11/1/1924 - The outlaw career of the man known as "The King of the Everglades" and "The Swamp Bandit," John Hopkins Ashley, a criminal giant that between 1915 and 1924 robbed at least forty banks of over $1,000,000, dominated bootlegging in Florida, and as a pirate attacked the Bahamas' West End, comes to an abrupt end north of Fort Pierce on a bridge over the Sebastian River.
Receiving a tip that Ashley and his gang are on their way to rob a Jacksonville bank, with the help of Indian River County Sheriff J.R. Merritt and two of his men, Palm Beach County Sheriff George B. Baker and four of his deputies (Henry Stubbs, Elmer Padgett, L.B. Thomas, and O. B. Padgett) set a trap to put away the outlaw he has been chasing for over thirteen years ... blocking the bridge road with a chain and hanging red lantern and searching each car that tries to pass. Sure enough, an hour after the stop is set up, at around 10:30 in the evening, the black touring car of Ashley drives into the bottleneck. According to the official records, surrounded by lawmen with weapons at the ready, Ashley, and gang members Ray Lynn, Hanford Mobley, and Clarence Middleton surrender and are lined up on the bridge while their car is searched ... and while the search is taking place, Ashley draws a concealed pistol and tries to escape, causing Baker and his men to turn the outlaw foursome into bloody Swiss cheese.
An alternate tale however is told by two eye-witnesses who were also stopped at the bridge when the Ashley Gang arrives, a story that autopsy records seem to verify (all the corpses show binding marks on their wrists). The gang is captured and HANDCUFFED, and when defenseless, Sheriff Baker takes out Ashley (and his confederates), the man that has threatened to kill him numerous times over the years for perceived wrongs that include the killing of the bandit's dog and father (indeed, Ashley is planning on shooting Baker later in the month when the lawman is scheduled to appear at the Jacksonville courthouse). Bad blood, even in death the feud between the two men continues when one of the deputies scoops Ashley's good eye out of its socket (the outlaw wears a black eye patch from a wound received in 1915 while escaping a bank robbery) and offers it to Baker, making good on the sheriff's threat to one day wear the outlaw's eye on his watch fob (the eye eventually is put back with the corpse). Years of mayhem put to an end, whatever really happened the killings are ruled justifiable homicides and the Ashley Gang is no more!
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