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Weekly 150: Bank of McKenzie Robbed!

A Sheriff Must Not Have Fear

Posted 9/12/19

Growing up I heard a tale of two gun-toting outlaws from out west robbing the little bank on the square. Which in my mind gave way to the romanticized idea of a John Dillinger or Bonnie and Clyde …

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Weekly 150: Bank of McKenzie Robbed!

A Sheriff Must Not Have Fear

Posted

Growing up I heard a tale of two gun-toting outlaws from out west robbing the little bank on the square. Which in my mind gave way to the romanticized idea of a John Dillinger or Bonnie and Clyde sweeping into town with tommy guns blazing followed by a high speed chase; woe the imagination of a child. Needless to say, this week I set out to find what I could of the real story. Even though it wasn’t Bonnie and Clyde that knocked over the bank, it was still a pretty darn interesting story.

On November 28, 1923 at approximately 12:30 p.m. two men entered into the Bank of McKenzie. One of the men pointed a pistol at the 23 year-old bookkeeper, Anna Ray Sedberry, and ordered her into the bank vault. Sedberry was struck in the head with the butt of the pistol when she lunged for the telephone.

Sedberry, the only employee in the bank at the time, and two bank customers, Reverend F.E. Durham and Van Dillinger, were forced into the vault while the two armed men cleaned out the cash drawers. The captives were released within five minutes of the heist’s conclusion.

Shortly after the robbers’ exit, the alarm was sounded and a search for the bandits was underway. Carroll County Sheriff Sam Carroll Kennon took control of a large posse that formed to search Henry, Carroll and Weakley counties.

Kennon was just 30 years-old at the time of the robbery but had a reputation for catching criminals. In 1917, he served as superintendent of the County Farm until being elected sheriff in 1922 to 1928. (A county farm or poorhouse was a local government-run residences where mainly elderly and disabled people were supported at public expense. Some county farms were part of an economic complex as a prison farm and other penal institution.)

The first night resulted in no clues. The first clue came from James Pope. He reported two men on his farm near Paris, Tenn. Pope said the pair would not speak to him or make eye contact.

A second man, Frank Porter said he followed behind two unfamiliar men in a car on a country road near Paris but lost sight of them. Kennon and his posse rushed to the area, about three miles south of Paris, to find a large abandoned car. The car had plunged six feet into a ravine after falling through an old dilapidated bridge.

A member of the posse, Fred Hill, a Jackson, Tenn. taxi-driver, arrived on the scene and identified the car as the one he had used while driving two men from Jackson to within two miles of McKenzie before he was put out of the car. Hill had been bound and gagged. He was released several hours later after being found.

Sheriff Kennon sent groups in all directions looking for the two criminals. After no avail, the sheriff refused to give up and had all trains passing through McKenzie searched. The searches paid off.

In a newspaper article from the Tennessee Republican, Sheriff Kennon recalls his tale of the capture:

“A group searched a freight train that stopped in McKenzie and found a man huddled in a coal car. They covered him with a gun before he could reach for his. Taking him to the city hall in McKenzie, we found him bulging with money. He had $9,000 in bills in his waistband and a small set of burglar tools on his back. It was the tools that made officers think that he was a professional bandit.

When questioned, he confessed that he robbed the McKenzie bank but stoutly refused to name anyone with him. He refused the offer to take us to where the remainder of the money and bonds he had taken from the bank were hid until I told him that feelings were running high in McKenzie and if anything happened to Miss Sedberry, I would turn him over to them.

Frightened, he said he would go with me and some others to show us where the rest of the money was. We went to a place near Routon, Tenn. and we found a black bag by a cedar tree lightly covered with leaves. The posse had searched the area before but the robber had hovered down out of sight. Later he said that if they had taken one more step they would have seen him. He gave his name as Buck Lacy but would not talk about himself.

We rushed him to Huntingdon, bypassing McKenzie because of the upsurge of feeling there. After a magistrate’s hearing, Lacy was put under a $25,000 bond, then we took him to the city jail in Nashville for safe-keeping and interrogation.”

The sheriff went to work searching for the second man. A break came when Lacy telegraphed a boarding house in Memphis. He requested clothes he left following his stay. Memphis officers raided the boarding house and gather information. Through the raid, Sheriff Kennon and his chief deputy, Lloyd Smith, received information that a man named Lee Allen was the second bandit. The only issue, Allen was hiding out in the Badlands of Oklahoma.

Allen was apprehend by Sheriff Kennon and Smith, but they faced the arduous task of returning Allen to Carroll County. Rumors swirled that members of Allen’s group were going to stop the train in order to free the wanted man.

The lawmen worried Allen would try to escape but Kennon lived through his creed “a sheriff must not have fear.” Throughout the trip, the sheriff or his loyal deputy held a chain that was fastened to Allen’s handcuffs.

As the train neared McKenzie, the conductor sent his flagman ahead to clear the track. McKenzians has learned the sheriff had captured the fugitive and were eager for their arrival, so eager in fact that downtown was full of people wanting to get a look at the man.

They got their chance as Sheriff Kennon and Deputy Smith changed trains with Allen at the depot so they could make their way to the jail in Huntingdon.

Allen and Lacy were reunited in Nashville and would receive prison sentences of five to ten years for bank robbery. Their time would be served in the state penitentiary.

For his work on the case, Sheriff Kennon was given a black Stetson hat by the president of the Bank of McKenzie. He had promised Kennon that if he kept the prisoner and delivered him to the penitentiary, to select any hat in the store he wanted, regardless of price.

Near the end of his life, Kennon donated his prized Stetson to the Carroll County Historical Society.

Jason R. Martin

B.S. • M.A.Ed • MLS

Councilman, Ward II

Rotary Dist. 6760, Asst. Governor

WestStar Class of 2019

E: jmartin@mckenziebanner.com

P: 731-352-3323

Jason Martin is a life-long resident of McKenzie. He graduated from McKenzie High School in 2000; earned a Bachelor of Science in History from Bethel College in 2004; a Masters in Education from Bethel University in 2009 and a Masters in History and Humanities from Fort Hays State University in 2011.

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