Several of my family members have been McDonald County, Missouri peace officers (a term I prefer as Judges and Courts actually enforce the law). Below, is a photo of my Grandfather Thomas Jefferson Carnell (standing,) his chief Deputy, Leander Porter Bunch, my maternal Grandfather seated on the left, and the other Deputy Tommy Sweet (no relation). Also, there is a photo of the old McDonald County Jail, constructed in 1904. It was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places. All of these factoids remind me of events related to the McDonald County Jails. Other McDonald County Sheriffs were my Uncle Tom “Sonny” Epperson and my brother-in-law, Earl Spears.
These are the Dog Days of August, so I wanted to write about some of the more colorful stories just to liven things up a bit. I seem to have had a knack for getting involved in some iffy situations.
Story 1: In the old days, security of prisoners was pretty casual. I was serving on the City Council and decided that we needed to revive an earlier project – a contest for the prettiest lawn. Since the city needed a little tidying up, I went to the Sheriff and requested a crew of Trustees to help me pick up trash and pull weeds. My wish was granted and several times I roamed the town accompanied only by three prisoners. The best worker was a man who had spent 10 years on Death Row for murder. It never occurred to me to be afraid and they treated me politely.
Story 2: I parked my car in front of the house, leaving the keys in it as usual (who worried about minor things in those days?) I started across the street to deliver a loaf of bread my Mom had requested and met three young men walking swiftly up the street. Unconcerned, I greeted them “Nice evening.” They replied in kind and went on their way. I stayed to visit with my parents for a few minutes when we were startled by the whap-whap of a helicopter flying low overhead. Daddy switched on the police scanner (everybody had one) and we heard there had been a jailbreak and a manhunt was on. When we realized I had crossed paths with escapees, we had to give my Dad a sedative. The fugitives were soon captured and returned to justice. All was well.
Story 3: At a picnic, the Sheriff supplied some of the labor needed for the event. I don’t recall why I went, but good food and watermelon were probably factors. As I wandered about, I chatted with a handsome young man, learned he was from a ritzy suburb of St. Louis. Curious, I asked the Sheriff who he was a what was he doing in McDonald County?
“Oh, he is one of my prisoners.”
“What did he do?”
“He is a safecracker, a yegg. He has been pretty successful, as he can afford to live in Ladue, but this time he slipped up and got caught.”
I decided that henceforth, I should begin any conversation with a stranger by the standard McDonald County greeting “Who are your people?”
Story 4: This story is not a personal one, but I thought it was funny.
A young man confined in the jail plotted his escape. Unknown to him, a Trustee warned the Sheriff. That night the slightly built lad removed his clothes, covered his body with cooking grease (the prisoners sometimes were allowed to cook), and worked his way through the window bars. As the buck-naked boy dropped to the ground, the low voice of the sheriff greeted him in the darkness - “Thinking of going somewhere, son?”
The old McDonald County jail in the City of Pineville, Missouri
If You click the link then click on the circled word VISIT, you can see a description of how the building was constructed and other interesting details.
After diligently pursuing the recognition for the historic significance of the old jail building for six plus years, the Pineville Historical Society received notice that their quest was successful. A plaque was set up in front of the structure with this wording:
McDonald County Old Jail
constructed in 1904
placed on the
of Historic Places
by the United States Department of the Interior
July 20, 2020
(Plaque donated by Cornerstone Bank.)
Here is a link to see the picture of the plaque and the local news story about getting recognized.
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