Legislating morality

By Dwight Williamson - Guest Columnist

Dwight Williamson

The original mountaineers of this part of what became West Virginia brought with them many skills; one of which was the art of making their own corn liquor known as moonshine. Even after the coal industry started booming in the county, there were many residents who made a decent living making the spirits that were desired all across this nation.

There are hundreds of local documented newspaper stories that surround the Prohibition Era—which lasted from 1920 until 1933—and, like some aspects of our legislative society of today, it amounted to what was a failed attempt to legislate morality that actually created more and new crime. The following is the story of a man that in 1930 was described by The Logan Banner as “the king of the moonshiners.”

The thrilling criminal career of Frank Hall seems to have started when he was residing high in the hills at Dempsey Branch of Mud Fork where he was captured by State Police and county deputies for operating a still and selling moonshine in March of 1927. After being arrested, Hall was released on bond, but the police suspected the outlaw would go back to his old tricks.

Some weeks later, he again was caught operating a still and when the police approached him this time, Hall was ready for them as from his front porch he fired a volley of shots into the officers, striking one state policeman before Hall escaped across the mountain into the then wooded area that is now the location of Fountain Place Mall of Logan. He was captured 14 months later in Ironton, Ohio.

At his trial, Hall was sentenced to five years in the state penitentiary at Moundsville and later was enroute by train with 25 other prisoners, all of whom were handcuffed. When the train reached a point just opposite of Marietta, Ohio, Hall secured a key from his pocket and unlocked the handcuffs of fellow prisoner, Frank Vernatter, but failed to get his own handcuffs unlocked. The pair then leaped from the window of the fast moving train.

It was reported that during the jump the chain of Hall’s handcuffs was broken from that of Vernatter, and—bruised and battered—the two fled to safety, swimming the Ohio River to Marietta, where they arrived hungry and penniless. After reaching Chillicothe, the two men separated. After returning to his Mud Fork home, Vernatter, accompanied by his brother (Rueben), went to Moundsville and surrendered.

It was another 14 months before Hall was apprehended again; this time by authorities in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he was living under an assumed name. After waiving extradition, two Logan deputies brought the closely guarded criminal back to Moundsville to finish out his sentence. However, Frank Hall was not your normal prisoner, as he quickly became a fugitive from justice again three months later by escaping from the heavily guarded prison. Hall scaled the walls of the institution, and according to the newspaper account, “this was a particularly daring deed” because the prison guards were firing at him the entire time.

Police declared Hall as “a very dangerous character” and the newspaper story said police were patrolling all of the Logan County roads because they expected Hall to try and return to his Mud Fork home place.

The Great Depression was in full swing in 1930 and the making of moonshine was about the only way of making an income for many Logan Countians, who risked prison every day by operating stills and selling their products. Very few coal miners were working, and mostly just one or two days per week, while others were being evicted from their coal camps homes. Conditions were so bad that fathers and even mothers often abandoned their children and left the area.

The Logan County Welfare Department was the only relief agency at the time, and abandoned children and others were housed at the Stollings location. The department had been created by the County Court in 1925 because of the lack of any state or federal programs and was referred to as the “detention home.” Unfortunately, by 1931 the court would be forced to discontinue the program because the county was going broke.

When Frank Hall was arrested in Indianapolis, his wife and three children became destitute and were placed at the Stollings detention home. Mrs. Hall, according to one newspaper account, would never reveal her maiden name or where she was reared. An employee at the detention home described her as “cunning” but lacking education.

Just three days after Frank escaped prison, Mrs. Hall would be ready and waiting when her husband paid a dashing visit to Stollings and added another thrilling episode to his eventful criminal career by taking away his wife and three children. Accompanied by an unidentified accomplice, Hall left the detention center with his family in what was described by an employee at the institution as a Nash automobile.

The employee noted that even though Mrs. Hall could not read, she had regularly received letters from her formerly imprisoned husband, which were read to her, and the letters were said to reveal the horrors of prison life. Authorities were told that Mrs. Hall had been confident that her husband would escape prison and retrieve the family; meanwhile, the police declared the outlaw to be “eternally devoted to his family.”

So what happened to the notorious Mud Fork law-breaker who repeatedly defied the odds? It was thought at the time that he likely was headed to Texas with his family, but nobody really knew for sure.

As for myself, I will tell you that the “Moonshine King” and his family moved to another secluded location, changed their names, and made a small fortune selling the illegal liquor.

Unfortunately, it would not be wise to reveal that family’s name at this time.


