The Haunting Tale of Missouri’s Young Brothers
During the days of the Depression, stories of bank robbers like John Dillinger were splashed across the newspapers of America, making exciting reading for those who wanted to turn killers who got revenge on the banks who’d ruined so many people’s lives into heroic figures. But the story of the Young Brothers – and the deadly shootout in which they were involved in 1932 – was not a tale of folk heroes and bank robbers. It was a story of desperation, greed and horror, but strangely, it is rarely mentioned in the chronicles of the “Public Enemy Era” of the 1930s and was never widely known outside of the Ozarks region. It’s a tragically overlooked tale of violence, death, bloodshed – and ghosts.
The Young Brothers – Paul, Jennings and Harry – grew up on a small, 100-acre farm outside of Brookline, which was just southwest of Springfield. They were raised by a hard-working Christian couple, James David and Willie Florence Young, who undoubtedly hung their head in shame as three of their 11 children turned to a life of a crime.
The three brothers, who dubbed themselves the “Young Triumvirate,” seemed to be born under a bad sign. Juvenile delinquents who grew up to be petty criminals, they flaunted their disrespect for the law and despite a string of robberies and assaults, law enforcement seemed unable to pin anything solid on them. That changed in 1919 when Paul and Jennings broke into a small-town store outside Springfield and were quickly arrested with stolen merchandise. In light of the overwhelming evidence, they confessed to the theft and were sent to the state penitentiary in Jefferson City.
The pair was indifferent to the pain and humiliation they caused their family. James Young was inconsolable over the actions of his sons. It seemed that the burden of his sons was too much for him to bear and he grew sick and died while they were in prison. Only Mrs. Young continued to defend them, claiming that they were framed for the crime and didn’t deserve to be in prison. This continued for years. At one point, Mrs. Young was nearly arrested after police officers found stolen merchandise in her home. She claimed she knew nothing of the items (tires and rugs) stored in the farm house and Jennings stepped up and admitted to the crime so that his mother wouldn’t be charged with possession of stolen merchandise. While he was in prison, Paul and Harry committed numerous robberies and burglaries. Harry was back in the penitentiary in 1927, but soon all three were free again.
On June 2, 1929, Harry was driving recklessly through the town of Republic and was pulled over by City Marshal Mark Noe for drunk driving. Marshal Noe’s body was found outside of town in a ditch the following day – and one of the Young brothers graduated from small-time robberies to the murder of a police officer. Harry’s name and face were put out over the wire and he was hunted for over a year by officials throughout the United States and Canada. Somehow, though, he managed to elude capture, even though he returned to Missouri and went back to law-breaking with his brothers.
By Thanksgiving 1931, Paul and Jennings had joined their brother on the wanted list for stealing cars and taking them over state lines. Federal warrants were issued, along with state warrants for theft and Harry’s outstanding warrant for the murder of Mark Noe. Greene County Sheriff Marcell Hendrix made sure that word got back to the Young farm that he was tired of looking for Harry and believed that he had left the country for Mexico. Sheriff’s deputies and police officers from Springfield began staking out the Young family farm, believing that the brothers were occasionally returning home to see their mother. They were careful not to tip off Mrs. Young, who they were convinced would tell the boys that the police were watching.
In the meantime, the investigation into the Youngs’ activities continued. Federal and state officers in Oklahoma and Texas had linked the Youngs to stolen cars in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa and Illinois, making up a car theft ring that was more elaborate than the authorities had ever seen up until that time. Despite the fact that the stake-out at the Young farm heated up, officers narrowly missed a visit by Jennings to the farm a few days after Thanksgiving. He allegedly passed through in a stolen Illinois car, headed for Texas. He may have stopped in again on his trip back north, but the authorities missed him again.
On Saturday, January 2, 1932, evidence indicated that Jennings -- and probably Paul and Harry -- were at the family farm. Since the farm was outside Springfield city limits, Chief of Police Ed Waddle handed the matter off to county authorities. Sheriff Hendrix organized the raid, gathering ammunition, as well as deputies and detectives. A total of 11 police officers went to Brookline and the Young family farm that day. Hendrix had been a friend and neighbor of the Young family for many years and did not believe the boys would hurt him, which is likely why no one contacted federal agents to assist in the arrests.
