Chafin and Hatfields struggle for power

Dwight Williamson - Guest Columnist

Dwight Williamson Bits and Pieces

“Don Chafin is the former sheriff of Logan County. He is the man who has inaugurated and promoted the thug system in Logan County and now he comes here to this legislature and wants to get rid of the state police.”—Senator M.T. Miller, Boone County — 1931

From all indications, Joe and Tennis Hatfield — two sons of Devil Anse, who served as back-to-back sheriffs in Logan County from 1924 until 1932 — were facing battles on every legal and political front during that time period as the two men tried to maintain a firm grip on their control of Logan County. The Hatfield name had long been one of the most prominent and widely known names of, not just Logan, or West Virginia, but the entire world. The famous feud had brought so much attention to news media that stories were told in such newspapers as the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and many others nationwide, thanks mostly to the Associated Press.

Tennis Hatfield had won a disputed election in 1924 by riding into office on the curtails of a Republican landslide nationwide. His brother, Joe, followed in 1928 by being elected as sheriff. It is not known why Tennis did not seek re-election in 1928, but it is apparent that he and his brother worked together in many illegal activities, and that they virtually controlled many of the elected officials who served the public. Nevertheless, by 1931 the Hatfield dynasty was in trouble.

The murder of Logan Police Chief Roy C. Knotts by former Logan Deputy Enoch Scaggs in December of 1930 at the popular Smokehouse Pool Hall and Restaurant on Stratton Street had capped off a reign of terror that had actually started years earlier with the legendary Logan Sheriff Don Chafin. However, following a prison term served by Chafin which was brought about by Tennis Hatfield’s court testimony, the former deputies were now at odds with their former boss, after taking over the political powerhouse reigns while Chafin was in an Atlanta prison.

Chafin, the Democratic leader of the county, was trying to regain his party’s political strength, while the Hatfield’s and their Republican associates, which included just about every elected officeholder in the county and state, refused to relinquish power—a power which had allowed them to make a great deal of money through illegal gambling machines, illegal liquor and by even allegedly protecting “houses of ill-refute”.

Much had taken place during the last few years of the Hatfield’s reign. One year before the murder of Chief Knotts, Logan Deputy Sheriff A.C. Scaggs was declared a free man after facing murder charges of killing Brooks Carey at the Logan Fire Department. The murder actually occurred in November of 1928 just after Joe Hatfield was elected sheriff, as an earlier trial in 1929 had ended in a deadlocked jury. But, following public affidavits filed by jurors that they had been approached with bribes to prevent a conviction, Judge Naaman Jackson was forced to seek another trial six months after the first one.

There is some interesting history surrounding the murder of Carey. Deputy Scaggs, who was at the time of the murder the Chief of Police of Logan, had accompanied sheriff’s deputies Bilton Perry and Am White to the fire house in Logan with a warrant to address Carey for disorderly conduct. Supposedly, Carey resisted arrest and made a move as if to draw a pistol before Scaggs shot him in the chest. Fire Chief James Beckett and other members of the fire department gave an entirely different version, denying that Carey was armed or that he made any menacing move.

Just a few years prior, Carey, 30, with a wife and five children, had dealt with his father’s suicide on the day of his father’s trial for the murder of a local bus driver on Stratton Street. At the time, the elder Carey was the Logan Chief of Police. During a recess of the trial, accompanied by a sheriff’s deputy, Carey went home and shot himself in the head. Such was the pistol toting environment of Logan County during the days of Prohibition, although illegal liquor was readily available at almost every business establishment in town. It was a time when certain people could get away with murder.

When Scaggs’ trial was held in April of 1930, the Logan Banner newspaper account noted that assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Ira P. Hager, an ally of the Hatfield’s, who would later face impeachment charges for misconduct and drunkenness, was assisted in the first trial by Emmett Scaggs, a brother to the defendant. Scaggs would later be a prosecutor in the Mamie Thurman murder case. The defense attorney who represented Scaggs for the murder was an aspiring young attorney named C.C. Chambers, who later would be the defense attorney in the Thurman murder case. Chambers, however, had not objected to Hager proceeding as prosecutor; at least not in the first trial.

The Scaggs murder case was dismissed, according to the newspaper account, because “the prosecution failed to bring into court or even to get process served on the majority of its witnesses.” Only Fire Chief Beckett and Fred Ghiz appeared for the State. It appeared to be a “shaky” case when the special Prosecutor stated, “For nine months no progress has been made in rounding up these witnesses and the state cannot proceed without them and there is no hope of getting them, so I ask that the case be nulled.” It was a similar situation to when in 1917 Don Chafin was accused of cold blooded murder and key witnesses reportedly could not be found to testify against him.

Actions like this surely prompted special Prosecutor Attorney Howard B. Lee to seek an out-of-county jury for the murder trial of Enoch Scaggs, who interestingly enough also was being defended by C.C. Chambers. It should be noted that Chambers, a Democrat, would file against Judge Naaman Jackson and defeat him in the General Election of 1932 when the Franklin D. Roosevelt era began; a time when every county in the state of West Virginia went against incumbent President Herbert Hoover, blamed for the Great Depression.