Sadness abounds in the hills of Logan County today as we must recognize the recent passing of three very fine individuals: Rev. Glenn White, Noah Perry Jr., and Dennis “Dink” Fillinger…..my personal connection to all three is that Rev. White was who baptized me many years ago at his Central Baptist Church location, although I was a member of another church…..Noah Jr. was a gentleman I’ve known since I was but a child when he worked as a Republican poll worker at Verdunville on most election days as I was growing up…..and, it was rare that he would not be present at the post office anytime I entered it at Verdunville, and he always made it clear that he enjoyed reading this newspaper…..in addition, he was an every weekend visitor at “Pickin’ in the Park” and he loved the old fashioned music and dancing…..Dink Fillinger and I go back to when he resided on Mud Fork….. we once, as teenagers, traveled to a Dayton, Ohio air force base to visit a friend, and Dink, who loved to sing, was the highlight of the base when he sang nearly all of country star George Jones’ tunes…..Dink died from a mining accident, while Glenn and Noah Jr. passed on as a result of longevity…..all three men can now be found in Heaven, where preaching, singing and dancing all go together…..the Boy Scouts of America program came into existence in America in 1910, and it wasn’t long afterwards that hundreds of Logan County boys became scouts in nearly every local community…..sadly, today, in the midst of a drug epidemic that has seen too many of our youth being devoured, I can tell you there are very few scouting programs in Logan County…..like Women’s Clubs and some other organizations that in the past helped make a positive impact locally, there are now few remaining…..trustworthiness, good citizenship and outdoor skills are just a few of the many good things scouts are taught…..the adult volunteers are the key to making scout programs successful…..as a former scout, I remember the tireless efforts of scout leader Grady Nelson, who took a bunch of renegade coal camp kids and gave us many valuable educational tools; Grady, by the way, was the father of Barbara Kirkendoll, who most know is the wife of former Sen. Arthur Kirkendoll…..I’m sure there have been many other men and women who have dedicated their time and efforts to scouting, and some folks will recall their names…..so it is with a good deal of pride that I mention perhaps the oldest active troop presently in Logan County…..Troop #58, which has been in existence since 1944 when it was chartered by Island Creek Coal Company, now has 22 boys chartered, along with a host of volunteer parents…..the scoutmaster is Randy Curry, assisted by scout leaders Larry Collins, Pat Bryant, Jared Justice and Billy Bryant; these men, who together, have well over 100 years’ experience in scouting, are to be commended…..there currently are four Boy Scout troops in Logan County that include locations at Verdunville, Omar, Peach Creek and Justice Addition…..there are also 10 to 12 Cub Scout packs in Logan County, but I am not sure about Girl Scout and Brownie troops; perhaps someone will inform me on that situation; meanwhile, I’ll just enjoy the cookies….here’s something special that people should appreciate: it turns out that Randy Curry will in July celebrate his 58th birthday, after being involved with Troop # 58 since he was an eight-year-old Cub Scout; meaning, of course, 50 years of service to the community in one way or another…..should he not be mentioned as a “Hometown Hero?”…..Randy, like so many other of my friends throughout the county, was a softball player back when softball leagues existed at Logan, Man and Chapmanville…..speaking of former softball players, it is sometimes difficult to fathom when I think about two of the best hitters ever in, not only Logan County, but all of West Virginia…..the ravages of diabetes have taken a toll on former softball greats Johnny “Seed” Adams and Jeff Swanner…..Adams, who lives in Chapmanville Towers and is nearly blind, and had one leg amputated, and Swanner, who had both legs amputated and resides at Omar, were two tremendous hitters back when amateur athletics were special to the local folks…..I find it interesting that the state of Michigan has agreed to settle a huge class action lawsuit with residents of Flint, Mich., by agreeing to replace at least 18,000 lead or galvanized-steel water lines that caused that city much grief…..just to let you know, in every coal camp house and many other homes, that is what still exists in our area, unless those types of pipe have been replaced with copper or plastic lines; can you say “cancer?”…..DID YOU KNOW that the guy who played bass guitar for rock star Jimi Hendrix longer than anyone else was a fellow from Wheeling, W.Va. named Billy Cox?…..QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”—Scout Law…..CLOSING NOTE: “The sky is falling. The sky is falling.” That seems to be the attitude of various people, including some legislators, in regard to the medical marijuana bill that was passed by the legislature. A statewide radio poll showed over 70 percent of the people in West Virginia approved of the idea, which reminds me of back in 1984 when only about 60 percent of state residents approved of the amendment to legalize the lottery. Now, think about it. As bad as our state’s budget is today, and with the condition of our roads getting worse every day, I have to ask, “What would it be like in our state without all of the millions of tax dollars created annually since the lottery sales started?” If marijuana was made recreationally legal tomorrow, I would not be interested in it. However, I must say that “Duck Dynasty” is no longer on television; therefore, maybe some people should start watching “Star Trek” reruns, which certainly preceded cell phones. It’s all about vision and our economic future, people. Beam me up, Scottie……

Dwight Williamson
http://loganbanner.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/web1_Dwight-Williamson-2.jpgDwight Williamson

By Dwight Williamson

Guest Columnist

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

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