Pasco’s early law enforcement days were notorious

Pasco County’s early law enforcement days inspired quite a few dramatic stories.

An illegal killing captured headlines during Henry C. Griffin’s tenure as sheriff.

Built in 1892, the Old Pasco County Jail is the oldest brick structure in Dade City. It had two inmate cells, an isolation cell and an east wing used for the Sheriff’s living quarters. A later addition to the west end was the county’s gallows where the last legal hanging included “An array of picnickers positioned on the grounds surrounding the gallows area,” according to research conducted by local historian Madonna Jervis Wise in 2014. (Courtesy of Norman Carey)

During his second term, a mob killed two black men who were being held inside the county’s first jail located near downtown Dade City.

Will Wright and Sam Williams had been charged in the murders of Dan Childers and J.B. McNeil at Rice & Phelps’ turpentine camp near Dade City, according to newspaper stories published by The Tampa Morning Tribune.

The Tribune reported on Feb. 14, 1901, that Griffin refused to give up the keys and the mob —estimated as being between 30 to 50 men — broke down the outer door.

When they were unable to break down the steel doors of the cells, they opened fire, shooting both Wright and Williams to death, the report said.

The Coroner’s jury determined the prisoners came to their deaths at the hands of “parties unknown.”

Griffin lost his bid for re-election in 1904 to Bart Sturkie, who went on to serve four terms.

Another account of Pasco’s early law days involves the death of a Dade City farmer named Noah Green, who also is the Cherokee great-grandfather of Debbie DeLuca of Land O’ Lakes.

“As it stands right now, the only word I have on his death was the fire in the jailhouse,” DeLuca said.

“I have had cousins try to find his grave over in Linden Cemetery (off State Road 50 in Sumter County),” she added. “We were told it was in the center of the graveyard in an unmarked grave.”

Based on research for this column by Pasco County historian Jeff Miller, four newspapers including The Atlanta Constitution reported on the fire started by Green, who was “arrested on a charge of drunkenness and duly locked up.”

The 1892 cornerstone from the Old Pasco County Jail is currently on display at the West Pasco Historical Society in New Port Richey. (Courtesy of

With a headline, “Cremates himself in lockup in Dade City,” The Tampa Morning Tribune printed this account on Nov. 23, 1911: “About 3 o’clock this morning, beginning to get sober, Green began to feel cold and scraping what rubbish he could gather on the floor, set fire to it.

“Locked up alone in the place, Green found it impossible to escape and began to cry loudly for help. No one was on the streets at that hour but a citizen who lives near the jail hurried to the place. He arrived too late, for Green was then beyond human aid. The jail was burned to the ground and Green’s charred and shrunken body was found in the ashes.”

Newspaper accounts are clear that Green left behind “a wife and five children,” but not much is known not about the wooden jail facility itself.

That incident offers just a glimpse into the county’s early law enforcement history, according to documents archived by, a website that specializes in tracking Pasco County history.

Another vigilante mob stormed the jail in Dade City on the night of Aug. 5, 1915 and took a black inmate named Will Leak, according to the Dade City Banner. Leak had been charged with the attempted rape of a young white girl in Trilby and was hung on an oak tree in front of Hillard’s barber shop in the center of town. Details of the event were published on The Banner’s front page on Aug. 6, 1915.

Sturkie, who was serving his fourth term at the time of the break-in, was defeated in his re-election bid for sheriff in 1916 by Isaac Hudson, Jr., who served two terms as sheriff.

During his first six months in office, Hudson raided 164 moonshine stills, according to his son, Leon, who served as Dade City’s Police Chief in 1951.

Hudson’s family is prominent as the founders of Hudson, Florida.

Sheriff Hudson had a historic role on Dec. 28, 1917, when he released the trap door and executed Edgar London for the murder of his wife in the summer of 1917 at Ehren, near present-day Land O’ Lakes.

This is how the newspaper reported the last legal hanging in Pasco County, on Jan. 4, 1918: “The execution took place at ten minutes past one in the presence of a large crowd of whites and blacks who had come in for miles around to witness the affair.

“The negro was led to the platform by Sheriff Hudson and Deputy Osburn. He was accompanied by Rev. Father Francis (future Abbot at Saint Leo Abby), who had been with him all during the day, preparing him for his death. While the noose was being adjusted about his neck by Deputy Osburn, the negro displayed the utmost composure, never flinching once during the nerve-racking ordeal. He had the side of his face to the crowd and his lips could be seen moving in prayer.”

The account continued: “He never offered to say anything to the crowd, but kept his head well up and an erect position to the last, exhibiting a wonderful nerve. The black cap was placed over his head and the trap was sprung by Sheriff Hudson at 1:10. His neck was broken by the fall, and in six minutes he was pronounced dead by Dr. E. L. Reigle, the attending physician.”

Doug Sanders has a penchant for unearthing interesting stories about local history. His sleuthing skills have been developed through his experiences in newspaper and government work. If you have an idea for a future history column, contact Doug at moc.o1553517852nuj@11553517852ratsr1553517852etni1553517852.

Published Oct. 11, 2017

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