Alleghany Gang Apprehended in Raid
Submitted by Jason Duncan January 4, 2002
Worst Criminal Gang in Alleghany For Years Apprehended in Recent Raid
Jail Keys, Policeman’s Outfit And Parts Of Stolen Cars Among Articles Found In Possession Of Men Arrested
The State Highway Patrol, assisted and directed by Walter M. Irwin, Alleghany County Deputy Sheriff, swooped down in Alleghany and Surry Counties last week and frustrated what is thought to be one of the worst gangs of criminals heard of in Western North Carolina for many years. The raid came as a complete surprise to the people of the county and was so carefully planned that even county officers did not know that it was coming.
As a result, Ransom Brooks, 29, and Odell Holbrook, 18, of the Bull Head section of Alleghany county, and Vess Douglas, 30, of the Mitchell’s River section of Surry County, are lodged in the Winston-Salem jail charged with several serious crimes ranging from highway robbery to impersonating officers of the law.
Several thousand dollars worth of stolen property has been recovered and it is expected that a series of holdups, automobile thefts, store breaking, etc., will be explained. Douglas has admitted his part in the crimes and has implicated the other parties being held.
For several months this gang has been preying upon the people of this section. Several motorists have been stopped on the Sparta-Elkin highway and relieved of their automobiles and valuables. Several people have been stopped and allowed to go on unmolested after having been identified by members of the gang. They have made a specialty of liquor laden cars, and in all cases where liquor was found on the car the driver was allowed to escape and the car and liquor confiscated.
In Brooks’ home was found a complete patrolman’s uniform, including cap, badges, a John Brown belt, hand cuffs, etc. A complete set of perfectly fitting keys to the Alleghany county jail was in a dresser drawer in the home of Brooks. The search also revealed burglary tools, a large amount of dynamite taken from the road camp near Independence, a stolen gas lamp taken from a nearby church and a set of chains taken from the car of Mack Edwards, of Whitehead, the night before the arrest of Brooks and Holbrook, when the car was towed four miles from his home and stripped of tires, lights, tools, etc.
Brooks and Holbrook were arrested in Sparta Wednesday night of last week in a carefully arranged plot. In their automobile were found a sawed-off shotgun, one other shotgun, two high-powered rifles, burglary tools and a coil for starting cars without a key. The car was equipped with a police siren. A pistol was taken from the person of Brooks, which he attempted to use when arrested by Sergeant Guy Duncan of the State Patrol. The trio are also charged with breaking into the Cash & Carry Store at Sparta in November when six thousand pounds of sugar, a cash register, etc., were taken, and Douglas has admitted his part in this theft. The body of the car of J. M. Parsons that was stolen from Independence last fall was found within a few feet of Brooks’ residence, hidden under some brush. The car which Brooks was driving when arrested contained parts from several stolen automobiles.
Douglas was arrested at his home in Surry county. Several truck loads of automobile parts were found around his home. It is thought that all cars stolen and hi-jacked by the gang were taken to Douglas for re-building. Some of the cars have been traded, and officers are making a close check-up in locating all the cars that have been in their possession.
Captain Farmer, of the State Patrol, and L. L. Harris, of the Motor Vehicle Bureau of Investigation, both of Raleigh, were here in person and assisted in the round-up. Two members of the United States Bureau of Investigation and one detective employed by insurance companies were on the scene, also.
It is expected that the three will be tried at the May term of Alleghany Superior Court here.
State Patrolmen Locate Many Parts Of Stolen Autos
Carrying Parts From Place To Place No Easy Task, According To Highway Officials
Officials of the North Carolina State Highway patrol, led by Lieutenant W. J. Croom, of Greensboro, are continuing to comb the mountains, valleys, and entire countryside in Northwest and Piedmont North Carolina in an effort to locate and piece together portions of automobiles stolen in various places within the last two or more years. The cars have allegedly been stolen by a gang, of which Ransom Brooks, 29, of Bull Head Mountain, is thought to have been the ringleader.
‘Working the most intricate jig-saw puzzle is easy in comparison with this job of gathering together these scattered portions of cars,’ the officers declare. Carrying the parts from one point to another, after locating them is no easy task, all admit.
