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William Kenneth WAGNER






A.K.A.: "Kinnie"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Bootlegger
Number of victims: 6
Date of murders: 1924 - 1926
Date of arrest: August 19, 1926
Date of birth: February 18, 1903
Victims profile: Men (two sheriff's deputies)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Mississippi, USA
Status: Sentenced to death. Died in prison on March 9, 1958

William Kenneth (Kinnie) Wagner (born February 18, 1903 in Scott County, VA) more commonly known as Kenny (Kinnie) Wagner was a bootlegger in the U.S. state of Mississippi, who murdered several people, including two sheriff's deputies. He escaped from jails numerous times, but ultimately died in prison on March 9, 1958.

His most notable escape was his last attempt and involved a clever trick that was not discovered until Wagner was outside the prison walls. He had been made a trustee whose job it was to tend the dogs at the prison. He quickly realized the dogs were the means by which the prison guards would use to track him if he were to escape again. He therefore trained the dogs not to track him by whipping them if they followed his scent.

He remained at large in Wahalak, Mississippi, for several years afterward under the alias "Big Jim," and was subsequently placed on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. He was re-captured after a jealous rival informed law enforcement officials of his residence at the house of a female friend.

There are several folksongs and ballads about Kinnie Wagner's many adventures. There are several books written about the Mississippi outlaw. And he had even been covered in comics and pulp magazines.

The East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia stories about Kinnie Wagner propose a far different picture of the gunslinger. Even the local newspaper The Kingsport Times News in Kingsport, Tennessee maps out the events that led to Wagner's initial crime, intended arrest, and eventual capture much differently than their Mississippi counterparts.

Further Reading

  • Dykes, Pete. Kinnie Wagner Story. Lulu Press (July 2007) ISBN 0615152430

  • Gentry, Claude. The Guns of Kinnie Wagner. Magnolia (1969) ASIN B0007F29ZM

  • Moore, J.S. Gathering Leaves. Outskirts Press (April 2008)

  • Moore, J.S. Understanding Apples. Outskirts Press (October 2006) ISBN 1598007467 or ISBN 1598009753

  • Sweterlitsch, Richard Carl. Kinnie Wagner: A Popular Legendary Hero and His "Constituency" Indiana University Press (1976)ASIN: B000JWZ54U



William "Kinnie" Wagner was born in Scott County, Virginia, on February 18, 1903.  He was one of eight children of Charles Monroe and Nancy Clinton Wagner. 

In his childhood, he became proficient at target shooting and, at the age of 16, Kinnie joined the Richard Brothers Circus.  Because of his skill as a bronco buster and target shooter, he became known to audiences as the "Texas Kid." 

After leaving the circus, Kinnie began running moonshine in Mississippi.  This ultimately led to a shoot-out in which a deputy was killed.  Kinnie claimed the shooting was justified and said that he had been framed by a sheriff who'd hired him to run moonshine.  He claimed that, when the FBI came to the county to conduct investigations concerning the manufacture of illegal alcohol, the sheriff was afraid he knew too much and would give up information to the agents. 

Not long before, he had been given a watch to keep for a friend and, according to Kinnie, on trumped up charges, he was arrested for the theft of the watch.  However, his stay was short-lived, because he escaped from the Lucedale, MS jail. 

On Christmas eve, 1924, the sheriff sent a deputy to recapture him.  The deputy, whose name was McIntosh, was waiting to ambush Kinnie but Kinnie discovered him.  A gun battle ensued and the deputy was killed. 

Kinnie fled to the Virginia/Tennessee area and, with the help of family and friends, hid out from authorities.  The State of Mississippi offered a $1,000 reward for him, dead or alive. 

One day the Kingsport, TN, police learned that Kinnie was supposed to meet his sister, who was graduating from high school and hadn't seen her brother in a long time.  They hatched a plan to ambush the outlaw, but when the smoke cleared, two of the policemen were dead and one was seriously injured and Kinnie had escaped across the Holston River. 

