Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
They killed his wife and took his face. Now he was out for blood. Someone would have to pay for the death of Pauline Pusser. Hollywood loves the tale of a vigilante seeking justice, but the facts don’t line up with “Walking Tall.”
After the ambush on New Hope Road on August 12, 1967, Sheriff Buford Pusser supposedly named four suspects in the death of his wife, Pauline. When asked again while being wheeled out of surgery, he wearily replied that he didn’t know who shot them. Carl Douglas “Towhead” White was apparently the man who ordered the hit from prison and his friend Kirksey Nix, Jr. was the one to carry out the hit. The names Carmine Raymond Gagliardi, Gary Elbert McDaniel, and George Albert McGann were also mentioned.
Legend says the officer went rogue and got revenge on everyone who killed his wife except for Kirksey Nix.
Hollywood loves to spin tails, and this one is no exception. Keep this in mind if you watch the various versions of “Walking Tall.” There is so much fiction woven into the stories that minimal facts remain. Buford Pusser was a sheriff, and Pauline his wife was killed. All of this happened along the state border of Tennessee and Mississippi. The other characters like Towhead White, Louise Hathcock, and Kirksey Nix, were real outlaws, but other than that, not much else is true.
According to the book Mississippi Mud: Southern Justice and the Dixie Mafia” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Mississippi Mud, the first three ambush suspects all died mysteriously, and they say Nix voluntarily went to prison to avoid Pusser. We will see. First up is Carmine R. Gagliardi. They say his body was found riddled with bullets floating in the Boston Harbor in 1969. I dove into this case, thinking I should be able to find at least one newspaper article on this guy in the harbor. There were none. Absolutely zero. I did find a guy that fit the description of a mafia hitman named CARMEN R. Gagliardi, but he was not found floating in the harbor.
Carmen Gagliardi was in prison for killing Joe Lanza, a local bartender. It is said Gagliardi could be tied to up to fifty different mafia hits in and around Boston. At one time he was on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted List, but there’s no evidence he was ever on the state border between Tennessee and Mississippi. In January 1975, Gagliardi died in prison of a drug overdose. Nowhere does it say anything about a Gagliardi male being found in the Boston Harbor.
Mr. Gags may have put bodies in the harbor, but it appears this is just another tall tale.
There is a chance that it’s two different guys, but I tend to doubt it. Either way, I find it hard to believe that Sheriff Pusser went 2,400 miles to kill a mob hitman and no one noticed him missing. The big man was too busy raising Cain at the state line to take a road trip, in my opinion.
Gary Elbert McDaniel was found floating in the Sabine River in Texas on February 8, 1969. Some detractors claim the vindictive lawman killed him, I beg to differ. What they fail to mention is the fact that McDaniel was neck-deep in trouble after trying to kill a Mississippi prosecutor. Some of his Dixie Mafia buddies were afraid he was turning state’s evidence. This is most likely the cause of his death, and again other than being loosely tied to the Dixie Mafia and Kirksey Nix there’s no definitive link to Buford Pusser.
Legend tells the tale of how Buford Pusser wrought with grief killed all of his attackers, but again, this one leaves more questions than answers.
The next man on the list was George Albert McGann. He was supposedly shot by Buford Pusser in Lubbock, Texas. McGann was a big-time gambler. He was killed during a poker game on September 30, 1970. Somehow his death was tied to the legend of Buford Pusser anyways.
Now Towhead White is an entirely different story. White and the sheriff were mortal enemies. The entire state line shook with the rumblings of their warfare. Around midnight on April 2, 1969, Towhead pulled up in front of the El-Ray motel. The girl in the front seat with him was the estranged wife of the motel’s owner. Berry Smith, known as Junior, watched them pull into the driveway and stepped outside to meet them.
A verbal altercation ensued followed by gunfire. When the sun rose on April 3, 1969, Carl Douglas “Towhead” White was gone. Shirley Smith had somehow slipped from the passenger side of the car without injury, but White was shot in the forehead. Some say his gun was still in his right hand when the police pulled his body from the car.
Junior was arrested for murder, but the charges were later dropped, and the death ruled as self-defense. According to the bullet’s trajectory, it seemed as if Towhead was actually shot by someone on the roof of the motel. Rumors immediately named the sheriff, but no evidence was ever found. No one put much effort into the investigation. The locals were documented, saying, “Good Riddance.” We may never know who killed Towhead White.
An entirely different story:
Fifty years after the story began, an anonymous witness has come forward claiming to know who was involved in the ambush on New Hope Rd. and it’s not who you think.
Kirksey Nix is believed to have gathered a crew from his friends in Gulfport, Mississippi. The local police department was corrupt at the time and one small time deputy was named Dan Anderson. Several of the Dixie Mafia members played cards at his kitchen table, and it’s believed that his crew came from this core group. Allegedly, this is where they found the dark-colored Cadillac as well.
Photo courtesy of the family – Towhead White on the right, Dan Anderson in the front
When the men asked the impressionable young Ronnie Anderson if he wanted to ride along for a night on the town, he had no idea what was about to go down. He was just glad to be invited. His father, Dan, had gotten in over his head with this group, and now it would cost him dearly. His precious boy would return home, but six weeks later, he would be silenced forever.
The last man on Buford’s list was Kirksey Nix, Jr. Legend says he voluntarily went to prison to avoid the sheriff. Actually, Nix was convicted of murdering Frank Corso in 1972. There is no evidence he voluntarily jumped ship to avoid Buford Pusser.
So who was killed to avenge the blood of Pauline Pusser?
Maybe Towhead White…maybe not. But Hollywood rarely cares about the facts.
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