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.

6. Sheriff W.H. "Ham" Dowling

Convicted of stabbing Arnold Brymer with a pocket knife, Hersey Mitchell was hung at the Bradford County Jail in 1913. This is said to be the last hanging in Bradford County. Sheriff S.B. Denmark, who was responsible for carrying out the execution, is behind other witnesses including Alachua County sheriff P.G. Ramsey (white shirt and suspenders) and Duval County sheriff W.H. Dowling. Photograph courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/27060

Ham Dowling was a man who thought he was above the law. Dowling, a former Seaboard Air Lines Railway train conductor and son of a Baptist minister, was elected Duval County sheriff in 1912 on a strong law-and-order campaign against "a carnival of crime." In 1917, Governor Sidney Catts suspended him for lax enforcement of anti-liquor laws but he was reinstated a few months later.  Five years later, he was suspended by Governor Cary Hardee on a conspiracy charge but was later reinstated. In 1928, W.B. Cahoon was elected over the long-time sheriff and commenced bare-knuckle law enforcement that Jacksonville had not seen during most of the Prohibition era under Dowling.

Not surprisingly, two years later Dowling was in the news again. This time, busted for the ownership of two stills with 14,000 gallons of beer, 250 gallons of whiskey and 79 bottles of home brew. Dowling's "Nothing to see here, move along" claim that he didn't know the stills were on his property, fell on deaf ears. In 1931, Dowling was sentenced to serve two years in a federal prison in Atlanta.

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