When the officers arrived at the farmhouse, they milled about for a few minutes, banging on doors and yelling for the brothers to come out. They thought they heard noises inside, but no one answered their calls. It was soon agreed that the men would fan out in front of the house, fire a gas canister into one of the upstairs windows and, after the gas had time to saturate the upper floor, the sheriff and a few others would force their way into the back door and flush the brothers out the front, where officers would be waiting. A detective fired a gas canister into an upstairs window while the other officers waited a few minutes before taking their assigned positions.
Sheriff Hendrix and Deputy Wiley Mashburn, accompanied by Detective Virgil Johnson, left the southeast corner of the house and walked to the kitchen door in the rear. In order to cover them, Chief of Detectives Tony Oliver waited out of sight behind a tree on the outside of a small lawn fence. Patrolman Charles Houser stood unprotected by the lawn gate. Detective Sid Meadows waited behind a tree outside of the lawn fence on the north side so that he could seeing anyone exiting on the northwest side of the house. Detective Ben Bilyeu stood in the open, near Tony Oliver. Detective Frank Pike and a civilian who came along for assistance, R.G. Wegman, were assigned to remain behind the officer’s cars so that they could cover the barn and shed. Detective Owen Brown and Deputy Ollie Crosswhite were at the northeast corner of the house so that Crosswhite could see into the downstairs windows. Essentially, the lawmen had the house surrounded, but they were unprepared for what happened next.
Sheriff Hendrix banged loudly on the kitchen door. He, along with Deputy Mashburn, called out several times for the Young brothers to come out, unarmed and with their hands raised. There was no response from the house so the officers decided to kick the door open. Johnson forced the door from the center, with Hendrix and Mashburn on either side of him. The door creaked when the three men slammed into it and then crashed partway open. Mashburn raised his revolver and took one step inside. Suddenly, a shotgun roared in the kitchen and a blast of bird shot hot Mashburn in the face, ripping his skin apart and blowing both of his eyes out of their sockets!
Hendrix yelled and shoved into the opening left by Mashburn, just as the mortally wounded deputy was staggering backward onto the concrete sidewalk in back of the house. Another blast came from the shotgun inside, hitting Hendrix in the upper part of the right shoulder, just under his collarbone. The shot tore a ragged hole between his first and second ribs and tore open his chest. Hendrix fell to his knees, but did not collapse.
Deputy Mashburn, who was somehow still standing, continued to stagger backward. He swayed and stumbled and then fell down, cracking his head on the concrete. His body convulsed with pain as his hands fumbled over the bloody ruin of his face.
Sheriff Hendrix must have seen his killer as he fell to his knees in the kitchen because he raised his gun to fire. But his torn muscles refused to function and the gun slipped from his fingers. He did not retreat. Instead, without saying a word, he crawled forward on the linoleum floor, inching his way forward in a growing puddle of his own blood, until he died at the feet of his murderer. Hendrix had come as a neighbor and friend to peacefully arrest the law-breaking sons of an honest and upright man, only to be gunned down by those sons for his generous efforts.
Detective Johnson, who had taken cover at the first shots, ran for the front of the house as Chief Oliver yelled to the others that Hendrix and Mashburn has been shot. Johnson turned at the gate and prepared to fire another gas canister into the house. He aimed and pulled the trigger, but it refused to fire. In his haste, he realized that the chamber had not been closed. He slammed it shut and raised the gun, but before he could fire it, it went off unexpectedly and sent the canister wide of its mark. It hit the outside of the house, bounced off and fell onto the front porch roof, where it started to burn. Johnson turned to Oliver and shouted that he had no more gas canisters.
Oliver instructed Johnson, along with the other officers, to take cover, have their guns loaded and extra ammunition at hand. He feared that a long and bloody siege was at hand. Deputy Crosswhite suggested that Oliver send someone to get long guns – rifles and shotguns – and to bring more gas and bullets. Oliver sent Johnson for ammunition and reinforcements and the detective made his way behind some trees to his car.
