In June 25 IssueBy John ThompsonNews-Register Reporter
A new book chronicling murders and notable crimes in Russell County has recently hit the streets and has become the talk of the town.
Entitled Kentucky Justice: Russell County and surrounding area, Kentucky 1908-2011, the book was compiled by Russell Springs own Denver Wilson from newspaper archives and interviews.
Wilson said that though he's been planning this book for about nine years, his interest in the subject began when he was much younger.
"When I was about 11 years old I watched a man gun down two men," Wilson said. "That has stuck with me through the years."
"Also, through the 50's my dad had a country store and you'd hear all these people sitting and talking about bootlegging," said Wilson. "It was big time then - murders and moonshining and all that stuff.
"It just kind of kept my interest up."
Wilson, who moved to Russell County as a child from Ohio, graduated from Russell County High School in 1967.
He is a well known figure in the county, often volunteering for community projects or seen riding on his Harley Davidson, as he puts over 20,000 miles a year on his bike.
Carrying the idea for the book for most of 40 years, it was nine years ago that Wilson began jotting down notes and keeping ideas and references for his book.
Over the past five or six months, he compiled the material and got down in a format he wanted.
The book reads quickly and the short descriptions are of the style of newspaper releases which Wilson said was a large part of his research.
"Everything I had in the book is documented either newspaper or court records," Wilson said.
Asked what his methodology was or how he determined what he would include in the book, Wilson said, "I didn't intentionally leave a one out that involved a shooting, murder, suicide."
The book also chronicles stabbings, extortion, hired guns, and interesting historical stories.
"It's basically a history book," said Wilson. "A history book I wrote for the people of Russell County."
One such story takes place outside the time frame of the book but was notable enough to mention:
the time when the Jesse James gang rode into Russell County, stopping in Creelsboro before moving on to Columbia to rob the bank there.
Other incidences, such as the 1930's mass murder in the Irvin's Store community, are often sketchy. Residents were often hesitant to talk about things that might come back to them, possibly in the way of a bullet.
Wilson also talks of a time when, due to lack of communication and the tendency to "take care of one's own," little communities might have to "take care" of a problem citizen who was more harm than good to the community.
These people often just disappeared, most likely being buried in unmarked graves, he said.
"Where I grew up I knew where four unmarked graves were," said Wilson.
The book begins, appropriately enough, with one of the most infamous incidences in Russell County: the lynch mob hanging of Elmer Hill for the rape and murder of 10 year old Nannie Womack in 1908.
The book ends just three months ago on March 5th with the incident of a Pulaski County Deputy shooting and killing a Jabez man in a domestic disturbance call.
The 265 pages between these two incidences chronicle painful times in Russell County with the reporting of quite a number of suicides over the years and periods of time where violent crime threatened to become totally out of control.
A few time periods stick out as being particularly active as feuding families, police, and the judicial system made for a deadly three or four way melee of violence.
As might be expected, it often involved bootlegging and occasionally hired guns from far away cities.
One particular era came to an end in 1964 when Harlan Brown, described in the book as "Southeastern Kentucky's biggest bootlegger and wholesaler," was found dead in shallow water in Lake Cumberland at the foot of Prudy Hill.
With the passing of Brown, came the Maynards and one of Russell County's most known names, Charlie Maynard.
Maynard may be mentioned more in the book than any other person.
He has become one of those colorful characters you sometimes hear about in the history of the southeast seemingly always in the trouble with the law but more likely referred to by local residents as charitable in nature and known for helping those terribly down on their luck.
With the book's premise recounting tales and telling names from this hundred plus year period, one might wonder if Wilson was concerned for his own safety.
"I'm friends with a lot of these people," said Wilson. "Growing up in college I ran with some of their children or families."
The book is likely to have a large audience within the county.
"I think most people in this area are going to be related to some of the people in the book," Wilson said laughing. "I'm related to half of them."
Russell County has not been the boundary of interest in the book.
Wilson said he's aware that the book has made its way to California, Tennessee, and other states, often where there are family ties to Russell County.
Up to now, Wilson has sold 1,500 copies of his book since its release a couple of weeks ago, even though he was told by the book's publisher that he could possibly sell 1,200 in six months.
The book is on sale in a number of businesses throughout the county.
Brisk sales have left some areas wanting but Wilson says there will be another shipment of 1,500 books available this coming week or those interested may visit www.denverwilsonbook.com to learn more about ordering the book.
Wilson has been amazed at the amount of interest shown in his book.
"One thing that really surprises me, that I really appreciate, is watching the teenagers read this book - they come up to me and talk about it," Wilson said. "Maybe (the book) will give (teenagers) second thoughts about crime quite often it does, that it doesn't pay."
Wilson said without the encouragement and even the insistence of Times Journal publisher, the late David Davenport; former Russell County District Court Judge, the late Jack Miller; and a former policeman, the late Vernon P. Garner, he wouldn't have gotten the book finished in the six months it took him to get it to the publisher.
"Probably if it hadn't of been for them, the book would have died last year," Wilson said regretting that none of the three survived to see the book published.
Wilson also wanted to give a big thanks to Russell County Library Genealogist Kim Little and Librarian Kim Taylor for their help in researching the project as well as the support received from Russell Countians.
Both the Jamestown and the Russell Springs branch of the public library have two copies to check out but with all the interest shown, there is currently a waiting list to check it out.
Wilson was undeterred by the thought that people might check out the book from the library and not buy it.
"Some people have mentioned, 'Well that will hurt your sales.'" said Wilson. "No, once they ever read this book, they'll want one for a keepsake - they'll want one for their own."