The Kingsport News wrote, "The tragedy was the most shocking and disastrous one that has ever occurred in or about Kingsport.  With ten orphaned children and two widows weeping in their homes, dozens of men of Kingsport and vicinity turned out on the manhunt for the desperado." 

Kinnie ultimately surrendered and went to trial in Blountville.  The jury returned a verdict of guilty and Kinnie was sentenced to be executed in the electric chair.  But, before the sentence could be carried out, Kinnie Wagner made good another daring escape.


Escaped Killer, Tired of Being Pursued, Quietly Surrenders to Woman after Outwitting Posses

Texarkana, Arkansas - The Associated Press

August 20, 1926

Carl "Kinnie" Wagner, 23, alleged slayer of six men, is in custody today after quietly surrendering himself to sheriff Lillie Barber, woman executive of Miller County.  "I'm tired of being hunted," Wagner said.  "I don't want to dodge people anymore."

Posses had been searching for the notorious gunmen since Tuesday, as the result of his latest shooting escapade.  On that day he is alleged to have fatally shot Sam and Will Carper and wounded Bob Carper on a farm near Texarkana.  Wagner, formerly an expert rifle and pistol performer with a circus, declared, "I would have gotten Bob, but it was so dark I couldn't see to shoot straight."

The prisoner is wanted at Kingsport, Tenn. for slaying two officers and wounding a third in April, 1925.  He had been sentenced to die in the electric chair and was in jail pending an appeal when he led other prisoners in a jail delivery and escaped.

In Mississippi, Wagner is wanted in connection with the deaths of two officers who attempted to prevent him from breaking out of jail.  "I have never been arrested for stealing or been in jail on any other charge except killing," Wagner told Sheriff Barber.


Kinnie Wagner

A story connected with the island concerns the unearthly echoes of a bloody gun battle that took place there on April 25, 1925, between a notorious fugitive from justice and the police officers that attempted to ambush him.

Kinnie Wagner was wanted in Mississippi for killing a sheriff's deputy. He had claimed the shooting was justified. A friend had given him a watch for safekeeping. But the law accused Kinnie of stealing the watch.

Kinnie claimed that he had been framed by a whiskey dealing sheriff who had employed him to run moonshine. When the FBI began investigating illegal alcohol operations in the county, Kinnie claimed that the sheriff was afraid that he knew too much and would squeal to the law. He was arrested on the trumped-up charges but escaped from jail in Lucedale.

On Christmas Eve, 1924, the sheriff sent a deputy named McIntosh to recapture him, but the deputy had made the mistake of lying in ambush. Kinnie shot the man dead, then fled back to Virginia.

Kinnie Wagner was born just outside Gate City, Virginia, on February 18, 1903, a son of Charles Monroe and Nannie Wagner. He grew up in the mountains and knew each ridge and hollow like the back of his hand. When he was about seven years old, his father bought him his first gun-a Remington single shot .22.

Faithful practice made Kinnie a crack shot. Folks in Scott County claimed that he could hit anything that he could see. The odd thing about Kinnie's shooting style, however, was that he never sighted his rifle-he always shot from the hip.

In 1919, young Kinnie, longing for adventure, joined the Richard Brothers Circus while the show was playing nearby Clinchport. He hired on as a teamster at only $35 a month because the circus boss thought he was too small to do any heavy work. But Kinnie soon proved that he was the equal of any man.

As one of their attractions, Richard Brothers offered a "Bronc Show" and had a number of cowboys on their payroll. One of the horses, called "Funeral Wagon," was an uncontrollable beast who had never been ridden the full ten seconds. One day the cowboy who always rode Funeral Wagon got too drunk to perform, so young Kinnie was ordered to fill in for him.

The problem was that the spunky lad rode Funeral Wagon for the full ten seconds-and beyond! Not wanting Funeral Wagon to be tamed, the panicked circus boss signaled Kinnie to take a fall-which he did. Thereafter he was the only one who rode the renegade horse, always abandoning the saddle just before ten seconds was called. Because of his skill as a bronco buster, he became known to audiences as "The Texas Kid."

