Precious memories|Luckett girl grows up with images of grandpa

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 26, 2010

Gordon Cotton

She was only a few weeks past her third birthday when her grandfather died, so Marion Luckett Parker remembers little about him.

“He was tall, thin and had beautiful white hair,” she recalls, “and he’d take me out on the back porch, and he and I would drink coffee from a saucer.”

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Those were pleasant recollections — any others from that time wouldn’t have been — for Jasper Luckett, a deputy sheriff for Warren County, was murdered in the line of duty 67 years ago.

Marion remembers the tragedy, but was so young she’s not sure what she really remembers or what she has heard from her parents, the late Vernon and Florene Guice Luckett. Indelibly etched in her memory, however, is going to view the body in the parlor at Fisher Funeral Home, then located on Grove Street across from the Old Court House.

“There was some kind of a net draped over the casket,” she said. (It was a veil, in common use for many years).

Tuesday, May 11, 1943, probably began as a typical spring day for Jasper Luckett, but it would be the last day in his life. Luckett, who had a career in law enforcement, accompanied Sheriff Julius Buchanan to Waltersville north of Vicksburg to serve a warrant for the arrest of James Hughes.

The two men had been there the day before when they went on court orders to take into custody 8-year-old Marvin Hughes and turn him over to his mother, Maria, who had divorced James Hughes in Hammond, La.

Hughes and his family had moved to Warren County in late 1942 from Roseland, La., and he worked for Anderson-Tully. Then he and his 19-year-old son Robert worked for Barnes Brothers, making shell boxes. They had not shown up for work on Monday, May 10, after being paid the previous Friday.

The family — in addition to the parents and sons there were three daughters, Annabelle, 18, Elsie Mae, 16, Lillie Mae, 14, and a 3-month-old baby — lived in a tumbledown shack hidden in a maze of undergrowth that extended almost to the back door, and on the side was just enough clearing for what the newspaper described as “a feeble-looking victory garden.”

“The cabin was one of those types seen at the time where the chimney seems to be straining its bonds to escape from the rest of the building,” the story continued. “The steps were broken down. There were cracks in the floor, cracks in the door, and cracks in the walls that separated the room. The victory garden looked much at home in the surroundings. It conformed closely to [the] remainder of the locality and the listless plants portrayed a defeatist look as they dodged the clods and weeds. Access to the place was by a narrow path that passed two other cabins before it reached the knob on which the cabin rested. The little walkway was besieged from both sides by vines and undergrowth, and its bald center showed signs of having weathered the drag of many weary feet, and the wash of many a spring rain.”

It was to this scene that Luckett accompanied Buchanan again the next day, May 11, 1943, with a warrant for the arrest of James Hughes on charges made by Elsie Mae Hughes that her father was also the father of her sister Annabelle’s baby.

It was about 4 in the afternoon when Buchanan parked his car on a gravel shoulder not far from the house, and he followed Luckett to the shack. Robert Hughes was sitting on the steps, and he told them his father was inside. He called for his father to come out, but Hughes shouted that he wasn’t. Luckett walked a few feet into the front room when a shot rang out, a bullet hitting him in the neck and glancing downward, penetrating his heart. Death was probably almost instant.

Buchanan said he emptied his pistol at Hughes, but failed to hit him. Hughes ran into the woods, accompanied by his daughters and the baby; his son fled to Vicksburg, catching a bus.

The sheriff testified he then went for help, looking for a highway patrolman at a nearby cafe but catching up with him near the government fleet. From there he went to the jail and got a machine gun, then went to the police department for help from four policemen and two Internal Revenue officials.

Back at the Hughes house, he had the men surround it only to find it empty. He then removed Luckett’s body and went to a nearby store to call for an ambulance.

Rumors were rampant. Some thought Hughes had crossed the Yazoo River and was on DeSoto Island. Buchanan alerted police departments in Jackson and Memphis, and bus and train stations, and posted men at the river bridge. He also called for the use of bloodhounds from a man in Brandon.

By nightfall, a posse of about 100 people began to comb the wooded area around Waltersville and Kings. It was around 9 at night when the man with the bloodhounds arrived, and the dogs picked up the scent immediately at the Hughes place and tracked the man for about three miles before they closed in on him on Sherman Avenue, near the Naval Monument.

Hughes ran out of the woods only to be confronted by Leonard Jefferson Woods, a member of the posse, who shot at him. Hughes ran back into the woods and then came out with his hands up, begging Woods not to shoot.

Hughes and his daughters were taken into custody, and later he was transferred to the jail in Jackson. Robert and his sisters were held as material witnesses. The father claimed 14-year-old Lillie Mae had done the shooting, telling her that if she confessed she wouldn’t be held very long because of her age.

It was nearly a year later — May 19, 1944 — that Hughes was electrocuted in the Warren County jail following a trial and conviction for murder. He walked unaided to the chair, was strapped in and made a final statement: “I’m not afraid to confess to the Lord Jesus Christ here tonight before man. May he have mercy on my soul, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”

He never expressed any remorse, any regret, nor did he make any apology to his family or the Luckett family.

Within seven minutes from the first shock of electricity, he was pronounced dead. His brothers claimed the body and took it to Roseland, La., for burial.

It pained Jasper Luckett’s widow, Mattie, to talk about the event, so most of what Marion learned she heard from her parents.

“I remember the effects it had on her,” Marion said. “She even kept the suit for years he was wearing that had the bullet hole in it. She would get so lonely and withdrew into herself. I had trouble understanding her then, but now I understand her pain.”

Marion grew up, going to school at Jeff Davis and Jett, and for many years was an official with several banks. She is married to Ernest Parker and is retired.

Though her grandfather was gone, she said, she had several surrogate grandfathers — Jasper Luckett’s brothers.

“Uncle Ott used to give me a quarter every time I’d sing for him,” she said. “He loved the hymn ‘Never Alone’ and he’d say, ‘Sing that song for me and I’ll put a quarter under your plate,’ so I made a lot of quarters.”

Her great uncle Gus, she said, teased her parents, telling them if they kept having babies they’d have to go to the Bible for names.

For her Uncle Charlie, she said, she had a real affinity “because he reminded me so much of my grandfather. He drove a school bus, and though I didn’t ride his bus, I stopped to see him every day.”

“I was only 3 when my grandfather taught me to drink coffee,” she said, and she still does, “but not from the saucer.”

Several days after his father’s death, Vernon Luckett was appointed deputy, taking his father’s place. Like his father, he had also served in various law enforcement capacities. In later years, he was elected sheriff of Warren County.

Gordon Cotton is an author and historian who lives in Vicksburg.