Don Chafin and the Hatfield’s had one common goal in 1931—both wanted rid of state policemen in Logan County so they could have ultimate power to “run” the county without any interference. Chafin was planning a Democratic takeover in the upcoming election, while Tennis Hatfield would become a Republican candidate for sheriff to replace his brother, Joe. Still, both sides knew they had to get rid of or bribe state policemen to be successful in their illegal activities, particularly illegal liquor sales and gambling machines.

So, while Chafin was testifying before a special legislative committee as to why troopers were not needed in West Virginia, the Hatfield’s were busy defending themselves against allegations that they had arranged through the efforts of family member Sen. Henry Hatfield, a former Governor of West Virginia, to remove a superintendent of the department of public safety from Commander at Williamson’s Company “B” to Parkersburg’s Company “C.” Logan County was covered under Company “B.” House committee testimony was that during a Hatfield family reunion and later at a party at the home of Tennis Hatfield, which was the former home place of Devil Anse, plans were overheard in which the Hatfield’s plotted the actions to move Superintendent Harry Brockus from Williamson and to replace him with someone they could control. Brockus said a Logan newspaper had printed several articles denouncing the state police and reported troopers to be “hostile” to Logan County in an effort to turn public and political sentiment against the state police.

Attorney General Howard B. Lee was chiefly responsible for the influx of state police to the county after being in Logan in preparation for the Enoch Scaggs murder trial. When it was announced that more state police detachments were being placed at Barnabus, Man and Stirrat, with more to come elsewhere in the county, Sheriff Joe Hatfield wrote an open letter published in The Banner titled “To the Citizens of Logan County” in which he announced that he neither requested nor desired outside assistance in “preserving peace and good order.”

“I vehemently protest Captain Brockus trying to usurp authority and power designated to me,” the Sheriff said, “by throwing into the county a bunch of hostile police.” Hatfield further stated that he had sufficient deputy sheriffs to “give the entire citizenship the protection they expect and should have from the sheriff’s office.” He added that he joined with others in protesting against “filling this county with state police who are not needed or wanted and I will use whatever is at my command to cause their removal.”

During the 1980’s one local old timer who had been around during the 1920’s and 30’s commented that the mafia never infiltrated Logan County because “they were too afraid to. They wouldn’t have made it here,” he said. “They would have been met at the train station and thrown into the incinerator.”

The Hatfield’s and Don Chafin were fighting the same battle against the state police in 1931, while Logan City Council, half of which was with the Hatfield side, was trying to replace the guy who had ordered the city to be “cleaned up.” It was that order which was attributed to the assassination of the Logan Police Chief Roy Knotts. Meanwhile, there were three important factors that would lead to the downfall of both the Hatfield’s and Don Chafin’s political power—a determined State Attorney General, Tennis’s ex-wife, Sadie, and the 1932 presidential election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Following FDR’s victory, he would in 1933 put an end to the unsuccessful Prohibition period that led to many gangland murders across the nation, including Logan County.

In June of 1933, Logan County voted overwhelmingly to repeal the prohibition amendment and give the control of liquor sales to the state of West Virginia. Only one precinct, Lake, voted against allowing the county to become “wet.”

Unfortunately for the Hatfield’s and Don Chafin, by the time the 21st Amendment became law, neither family would have the political strength it once had. And particularly for Tennis Hatfield—the “walls of Jericho” would soon be tumbling down.

(Another segment of this continuing story will appear in a future edition of The Logan Banner as we continue to provide the setting for a rough and rowdy Logan County—all of which is part of our local history.)


One thing the West Virginia legislature did accomplish last year was to eliminate straight ticket voting…..if one wants to vote straight democratic or republican you now have to select every candidate individually…..the Associated Press reported that in the 2014 general election 462,900 West Virginia voters voted a straight ticket…..what surprised me was that 53 percent of straight-ticket ballots were cast by Republicans…..growing up, I always heard that bad weather on election day meant bad news for Democrats…..”Republicans will swim the river to vote, but Democrats will stay home when it is bad,” a hard-headed neighbor once said…..honestly, in a very close election, the weather does make a significant difference…..say what you want, former Marshall University pitcher Dan Strailey has been the best pitcher on a sorry Reds team that has now given up more home runs than any team in baseball history…..the advent of ginseng season has been a blessing to many Logan Countians who have been laid off from work…..I understand it is now selling for $325 a pound, but most knowledgeable “sengers” will hold keep it until the prices rise, which it will….. DID YOU KNOWthat in 2015 there were $5.4 billion in legal marijuana sales in the United States… the November election, nine more states will be voting to decide whether to legalize it in one fashion or another….. QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”—another gem from former Yankees great Yogi Berra….. FINAL NOTE: Prayers have been requested for Logan Magistrate Steve Gray, who as of this writing on Friday, was in grave condition in a Morgantown hospital. Steve is suffering from a brain aneurism and we all are hoping for a complete recovery for a good guy who carried the load while Codispoti and I were off work with our own ailments a few months back.

Dwight Williamson Bits and Pieces Williamson Bits and Pieces

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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