Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Shooting of Deputy Dave Ham - Part One

Deputy Dave Ham
Killed in the Line of Duty, 1934
The following is excerpted from my new book, The Claude Neal Lynching: The 1934 Murders of Claude Neal and Lola Cannady. It is available now at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna (same block as the Gazebo Restaurant) or can be ordered online in either book or Kindle formats at or

One of the least mentioned incidents associated with the October 1934 outbreak of violence in Jackson County was the fatal shooting of Deputy Dave Ham.

He and Sheriff W.F. "Flake" Chambliss were escorting two convicted bank robbers to the Washington County Jail in Chipley when a shootout erupted inside the car.

Buford Mears and Harrison McKinney had been convicted that day of robbing the Bank of Malone earlier in the year and then taking off for Chicago with the loot. For their security, they were being moved to the jail in Chipley.

The following is from Chapter Seven of the new book:

...[C]ourt activity ended for the day and Sheriff Chambliss and Deputy Dave Ham moved Mears and McKinney from the holding cell into a Model A Ford to begin the trip back to the Washington County Jail in Chipley, where they were being held for their own safety. The third bank robber, M.F. Dudley, was younger than the other two and was released to go home pending his sentencing.
The black car carrying the four men made its way out of Marianna and west on U.S. Highway 90. The 1939 Works Progress Administration guide to Florida, published just five years later, described the route as “a fertile hilly area producing Satsuma oranges, pecans, sugar cane, and peanuts.” Cottondale, through which the lawmen passed with their prisoners, was described by the guide in colorful terms:

COTTONDALE…is a farming, fishing and hunting center. The fish in neighboring streams and lakes are so voracious, it is said, that fisherman have to stand out of sight behind trees while baiting their hooks. Unlike visitors, old residents refuse to fish on Sundays, for, as one explained, ‘I ain’t got nothing’ else to do on weekdays.’[i]

The four men may even have talked about the things they had in common, hunting, fishing and farming, as they made their way along the winding highway. Chambliss and Ham may have discussed the Claude Neal case. Whatever their topic of conversation, they did not reach Chipley.
As the Model A passed through the pine woods and fields between Cottondale and Chipley, Buford Mears suddenly pulled a pistol and opened fire. Deputy Ham drew his own pistol and returned fire as the car careened off the road. By the time Sheriff Chambliss could knock the gun from Mears’ hand and subdue him, both Ham and the other bank robber, Harrison McKinney, had been seriously wounded. [ii]
In a motion filed in circuit court the next morning, State Attorney John Carter provided more information on the wounding of the deputy:

…Dave Ham, while transporting certain prisoners from Marianna to the County Jail at Chipley, Florida., at about 8:00 P.M. last night, was seriously wounded by being shot with a pistol by one of said prisoners. Said pistol was a 32 caliber, and the bullet entered said Dave Ham in the left arm, passing through his left arm and into the left side of his body just below the shoulder, and passed through his body just below the right shoulder. That he is now confined in the hospital of Dr. Watson, in Chipley, Florida, and is in a serious condition as a result of said wound….[iii]

The wounded prisoner, McKinney, was brought back to Marianna to the Baltzell Hospital while Ham, as noted above, was taken to Chipley for care.
I will post a second excerpt about the shooting of Deputy Ham in coming days, so be sure to check back. If you are interested in reading the entire book, it can be purchased for $19.95 from Chipola Book and Tea or ordered online from by clicking here:

The Claude Neal Lynching: The 1934 Murders of Claude Neal and Lola Cannady

[i] Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Projects Administration for the State of Florida, Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, Oxford University Press, 1939, p. 444.
[ii] Chambliss, Lynching Report; St. Petersburg Times, October 28, 1934, p. 3.
[iii] Motion for Mistrial in State of Florida vs. Rudolph Godwin, alias Love Godwin, submitted by State Attorney John Carter, Jr., October 26, 1934.

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