A new book written by author Jim Hinckley published
by Rio Nuevo Press is scheduled for release this fall. The subject matter might be a bit troubling for some readers as it is in essence a look at the dark side of Route 66, a highway that is most often viewed from the context of neon, tail fins, and family vacations. Buried in the stories of tragedies, natural disasters, and Prohibition era gangsters is a chronicle of a century of American societal evolution, changing times. Consider the story of the Young brothers massacre in Springfield, Missouri.
In early January 1932, the multi state crime spree of the Young Brothers appeared to be coming to an end. Law enforcement officers, acting on a tip, had surrounded them on the family farm west of Springfield. The brothers escaped and left eleven officers dead or wounded. A few weeks later in Houston, Texas when again surrounded the brothers chose suicide rather than surrender. The mother of the slain gangsters, incarcerated pending investigation, arranged with Springfield mortician W. L. Starne for the recovery and burial of her sons.
Starne, to avoid the press and the curious public, traveled to Houston by way of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Shreveport, Louisiana. The bodies were released to him at 1 a. m., again in the hope of evading the press. During a stop for fuel in Texas, an attendant noted the Missouri license plates on the hearse and soon a growing throng was following Starne who, apart from stops for gas and sandwiches, drove continuously until he reached Muskogee, Oklahoma.
There the police stopped him and requested that he phone authorities in Springfield before proceeding. There was concern that a mob might assault members of the family, or that a riot to prevent the burial would ensue. Undertaker Starne ignored requests that he delay the return and continued driving to Vinita, Oklahoma where he intended to follow Route 66 back to Springfield. However, Federal Agent DeMoss and deputies at Vinita stopped Starne, and insisted that he delay his trip by at least 24-hours. The following day he continued east along Route 66 to Galena, Kansas before being rerouted to Pittsburg, Kansas whee authorities stored the bodies until suitable arrangements could be made. Starne, meanwhile returned to Springfield to finalize arrangements for the Young brother’s burial in the family plot at McCauley cemetery. A growing outcry over having them buried in Springfield, however, resulted in facilitation of burial in Joplin. On January 13th, Starne recovered the corpses of Jennings and Harry Young from Pittsburg, Kansas, delivered them to a prearranged spot on U. S. 66 just within the Greene county line for identification, and then proceeded to the cemetery in Joplin.
Another example of changing times is found in the slaying of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker fame, and how the public responded. When word spread about the gangster duos ambush and death spread, a crowd overwhelmed police in the quest for souvenirs. According to contemporary reports, one woman cut off bloody locks of Bonnie’s hair and pieces of her dress. Officer Hinton physically restrained a man that was trying to cut off Clyde’s trigger finger, and was sickened.
Also indicative of changing times is the ethics displayed today by reputable funeral homes and mortuaries such as Arizona Affordable Funeral Home & Crematory. In the era of Bonnie & Clyde, unethical morticians often publicly displayed bodies to satisfy morbid curiosity, and to add to the bottom line.
In the era of Prohibition era gangsters, a book about the dark side of Route 66 would have been quite popular. Time will tell how far we have progressed since then.