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DIXIE MAFIA

DIXIE MAFIA

December 2nd, 2013 by Russell McDermott in Texarkana News

(EDITOR’S NOTE: In connection with Texarkana’s impending 140th birthday, our editorial page editor looks at some of the more notorious chapters in Twin Cities history. This is the final part of a two-part series that began Sunday.)

The Dixie Mafia was very active in several cities, including Biloxi, Dallas, Fort Worth, Shreveport-Bossier City, Memphis, Atlanta and Tulsa. 

There are big scores to be had in larger cities. They are great paces for planning jobs and fencing stolen goods. It’s easy to get lost in the crowds, and there is always plenty of recreation to be had.

Some cities they operated in required a bit of caution. In New Orleans, for example, they had to be especially careful not to step on the toes of resident Mafia boss Carlos Marcello, one of the most powerful figures in the history of American crime.

Marcello’s organization would sometimes use the Dixie Mafia to collect debts and carry out hits. And the old man was willing to let them do business in his fiefdom as long as they played by Marcello’s rules—don’t bring too much heat from the cops, don’t knock over one of his many legal or illegal enterprises and, most of all, don’t forget to send a piece of any score his way.

Every once in a while, a Dixie Mafia figure would fail to show proper respect. Such bad manners carried a terrible penalty. 

Not all the action was in the bigger cities, though. Smaller communities played a big role in Dixie Mafia activities—including Texarkana.

An article published the March 27, 1978, issue of Time Magazine described Texarkana as an “overgrown railroad junction and manufacturing town, it squats on the state line where the north Texas plains lap at the Arkansas hills. State Line Avenue, which divides the two Texarkanas, is a garish neon strip with honky-tonks and liquor outlets on the Arkansas side facing fast-food and religious book stores on the dry Texas side. The region’s wooded terrain makes it an appealing hiding place for the so-called Dixie Mafia, a loosely confederated band of car thieves, dope runners, hijackers and assorted thugs who prey on towns across the South.”

It wasn’t so much the woods that attracted the Dixie Mafia as the Twin Cities’ location on the border between Texas and Arkansas, which made it easy for visiting network members to cross the state line if the need arose. Texarkana’s position at the crossroads of several major highways meant the traveling criminals had to pass through regularly. That made it a natural setting for meetings and stopovers. While in Texarkana, they amused themselves in the beer joints, dance halls and brothels.

There were friends here as well. 

Texarkana had its local organized crime figures. Two are mentioned by name in the 1974 book “The Dixie Mafia” by D.M. Kern. One—the owner of an auto parts yard—had been dead more than a year when the book was published. The other—a car dealer and taxi company owner—is also mentioned in a Kansas Attorney General’s intelligence report on the Dixie Mafia that was released the same year.

There have been rumors of others in the community who were part of or at least on the edges of the network, including a local attorney, a well-known businessman and a popular and politically connected restaurant owner.

What was their involvement and to what degree? Those who would know for sure are mostly dead or not talking.

 

Bill Clubb

Texarkana was not just a stopping place for the traveling criminals in the network. For a few—including one of the most respected and feared men in the history of the Dixie Mafia, Bill Clubb— it was their home base.

William Mansker Clubb made his home on the Texas side of town from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s. Standing 6 feet, 3 inches and weighing about 260 pounds, Clubb was an imposing man who favored expensive suits paired with handmade cowboy boots. He was said to be unfailingly courteous and soft-spoken—unless you crossed him or had something he decided he wanted. Then things could take a sudden turn for the worse.

Clubb made his living primarily through robbery. He was skilled at car theft, major stickups, burglaries and safecracking. He was also more than able to pull the trigger for a fee or to settle a score.

He lived on Route 9 off U.S. Highway 59 South with his wife, who reportedly ran a brothel out of a motel nearby.

Clubb had a long arrest record and had done time before moving to Texarkana in the 1960s. It was while he was here, though, that he was implicated in perhaps the most notorious crime in the annals of Dixie Mafia lore—the Gypsy Camp Murder.

On the night of Feb. 18, 1969, at least five masked men armed with handguns and rifles descended on a trailer park near Covington, La., in St. Tammany Parish.

The Skeebow Trailer Court was on a bayou off Lake Pontchartrain, not far from New Orleans, and served as the winter home for a group of about 50 traveling carnival workers.

Mardi Gras was in full swing, and many of the camp’s residents—including nearly all the men—were working concessions in the French Quarter. There were 24 people at the camp, mostly women and children. The crew quickly rounded them up and used chains and padlocks to bind them. They then went through 10 trailers and collected about $12,000 in cash and jewelry, according to official reports. It was rumored the victims had underreported the total by about $40,000 to avoid trouble over undeclared income and unpaid taxes.

In any case, it was far from the hundreds of thousands or so they had heard the residents kept on hand. So they took a woman named Margie George, a 44-year-old fortune teller who was described in the media as the “Gypsy queen,” and started grilling her about the whereabouts of a supposed safe.

George was tough old bird and wasn’t having any of it. She argued, yelled, cussed and adamantly refused to give up her cash.

One of the men lost his temper and plunged a hatchet into her skull. Another of the robbers shot her, possibly to put her out of her misery.

And then the men fled by car and boat.

Investigators considered it a well-planned job that hadn’t gone off quite as smoothly as it should have. And it didn’t take long for them to arrest a Dixie Mafia burglar named Bobbie Gail Gwinn, who gave police enough to piece together an idea of who was involved.

The ringleaders were said to be Kirksey McCord Nix Jr.—a career criminal from Oklahoma who was building a legendary reputation in the underworld—and Bill Clubb. Arrest warrants were issued for the pair, as well as for three other men.

