Henderson County, Kentucky History


Four boys take on police in gun battle near park

It had all the markings of a youthful prank gone hopelessly and irretrievably wrong.

Perhaps the boys had seen one too many movies about gangsters and gun molls. Maybe they considered the whole thing simply a great adventure - something they'd tell their grandchildren about one day.

Or possibly they were influenced by the Henderson of that era. After all, it was 1946 and this city was knee-deep in the "Roaring 40s" with rampant vice, some 60 liquor establishments and a rapidly growing reputation as "Little Chicago."

Whatever the reason for their actions, the four boys had machine guns and were in a shack on the riverbank north of Atkinson Park. The February 26, 1946 issue of The Henderson Gleaner indicated the youths likely had been the parties who had broken into the local Armory the previous Sunday night and had taken a number of weapons and other items.

Their escapade ended in tragedy, in a running gun battle between the teens and city, county and state police along the banks of the river. When it was over, 15-year-old Bobby WILLIAMS lay dead and his three friends - one of them 16 and the other two 18 - were arrested.

On the Tuesday following the Monday shooting, The Gleaner reported that the three boys were being held in the county jail "on charges of malicious shooting with intent to kill without wounding."

The paper claimed "it was the first time in local history that an armed gang had battled law enforcement officials with gunfire."

The confrontation started with a tip "from undisclosed sources" that the individuals who had burglarized the Armory were hiding in the flimsy structure on the river.

City Police Officer Clarence PLEASANT and Detective Oscar MARTIN were dispatched to investigate. PLEASANT later told reporters he went to the back door and MARTIN went to the front door. PLEASANT said he had knocked, received no answer, and then kicked the door with his foot and moved aside.

PLEASANT reportedly peered into a window and saw one of the teens raise a machine gun and point it toward the door. At that point, PLEASANT said, he dropped to the ground and crawled around the house and he and MARTIN dashed to the police car where they radioed for assistance.

From the car, the men said, they saw the boys run out of the shack's back door and down the riverbank.

The officers moved on hands and knees to the edge of the bank where they peered over and were spotted by the youths, who reportedly opened fire at them.

Meanwhile, city policemen Aubrey WILLIAMS, Ray WOOD and Denver OVERFIELD arrived at the scene, as did Deputy Sheriff A. W. AGNEW and state Trooper Glyn STEWARD.

PLEASANT and MARTIN no doubt were glad to see them, because the two officers had run out of ammunition.

As The Gleaner account related: "In the general melee that followed with shooting on both sides, WILLIAMS was killed … Otis BENTON, Jr. who answered a call for his ambulance, arrived while officers and the other three boys were still firing at each other.

"…Police said it was not know which officer fired the death shot … The boys fell into a creek before they got to 12th Street, choking two machine guns with mud and losing one which, according to officers, is probably why they did not fire on arresting officers.

"…The three boys had a total of 31 cents when arrested."

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Later in the week, a Coroner's Jury ruled the death of the youth as justifiable homicide and the newspaper editor defended in print the actions of the officers.

Reprinted with permission.
Progress Edition, The Gleaner, Henderson, KY, Saturday, March 30, 1996
Written by Judy Jenkins

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS