The Matthew Kimes Gang and the 1927 Murder of Police Chief McAnnally in Beggs, Oklahoma

January 10, 2021

May 18th 1927, Beggs Oklahoma. A small town nestled near Okmulgee and Tulsa Oklahoma.  They were on the paved highway that led through Tulsa.  This doesn’t sound like a big deal now, but back then, there were not many paved highways in that area.  This meant that more people could come through town with ease and at a better traveling speed.  This meant that all kinds of people would be able to visit the little town, even the ones that intended on doing harm.  

Beggs had three banks in town, a Farmers National Bank, The First National Bank and The American Bank.  

 The staff in the Farmers National Bank were expecting a regular day.  Just like the other banks in town, the Farmers National Bank helped with keeping money and providing services like loans.  They helped out local farmers buy what they needed on credit, be it seeds, tractors, land or livestock.  Many people in Beggs Oklahoma were either farmers or closely related to farmers so they all had a real kinship to one another.  

Mrs. Campbell was headed into town with her children.  She was going to go shopping and get a few items they needed at their house.  She parked across the street of the Farmers National bank and she stepped out of her vehicle and put her baby in her arms and then she saw the most curious thing.  There was a person standing at the door to the bank, eyeing everything going on just down the street.  She then saw, as plain as day through the windows, men with guns drawn, talking to the tellers.  

Bank robberies were not unheard of in Beggs.  They were isolated and that made them vulnerable.  Bandits at the time liked these small town banks because getting in and out was typically easy and if done right, can be a pretty good score.  

Mrs. Campbell told her children to wait in the car and with her baby in hand, she walked without haste as to not to raise suspicion, and walked over to the pool hall to let someone know what was going on.  She walked inside and inside she found Marshal McAnnally having a conversation with the owner.  

It was by luck that she was to run into the Marshal there, he was about to leave for the day.  It was his and his wife’s thirty-seventh year anniversary.  

When she spotted the Marshal she yelled “Someone is robbing the bank!”

Quickly, the Marshal and the Owner of the pool hall jumped into action.  The Marshal stepped outside and faced the bank just as the bandits were loading up into their vehicle.  The Marshal wasn’t going to give them a chance to get away.  He took aim and opened fire on them, they responded with a hail of gunfire back.  

Scared for her children, Mrs. Campbell dashed from the pool hall and ran back towards her vehicle.  The Bandits targeted her and she was shot in the neck.  With her baby in her arms, she fell to the ground.  

The Owner of the Pool hall had only went out to witness what was going on, he was fired at as well.  Quickly, he retreated back into his place of business as he did not have a weapon himself.  

As the vehicle sped away, he stepped out from cover to continue to fire at the fleeing vehicle.  As he stepped out into the street he didn’t notice that, from behind another car was speeding towards him.  A man leaned out of the side of the car and aimed a sawed off shotgun at the officer and fired.  Marshal McAnnally died instantly.   

Three cars in all sped away from the little town.  As they did so, they fired wildly into the sides of buildings, breaking windows and causing chaos in their wake.  The townspeople were not going to take this lightly. Quickly responding to the shots, they formed a posse, gathered weapons and found a car to pursue them.  They drove off into the direction that the bandits went but the only thing that they found was one of their cars, empty.  It seemed that they had suffered a flat tire.  Either from driving too fast down the bumpy road or one of McAnnally’s shots had done the job.  There was also blood in the back of the vehicle.  It seemed that they didn’t all get out unscathed.  

The News quickly spread that two of the three banks had been robbed at precisely the same time.  Both the Farmers National Bank and the First National Bank.  There was a third bank, the American National Bank that was not robbed.  It was further down the road but, one of the three vehicles that sped away, came from that area as if it too were supposed to be robbed.  

Mrs Campbell was rushed to the hospital.  She was not expected to live but she was made of stronger stuff and survived the attack. 

There was a large multi face clock on a corner and it was theorized that this was how they synchronized the robberies.  On one side the two sets of bandits were able to stay synchronized.  The other side of the clock ran a few minutes behind.  So it was believed that the bandits that were supposed to hit the American National Bank at the same time as the others, but were not synchronized with the others.  