Just as he was backing up to turn around, Detective Bilyeu and the only civilian on the scene, R.G. Wegman, scrambled into the backseat. The gunmen inside of the house had come to the front room, likely wearing bullet-proof vests, and when they saw the three men starting to drive away, they opened fire on the car. Two bullets shattered the windshield, narrowing missing Johnson’s head, and exited through an open window. Three or four shotgun blasts from the house blew out the rest of the glass in the car and wounded Johnson. In spite of his injuries, he sped away toward Springfield to get more help.
When the men inside of the house opened fire on the automobile, Chief Oliver yelled for his men to fire into every downstairs window. In between shots, Patrolman Houser looked around for better cover and spotting a large tree across the yard, he made a run for it. As he slowed to peer around the front of the house to see if it was safe, a bullet that was fired from a south window hit him in the forehead. His head blew apart as the bullet plowed through his skull. “My God!” he shouted and fell to the ground with his legs and arms outstretched. He was likely dead before completed his fall.
The killers returned to the kitchen to try and escape the house. One of them peered out the back window and was spotted by Crosswhite, who opened fire until his gun was empty. One of the Young brothers, firing with a rifle, went to the dining room window and standing on a chair, fired at Crosswhite to keep his pinned down as one of his brothers slipped out the back door, crept up behind the deputy with a shotgun and blasted him point-blank in the back of the head. Crosswhite was killed instantly.
Chief Oliver, while continuing to fire at the house, looked over and saw that Detective Sid Meadows was dangerously exposed. He ordered him to fall back. Meadows replied that he was out of ammunition, putting his hands in his pockets, hoping to find a stray bullet or two. Moments later, shots were fired at Meadows, splintering the tree he was hiding behind. Again Oliver ordered Meadows to fall back, trying to cover him by firing round after round with his pistol toward the house. Meadows started to move, leaning cautiously around the trunk of the tree, looking for his break. As he stuck his head out, a bullet from the house hit him just above his right eye. His head snapped back and he fell to the ground. He also died instantly.
Detective Pike leaned out from behind his tree and sent a steady roar of bullets into the house. He was answered by several shotgun blasts from a north window. Most of the shot went wild, but several pellets struck Pike in the left arm. Fearing that they were all going to be killed, Chief Oliver ordered Pike and Brown to make a run for the barn.
Before he could move, Oliver became the target for the shots from the house. The tree where he hid was ripped apart by shotgun blasts and he took a step backward to keep splinters from spraying into his eyes and he was hit hard by another blast, which ripped apart his heavy overcoat and clothing and tore into his flesh. In pain, he forgot his perilous position and stepped to the right, exposing that side of his body. He was struck by a rifle bullet, but did not fall. Bleeding badly, and struggling to stay upright, he ran for the cover of a nearby automobile. A second bullet hit him in the back, entering just below his left shoulder and bursting outward from his chest. Oliver pitched forward, sprawling in the dust next to the patrol car. He died painfully, slowly bleeding out as his chest cavity filled with blood.
Only two officers remained alive, Detectives Owen Brown and Frank Pike. They heard a yell from the house: “Lay down your guns and come up! We’ve killed the others!”
Both men refused to answer the killer’s demands but knew that they were now hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. They had no choice but to run for their lives.
With all of the lawmen either dead, dying or running away, the killers – suspected to be Jennings and Harry – came out into the yard. They yanked the spark-plug wires from the sheriff’s car, grabbed what guns they could easily find, and went back into the house. The searched the sheriff’s body, which was lying in the kitchen, and found his wallet, which had several hundred dollars in it. They hurriedly packed some clothes, along with five stolen revolvers, a rifle, a shotgun and dozens of rounds of ammunition and shotgun shells, into two traveling bags and began running. Investigators later believed that they fled through cornfields and orchards on foot, escaping in a northwest direction.
When Johnson returned with additional officers, weapons and ammunition, he could scarcely believe the horrific scene. Dead and dying men were strewn about the farm and the killers had escaped. Detectives Brown and Pike were soon located and Pike’s wounds were treated. Despite the seriousness of his wounds, Deputy Mashburn was still alive when Johnson returned, but he died later that evening.
This brought the death toll to six – a record number of lawmen killed during one incident.
