Lonely Heart Scam Leads to the Murder of A Judge and his Wife



Judge Vincent Sherry and his wife Margaret were assassinated in their own home on the night of September 14, 1987. It would take ten years to finally bring all of the culprits to justice, but thirty years later there’s still a part of the story that hasn’t been told. Who found the bodies first? I will give you one guess and it isn’t who you think.

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photo courtesy of the Clarion-Ledger September 17, 1989


The official story says Pete Halat and a junior partner found the bodies of Judge Sherry and his wife on September 16, 1987. Thirty years later a new voice has arisen to tell a different story. Lt. Dan Anderson was working as the bailiff for Judge Sherry and was worried when he didn’t show up for court. He called Pete Halat thinking he would know where to find the judge since he wasn’t answering the phone. Halat brushed off his questions claiming the Judge had a habit of being late. Finally, Anderson gets upset and tells Halat he is going to drive over to the house and check on Vincent and Margret. This sparks concern in the law partner. Halat tells him to wait and he would go along too.

Together the two men meet at the Sherrys’ house. Anderson knocks on the door and it opens. Inside he discovers the horrific scene. Overwhelmed with grief from the death of his friend, Anderson is told to go home. Halat promised to take care of everything. Instead, he waits until the next day and took a junior partner along to conveniently find the bodies.

Lt. Anderson returns home distraught after seeing the corpses of his friends. Before he could get himself together, his daughter Phyllis happened to call. On this rare occasion, Dan Anderson poured out his emotional story to his daughter giving details of the crime scene. Phyllis listened and tried to console her father and promised to call and check on him later that evening. When evening came, her father was back to his tight-lipped self and refused to speak of it again. Phyllis had no way of knowing that her father was being forced into silence. She assumed it was his quiet way of dealing with trauma.

Over three hundred people would attend the funeral service for the Sherrys. The event was held at the Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral on Howard Ave. in Biloxi. The Clarion-Ledger also reported the strange eulogy given by Pete Halat. He wasn’t scheduled to speak at this service but chose to stand and speak anyways. His extremely long speech seemed to be more of a campaign speech for his upcoming mayoral campaign. He railed about the corruption in Biloxi and spoke of the deceased couple rarely. It made everyone including investigators begin to turn a wary eye on the lawyer.

Last week we left you with the story of the abandoned Ford Fairmont. To recap, it was seen by a neighbor the night the Sherry’s were murdered. This tip would lead back to a man by the name of Lenny Sweatman. Investigators knew if Sweatman was involved then another Dixie Mafia member would be close by. Mike Gillich owned the Golden Nugget nightclub and was good friends with the notorious Sweatman.

The case reached a stagnant point and looked like it might be going cold, but Lynn Sposito, the Sherry’s daughter kept pushing forward. She knew she must get enough evidence to draw in the FBI. They were working behind the scenes but didn’t officially join the investigation until August 1989 when they found definite ties to the Dixie Mafia.

During the murder investigation, another case was running parallel to this story. Kirksey Nix, Jr. had been running a scam from behind the bars of the Angola Prison. Nix had acquired hundreds of thousands of dollars through this scam. His goal was to “buy” his way out of his life sentence. With the rampant corruption in Mississippi at the time, this was quite possible to do. The investigators would label it the Lonely Hearts Scam.

The Scam:

Nix found a way to take advantage of lonely gay men by placing singles ads in the local gay magazines. He would talk of how corrupt the place was and how mistreated he was for being gay. Of course, Kirksey Nix was not homosexual in the least, he simply played a part to con money out of these pen pals. To make matters even more treacherous, he would then turn around afterward and blackmail the men if they were still “in the closet.”

Now inmates cannot have that kind of cash just lying around their cells, so Nix put together a complex scheme to shuffle the cash into a safety deposit box. Who’s name was on the box? Pete Halat and Nix’s girlfriend Sheri La Ra Sharpe. The plan was to store the cash in the safety deposit box until it was time to buy Nix out of his legal troubles, but Halat became greedy and stole $100,000 from the box. To cover his tracks he moved the cash to a box assigned to himself and his law partner Judge Sherry. That way when Nix noticed the money missing he could blame it on the judge.

This all sounds good in theory, but there was one problem. They didn’t have the evidence to put Halat away. It would take ten long years before investigators could find enough to convict him. In the meantime, Pete Halat continued his mayoral campaign and became the 12th mayor of Biloxi, Mississippi.

This complicated the investigation greatly and the FBI had to keep their findings close to home. They couldn’t work as close to local law enforcement as they would have hoped knowing that Halat had confederates in the force.

Next week I will dive more into the investigations, the snitches, and the battles that finally brought down Nix and Halat. Stay tuned guys.


Further Reading:

FBI Files

Newsweek article

FBI page

NY Times

Revolvy Article



Biloxi confidential

This week’s Recommending Reading:

Mississippi Mud: Southern Justice and the Dixie Mafia

All information used to create this content is a matter of public record and can be easily found online. Any participation or alleged involvement of any party mentioned within this site is purely speculation. As the law states, an individual is Innocent until PROVEN guilty. I do not own the photos used in this post. All photos are used under the fair use act. No copyright infringement intended.©2017-2019. All rights reserved.

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