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Weekly 150: McNairy County

From Pusser to Blanton (Part III)

By Jason Martin
Posted 12/20/22

After the death of Louise Hathcock, the legend of Buford Pusser began to snowball with each story or tale, some true, some stretched and others just outright untrue. Each week a new story would be published in the local papers. As the legend grew, so did the battles between Buford and the State Liners. Both sides believed violence was the answer to the problem at hand.

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Weekly 150: McNairy County

From Pusser to Blanton (Part III)

After the death of Louise Hathcock, the legend of Buford Pusser began to snowball with each story or tale, some true, some stretched and others just outright untrue. Each week a new story would be published in the local papers. As the legend grew, so did the battles between Buford and the State Liners. Both sides believed violence was the answer to the problem at hand.
On January 2, 1967, Buford was shot for the first time. According to his testimony, he was shot multiple times with a low-caliber weapon, a .25-caliber pistol. Two shots supposedly went through his cheek in the same place while he presented other wounds on an arm and abdomen. The shooting occurred as part of a traffic stop.
The legend/rumor was Towhead White shot at the sheriff. White, at the time, had escaped from jail and would have had the motive to kill Buford since Buford had killed his girlfriend/lover and rumored wife, Louise Hathcock. Most dismissed the possibility of the shooter being White, as using such a small gun did not fit his MO (mode of operation).
Little came of the incident other than good news stories for the locals to get excited about. No one was ever charged with the shooting because Buford could not identify his attacker and there were no other witnesses.
What truly turns the legend of Buford Pusser from a local attraction to that of national attention comes on August 12, 1967, with the murder of Pauline Pusser, Buford’s wife. There is a lot of variation to what did or could have happened on that night. Fingers point in two directions, one set at the State Liners/Dixie Mafia who would be a natural choice and the other set points at Buford which is also logical after hearing certain parts of various stories.
It was common knowledge that by 1967 the married life of Pauline and Buford was not all sunshine and rainbows. It was rumored Buford was having a series of affairs and had a mistress. Pauline had scheduled a family vacation with Buford and the kids to visit her family in Virginia. While last-minute arrangements and work around the house was being completed, Buford left the house on “police business.” It’s believed he went to visit his mistress.
Upon returning home, Pauline and Buford began to argue. Buford pushed past her with a Jack Daniels bottle. Pauline joined him in bed until they were awakened around 4:15 a.m. on August 12, by a phone call. The caller said there was a “deadly fight in progress on New Hope Road.” There are reports the fight specifically was at Hollis Jourdan’s Place/Tavern.
Buford got dressed as Pauline did the same. She stated she was joining him. Diane, the eldest child of the three children, was woken and told to watch the other two until the Buford and Pauline returned. Armed with his shotgun and 41 magnum pistol they left their house in Buford’s 1967 Plymouth Fury. As they were going down the road toward Stantonville to New Hope Road, the sheriff radioed the office of his plans to break up the fight.
Carl Pusser, who was on call, radioed back, “What the hell, I told them not to bother you!” Buford’s reply, “Daddy, I have a job to do and I am going to do it, 10-4.” 
The story goes that a car raced up on the Pussers before the driver turned on his headlights. The assassin car worked to align itself with the Fury at New Hope Methodist Church. As the shooter’s back seat aligned with the Pussers’ front seat, the assailant opened first with a Browning 1918 BAR.  
The Fury is filled with a volley of twenty rounds in 2.5 seconds. According to Buford, he pulls the car over two miles up the road when he discovers Pauline has been killed. The speeding car catches up with Pusser’s and opened up with a second round of gunfire. This time the sheriff was hit in the jaw with two rounds. 
Buford managed to get out of the car bleeding profusely. His blood can be found on the hood along with a handprint on the right side of the car. His jawbone hung by a small piece of flesh. Buford began driving and making his way onto Highway 45 stopping at a store owned by Allen McCoy. At this time, he radios that he has been shot and no one could quite make out his speech. Selmer Police Chief Hugh Kirkpatrick was the first on the scene. 
Upon his arrival, Kirkpatrick radioed for an ambulance. He saw Buford was still alive but his bleeding was severe. As he assessed the situation further, he saw inside the passenger side that Pauline was missing half of her skull.
Buford was rushed by ambulance to Memphis to Baptist Memorial Hospital. Deputy Jim Moffett was left in charge of the investigation. The TBI would take over the homicide case of Pauline Pusser. Warren Jones of the TBI met with law enforcement in the Jackson office in September 1968.
Jones reported, “The brass was fired from a 1918A Browning Bar rifle according to the Firearm Identification lab. A total of 27 casings were recovered or turned in by sight-seers. A strap with blood on it was at the edge of the road believed to be Pusser’s. Most likely fell out of the car when he got his shotgun.”
Jones showed photos of the scene, “This bridge had several shell casings recovered from the creek, cracks in the bridge and in the ditch. Twenty feet or so south of the bridge where the officers are standing in the picture is where we found a quarter pound of brain matter, six inches of skull and scalp.”
He added, “Buford did get out of his car, I know he thinks he didn’t, but he sure as hell did.” Jones states that’s how his blood was on the driver’s side door, on the road, rear passenger side corner panel, and roof and hood along with a bloody hand-print on the passenger side windshield.
The rumor mill ran rampant following Pauline’s murder. According to Warren Jones, all fingers pointed to the State Liners with its focus on the Shamrock Motel. Buford admittedly believed Pauline’s death was orchestrated by Kirksey Nix, Jr. Along with Nix, Buford believed three others worked in conjunction in the failed assassination attempt. Towhead White, George McGann and Gary McDaniel. Fate was not kind to the three alleged co-conspirators. In 1969, White was killed in Mississippi. In 1970, McDaniel and McCann were killed in Texas. As for Nix, he would spend the rest of his life in prison for a combination of murders. One was for a New Orleans grocer, Frank Corso, and the second was the murder of Judge Vincent Shelley and his wife in Biloxi, Mississippi. Nix refused to respond to the allegation of his possible murder of Pauline Pusser.
Some believe Pusser was responsible for the deaths of these three men.
There are a few that say it was Howard Bunch and W.O. Hathcock. Others say it was a murder gone awry where Buford had Pauline killed and he was accidentally or purposefully wounded. No one was formally charged with Pauline’s murder and the case is still considered open.
Following Pauline’s death, the legend has it that Buford was hell-bent on bringing down the State Line Mob. In 1968, Buford was up for his third and final term as Sheriff of McNairy County. He campaigned with the following address:
To All the People of McNairy County,
I am again asking for your support and vote in my candidacy for another term as your Sheriff. If re-elected, I can only promise to continue to do the best job possible and to make you the best Sheriff that it is in my power to do, and I feel that I can now do an even better job than ever before because there is no substitute for experience.
But regardless of how you will vote, I want to thank all of you for the wonderful way you came to the assistance of my family and me during our hour of greatest grief when we so tragically lost our wife and mother. The goodwill, the kindness, the understanding all of you gave to us then is something that will leave us forever in your debt, and which makes me even more determined to be the kind of Sheriff you deserve, and that is the very best. So, thanking you for past favors and asking you for your continued support.
I am gratefully yours,
Buford Pusser


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