Many would find it hard to believe that just two men had held off the raid and killed six lawmen, but both were considered to be expert marksmen. They also had the high ground from the second floor of the house and considering that the police officers, armed only with pistols, were poorly prepared for a shootout and had little cover in the yard outside of the house, it was feasible that two men could carry out the massacre.
A full-scale investigation was launched into the shootout, as was a nationwide manhunt for the perpetrators. Another of the Young brothers, Oscar, confirmed to lawmen that Harry and Jennings were the only two family members at the house that fateful day. Despite rumors that famous bank robber “Pretty Boy” Floyd was at the Young farm that day, it was later determined that he was in Texas at the time of the massacre. The hunt was on for the Young brothers, but with no solid leads, the authorities had to wait for them to resurface.
They soon turned up in Texas, identified after wrecking the car they were driving. But the real break in the case came about because of a nosy telephone operator.
Mrs. A.E. Gaddy, a local operator, overhead a conversation with the sheriff’s department about the wrecked car, but she said nothing about it to her family. Later that evening, her son was listening to a radio broadcast on station KMOX out of St. Louis and heard a story about the massacre in Brookline. The story included descriptions of Jennings and Harry Young. When he mentioned it to his mother, she instantly remembered the overheard conversation to the sheriff’s department. She told her son about it and out of curiosity, the young man called the farmer who picked up the men from the wreck to get descriptions of the two men. After talking with him, he became convinced that the occupants of the wrecked car were Jennings and Harry. He immediately contacted Prosecutor Dan Nee in Springfield and explained the situation.
At the time of Gaddy’s call, which was just 24 hours after the massacre, Nee, his assistant Horn Bostel, Federal agents Burger and DeMoss and three Frisco Railway detectives, Wilson, Nolan and Arndt, were questioning Mrs. Young and her two daughters, Lorna and Vinita, about the events at the farm. The three women said that they had been away visiting relatives when the massacre took place.
Nee gladly took Gaddy’s call and was convinced that the possible lead was worth checking out. He phoned the Navarro County officials and from them, he obtained the serial numbers on the guns. Nee knew that the brothers had connections in Houston and other Texas cities, where they operated their auto theft ring. Even though it was late, he and the other investigators began wiring and calling law enforcement agencies in south Texas to be on the lookout for Harry and Jennings Young.
Early the next morning, Nee and his men learned that the two occupants of the wrecked car had hitched a ride from the scene of the accident and told driver Isaac Levy that they were anxious to get to Houston. He was certain that they were on the trail of the Young brothers. The prosecutor pushed Texas officials even harder in his efforts to get them to use every possible resource to apprehend the murderers.
By Sunday night, the Youngs had arrived in Houston and managed to stay hidden, despite the local police pulling out all stops to find them. Lawmen raided the known hangouts of the Young brothers and questioned their friends and associates, but no one seemed to know where they were. Despite the heat that was placed upon them, Harry and Jennings managed to stay one step ahead of detectives and elude capture. Additionally, the bags of clothing and stolen guns, which they had packed and then left behind at their mother’s house, somehow found their way to Houston and were retrieved by the brothers at some point on Monday. It was later suspected that their brother Paul may have gotten the bags from Missouri to Texas without being detected. Detectives quickly learned that it was not just Mrs. Young who was trying to keep the brothers out of prison.
On Monday afternoon, a Houston police officer believed that he spotted Harry Young, but lost him in a crowd. Early on Tuesday morning, January 5, a carpenter named J.F. Tomlinson called the police to report that he had seen pictures of the Youngs in the morning newspaper and that they resembled the men he had rented a room to the previous afternoon – and they were sleeping in his house at that moment.
Police officials quickly put men into action and gathered there near Tomlinson’s home. They made hurried plans to raid the carpenter’s small bungalow and capture the Youngs, dead or alive. They moved in on the house shortly after 9:00 a.m., surrounding the place with lawmen armed with every conceivable type of weapon, including handguns, rifles, gas grenades, smoke bombs and Thompson machine-guns.