A few of the witnesses recognized a man who had been in the Oklahoma and National News almost daily for the past year, Matthew Kimes.  Matt was a well known fugitive.  Robbing banks, killing whoever got into his way and when he was caught, his men had broken him out of jail.  He was one of the hardest outlaws to catch, always seeming to be one step ahead of the marshals.  By this time it was almost a joke.  If someone lost their keys they would say “I bet the Kimes gang had something to do with this.”  or “Was Matt Kimes in town?” 

Part of his success was that it seemed like he was always traveling, never staying in one place for too long.  There were reported sightings of him all over the place so it seemed like he was everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.  

Some of the stories seemed too fantastic to have actually always been Kimes behind the act, but there was a reason that the bankers in Beggs would know who Kimes was.  A year before this robbery, Matt Kimes robbed the same Farmers National Bank.

The Manhunt was on but the police had little to go on.  Kimes and his gang were masters at hiding and they had little to no leads on where they were heading.  

Days would go by without a break in the case.  The Oklahoma Bankers Association decided to protect their employees at any cost.  They placed a bounty on the gang’s head.  This notice was sent to every bank in the state and began with a five hundred dollar bounty.  Each bank donated to that bounty and within a couple of days it had swelled to a fifty thousand dollar bounty on the capture of the gang, dead or alive.   Some bankers in the state crossed out the word alive believing that if caught alive, he would just escape again. 

On May 31st 1927, Officers were able to arrest 6 men connected with the Kimes Gang.  Three of which were believe to have been present at the robberies and subsequent murder in Beggs.   Two of the men Blackie Wilson and Owen Edwards were arrested after an impressive shootout with officers in Borger Texas.  The three known members of the gand that was present in the Beggs robbery were charged with Murder, the other were charged as accomplices.  

On June 15th, In Drumright Oklahoma. Mr. and Mrs. Orville Noble had just stopped by a friends house for a quick visit.  No sooner than they had walked inside the door, they heard a car engine come to life.  When the Noble’s looked back, they saw their car driving away.  Mrs. Noble was frantic.  Their 2 year old son was asleep in the back seat.  

The unknowing kidnapper soon realized that the sleeping child was in the back seat.  He pulled the car over into a vacant lot and pulled the still sleeping child out of the car.  He was wrapped in a coat and gently placed him on the ground where he would be found.  Soon after, a few boys that were playing in the neighborhood found the young boy asleep and brought him to authorities.  

The thief was on his own at this time and was keen to get out of town.  He was speeding to get out of Drumright, when he saw a roadblock up ahead.  Officers were already on to him and were covering all major roads that lead out of town.  This Roadblock however, only had one officer watching it.  He rolled up slowly and when the officer approached his car,  he pulled out his sawed off shotgun and aimed it at the officer.  The thief then took the officer down the road and then tied him to a tree.  

The Officer said that he thought it was Kimes and he asked.  The man admitted his identity and proved it by showing him some photos of himself.  What a strange sight it would be to see an officer tied to a tree looking at photos with a known killer.  The man then sped off in his stolen Buick roadster.  

Another Posse was formed but they were about as lucky as the last.  All they found was the stolen vehicle, abandoned in Oilton, Oklahoma just west of Tulsa.  

Sensing that things were getting a little too hot in Oklahoma.  Matt Kimes quickly plotted his escape from the sooner state.  Little did he know, this would be his undoing. 

9 days after his flight from capture in Drumright, Kimes was spotted by Forest Rangers at the Grand Canyon National Park.  Kimes signed in at the station as Henry Watkins from Oklahoma.  The Rangers phoned ahead to local law enforcement and the hotel where he was headed to who was really coming.  Kimes parked his car at the Hotel and took a short walk to the rim of the Grand Canyon.  Below him was a slope that dropped hundreds of feet.  

Local Sheriff J. O. Parsons and Chief Forest Ranger J.P. Brooks arrived and quickly found Kimes who was enjoying the view.  The Sheriff approached with his gun drawn.  Kimes turned around and saw what was happening.  He started to reach for his own gun but quickly realized that he would lose this fight.  Quickly and without any warning, Kimes leaped over the rim of the canyon to land in thick brush on a ledge just below the rim of the canyon.  If he had missed his target, he would have fallen to his death. 

Kimes tried to make a run for it but on foot and in a place that he was not familiar with, he was quickly surrounded.  He exchanged fire with the officers and then when he decided that all hope was lost, he willingly gave up.  

