Yesterday's News


Philandering Prohibitioner nailed in bribery scandal

By FRANK BOYETT, The Gleaner
June 26, 2005

No one is above the law, a local gang of renegade law enforcement officers discovered 75 years ago.

One of them was western Kentucky's crack Prohibition agent in the 1920s, a chunky fellow named Graydon C. Henson. During the period 1925-1928, The Gleaner was periodically filled with accounts of how he had successfully rounded up bootleggers, busted up their stills, and spilled their "white mule" out on the ground. He was probably Kentucky's most successful Prohibition agent during that period.

But around mid-1928 things started to go wrong for Graydon. And by late June of 1930 that trend had come to a head. Seventy-five years after the fact it's a little difficult to tell exactly where Graydon's life took a wrong turn, but obviously it was about the time his wife caught him with another woman down in Hopkinsville.

That was July 4, 1928. The fireworks were impressive, according to court documents at the Henderson County Judicial Center. The next day Graydon moved out of their house at 1024 N. Main St.; Inez Mullins Henson filed for divorce two weeks later.

On Halloween of that year the trick was on Graydon. He lost his job, which paid $191 a month, a pretty respectable salary back then. The ostensible reason, according to a story in The Gleaner, was that he was overweight. (His wife said in court documents he weighed about 250 pounds.) "No other charges were entered against him," the story said.

But Graydon's philandering and rather public dispute with his wife, coupled with other factors, may have been the real reasons for his dismissal. There had been rumblings for weeks that all was not right in the Prohibition effort in western Kentucky. In May 1928 a local undercover officer named J.T. "Jack" Alderson had been quickly acquitted in what had been the first murder trial ever held in U.S. District Court in Owensboro. He had been accused of shooting a bootlegger in the back at a "blind tiger" -- a low-rent speakeasy -- in Daviess County.

In November of 1929 a federal grand jury in Paducah indicted Graydon and Alderson, as well as federal Prohibition agent Selby Jacobs, local Deputy Sheriff Ovid Hazelwood, and former Henderson policeman Otho Tapp for taking bribes from bootleggers in what is now the Land Between the Lakes.

Apparently those cases were dropped, but 75 years ago this week virtually the same men were indicted by a Trigg County grand jury, accusing them of highway robbery. A Trigg County bootlegger named Carter Whitney accused them of impersonating federal officers and extorting $200 from him on June 7, 1930.

Law enforcement officers from Trigg County told local officials that between mid-1929 and mid-1930, the gang of renegade lawmen had extorted more than $2,800 from bootleggers by posing as federal agents, and then agreeing to take "hush money" to drop the bogus charges.

Federal charges of conspiracy, bribery and impersonating an officer quickly followed, based both on the June 7 incident as well as the earlier bribery allegation from 1928.

Graydon ducked one bullet. In mid-July of 1930 the charge against him stemming from the June 7 incident was dismissed by the U.S. district judge after the bootlegger's testimony failed to mention Graydon Henson.

But he was convicted of the federal bribery charge the following November, and received a two-year prison sentence and a fine of $1,800. Jacobs and Hazelwood were both convicted of impersonating a federal officer and received one-year sentences in the federal penitentiary at Atlanta. Alderson had earlier been convicted of a weapons charge in Indiana and was serving a prison term there by the time the others were convicted.

Inez Henson continued to live on North Main Street until a creditor foreclosed on the house in the depths of the Depression.

Graydon Henson remarried and became a building contractor in Terre Haute, Ind., where he died in 1972 at the age of 76.



Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS