By Max McCoy
Globe Investigative Writer
He was Joplin's most infamous son.
In an era of bad men, he was the baddest of them all - a bank robber and mad-dog killer who had Hollywood good looks, a devoted mother and five wives. By the time his criminal career reached its zenith in 1933, when he was named FBI Public Enemy Number One, he harbored a special hatred for cops and carried a fully automatic Luger with a drum magazine. When he was finally shot to death early in 1934, after being betrayed by someone he trusted, his funeral drew thousands.
Few remember Wilbur Underhill today, but that may change with R.D. Morgan's recently released biography of the man called "The Tri-State Terror."
Morgan, a 51-year-old retired military policeman who lives in Haskell, Okla., has devoted himself full time to researching and writing about the region's Depression-era gangsters. He describes Underhill as "a walking billboard for the death penalty" and said he tackled the project because the Joplin native was the last of the famous public enemies who didn't have a biography.
It took 4 1/2 years and trips to five states to research and write the 384-page book, Morgan said, which was published by Open Forums Press, of Stillwater. The publisher had already brought out three previous Morgan books, including "The Bad Boys of the Cookson Hills," about the 18-month manhunt to track down the Ford Bradshaw Gang across the rugged terrain of eastern Oklahoma.
"Those outlaws had some association with Underhill," Morgan said, "and through my Web site I received some correspondence with Wilbur's great-nephew, and he possessed a treasure trove of information, including photographs, 28 letters from various prisons, and a couple of hundred newspaper clippings and legal documents."
The relative, Richard Baine, shared the information with Morgan. Baine died last year, shortly after the release of Morgan's book.
By Max McCoy
- Local News
Jasper County Commission reviews traffic plans
The Jasper County Commission will hold public hearings today and Thursday on a number of traffic changes proposed in the county. No one spoke when the first hearing was held Tuesday as part of the regular commission meeting, according to Jim Honey, Eastern District associate commissioner.
Neosho school board hires company to manage substitutes
Citing its hopes of shifting health care costs and utilizing more time from retired teachers, the Neosho Board of Education granted a contract Monday to a temporary employee company to manage its substitute teacher program.
Mike Pound: Parents can get help with school supplies
I don’t know much about demographics other than the fact that I no longer belong to a “targeted demographic.” When I was younger, I was bombarded by commercials and ads from companies that were trying to sell me things that I not only needed but wanted.
Cherokee County Commission accepts general counsel's resignation
Kevin Cure, who has served as general counsel for the Cherokee County Commission since 2005, submitted a handwritten resignation to the board on Monday in the aftermath of a landfill controversy.
Main Street TIF district study to begin
A measure that allows the city to charge its $15,000 in administrative costs for studying a proposal to create a tax increment financing district on South Main Street was approved Monday by the Joplin City Council.
Carthage man pleads guilty in sexual abuse case
A Carthage man pleaded guilty Monday to sexual abuse of a 12-year-old girl in a plea agreement that would cap the length of his prison term at no more than 15 years.
Burglary conviction draws shock prison time
A Joplin man who received 120 days of shock incarceration time Friday in a drunken-driving case in Jasper County Circuit Court was assessed a concurrent sentence Monday in a burglary case.
State audit of Joplin School District begins
Staff members from the state auditor’s office have begun their audit of the Joplin School District, Superintendent C.J. Huff said Monday. They are expected to be in the district four days per week for the next five to six months, or perhaps longer, until the audit is complete, Huff said.
Mike Pound: Family gatherings mirror circle of life
The annual family gathering is getting bigger. There tends to be an ebb and a flow to most family gatherings. When you’re a kid, and especially if you’re a kid from a large Catholic family, the gatherings seem to be huge.
Area communities, Jasper County work to improve communications
The first law enforcement officer to respond to a fatal shooting last November at Northpark Mall was from the Duquesne Police Department — not Joplin. Joplin police Chief Jason Burns said he wasn’t bothered by that. “We dispatch for them, and they had an officer close who could get there faster,” he said. “And getting help to people as quickly as possible is more important than jurisdictions.”
- More Local News Headlines
- Jasper County Commission reviews traffic plans