Sheriff John Russell and two of his deputies drove out to Arizona and retrieved Kimes.  They drove him back to the Okmulgee county jail.  Almost as soon as he was back in Jail, he was giving interviews about what he states really happened.  He would deny all involvement in the killing in Beggs. “It was badly done,” He said. “It was totally unnecessary to kill McAnally.  I had nothing to do with it.”  

One thing smaller jails had to contend with at the time was when angry mobs would form and then they would break into the jail and drag the prisoner out.  Typically, to kill them.  But in this case, thousands of people from all around gathered around the jail because they just wanted to get a glimpse of the outlaw.  You see.  Kimes had become somewhat of a celebrity.  His name was mentioned in papers from all over the united states for one thing or another almost every single day.  

So, with Kimes approval. They Paraded him around the courthouse square.  Kimes was given time to bathe, shave and change his clothes before going out.  It was said that he was somewhat taken aback from the response that he received.  He spent most of his time on the run and didn’t realize that he had become this celebrity. As he walked around it was reported that he was followed by his wife who showed no emotion and several other women who were all crying.   After the first go around, they decided to let him go out again later in the day to be paraded around again.  

At the Trial, Kimes pleaded not guilty and the whole show was on its way.  Matthew Kimes had a self proclaimed “Cowboy” Lawyer named Sid White.  He was a very outspoken and animated character.  

First off the prosecution brought forth Sheriff Russell who would go on to testify that they knew that Kimes had a long range pump gun.  They found one in his possession in Arizona and Kimes had admitted to the Sheriff that it was his.  The gun was presented to the court.  Attorney Sid White picked up the gun and looked at it as if he didn’t believe a word they said about it.  He fumbled with the gun for a minute and then put it back down.

Kimes gang member Roy “Blackie” Wilson had turned state’s evidence against his fellow gang members for a lighter sentence.  He named the members in the group that were involved in the murder and robberies that took place in Beggs.  He named Kimes as the leader of the group. 

The Prosecution brought in several witnesses who were either in the bank or on the street and saw Matthew Kimes.  A woman who was in the bank testified that Kimes spoke to her directly when he saw how frightened she was.  He told her “Don’t worry, we are not gonna hurt you.” 

The defense brought a Texas doctor to trial who was attending to Kimes’s mother who was very ill and on her deathbed.  He stated that on the day of the killing he knew that Kimes was with his mother. 

Others testified that they witnessed the crimes happen in Beggs but didn’t see Kimes at all.  

It was all handed over to the Jury.  This case was unique.  Typically a jury has the choice to let someone go by finding them not guilty, or sentence them to jail time or death.  But in this case, Kimes was already convinced of a separate crime and had escaped from jail.  So they could either find him not guilty to let him serve his life sentence or they could sentence him to death.  

It took the jury over 24 hours to reach their decision. In this case, the jury chose death.  

When read aloud to the court Kimes seemed unphased.  When he was led out of the courthouse the guard said “Well, Matt, you can’t beat me in a game of pitch tonight.”  and Matt responded “The hell I can’t.  I haven’t anything else to think about now.”

Now, there was apparently some errors that the state made in the first trial that ended up forcing the state to give Kimes another trial.  The death penalty was removed from ever being sentence on Kimes.  He was retried in September of 1928.  Kimes made an agreement with the Prosecution and pleaded guilty to the Murder of Marshal McAnally.  

From 1928 to 1945 Kimes would remain behind bars.  He was considered a model prisoner.  He was popular and somewhat of a celebrity.  When the prison would put on baseball games or shows, it would not be uncommon for Kimes to be a feature of it.  

In a strange but not all that unexpected turn of events.  Kimes was up for parole in 1945.  The Judge thought it was a good idea to let Kimes out on a three day pass to present his bid for freedom to the Governor.  He was awarded a 6 month leave from his sentence.  Not too long after he received his new found freedom, a bank in Morton Texas was robbed.  The FBI believed that Kimes was up to his old tricks once again.  Kimes died in an automobile accident in Arkansas soon after.  Inside the car, police found over a thousand dollars in cash and a pistol.  

The Oklahoma parole board was heavily criticized for letting Kimes go.  

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