Mitchell man serving as federal agent killed by bootlegger in 1927Violence surrounded prohibition and illegal booze, and not just in Chicago and other cities with infamous histories.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Violence surrounded prohibition and illegal booze, and not just in Chicago and other cities with infamous histories.
Eighty-five years ago, a Mitchell man who served as a federal prohibition agent was killed in a confrontation with a bootlegger.
Special Agent Charles Bintliff, a Mitchell native who attended Dakota Wesleyan University, was killed by a shotgun blast fired by Walt Crisman, a rural Redfield farmer who had found another product to sell. The story is told in “Astride the White Mule,” by Brookings author Chuck Cecil, and is also reported in numerous online websites dedicated to law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
The tragic set of events started May 4, 1927.
An undercover agent had attempted to arrest Crisman after arranging a clandestine purchase of some of his bootleg liquor, but the notoriously suspicious and short-tempered bootlegger evaded arrest and fired a point-black shot into Special Agent R.W. Labrie’s left arm when the agent tried to make the arrest.
Labrie lived, although his arm had to be amputated.
Law enforcement officers mounted an intensive search for Crisman, and on May 12, 1927, they learned he had returned to his farm.
Bintliff was paired with State Deputy Sheriff Charles Halpin, of Aberdeen. During the prohibition years, a state sheriff’s office had been created to help stem the flow of illegal alcohol.
Another two-man team, made up of Spink County Sheriff Floyd Bradley and State Sheriff’s Agent John Urhe, also prepared to confront and arrest Crisman.
Bintliff and Halpin, unfortunately for them, encountered the bootlegger shortly before 2 a.m. May 13, 1927, in his barn. All three men were armed, but only Crisman, who was hiding inside an oats bin, fired.
Halpin was shot first, taking a shotgun blast to the chest at close range. He died shortly afterward.
Bintliff then apparently spotted Crisman and was heard to call out, “Halt!”
But Crisman fired twice, striking Bintliff in the stomach at least once, also at close range. He cried out in pain, staggered about 50 feet and collapsed before he died.
Crisman escaped, although not for long. The search was intensified and more than 300 people were brought in to close roads and help to find, arrest or shoot the gunman. Among them were U.S. Sen. Peter Norbeck, a former township constable who, during his first term as governor in 1917, had signed the law banning alcohol. He was assigned to help guard a bridge in case Crisman attempted to flee the area.
Instead, Crisman stopped at a neighbor’s farm and agreed to surrender. The friend, David Jones, contacted law enforcement and Sheriff Bradley gave him a set of handcuffs to place on Crisman.
Only then would he be approached and arrested.
But when Jones returned to Crisman, who was hiding in a straw stack, the bootlegger who became a cop killer had turned the shotgun on himself. He was dead.
The double murder and suicide shocked the state, but it was only the most sensational of the shootings, attacks and violent episodes tied to prohibition, according to Cecil.