A Century of Murder, Mayhem, and Fraud in Jacksonville

November 10, 2014 8 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Do you really know your next door neighbor? Over the last century, Jacksonville has been the home of several interesting characters and residents who operated on the other side of the law. Here's a few from Jacksonville's notorious past.

7. John Batson Hysler, Sr.: The Whiskey King of Duval County

John Hysler was gunned down during a moonshine run on the Acosta Bridge in 1928.

In the early 20th century, the Hysler family was known for committing several crimes during and after the Prohibition.
Tom Hysler, a different John Hysler, and Dan Hysler, were all convicted or arrested of murders during the early 1920s. Their smuggling network was so significant, in March 1930, Al Capone visited them, staying with Jim Hysler.
In later years, nephew Clyde Hysler was electrocuted for killing Mr. and Mrs. John H. Surrency during an attempted robbery in 1937.

To law enforcement, the Hyslers were Jacksonville's bootlegging version of Al Capone's syndicate. To family members, they were just good old boys trying to make a living. In particular, John B. Hysler, brother of Tom and Dan Hysler, quickly emerged as one of Duval County's most notorious bootleggers. From the day Prohibition started, John B. was involved in bootlegging. Soon he became known as the "Liquor King," "Liquor Czar," and "Whiskey King" of Jacksonville. Due to police corruption, the Lackawanna resident had evaded the law for years.

Unfortunately, John B. Hysler's rabbit's foot lost its mojo on September 26, 1928. On the way back to Jacksonville from picking up illegal hooch that came ashore in Mineral City (present day Ponte Vedra Beach) from Rum Row, Hysler was confronted by dry agents on the Acosta Bridge. Details of what went down are unknown but when it was all over, John B. Hysler was slain and dry agent Hope King was hospitalized in critical condition.

The tombstone of John Batson Hysler Sr. in Baldwin's Gravely Hill Cemetery. Photograph courtesy of Barry Swindle at http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=57000277&PIpi=51144450.

"You mean you really have not heard about what happened to John Hysler today?"

The owner shook his head, put the $5.00 in his pocket and leaned in a little closer to the reporter who told him,"He's dead".

The owner turned and yelled to his short order cook, "Oh my God. Hey Mert, come out heya. Johnny's dead!"
A sweat covered fellow popped his head around the door way and said,"Ya kiddin'? Dead? How? He was here this mornin' for some scrambled eggs and calves brains..."

The thought of that delightful breakfast dish made the meatloaf he half scarfed down not so bad after all to the newsman.

"Two Probbies got him... the prohibition agents ...from Jacksonville.They got word he was to be running red whiskey up to Jacksonville. They shot him on the St. Johns River Bridge. Seems they don't know who shot first. Agent King or Hysler. They both emptied their guns. The agent was hit in the chest and ankle but kept firing his 45 automatic. Hysler was hit in the shoulder, twice in the neck and twice in the chest. He was alive when Agent Eaton got him to St. Vincents hospital, but he died about 7 tonight."

The reporter looked over at the cook,who still stood by the door. He was wiping away what seemed to be tears.
"He was a good joe,ya know? So he ran some shiner around these parts. Folks gotta survive. Them yankees pay real good money for that Cuban rum I hear. Shoot, he even was bringin' in some real classy folks-- some of them Italians from Chicago. 'Member that boss? That flashy guy named Al?"

The reporter perked up. "I heard the Hysler boys were in business dealings with Al Capone".

Mert just shook his head and backed into the kitchen, "He was just a real good joe."
Days later, the funeral for John Hysler was the most anticipated quasi-social event of the decade. Almost 1,500 upstanding "law abiding" citizens packed the funeral.

Flower arrangements from some of the nations wealthiest flowed from the building into the street. Cops, lawyers, politicians were all there... as pallbearers.


Barbeque at J. D. Hysler's house during the 1950s. Photo courtesy of the Robert E. Fisher Collection. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/167289

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