcheson is, let me fill you in.

L.B. Hutcheson was born on June 14, 1884. At the age of 19 he married 15-year old, Della Lyons. They settled into their home just spitting distance from Norris Dam, in Maynardville, TN. At the age of 46, L.B. was elected sheriff of Union Co, where he served honorably, and was much loved among his peers and by the community.

Sheriff Hutcheson spent the first 4-years of his law enforcement career, keeping the citizens of Union Co. safe. It wasn't until his 5th year as Sheriff, that he would face the most difficult and deadly case of his career.

During the Spring of 1935, big trouble was brewing just a couple of counties over. Sitting locked up in the Cocke County jail were 3 no good for nothing's; Gus McCoig, John Campbell, and Clarence Bunch. The jail couldn't hold these three menaces to society, and they soon escaped. Campbell soon parted ways with McCoig and Bunch.

Hell bent on destruction, the motley duo of McCoig and Bunch, set their sights on cutting a pathway of crime through East, TN. Robbing stores, looting homes, stealing cars, and shooting at anyone or anything in their path. They would add other degenerates to their crime team, which would later be known as "The Bunch Gang."

Clarence Bunch ended up being gunned down in a battle with Knox County law enforcement officers on the front porch of notorious Claiborne Co. bootlegger, C.T. Epperson. McCoig was apprehended and sentenced to 15 years in the State Pen. Once again, prison bars couldn't hold McCoig, and he escaped with fellow inmates, George Moss, and Pete Dean. Moss was quickly arrested outside of Tazewell, TN, after he was spotted on the side of the road. Dean and McCoig picked up another partner in crime, Frank Hopson. On December 6, 1935, the three of them made their way to the Citizen's Bank in Tazewell, TN, where they held up the bank and got away with $2000.00 in cash. They made their getaway down Highway 33 toward Knoxville.

This is where Sheriff L.B. Hutcheson comes in. A cashier, at the recently robbed bank, called up the Sheriff's office in Maynardville, to alert them of the robbery. Sheriff Hutcheson and Deputy Austin Matthews, quickly jumped into the Sheriff's cruiser and roared off up Hwy 33 toward the oncoming getaway car. "About seven miles from Maynardville, and a short distance beyond the bridge over the Clinch River, the officers parked beside the highway. A car with three male passengers passed them at top speed. Matthews swung the car around and began a chase. The speeding sedan stopped at the south end of the bridge and turned sideways, blocking the highway. Dean remained in the car while McCoig and Hopson got out and stood on the roadway beside the car. McCoig was holding a forty-five caliber automatic concealed partly by his trousers. Matthews stopped his car a short distance away and he and the sheriff got out. In a soft tone Hutcheson began to speak to the boys but never finished the sentence. McCoig raised his weapon and opened fire. The first shot went wild, hitting the windshield, but the second struck Sheriff Hutcheson squarely between the eyes. McCoig then trained his weapon on Deputy Matthews, who was now out of ammunition, and ordered him to surrender. At that time a Greyhound bus pulled in behind Hutcheson's car and stopped. McCoig went to the bus with his forty-five flashing and told the driver and passengers that he had just killed the Union County sheriff. After boasting, he left the bus and paused a few moments to look at the body of the fallen sheriff before returning to the getaway car and heading toward Maynardville." -Source: Union Co. Historical Society

The gang managed to escape and a massive manhunt ensued. Frank Hopson was found and arrested within 24 hours. It wasn't until February of 1936 that police were able to apprehend the other two men. Pete Dean was picked up in Gainesboro, TN after robbing a bank in Whitley, TN. By that time Gus McCoig had settled in at a tourist camp in Crossville, TN, where he was arrested without incident...while singing and strumming a guitar.

After a 6-day trial, the 3 gang members were found guilty of the murder of Sheriff Hutcheson, and were sentenced to die by electrocution. After an appeal to the Supreme Court, the sentences of Dean and Hopson were reduced to life in prison. Gus McCoig's death sentence remained, and according to the state of Tennessee dept. of corrections records, he was put to death on April 3rd, 1937.

L.B. Hutcheson died on December 6, 1935. He was only 51-years old.

L.B. Hutcheson's wife, Della, took over the job of Sheriff of Union Co., and became the 3rd woman to be sheriff in the state of Tennessee. She passed away on June 3, 1960, at the age of 71.

Cross posted on Knoxville Trivia Blog.

More interesting links of related information:

Photo of L.B. Hutcheson and wife Della Hutcheson's grave in Loyston Cemetery.

Union County Historical Society - Probably the best write up, however, there are some wrong dates listed and a few misspelled names.

Metro Pulse article about Clarence Bunch

Joe Paynes Geneology page info about the Bunch Gang

A thread on Roots Web about the death of Sheriff Hutcheson


Diva said...

That's a pretty cool piece of history. During the summer I cruise up to Sharps Chapel most every weekend and cross that bridge.


Dan said...

What a terrific post. I have copied many of the Newspaper headlines from the Old Knoxville Journal on the subject. Your page and links are a great resource for investigating this particular piece of East Tennessee History. Great work, and Thanks You.
Dan McCoig

Angi said...

Bunch was killed a year before Hutchenson was shot.

The sheriff said Hopson named Gus McCoig, 22, and Pete Dean, 18, escaped Tennessee convicts, as his companions and declared that "McCoig shot and killed Sheriff Hutchison."
New Tazewell, Tenn, Dec 7 --AP-- Mountain riflemen joined officers in the hunt today for three gunmen -- two identified as escaped convicts--who looted a New Tazewell bank of $1,000, killed a sheriff and woounded a posseman.
Officers said two of the fugitives were Gus McCoig, 22, and Pete Dean, 18, who kidnaped a deputy warden in a daring break from the state penitentiary at Nashville Tuesday.
Sheriff L. B. Hutchinson of Union county was fatally wounded in an attempt to halt the gunmen at a highway bridge as they sped from the scene of the robbery yesterday. He died in Knoxville hospital.
Surprised by a posse in a lonely mountain cabin near here last night, the bandits shot their way out and apparently escaped unscathed. Leonard Barret of Morristown, Tenn., was wounded in the shoulder. Possemen combed the rugged mountains of upper east Tennessee searching for them.
McCoig, Dean and George Wilbur Moss escaped from the penitentiary by kidnaping Deputy Warden Ed Conners and forcing him at gunpoint to drive them out. Later they freed him unharmed, but kept his car.
Moss was captured at Bunchtown Thursday.
East Tennessee officers recalled that McCoig was an associate of Clarence Bunch, slain leader of a gang that terrorize this section last year.