Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Crimefighters Mark 200th ; Gibson County Sheriff Bicentennial Warrick, Gibson Police Recall Early Days

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Crimefighters Mark 200th ; Gibson County Sheriff Bicentennial Warrick, Gibson Police Recall Early Days

Article excerpt

The Evansville Police Department, which is 150 years old this year, isn't the only local law enforcement agency celebrating a milestone in 2013. Sheriff's offices in both Warrick and Gibson counties - along with those counties themselves - will celebrate their 200th birthdays this year. Carved out of the Northwest Territory in 1813, today's Warrick and Gibson counties originally encompassed all of Southwestern Indiana from the Wabash River east to Leavenworth.

The border between the two counties, according to Gibson County Sheriff George Ballard, was what is now Baseline Road. The present- day northern Gibson County border of the White River was its original parameter, he said.

Ballard noted that in the early days of the county, requirements of the job caused sheriffs to travel a lot. Originally the county's chief elections officer, Ballard said after an election, the sheriff would have to take ballots from Princeton - which has always been the county seat to Seymour. Also, the nearest state prison was in Jeffersonville, across the Ohio River from Louisville, Ky.

"We have stories where the sheriff here, when a prisoner sentenced to to the state prison, would have to go down to the Ohio River and catch a steamboat and ride the steamboat all the way to Jeffersonville and then take the steamboat all the way back and then ride a horse or horse-and-buggy back to Princeton."

But one of the longest treks ever made by a Gibson County sheriff, though, had nothing to do with early modes of transportation. It was Sheriff Earl Hollen's trek to California in February of 1956 to retrieve one of the Tri-State's most notorious criminals, convicted killer Leslie "Mad Dog" Irvin. Irvin had escaped from the old Gibson County Jail the month before. Irvin was in the jail after his conviction for a killing that happened in Evansville. He is believed to have shot and killed a total of six people from December 1954 to March 1955 in Vanderburgh and Henderson, (Ky.,) counties.

The trial was moved to Gibson County at the request of Irvin's public defenders, though the attorneys attempted, and failed, to move the trial back to Evansville even before it began. He escaped from the jail by fashioning a crude key out of cardboard.

Another notable event in the office's history was the hanging of William Thomas Camp in November 1872. The sheriff at that time was Francis Hauss. Ballard said the county had to hire a professional executor and build the gallows for the public hanging. Officials then charged admission to view the execution. Ballard said while there is a news account of the event, he was unsure how many spectators came.

"I'm sure it was a lot. I'm sure they didn't have any trouble selling tickets," Ballard said.

Later, Ballard said Hauss asked the county commissioners to allow him to cut off the top of the gallows and turn them into a smokehouse for meat. …

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