By illustration, the officers on an all-day tour last week, identified a light roadster, 1932 model, stolen in Salisbury on August 1, 1932, after locating the body of the machine in Jonesville, the rear axle in Sparta, the motor on Bull Head Mountain, and the wheels evidently are still revolving some place, the officers believe.
The investigation will continue indefinitely for it is a tedious task that faces the patrol officers in the attempt to locate and assemble vital portions of the vast number of machines that have been stolen, in such a manner as to enable them to accurately identify the lost cars, over a period of years.
Brooks, in jail in Winston-Salem along with Odell Holbrook, 18, and Ves Douglas, 27, garage operator of the Mitchell’s River section of Surry, has made no statement as to his guilt or the opposite. Lieutenant Croom states ‘It would be useless to question him, his work speaks for itself,’ the officer continued.
Douglas is well known in Elkin, having completed his high school course in the Elkin schools. He was one of the brightest students in his class, his regular report cards being filled with “A’s,” his fellow classmates recall. He had under construction a large, modern garage when arrested.
Details Concerning Apprehension of Highwaymen Given In Croom’s Report
Patrolman Tells How He, In Company With Other Officials, Round Up Criminal Gang In Alleghany And Surry Counties And Locate Stolen Property
Lieutenant W. J. Croom, of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, in a report to Captain C. D. Farmer, Raleigh, relates a number of interesting happenings in connection with the arrest of the several persons who are being held awaiting trial for participation in the recent series of highway thefts in Alleghany and Surry counties. Lieutenant Croom states that he came to Sparta on February 3, in company with Mr. Shoaf, automobile inspector, under orders of L. S. Harris, Director of the Motor Vehicle Bureau, where they obtained information that a gang of thieves was operating in the two counties.
On the strength of this information, Lieutenant Croom, together with Sergeant Duncan, Corporal Lentz, and W. A. Coble, the latter an investigator for the Automobile Underwriters’ Detective bureau, returned to Elkin on the night of February 14. At about 8 o’clock that night they received a call from Sparta, where they went immediately and found Ransom Brooks and Odell Holbrook at the Alleghany Motor company. They arrested the two and on Brooks’ person was found a .32 calibre Smith & Wesson revolver. In Brooks automobile was found a sawed-off double-barrel shotgun, a 30-30 Springfield rifle and a 25-20 calibre Winchester rifle. Following their arrest the two men were taken to the Forsyth county jail in Winston-Salem.
On the next morning two search parties were formed. One of these was comprised of Mr. Coble, Sergeant S. D. Moore, Corporal Lentz, Deputy Sheriff Erwin, of Alleghany county and a Deputy Sheriff from Surry county. These men went to the home of Ves Douglas at Mountain Park.
In Douglas’ possession was found a car, the motor of which belonged in a car that was stolen from J. W. Conklin, Mouth of Wilson, Va. The number on the motor had been changed but was later identified by Mr. Coble at Elkin. Several other motors were found at the home of Douglas, who was arrested and taken to the Forsyth county jail.
The other searching party was comprised of Lieutenant Croom, Sergeant S. H. Mitchell, Sergeant Duncan, and Patrolman C. H. Ingram. They went to Sparta and obtained a search warrant for the home and premises of Ransom Brooks. While searching these premises, a coupe body was found stored in the woods near the home and it was later identified as belonging to the coupe owned by Ex-Senator J. M. Parsons, Independence, Va., which was stolen from in front of his home on the night of last October 9. The chassis and frame of this car was later found in the woods near Douglas’ home in Surry county.
A set of skid chains identified as belonging to a car stolen from Mac C. Edwards, Sparta, and about 200 pounds of dynamite, stolen from a construction company near Independence, Va., was found, also.
A differential from a car stolen in Salisbury on August 1, 1932, was found and several parts of this car were found near Brooks’ home.
Other articles found while searching Brooks home included one set of jail keys, which would fit all locks in the Alleghany county jail; a pair of handcuffs; a Sam Brown belt and holster; a uniform cap; two badges; a Coleman gasoline lantern; a Remington typewriter; a South Bend pocket watch; a Waltham pocket watch, and one set of pipe dies.
