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Who Was the "Cave Man of the Memphis Jungles?"

Updated on March 16, 2018
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Robert Odell Jr. is the senior video editor of the film, "Take Me Back to Beale," a chronicle of 100 years of Beale Street history.

A Self-Admitted Gunman

Known for a violent temper and having admitted to killing people, William "Wild Bill" Latura brought chaos and pandemonium to Memphis, Tennessee. In 1908, Latura casually walked into Hammitt Ashford Saloon on Beale Street and deliberately shot five people, leaving them laying wounded or dead. Citizens all across the United States were shocked and abhorred as the self-admitted gunman, who also became known as the "Cave Man of the Memphis Jungles," was never prosecuted for the crime.

The Cave Man

The underworld district was well acquainted with William "Wild Bill" Latura and aptly referred to him as the "Cave Man of the Memphis Jungles."

Because he was good at helping them to get elected, the politicians kept the "Cave Man" out of jail and winked at his illegal liquor sells, robbery, and killings.

"Wild Bill" Latura Was No Stranger to Violence

"Wild Bill" Latura shot many people, both black and white.
"Wild Bill" Latura shot many people, both black and white. | Source

In 1908 William "Wild Bill" Latura nonchalantly walked into Hammitt Ashford Saloon on Beale Street. He shot five people, whom he left laying wounded or dead, and was never prosecuted for the crime.

Violence on Beale Street

Beale Street saloons that sheltered and nurtured the blues were also bastions of crime and violence.

It was no strange thing to see patrons of Beale Street cut-up or shot-up. If those unfortunate souls were black (negro), little if anything was done about it.

William Latura, better known as "Wild Bill," was no stranger to violence and made a career out of dishing out vehemence. He shot many people, both black and white.

He Shot Five People Without Any Apparent Remorse

The actor in the photo is portraying William "Wild Bill" Latura as he casually leaves Hammett Ashford's Saloon after shooting five people on Beale Street in 1908.
The actor in the photo is portraying William "Wild Bill" Latura as he casually leaves Hammett Ashford's Saloon after shooting five people on Beale Street in 1908. | Source

Thirty Years of Violence

Within a thirty year time span "Wild Bill" Latura was known for violence that included:

  • A baseball bat killing
  • Gunshot wounds
  • Pistol wounds
  • Stabbings and
  • Murders

He Was Considered a Family Man

Born in 1880, William Latura was married, had three daughters (Rose Virginia, Allie Elizabeth, and Dorothy Mae), and was known as a family man. Lautra was affable and affectionate around his three beautiful children and his wife.

Synonymous to Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, William Lautra had an ominous side. The well known family man killed at least seven people within his short lifetime.

Family Man and Killer

Although he was married, had three daughters, and was known as a family man, Latura killed at least seven people within his lifetime.

"Wild Bill" Had a Short Temper

Wild Bill's well-known short temper was shockingly displayed when he walked into Hammitt Ashford Saloon on Beale Street in 1908.

He Had No Remorse and Was Never Prosecuted

In 1908 "Wild Bill" leisurely strolled into Hammitt Ashford Saloon on Beale Street. Witnesses claim that he said something, pulled back his coat, took out a pistol and began shooting.

In the wake of the carnage, five people were left laying around wounded or dead. The wounded included a woman. All of the injured parties were black (negro).

After the shooting, "Wild Bill" left the scene with no apparent remorse. Latura was never prosecuted for the crime.

Leisurely strolling through Hammett Ashford’s saloon at Fourth and Beale, William Latura, known among his associates as 'Wild Bill', at midnight Thursday night entered a billiard room in the rear and calmly unbuttoned his overcoat and pulled out a 38 caliber pistol, picking his victims from the first billiard table on the back wall and began firing. At no stage of this sick slaughter did Latura evidence excitement, rather showing acute forethought.

— Memphis News Scimitar. December 10, 1908

"Wild Bill" Shot Women as Well as Men

In the wake of the slaughter at Hammitt Ashford Saloon on Beale Street in 1908, five people, including a woman, were left wounded or dead. All of the victims were black.
In the wake of the slaughter at Hammitt Ashford Saloon on Beale Street in 1908, five people, including a woman, were left wounded or dead. All of the victims were black. | Source

Hammett Ashford's Saloon Was at Fourth and Beale

A markerFourth and Beale Street, Memphis, TN 38103 -
Beale Street & South 4th Street, Memphis, TN 38103, USA
get directions

Hammett Ashford's Saloon was located at Fourth and Beale Street in Memphis, TN. It was the scene where Wild Bill shot, killed, and walked out calmly.

As Fate Would Have It

As fate would have it, "Wild Bill" died violently.

Years after the 1908 shootings in Hammitt Ashford Saloon on Beale Street, "Wild Bill" was killed in a gun fight.

William "Wild Bill" Latura was known for a violent temper and had admitted to killing people.
William "Wild Bill" Latura was known for a violent temper and had admitted to killing people. | Source

During a whisky and gambling bust of Latura's place, a young, nervous, police officer, named John "Sandy" Lyons, was warned by "Wild Bill" to; "leave me alone..." Latura ended up getting fatally wounded in the ensuing shoot out.

The Washington Herald death notices of Saturday September 02, 1916 stated that, '"...the last real Memphis "bad man" bit the dust."'

..the last real Memphis 'bad man' bit the dust.

— The Washington Herald, Sat. Sept. 02, 1916

Do you think that William "Wild Bill" Latura's violent death was inevitable?

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The Washington Herald, Saturday, Sept. 02, 1916

"Wild Bill" Latura was considered to be the last real Memphis "bad man".
"Wild Bill" Latura was considered to be the last real Memphis "bad man". | Source

He Killed Because He Felt He Could

William Latura was a man who, on the surface, appeared to be a respected businessman. He was known as a family man, who had three beautiful daughters and a wife. As the veil of his sinister, underworld life is rolled back, "Wild Bill" Latura emerges as the "Cave Man of the Memphis Jungles."

The "Cave Man" was a real Memphis "bad man" who beat, stabbed, or shot in order to secure the control of his own mafia styled domain. He killed patrons on Beale Street because he felt he could do it and then go on about his own, usual business.

Bibliography

Take Me Back To Beale, Book I (Before The Red Ball). Dir. Carolyn Yancy-Gunn. Edited by Robert Odell, Jr. Perfs. Arthur Smith, Tony Patterson, Sonny Holderbaugh, CFA Graduates. DVD. CFA Productions, Inc. Archives

Deaths Reported. (1916, September 02). Washington Herald. Death Notice of William "Wild Bill" Latura

© 2015 Robert Odell Jr

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