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Jason Duncan (jason@webjmd.com)
September 2003

The Case Of Ransom Brooks, Alleghany Co, NC




In 2001, I was loaned three rolls of microfilm by my cousin Dennis Brooks.  The microfilm was from The Alleghany Times, the newspaper for the Sparta, NC, area and covered the years 1933 to 1941.  After a few weeks of meticulously scrolling through every page of the newspaper and finding very little of interest, I discovered a series of very surprising articles.  The title of the first article graced the front page on February 24, 1934, and was titled Worst Criminal Gang in Alleghany For Years Apprehended in Recent Raid.  The second paragraph begins by naming Ransom Brooks, my great-grandfather, as the ringleader of a gang who, it later says, had “terrorized Alleghany citizens over a period of several months”.  I had no idea!


       Ransom Garfield Brooks was born on 9/23/1903 to John A. Brooks and Meadie Ann Edwards, the youngest of six children.  They lived about a mile west of where US 21 now crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway.  At the age of 24, he married Edith Blackburn on 2/15/1928 in the Cherry Lane section of Alleghany Co.  Later that year they had their first son Harrel, followed by another son Bill in 1930.  They had a daughter Dorothy born in February 1933.  This is where the genealogy stops and the drama begins.


Text Box: Ransom Garfield Brooks

       As many people were in the 1920s and 1930s, Ransom Brooks was in the liquor business.  However, his tactics were more aggressive and creative than most.  It has been said that he would stand at the NC/VA state line, dressed as a member of the clergy, and stop passing cars.  He would sell them liquor before letting them go on their way.  He would then change into his patrolman’s uniform, chase the car down, and forcefully take the liquor back while keeping their money. 


       The court records and newspapers lend support to this story.  However, on February 14, 1934, his adventures came to an abrupt halt when he was arrested that night in Sparta along with Odell Holbrook, age 18.  A third person Vess Douglas, age 30 of Surry Co, was arrested the next day.  The following article made the front page of The Alleghany Times.


The Alleghany Times (Vol 9, No 40), February 24, 1934

Pages 1, 4


Worst Criminal Gang in Alleghany For Years Apprehended in Recent Raid


Jail Keys, Policeman’s Outfit And Parts Of Stolen Cars Among Articles Found

In Possession Of Men Arrested


The State Highway Patrol, assisted and directed by Walter M. Irwin, Alleghany County Deputy Sheriff, swooped down in Alleghany and Surry Counties last week and frustrated what is thought to be one of the worst gangs of criminals heard of in Western North Carolina for many years.  The raid came as a complete surprise to the people of the county and was so carefully planned that even county officers did not know that it was coming.

    As a result, Ransom Brooks, 29, and Odell Holbrook, 18, of the Bull Head section of Alleghany county, and Vess Douglas, 30, of the Mitchell’s River section of Surry County, are lodged in the Winston-Salem jail charged with several serious crimes ranging from highway robbery to impersonating officers of the law.

    Several thousand dollars worth of stolen property has been recovered and it is expected that a series of holdups, automobile thefts, store breaking, etc., will be explained.  Douglas has admitted his part in the crimes and has implicated the other parties being held.

    For several months this gang has been preying upon the people of this section.  Several motorists have been stopped on the Sparta-Elkin highway and relieved of their automobiles and valuables.  Several people have been stopped and allowed to go on unmolested after having been identified by members of the gang.  They have made a specialty of liquor laden cars, and in all cases where liquor was found on the car the driver was allowed to escape and the car and liquor confiscated.

    In Brooks’ home was found a complete patrolman’s uniform, including cap, badges, a John Brown belt, hand cuffs, etc.  A complete set of perfectly fitting keys to the Alleghany county jail was in a dresser drawer in the home of Brooks.  The search also revealed burglary tools, a large amount of dynamite taken from the road camp near Independence, a stolen gas lamp taken from a nearby church and a set of chains taken from the car of Mack Edwards, of Whitehead, the night before the arrest of Brooks and Holbrook, when the car was towed four miles from his home and stripped of tires, lights, tools, etc.

    Brooks and Holbrook were arrested in Sparta Wednesday night of last week in a carefully arranged plot.  In their automobile were found a sawed-off shotgun, one other shotgun, two high-powered rifles, burglary tools and a coil for starting cars without a key.  The car was equipped with a police siren.  A pistol was taken from the person of Brooks, which he attempted to use when arrested by Sergeant Guy Duncan of the State Patrol.  The trio are also charged with breaking into the Cash & Carry Store at Sparta in November when six thousand pounds of sugar, a cash register, etc., were taken, and Douglas has admitted his part in this theft.  The body of the car of J. M. Parsons that was stolen from Independence last fall was found within a few feet of Brooks’ residence, hidden under some brush.  The car which Brooks was driving when arrested contained parts from several stolen automobiles. 

    Douglas was arrested at his home in Surry county.  Several truck loads of automobile parts were found around his home.  It is thought that all cars stolen and hi-jacked by the gang were taken to Douglas for re-building.  Some of the cars have been traded, and officers are making a close check-up in locating all the cars that have been in their possession. 

    Captain Farmer, of the State Patrol, and L. L. Harris, of the Motor Vehicle Bureau of Investigation, both of Raleigh, were here in person and assisted in the round-up.  Two members of the United States Bureau of Investigation and one detective employed by insurance companies were on the scene, also.

    It is expected that the three will be tried at the May term of Alleghany Superior Court here.