While searching Brooks’ car, a set of bolt clippers that have been identified by J. M. Joines, of Whitehead, was found. These were stolen from the blacksmith shop operated by Mr. Joines, in October.
On the afternoon of February 21, Mr. Coble and Lieutenant Croom talked to Douglas in the Forsyth county jail and he drew a map showing the location of a cash register, stolen from the ‘Cash and Carry’ store, of Sparta. They went to the place indicated by Douglas and found the cash register and returned same to the owner.
Among the charges which have been preferred in conjunction with the case are the following: Brooks, Douglas and Odell Holbrook, breaking and entering and larceny in Alleghany county; Brooks and Holbrook, highway robbery, larceny, and impersonating an officer in Alleghany county; Brooks and Douglas, larceny and receiving in Rowan county; Douglas, making a false affidavit to obtain a certificate of title in Surry county; and Brooks and Douglas, assault with deadly weapon, attempting highway robbery and impersonating an officer in Alleghany county.
No charges have been preferred in connection with the theft of the Parsons and Conklin cars, due to the fact that these cases will have to be tried in Federal court or in the court of Virginia.
Brooks, Holbrook, And Douglas Given Hearing
Ransom Brooks, Odell Holbrook, and Ves Douglas were given a preliminary hearing on Wednesday, March 7, at Sparta, N.C., before Justices Roup and Edwards, on charges preferred against them in connection with a series of thefts and highway hold-ups in Alleghany and Surry counties. The men were apprehended a few weeks ago during a raid conducted by State Highway Patrolmen and county officers.
Douglas waived hearing of evidence and Holbrook was dismissed because of lack of evidence. Several witnesses testified against Brooks on a number of charges and he was held for the action of the Alleghany county grand jury at the May term of Superior court.
Both Douglas and Brooks were returned to the Forsyth county jail in Winston-Salem where they will be held under bond of $10,000.
Brooks has retained Attorney R. F. Crouse, of Sparta, to defend him and the defendants are being prosecuted by Attorney Sidney Gambill, also of Sparta. Douglas has not yet appointed counsel.
Alleghany Court To Open May 7
The Spring term of Alleghany County Superior Court will open here on Monday, May 7, with either Judge Felix Ailey, or Judge McElroy presiding. Several cases of importance are scheduled to be heard at this term.
Among these are the trial of Ransome Brooks and Ves Douglas, against whom there is a multiplicity of charges, and the trial of Folger Wagoner, charged with the murder of Rufe Watson.
Jurors have been drawn for this term of court as follows:
Piney Creek: Talmage Phipps, Floyd Warden, Fred Osborne, Tom Gambill, R. T. Landreth.
Prathers Creek: Charlie Mitchell, Floyd Perry, Eugene Mitchell, W. G. Petty, S. A. Irwin, and Glenn Warden.
Gap Civil: Garfield Edwards, John Choate, Eugene Transou, W. M. Richardson, John Maines, J. M. Wagoner, Rufus Richardson.
Glade Creek: M. A. Higgins, Posey Richardson, Berry Evans, Kennie Truitt, Arthur Murphy, J. Mack Wagoner.
Cherry Lane: Bob Smith, J. B. Caudill, Mack Roberts, A. V. Millsap, A. J. Bryan, J. W. Duncan.
Whitehead: Bert L. Edwards, Morris Evans, J. M. Brown.
Cranberry: Jones Tilley, Fred Miller, J. F. Roberts.
Court To Convene Here Monday For Regular May Term
Important Criminal Cases Are Scheduled For Trial During Sessions. Judge McElroy To Preside
The spring term of Alleghany County Superior Court will convene at Sparta on Monday of next week with Judge McElroy presiding. It is expected that a record breaking crowd will be in Sparta next week since many cases of wide-spread interest will come up for trial. Both civil and criminal cases will be tried, the criminal cases coming up on the first days of the week and the civil cases coming up after all the criminal cases are disposed of.
Included in the criminal cases will be the trial of Vance Lane and George Upchurch, of Laurel Springs, who are charged with holding up at the point of a gun, and robbing, John Mabe, an aged resident of the Stratford section. Governor Doughton and Sidney Gambill will assist Solicitor Higgins in the prosecution, and the defendants are being represented by Attorney R. F. Crouse.
