Open Season on Game Wardens

      I mentioned earlier that both the man who preceded me ("Doc" Cox) and the man who succeeded me (Cecil Bays) as Wise County Game Warden were shot to death by assassins. They weren't the only wardens to die in the line
of duty in Southwestern Virginia during those years.

     Harve Carter, the Scott County warden, was a lawman all the way. He really worked at his job, and tried to give all the people of his county a fair shake.
      One day Harve was in the ridge country between the foot of High Knob and Clinch River, when he heard some shooting and went to investigate it. No one ever knew exactly what happened after that, but Carter wound up in a footrace with a hunter who was carrying a shotgun. He chased the man down a path that ran along the top of a ridge, both of them running right past the hiding place of a fourteen-year-old boy who had ducked back into some bushes when he heard them coming.
     According to the boy's testimony later on, he heard shots from Carter's pistol, and heard Harve shout, "Stop there, or I'll shoot you!" The boy said that the hunter's reply was, "Yes, and if you don't stop shooting at me, I'll have to kill you!"
      A few seconds later the hunter stopped, crouching behind a big stump as Carter approached, pistol in hand. Then he stepped out and shot Carter at close range with the shotgun, killing him instantly.
      It was several days before the body was found, and several months passed before the boy told his story to the law. A man named Flannery was tried for Harve's murder, but was found not guilty by a jury of twelve men.
      Most officers at some time or other have done just what Harve Carter did--fire into the air while in pursuit of a fleeing suspect. What they must realize is that
this gives the suspect the right to shoot back in self defense.

     Frank Tompkins was a big, husky ex-Marine, careless as well as fearless in carrying out his duties as game warden.
     I recall one time in 1933 when Frank and I decided to have a friendly shooting match. He went to the glove compartment of his car to get his gun--an automatic--and it was so rusty you couldn't work the action by hand, let alone fire it. That's how Frank was. He just didn't like to carry a gun. (Later, the Game Commission made it compulsory for every warden to carry a side arm at all times while on duty. This regulation came too late for Frank, who left a lovely wife and two or three small children in Duffield when he was killed.)
      Frank died in a fight in a community store near the post office at Clinchport, Va. Witnesses offered several different versions of what happened to provoke the fight, but all agreed that Frank had a man bent backward over the store counter and was working him over with his fist when the man pulled a small-calibre pistol out of his pocket and shot Frank several times in the stomach.
      The man was tried in Scott County, and given seven years in prison.

       My old buddy Joe Rose was making an arrest of a fellow named Sparks for a game law violation in Wise County when the man made a lunge for Joe's pistol. In the tussle that followed, Joe was shot through the foot.
Fortunately, Joe recovered. He was able to work for many years after that--but he always walked with a limp.

      I never had a better, more loyal friend than Cecil Bays. Our closeness was heightened by the fact that I knew Cecil from the time he was a baby; I knew his people, on both sides, and regarded them as some of the finest people on earth. And on top of everything else, Cecil was married to Louella's sister Ann, making him and me brothers-in-law.
      Bays was a hard-living, hard-driving man all his life. He was tough as nails, mentally and physically, and he loved physical contact. He was a high school football star at Norton High, and a "perfect Marine" in World War II, going all through the Pacific campaign and earning numerous decorations.
      As a warden, Cecil was known as a man with a very even disposition--always fuming. If he didn't get involved in a fist fight or a pistol-whipping about once
a month, he felt he wasn't giving the taxpayers their money's worth. But lacking as he might have been in diplomacy, he was an honest man; he was dedicated to his job, and he was the kind of officer that when the going got rough, you didn't have to look around to see if he was still there with you. If he was your friend, he'd walk with you right into the fires of hell.

       The last time I saw Bays alive was on Thanksgiving morning, 1950. We met at Joe Rose's place at six o'clock that morning, then split into two-man teams: Bays was to work the fields (quail and rabbit hunters), with a friend named Brownie Chaffin riding along for company, while Joe and I worked the mountain (squirrel and grouse hunters). 
      About 7:30 p.m. that evening, two local officers came to my home and called me outside to tell me that Bays had been killed--shot to death by an unknown person or persons. I took my wife to Bays' home to comfort her sister, then joined in the investigation of the murder.
       The story may best be pieced together this way: Bays and Brownie Chaffin picked up a young acquaintance named Hollyfield during the course of the day, and late that afternoon the three of them drove across the Kentucky line to have supper at a little restaurant. It was there that Bays first laid eyes on the man who was destined to kill him a short time later, though there was no fuss or quarrel between them in the restaurant. The woman who ran the restaurant explained to Bays and his friends that she would not be able to serve them, because she was already in the process of closing up.
      Bays, Chaffin, and Hollyfield left the restaurant quietly and started home. A short time later, they had stopped along the road to share a drink of whiskey, when a car drove past and one or more of its occupants hollered something at them. There were four people in the car: the restaurant woman, another woman, and two male companions.
      Bays and his party drove on to the town of Pound, Va. where they stopped at a little cafe to eat. After their dinner, Bays was impatient to get on home. In trying to hurry the others along, he walked out to his car and put the ignition key in the switch while they were still inside. While he was standing there alongside his
car with the door on the driver's side open, he was shot from ambush and killed.

     When the identity of the suspect  became known to Norton police, they purposely withheld the information from me. They figured that because of my personal involvement with Bays, I'd be likely to start shooting the minute I found the man I thought was the guilty party. While I was chasing down other leads, two city policemen went to the home of one of the suspects, a Norton taxi driver named Hembry. Both suspects were in Hembry's house, and both were armed. A gunfight began as the officers approached the house. Officer Jack Banner shot and killed Hembry, but the other suspect, Napier, escaped by jumping out the back window. Sheriff Fleming, acting on a tip, found Napier at the St. Charles Hotel the following morning and placed him under arrest.
      Napier was arraigned and charged with Bays' murder , but on the day the case was to be tried, the rival attorneys reached a compromise whereby the charge was reduced to manslaughter. He pleaded guilty, and was sentenced
to five years in prison.

       Napier was a hardened criminal who had done time for two other murders in Kentucky before he killed Bays. I always suspected that he might have been hired to kill Bays by a lawless element with whom we had been feuding .
      After pu1ling two or three years of his five-year sentence, Napier was paroled. A short time later, he got into a scrape in Neon, Ky., and somebody blew his head off with a shotgun.

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