Lieutenant Claude Beverly of the Magnolia Park substation was placed in charge of the raid. He led the way to the front door, grabbed the doorknob and pushed into the house, followed closely by Officers Peyton and Bradshaw. Tear gas canisters were hurled through a rear window into the bedroom where the outlaws were believed to be sleeping and then tossed into the front room of the house. Allowing time for the gas to spread through the rooms, Beverly walked down the hall and found another visitor to the house, who was handcuffed and taken outside. Beverly and Peyton continued to the rear bedroom door, threw it open and stormed inside – to find it empty. The Youngs were not in bed, or hiding beneath it. The closet was empty. One of the officers then stepped toward the bathroom door, turned the knob and started to open it, just as three blasts hit the other side of the door, barely missing the lawmen. They retreated to the kitchen and positioned themselves so that they could see the bathroom door. Things were eerily still for a moment and then the bathroom door opened slightly and one of the Youngs peeked out.
Beverly fired point blank at the face with a sawed-off shotgun. The door slammed shut and from inside the bathroom, several shots rang out. Someone behind the door shouted, “We’re dead – come and get us!” Suspecting a trap, Beverly kept his men back until another gas canister could be tossed inside. Then, they unlatched the door and pushed. It stuck before it could be opened all of the way, but once they pushed on it, the barricade moved inside. A body had been blocking the door. When they got into the bathroom, they found Jennings Young lying dead in a pool of blood. Harry Young was bleeding badly, but he was still breathing. The two of them had shot each other so that they could never be taken alive.
Harry Young was placed in an ambulance and rushed to St. Joseph’s Infirmary, where he died soon after arriving. He did not regain consciousness on the way to the hospital so the detectives that accompanied him were unable to get a deathbed statement from him. It’s unlikely that he would have made one anyway. The Youngs were merciless killers and never regretted the crimes they had committed or the destruction they caused to their family.
The two men were laid out on cold slabs in the Houston morgue, 700 miles from Springfield, where widows and fatherless children were mourning the loss of their husbands and fathers at the hands of the now deceased outlaws. There was no rejoicing in the Ozarks over the bloody end of Harry and Jennings Young, but the final act was over and the Youngs had come to a rather inglorious end.
The story of the Young brothers became little more than a forgotten footnote in the annals of Depression-era crime. Outside of the Ozarks, few people ever heard of the infamous brothers and the deadly massacre that claimed the lives of six policemen in 1932. Strangely, though, reports from what was once the Young family farm seemed to determine to make sure that the bloody day was not entirely forgotten.
According to subsequent owners of the farm house, strange happenings began taking place not long after the Young family moved out of the house. After the massacre, the house was repaired and the damage from countless bullet holes was covered over and hidden away, just like local memories of that horrible afternoon. The house was eventually sold and new families moved in over the years, almost every one of them encountering what seemed to be echoes of the house’s past.
Bizarre temperature drops were common in the house, as were knocking and banging sounds on the walls, thudding footsteps in empty rooms, voices and music that seemed to come from nowhere and feelings as if the residents were being watched. On several occasions, a woman who lived in the house complained of seeing faces looking in the window. When investigated, no one was ever there – including one winter’s night when there was snow on the ground. She knew that a man in an old-fashioned, fedora-type hat had been looking in the window, but when her husband went outside to look, he found no man – and no footprints on the snowy ground. Could this be a paranormal recreation of police detectives looking into the windows, trying to find out where the Young brothers were?
All of the odd happenings in the house seemed to be little more than memories of the past, replaying themselves over and over again, except for one report, which told of something a little more frightening. On several occasions, a woman who once lobed in the house stated that she had awakened on several occasions to find a dark figure standing at the end of her bed. When she tried to move, the figure grabbed hold of her legs and wouldn’t allow her to move. Then, he vanished and she was free. She later said that she would have believed that she dreamed the entire incident, if not for the fact that she woke the next morning to find dark bruises on her legs that looked exactly like handprints!
What haunted the old Young brothers farmhouse? Was it merely a bit of bad energy left behind at a place where men fought, killed and died? Or was it something else? Had the ghosts of the Youngs returned to prey on the living, just as they had when alive, or were they returning in despair to the one place where they had felt safe in life? A place where their mother always protected them?
That troubling question remains unanswered.