The case against Ransom Brooks, of the Bull Head section, and Ves Douglas, of Surry county, who are charged with a score or more charges including highway robbery and the theft of automobiles, will be up for trial. These cases are expected to attract many people to Sparta, since the cases drew state-wide publicity when the defendants were first arrested. Brooks and Douglas will be brought from the Winston-Salem jail by members of the State Highway Patrol, where they have been confined since their arrest.
Another important cases is that of Folger Wagoner, charged with the murder of Rufe Watson. Wagoner is also in the Winston-Salem jail for safe keeping.
Judge McElroy Is Holding Court In Sparta This Week
Several Cases Already Disposed Of While Others Of Importance Are On Docket
Spring term of Superior court opened Monday morning, May 7, with Judge P. A. McElroy, Waynesville, presiding.
A record breaking crowd filled the town to overflowing and crowded the courthouse beyond capacity. Many cases of minor importance have been disposed of and the court is now progressing more slowly since the more important cases are yet to be tried.
Judge McElroy has, so far, been lenient in his punishment. A number of more important cases have been disposed of, including the following:
State vs. Guy Osborne, assault with deadly weapon; State vs. Loney Pugh, forgery; State vs. M. L. Pruitt, assault; State vs. Ray McMeans, abandonment and non-support; State vs. Freel Perry and Fletcher, assault with deadly weapon; State vs. Joe Lineberry, driving car while under influence of liquor; and State vs. Johnnie Washington.
The jury came in late Tuesday night with a verdict of guilty of assault with a deadly weapon against Vas Lane and George Upchurch, who were charged with robbing John Mabe, an aged resident of the Stratford community. The case was hard fought and it is thought that the verdict was a compromise of the jury.
The trial of Ransom Brooks and Ves Douglas, charged with numerous crimes ranging from impersonating an officer to highway robbery, commenced Tuesday afternoon. The case of Folger Wagoner, charged with murder, is yet to be tried.
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Brooks Is Sentenced To ‘Pen’ And Douglas Given 12 Months On Roads For Highway Robbery And Thievery
May Term Of Alleghany County Superior Court Ends Fri. Case Of Wagoner Continued To Sept.
Ransom Brooks, ringleader of an outlaw band which operated in Alleghany county and other parts of Western North Carolina, was sentenced to serve from six to eight years in the state penitentiary by Judge P. A. McElroy in Alleghany County Superior Court here last week. Brooks pleaded guilty to a charge of highway robbery with firearms, two charges of impersonating an officer and one of assault.
Ves Douglas, another member of the Bull Head Mountain gang, was given twelve months on the state roads for breaking and entering a store at Sparta and stealing a large quantity of sugar and some cash. He also faced charges of highway robbery with firearms along with Brooks.
The case of Bland Wagoner, also of Bull Head Mountain, charged with breaking and entering a store at Sparta, was continued until the September term of court, a true bill being returned against him.
Folger Wagoner, who was tried on a charge of murdering Rufe Watson, was sentenced to serve from five to seven years in the penitentiary. Wagoner is a brother of Bland Wagoner.
In addition, the following criminal cases were disposed of: Guy Osborne, assault, fined $50 and costs; Fred Bryant (colored), assault, sentenced to four months on roads; Joe Lineberry, driving automobile under influence of whiskey, fined $50 and costs; Lonnie Pugh, forgery, judgment suspended on good behavior and payment of costs; Paris Todd, larceny, sentenced to eight months on roads; M. F. Pruitt, assault, fined $10 and costs; Joe Bryant (colored), assault, found not guilty; Alex Bryant (colored), assault, found not guilty; Vearl Wagoner, driving automobile under influence of whiskey, fined $50 and costs; John Washington (colored), driving while intoxicated, fined $50 and costs; Roy McMeans, abandonment, sentenced to two years on roads; George Upchurch and Vass Lane, sentenced to eight months on roads for assault with a deadly weapon. Most of these cases did not go to a jury, they being submitted and the judge hearing the evidence.