[end of newspaper article]

In the March 1, 1934 issue of the newspaper, Lieutenant W. J. Croom of Greensboro said that they were trying to find parts of automobiles stolen over the last two or more years.  The officers said, “Working the most intricate jig-saw puzzle is easy in comparison with this job of gathering together these scattered portions of cars.”  The paper goes on to say, “By illustration, the officers on an all-day tour last week, identified a light roadster, 1932 model, stolen in Salisbury on August 1, 1932, after locating the body of the machine in Jonesville, the rear axle in Sparta, the motor on Bull Head Mountain, and the wheels evidently are still revolving some place, the officers believe.”


On March 8, the newspaper describes the carefully planned apprehension of the “gang”.  The operation included members of the NC State Highway Patrol, the Motor Vehicle Bureau, the Automobile Underwriters Detective Bureau, and the Alleghany and Surry Co Sheriffs Offices.  When the officers arrested Douglas, in his possession “was found a car, the motor of which belonged in a car that was stolen from J. W. Conklin, Mouth of Wilson, VA”.  After obtaining a warrant to search Brooks’ home, officers found a coupe body “stored in the woods near the home and it was later identified as belonging to the coupe owned by Ex-Senator J. M. Parsons, Independence, VA, which was stolen from in front of his home on the night of last October 9.  The chassis and frame of this car was later found in the woods near Douglas’ home in Surry county.”  The article goes on to say that no charges have been filed regarding the theft of these two automobiles since these crimes would be tried in Federal court or in the court of Virginia.


Among other items found were “about 200 pounds of dynamite, stolen from a construction company near Independence, VA.”  At Brooks’ home they found a complete set of Alleghany Co jail keys, a pair of handcuffs, a Sam Brown belt and holster, a uniform cap, two badges, a Coleman gasoline lantern, a Remington typewriter, a South Bend pocket watch, a Waltham pocket watch, and one set of pipe dies.  Also, Douglas drew officers a map showing the location of the cash register stolen from the Cash & Carry store in Sparta.


On March 15, the newspaper reported that Holbrook was released due to lack of evidence.  However, Douglas and Brooks were being held in the Forsyth Co, NC, jail under $10,000 bond.  Nearly two months later on May 7, the Spring term of Alleghany Superior Court opened.  On May 10, the paper reported that “a record breaking crowd filled the town to overflowing and crowded the courthouse beyond capacity” in anticipation of the trial.


On May 17, the newspaper announced that Ransom Brooks, “ringleader of the outlaw band”, and Ves Douglas, “another member of the Bull Head Mountain gang” were found guilty of multiple crimes.  The Alleghany Times included an article printed in the May 11 issue of the Greensboro Daily News, home city of Lieutenant Croom.  The article says that “Ransom Brooks, the confessed ringleader, whose activities earned for him the picturesque sobriquet ‘Bull of Bullhead mountain’, pleaded guilty in all cases called against him and drew from 6 to 9 years in state prison at hard labor.”  Ves Douglas received one year of labor on the roads.


The article continues, saying, “Brooks is as picturesque a mountain character as his nickname might suggest….  He was charged with automobile larceny in several cases, carrying a concealed weapon, highway robbery with firearms and impersonating a state patrolman.  He pleaded guilty in all cases, as did co-defendant, Douglas.”  The article goes on to say, “Testifying in his own case, Ransom Brooks admitted, Croom said, that he had hijacked many a Virginia rum-runner on the border roads of Alleghany county.  Brooks testified that once, while running 100 gallons of liquor into Virginia, he himself had been hijacked by boot-leggers from the Old Dominion state.  His repetition of the treatment accorded him in that instance was carried on for vengeance.”


“In this respect his work was accomplished by the aid of a state highway patrolman’s uniform, which he unhesitatingly donned, and powerful car equipped with a siren.  ‘Brooks lay in wait only for Virginia cars,’ Lieutenant Croom remarked.  ‘Once he chased a group in a Virginia car all the way to the Sparta courthouse before he found that the car did not contain liquor but was occupied by a sister of Solicitor Higgins, the poastmaster at Independence, VA, and several others.”


Documents at the Alleghany courthouse list the charges against Ransom Brooks, in Minute Docket H, pages 299, 300, 303, and 328.  According to the records, “the defendant withdraws his plea of ‘not guilty’ and tenders a plea of ‘guilty’” to Larceny and Receiving.  He also pleaded guilty to Highway Robbery, Carrying a Concealed Weapon, Attempt to Rob, and Representing an Officer.


He was found guilty on all of these charges.  “It is the judgment of the court that the defendant Ransom Brooks, in this case be imprisoned, at hard labor in the State prison at Raleigh for a term of not less than six nor more than nine years.”


Text Box: Ransom Brooks, probably taken while he was in prison sometime between 1934 and 1939.

I have not been able to find any records to indicate where he served his sentence and exactly how long he served.  He may have served time in Raleigh, Salisbury, and even Atlanta.  While he he was sentenced to at least six years of hard labor, he probably served no more than five.  In June 1940, he and his wife had their fourth child, a son Jimmy.  He continued to live in Alleghany Co, and I have not found any further records indicating criminal behavior.  He died on January 22, 1947, of pneumonia and was buried at Woodruff Primitive Baptist Church, south of Sparta.


Jason Duncan                              jason@webjmd.com

222 Sundance Cir                

Statesville, NC 28625

Continue to a complete transcription of the newspaper articles.

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