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June 24, 2013 - Mike Donahey
A shoot-out on Marshalltown's Second Avenue? Citizens deputized in the night and ordered to destroy stills in the countryside?
Yes, that and more happened nearly 84 years ago as Marshalltown was in the middle of a conflict between county bootleggers and law enforcement according to a January 1994 Marshall Times article written by the late historian and journalist Biff Dysart.
“Moonshine Madness — A Fascinating Tale of Marshall County’s Bootleggers, Gin Joints and Crooked Cops” was the cover story.
Dysart prefaced the story citing how Prohibition was the law of the land from Jan. 17, 1920 to Dec. 5, 1933. Called the “noble experiment,” the law, implemented with passage of the 18th Amendment, prohibited the manufacture of, or consumption of liquor.
It had made criminals out of otherwise reputable citizens and led to widespread police corruption not only in Marshalltown, according to Dysart, but across the country. Marshalltown’s undermanned police force (only 10 officers for a town of over 17,000) accomplished little but chasing down bootleggers and smashing stills.
Iowan Billy Sunday, a native of Nevada, who had once preached before hundreds in Marshalltown near the present-day Central Christian Church, had teamed with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and other “dry” organizations to convince Congress to pass the 18th Amendment.
The shootout took place in August, 1929, when suspected bootlegger William Jacobs was driving his brand new car north on Second Street when Marshalltown policemen Sim Smith and Red Whalen spotted him and felt they had cause to stop him.
Smith was riding on the passenger side running board as Whalen turned north from State Street to fall in behind Jacobs’ care and Sim yelled or Jacobs to halt.
Jacobs stepped on the gas instead, and the two cars, Smith on the police car running board with revolver in hand, roared down Second Street side by side, between 50 and 60 mile per hour, an early account in the Times-Republican noted. The chase eventually went on for seven miles and Jacobs got away in the countryside because the dust stirred up by the alleged bootlegger’s car forced the police car to slow down. Chief of Police J.F. Glassco and other officers aided in the pursuit, and according to the T-R account of the incident, narrowly missed serious injury and possible death when Glassco’s car went into a ditch on North Center Street Road while traveling 40 to 50 miles per hour.
Jacobs was arrested the next day as he sauntered down Main Street by officer Shorty Corbin.
He was jailed and later entered innocent pleas to charges of reckless driving and bootlegging.
Look for more on Moonshine Madness in a future Past Times.