Clubb was arrested two days after the Gypsy Camp Murder in the office of a taxi cab company in the 300 block of Main Street in downtown Texarkana. He had $9,000 in cash on him and a loaded .38-caliber pistol on the floorboard of his car. He was taken to jail pending extradition to Louisiana.

That evening, police served a search warrant on his home. They found two custom-made shotguns, two custom-made double-barreled game rifles and an assortment or burglary and lock-picking tools. The shotguns were later identified as having been stolen in a burglary of a house in Ormond Beach, Fla.

The case took an even more bizarre turn a month later when a reputed hit man and a known close associate of both Clubb and Nix, Gary Elbert McDaniel, 29 and a recent Texarkana resident, was found in the Sabine River near Quitman, Texas. He had been shot three times.

McDaniel’s murder was thought to be connected to the Gypsy Camp case. It was speculated that he was killed to make sure he didn’t turn informant.

However, there has also been plenty of speculation that McDaniel’s death was something else.

McDaniel was a prime suspect, along with Nix and two other men, in the Aug. 12, 1967, ambush of McNairy County, Tenn., Sheriff Buford Pusser and his wife, Pauline. Pusser was seriously wounded in the attack, and his wife was killed. The ambush would be graphically recreated in the 1973 movie based on Pusser’s life, “Walking Tall.”

Pusser had vowed revenge, and three of the suspects—everyone but Nix—met violent deaths before Pusser himself was killed in a car accident in 1974.

Was it Pusser or the Dixie Mafia? Despite all the speculation, McDaniel’s murder remains unsolved.

In the meantime, Clubb wasn’t going to Louisiana quietly. The governor approved the extradition request in April, but Clubb appealed, and proceedings dragged. He even managed to get released on bail after being taken to Oklahoma as an alibi witness for another hood in a federal gun case—testimony that earned him a perjury indictment.

Finally, in November 1969, a federal judge ruled on Clubb’s appeal and ordered the extradition to proceed. But he might as well not have bothered. A month before, Bobby Gail Gwinn—who had agreed to turn state’s evidence—had been found shot dead by the side of a road just outside Shreveport. The case collapsed, and all charges were eventually dropped. To this day, no one has ever been brought to justice for the Gypsy Camp Murder.

Clubb continued to have run-ins with the law for the rest of his life. He did a short stretch in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary and then was sentenced to 50 years in Mississippi’s Parchman State Prison for the robbery of a gambling party.

In July 1974, a crap game was in full swing at a boathouse in Gulf Hills with about 20 men and women in attendance.

Three armed men burst in and robbed the participants of cash and valuables before tying them up. While the robbery progressed, more eager gamblers showed up for the game. They too were robbed and bound.

The take was about $16,000. Clubb was identified, indicted and convicted.

Clubb didn’t serve close to a half-century and was back on the streets after only a few years. He turned to running drugs, mainly cocaine and marijuana, and was soon considered one the premier smugglers in the business. A pilot, Clubb had some close calls with crashes and the cops. His luck ran out on the morning of June 5, 1982, when his Piper Cherokee plane crashed while trying to land in a rice field about eight miles west of Houston. He was 55.

His close friend and sometimes partner in crime Kirksey Nix got life in prison without parole for a 1972 home invasion that ended in the fatal shooting of a Louisiana grocer.

While serving his time in Angola, Nix came up with a scheme to earn enough money to, he hoped, buy him a full pardon.

With the help of associates both inside and outside the prison walls, Nix would have attractive young prisoners place personal ads in gay-oriented magazines. Gay men who answered the ads would receive promising correspondence along with pleas for money for legal expenses, personal needs, etc. Sometimes the prisoner would say he was about to be released and need plane fare to visit his new friend. The money was wired to Nix’s associates at a law office in Biloxi.

The scheme brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars but collapsed when Nix had a bitter dispute over money with his cohorts in Biloxi. The fallout would lead to the murder-for-hire of a Biloxi judge and his wife and long prison sentences for Nix’s former lawyer—and Biloxi mayor—Pete Hallat; strip club owner Mike Gillich, considered perhaps the most important Gulf Coast Dixie Mafia connection; and John Elbert Ransom, a notorious, one-legged hit man.

For his part, Nix got a life ticket to the federal supermax prison in Colorado, where he remains locked down 23 hours a day.

 

Changing Times

The Dixie Mafia didn’t disappear with the death of Bill Clubb or the incarceration of Kirksey Nix. But it did fall prey to changing times.

Sentencing and parole laws changed, becoming tougher. Communities cracked down on strip joints and open gambling and prostitution. New technology allowed law enforcement to better gather intelligence, track criminals and close cases. 

The drug trade became more of a focus than armed robberies and burglaries. There was a lot more money to be made, but with that cash came increased risks—especially the risk of informants.

When a criminal facing 10 years for robbery could count on parole in a few years, doing time was just the cost of doing business. When prosecutors can put together a drug case or a RICO charge that could land the guy in prison for 40 years or even life, he has a lot more incentive to roll.

The loose ties that bound the Dixie Mafia began to unravel. The original, core group of traveling criminals and local connections went to prison for long stretches or died—some even from natural causes.

Add to that the influx into the South of other criminal organizations. Street gangs from the West Coast, outlaw motorcycle clubs, Mexican drug cartels, prison gangs, Jamaican posses and Asian, Israeli, Russian and Albanian organized crime syndicates are well-established in areas the Dixie Mafia once had mostly to itself.

It hasn’t disappeared. There are still traveling criminals out there. There are still guys who run rackets in large and small towns across the South. There are even some drug gangs that proudly embrace the name “Dixie Mafia.”

They are still dangerous. There are still murders for hire, murders for revenge and murders for business.

But this next generation is not the Dixie Mafia of old. Those days are long gone.