At the time, circus folk were a rough bunch of people. And since Kinnie was physically smaller than the rest, he was naturally picked on. But he learned to use his fists as well as a pistol. Unfortunately he fell in with the wrong crowd-, and when he left the circus, he began running moonshine in Mississippi. This, of course, led to his arrest, the jail break, and the subsequent shootout in which the deputy was killed.

On the lam from the law, Kinnie Wagner was holed up just outside of Gate City, where friends and family hid him. Mississippi offered a $1,000 reward for Kinnie's capture, dead or alive. This temptation whetted the appetite of some local law enforcement officials. They were certain Kinnie was in the area, but they just did not know where.

Then one day the Kingsport police learned that Kinnie planned to meet his sister at the park on Long Island. She was graduating from high school and had not seen her brother for several years.

In spite of warnings by their friends, a daring plan was hatched by four Kingsport policemen and a Sullivan County deputy sheriff. They planned to ambush the fugitive and, obviously, had no intentions of taking him alive. On their way to Long Island, the officers had ordered an undertaker's ambulance be sent to the park to collect Kinnie's body.

Kinnie, his sister, and three female relatives met on Long Island late in the afternoon, oblivious to the plot against them. The officers were already in waiting, well hidden behind some bushes and trees. Although he was thoroughly enjoying his first visit with his sister in years, Kinnie, as usual, was ever alert for trouble. So when he saw a bush shake to his left, he drew his pistol and sprang to his feet.

"The fugitive, probably seeing that he was hemmed in from both sides," reported The Kingsport News, "took refuge behind a big sycamore tree and began shooting. [Officer George] Frazier was the first to fall.

"The stranger [Wagner] then turned and fired several shots at (Officer George] Smith who died in his tracks. [He was shot through the heart.]

"When Smith had fallen the fugitive turned his guns on [Deputy Sheriff Hubert] Webb, who was peering over the overhanging [sic] bank in an effort to get a better shot. Webb fell on the crest of the bank." He had been shot in the face.

Bullets were flying fast and thick. One of them clipped Kinnie's sister's hair while another plowed into the ground beside her foot. His relatives dove for cover while Kinnie lit out across the field, running as fast as he could go.

At the same time, Dewey Nelson of Kingsport was riding by on his horse. Kinnie ran up to him and commandeered his animal, promising to return it later. Then he and the horse plunged across the Holston River, galloped up a steep bank, and disappeared from sight.

When the smoke finally cleared, Webb and Smith were dead, and Frazier was seriously wounded. The undertaker's ambulance was needed after all, but not for the party for which it was originally intended.

The next day the offended editor of The Kingsport News angrily wrote, "The tragedy was the most shocking and disastrous one that has ever occurred in or about Kingsport. With ten orphaned children and two newly made widows weeping in their homes, dozens of men of Kingsport and vicinity turned out on the manhunt for the desperado."

Kinnie had returned to the Clinch Mountains, and it is doubtful that the posse would have ever caught up with him. By the time it was formed, Kinnie was in Waycross, Virginia, snuggled up in a haystack.

When the woman who owned the farm came to the barn the next morning, she discovered Kinnie and advised him to surrender-for his own good. He agreed with her and, later that day, turned himself in.

Kinnie went to trial in Blountville, and after thirteen hours of deliberation the jury returned a verdict of guilty. He was sentenced to die in the electric chair.

But he wasn't ready to die, and no jail had been built that could hold him. So Kinnie Wagner escaped and became a fugitive again.

In the meantime, some folks say, every April 13th ghostly gunshots ring out again on the Long Island of the Holston as the spirits of Kinnie Wagner and the law repeat their deadly battle on the very land where, according to the Cherokees, no person could ever be killed.

Charles Edwin Price


William Kenneth "Kinnie" Wagner


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