Folk Hero or Menace?
Florida’s Ashley Gang operated for over twelve years in South Florida during the early part of the Twentieth Century. Their crimes included robbery, rum-running, and moonshining during Prohibition. Making headlines across the nation with every bank robbery, the gang were known as folk heroes and for eluding capture by disappearing into the vast wilderness of the Everglades.
In November of 1924, four members of the gang were shot down by a sheriff’s posse on the Sebastian River Bridge in Roseland, Florida. Their deaths again made headlines across the country, and the official verdict was justifiable homicide due to a shootout. However, local murmurings arose about law enforcement officers having searched and handcuffed the bandits before shooting them in “cold blood.” Even though the gang were outlaws, local citizens were outraged about officers acting as “judge, jury, and executioner.” Decades later, the truth came out from death-bed confessions from two of the deputies who were at the bridge that fateful night.
Some historians say that killing the handcuffed bandits did not matter, because they were a menace to society anyway. Ironically, this issue is relevant in today’s world of police shootings, whether justified or not. How can we learn from history, and in particular, from the killing of the Ashley Gang? Constance Briggs—who is writing a biography about John Ashley, the leader of the gang—will discuss this controversy and its implications in today’s world.