On Wednesday morning, February 27, 1889, in Van Buren, Missouri, a local citizen tried to collect on a $35 note that had Carter County sheriff Elvin G. Turley's name signed on it, but Turley realized immediately that someone had forged his signature. It would turn out to be a deadly crossing of paths.
On Wednesday morning, February 27, 1889, in Van Buren, Missouri, a local citizen tried to collect on a $35 note that had Carter County sheriff Elvin G. Turley's name signed on it, but Turley realized immediately that someone had forged his signature. A quick investigation determined that Amp O. Thomason was not only the guilty culprit in this case but that he had also forged the names of at least two other local men.
Twenty-two-year-old Thomason and another young man, James Taylor, had arrived from Kentucky about six months earlier and opened a saloon in Van Buren. Around the middle of February, they closed the Van Buren establishment and left for Winona, announcing they planned to open a new saloon there.
Still on Wednesday morning, Sheriff Turley, taking along Deputy George Henderson, set out for Winona by train. About noon, the officers chanced to meet Thomason and his sidekick at the depot in Low Wassie when the train made a stop there. When Turley stepped up to Thomason and told him he was under arrest, Thomason started to reach for his revolver. Both officers closed in on him before he could draw it, and the sheriff grabbed his hand. Thomason fell backward, trying to wrest his hand away, but the sheriff still had a grip on him. "Jim, if you ever mean to help me," Thomason yelled to his partner while still on the ground, "now is the time." Taylor, who was thought to be Thomason's half-brother, promptly pulled out a revolver and fired at the sheriff but missed. Stepping closer, he fired again, and Turley fell dead almost instantly. Henderson made a move toward Taylor, but the desperate young man shot the deputy in the leg and made a break for some nearby woods with Thomason scrambling to his feet and straggling along behind.
A posse quickly organized and went in pursuit of the fugitives, but they escaped. Carter County offered a reward for their capture, and a week or so later, the Missouri governor placed a $300 bounty on Thomason's head and a $200 one on Taylor. Despite the rewards offered, no clues as to the whereabouts of the fugitives turned up. Turley's widow offered to increase the reward so that it would be lucrative enough to attract professional bounty hunters, if she could collect on her husband's $2,000 life insurance policy. However, the company refused to pay, reportedly because a pint bottle of whiskey was found in the sheriff's pocket after he was killed.
Twenty-five years went by with no word on where Thomason and Taylor might be, but Carter County officials never gave up on the case. When the county officially requested the Missouri governor to renew the state’s reward for capture of the two fugitives in February of 1914, newspapers speculated that county officers had finally gotten a break in the case. The governor honored the request, setting the reward this time at $100.
Later in the year, Carter County sheriff Orren Munger, acting on supposedly reliable information, traveled to Texas, where Thomason and Taylor were supposedly holed up, to try to make an arrest. When he got to the town where they had been living, however, the fugitives had left the place a couple of days before, and no trace of them could be found.
Thomason and Taylor were never apprehended, although a rumor filtered back to Missouri a couple of years after Munger's burnt run to Texas that Thomason had died of tuberculosis.
Larry Wood is a freelance writer specializing in the history of Missouri and the Ozarks. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or like his author Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLarryWood/.