Several important civil cases were disposed of, including that of Odell Andrews against D. C. Duncan, based on injuries sustained by Mr. Andrews when he fell from a scaffold in the construction of the Hardin-Duncan building in Sparta last fall. Andrews was non-suited at the end of his evidence, Judge McElroy holding that the plaintiff had failed to produce sufficient evidence for the case to go to the jury.
Mr. & Mrs. J. T. Inskeep, Roaring Gap, recovered $3250 from an insurance company for damages growing out of a wreck at Winston-Salem several months ago. Kemp Duncan, son of G. L. Duncan, recovered $1800 from an insurance company for injuries he received in a fall from a horse when he was thrown to the ground by a telephone wire as he rode under it.
Divorces were granted in each of the following cases: Guy Perry vs. Ruth Perry, J. M. Goodman vs. Tishia Goodman, Verdie Pruitt vs. M. A. Pruitt, and Vera Wilson vs. Marvin Wilson.
The cases on the docket for this term of court were prosecuted by Solicitor Carlisle Higgins, Sparta.
Court adjourned Friday afternoon after having been in session since Monday morning, May 7.
The following is a part of a story which appeared in the May 11 issue of the Greensboro Daily News in reference to the Brooks-Douglas-Wagoner gang that terrorized Alleghany citizens over a period of several months by their activities:
The roundup of alleged automobile thieves and hijackers which Lieut. W. J. Croom and associated officers of division two of the state highway patrol conducted in Alleghany county by special assignment last February resulted Wednesday in prison sentences for two of the ring of three caught in the dragnet.
Lieutenant Croom, back at headquarters here Thursday, stated that Ransom Brooks, the confessed ringleader, whose activities earned for him the picturesque sobriquet ‘Bull of Bullhead mountain’, pleaded guilty in all cases called against him and drew from 6 to 9 years in state prison at hard labor. Sentence was imposed by Judge P. A. McElroy in Alleghany Superior court, at Sparta.
The other defendant whose case was called at this term, Ves Douglas, of Surry count, charged with breaking and entering and larceny and attempted highway robbery, was given one year on the roads. Douglas had no prior criminal record.
Brooks is as picturesque a mountain character as his nickname might suggest, according to Lieutenant Croom. He was charged with automobile larceny in several cases, carrying a concealed weapon, highway robbery with firearms and impersonating a state patrolman. He pleaded guilty in all cases, as did co-defendant, Douglas.
The case of a third defendant Bland Wagoner, also of Bullhead mountain, Alleghany county, charged with breaking and entering a store at Sparta, was continued until the September term, Croom reported.
In Wagoner’s case the store was robbed, among other things, of 6,000 pounds of sugar which the defendants admitted had been used in the manufacture of whiskey.
It was through information obtained by Walter M. Erwin, then a deputy sheriff in Alleghany county, that Croom and his co-workers proceeded upon in their roundup February 14. Besides Erwin, the party of officers led by Croom included Sergt. S. H. Mitchell, of Winston-Salem, Sergt. G. R. Duncan, of North Wilkesboro, and Corp. W. B. Lentz, of Elkin, all of the state highway patrol, and W. A. Coble of Atlanta, a representative of the Automobile Underwriters’ Detective bureau.
Testifying in his own case, Ransom Brooks admitted, Croom said, that he had hijacked many a Virginia rum-runner on the border roads of Alleghany county. Brooks testified that once, while running 100 gallons of liquor into Virginia, he himself had been hijacked by boot-leggers from the Old Dominion state. His repetition of the treatment accorded him in that instance was carried on for vengeance.
In this respect his work was accomplished by the aid of a state highway patrolman’s uniform, which he unhesitatingly donned, and powerful car equipped with a siren. ‘Brooks lay in wait only for Virginia cars,’ Lieutenant Croom remarked. ‘Once he chased a group in a Virginia car all the way to the Sparta courthouse before he found that the car did not contain liquor but was occupied by a sister of Solicitor Higgins, the poastmaster at Independence, Va., and several others.’
Croom said Brooks possessed a set of keys to the Sparta jail and carried handcuffs as an added indication of authority whenever he wore the highway patrol uniform. Croom spared no praise for the assistance lent him by Erwin, the former deputy.