Around this time of year eight decades ago, "one of the most bizarre events in the history of crime occurred," as quoted in Young Brothers Massacre, a 1988 book by Paul W. and Mary H. Barrett-one of over 15,000 artifacts currently in the National Law Enforcement Museum's collection. Though tragic, this event would impact future policing in America, particularly in armed standoff situations.
On January 2, 1932, a drab winter day in the midst of the Great Depression, ten poorly armed law enforcement officers reported to the Young family farm near Brookline, a village in the Ozark region of Missouri, to arrest two local brothers for auto theft.
Area law enforcers were familiar with the Young brothers: Paul, Harry and Jennings, well known minor thieves throughout the 1920s who had each spent time in state and federal penitentiaries for burglary and theft. Despite their run-ins with the law, local law enforcement had come to consider the brothers' petty crimes as relatively harmless-until June 2, 1929, when Harry Young murdered Republic (MO) City Marshal Mark Noe after he stopped Young for drunk driving. Then Harry and his brothers fled, allegedly living in Texas for a couple years, entwined in an auto theft ring.
After being on the run for a while, two of the brothers decided to pay a visit to their family farm in Missouri. The day after the New Year, 1932, Greene County (MO) Sheriff Marcell Hendrix was tipped off that two Young brothers were back. Sheriff Hendrix and a few fellow officers trekked to the farm, woefully unprepared by today's standards, carrying only handguns without spare ammunition.
When the officers arrived, they were met with a rampage of gunfire from inside the house. After only a few minutes, six of the officers were dead- Greene County Sheriff Marcell Hendrix; Deputies Ollie Crosswhite and Wiley Mashburn; and Chief of Detectives Tony Oliver, Detective Sidney Meadows and Officer Charley Houser, all of the Springfield Police Department. A record number of law enforcement officers killed in one incident at the time is exceeded today by few other incidents, including the New York City terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when 72 officers were slain. What became known as the Young Brothers Massacre still holds the record for the deadliest single law enforcement gunfight in the 20th century.
Soon after the massacre in 1932, a booklet about the event was published by John R. Woodside for law enforcement officers in efforts to prevent such an event from happening again.
When the National Law Enforcement Museum opens in late 2013 in Washington, DC's Judiciary Square, it will tell the rich history of American law enforcement-and events like the Young Brothers Massacre-through high-tech, interactive exhibits, collections, research and education. The names of the officers killed in the massacre are among more than 19,000 fallen heroes inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
For more information about the National Law Enforcement Museum, please visit www.nleomf.org/museum. For more information about the National Law Enforcement Officials Memorial Fund, please visit www.nleomf.org.