Ozarks Life Vault: Young Brothers Massacre of 1932

Until 9/11, this murder was the largest loss of law enforcement from one event in U.S. history.
Until 9/11, this murder was the largest loss of law enforcement from one event in U.S. history.
Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 7:04 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 7, 2022 at 1:13 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Ninety years ago this week, six Greene County law enforcement officers lost their lives. It was an event the nation hadn’t seen before and it wouldn’t see again for another seven decades.

Standing outside the Greene County Courthouse, hundreds of people walk past and ignore a marker every day. But if you stop to read what’s on the black stone you’ll learn about a dark day in Springfield history.

It has the names of officers who’ve died in the line of duty. Six are prominently displayed; their lives were taken in 1932.

“From that time forward until 9/11 it was the largest loss of life in one event by law enforcement in the United States,” John Sellars, the Executive Director of The History Museum on the Square said.

The names also on that marker are Harry and Jennings Young.

“They would steal cars here and take them to Texas and sell them,” Sellars said. “And then they would steal cars (in Texas) and bring them back. So they had kind of a circuit.”

The FBI said it was one of the largest auto theft rings at the time.

On June 2, 1929, Republic Town Marshal Mark Noe tried pulling Harry Young over for drunk driving. But Harry wasn’t going peacefully.

“(Harry) ended up killing him and just leaving him in the ditch alongside the road,” Sellars said.

The Young Brothers made their way to Texas to avoid local police. And everything was quiet for about two-and-a-half years.

“They started getting word that these stolen cars were starting to show up again in Missouri,” Sellars said. “It turned out that the brothers had enlisted the aid of two of their sisters to sell them.”

Vinita and Larena were captured with one of those stolen cars on January 3, 1932. To help themselves, they told the Greene County Sheriff their brothers were back in town and staying at the family farm in Brookline.

“Sheriff Marcell Hendrix gathered up a group of his officers and also city officers because they were all involved and took two cars and went out to the house,” Sellars said.

“So the sheriff and his chief deputy decided they would go around to the front door and break the door down and enter the house. Well, they broke the door down, and in doing that they immediately took gunfire from inside the house. Both rifle and shotgun fire and killed them both right there on the doorstep,” Sellars said.

“These two boys were crack shots,” Sellars added. “They had actually been barred from turkey shoots, which were prevalent in that time because they had an unfair advantage. So over the course of time, with these police officers and deputies hidden behind the trees around this house, one by one got picked off.”

Six of the ten officers that went to arrest the Young’s were murdered on that property. Marcell Hendrix and Wiley Mashburn on the porch. Charlie Houser, Sid Meadows, Ollie Crosswhite, and Tony Oliver in the firefight.

The other four were able to escape. Frank Pike and Owen Brown continued to shoot at the home until they ran out of bullets and left the property through the nearby woods. Virgil Johnson and Ben Bilyeu drove to get help once shots were fired.

When they got back with the reinforcements, they found a horrible scene.

“Bodies were strewn all over the place,” Sellars said. “And they could see that they’d been hit in the head and face most of them. (The officers) stayed back from the house; they thought they had (the brothers surrounded). But in the interim, between the time that the two officers escaped by running into the woods, (the Young brothers) had apparently gotten away because the house when was empty.”

Two days later, the owner of a home in Houston, Texas, told police his renters were Harry and Jennings Young.

Once again, the law surrounded a house but this time there was a different ending.

“They got holed up in the bathroom,” Sellars said. “And the evidence is that they shot each other in a suicide pact to avoid capture. And that’s the end of the story.

Marcell Hendrix’s wife, Maude took over as Greene County Sheriff for a year after his death. Later, his son Glenn followed in his family’s footsteps.

Incidents involving multiple police officer casualties:

1932 Young Brothers Massacre - six officers

*1950 Utuado uprising (Puerto Rico) - two National Guardsmen and one police officer

1970 Newhall incident - four officers

1971 shooting of Dallas police officers - five officers

1972–1973 Mark Essex shootings - five officers

*1993 Waco siege - four government agents

*1995 Oklahoma City bombing - 108 with various government agencies

2001 9/11 - 72 officers

* - includes federal authorities, not local police officers

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