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The Last Real Memphis Bad Man

Updated on November 9, 2019
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Robert Odell, Jr. is the senior video editor for the Take Me Back to Beale project, a 100 year chronicle of Beale Street History.

Career of Brutality

William Latura, better known as "Wild Bill," was no stranger to violence and made a career out of dishing out brutality. He shot many people, both black and white. In 1908, Latura casually walked into Hammitt Ashford's 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 crime prosecution never seized the admitted gunman.

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

Crime and Violence

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

It was no strange thing to see patrons of Beale Street cut-up or shot-up. The majority of the time, little if anything was ever done about it if those unfortunate souls were black (negro). In the early 1900s, Beale Street was too often the scene of chaos and death. Dubbed the last real Memphis bad man, William "Wild Bill" Latura was in the midst of it all.

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In the early 1900s, Beale Street was too often the scene of chaos and death.
In the early 1900s, Beale Street was too often the scene of chaos and death. | Source

Self-Defense and Insanity

  • 1902: Wild Bill was supposedly defending himself when he used a baseball bat to kill a man.
  • 1908: Wild Bill nonchalantly walked into Hammitt Ashford's Saloon on Beale Street and ended up killing or wounding five people. Some reports say that he shot a total of seven people, killing four to five of them. The Cave Man was found not guilty because of insanity.
  • After the Hammitt Ashford shooting, Wild Bill later committed an act of "self-defense" when he shot and killed a gambler called "Alabama Tom." The men were gambling at Latura's undercover hamburger restaurant. Even though prohibition violators were feeling a lot of heat from state law enforcement officials, alcohol was plentiful in Wild Bill's hamburger joint.


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, robberies, and killings.

Known as 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. Latura was affable and affectionate around his three beautiful children and his wife.

Synonymous with Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, William Latura had a dark side. The well-known family man killed at least seven people within his short lifetime.

Thirty Years of Violence

Within a short thirty-year time span, "Wild Bill" Latura was known for a plethora of violent acts that included:

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

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.

A Shocking Display

Well-known for having a short temper, "Wild Bill" made a shocking display when he walked into Hammitt Ashford's Saloon on Beale Street. Witnesses claim that Latura, who was silently fuming because of a gambling loss, said something, pulled back his coat, took out a pistol and began shooting.

In the wake of the carnage, five people were left lying 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, never being tried for the atrocity.

Woman Wounded

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

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

Violent Death

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

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

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

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

"Bad Man" Bites the Dust

During a whiskey 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 shootout.

The Washington Herald death notices of Saturday, September 2, 1916, stated that " ... the last real Memphis 'bad man' bit the dust."

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

See results

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

Why Did He Kill?

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. Rolling back the veil of his sinister, underworld life, reveals the brutality of "Wild Bill" Latura, the "Cave Man of the Memphis Jungles."

William Latura was a real Memphis "bad man" who caused chaos, pandemonium, and death. "The Cave Man" beat, stabbed or shot to secure the control of his own mafia-style domain. Pondering the question of, " Why did he kill?" the conclusion unveils itself. "Wild Bill," seemingly, killed patrons on Beale Street because he felt he could do so. Latura seemed to think, by pleading self-defense or insanity, if necessary, he could act out his vengeance and then go on about his own, usual business.

Sources

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

Greaney, D. (2018, May 04). Murder and May-hem in Memphis. Retrieved from https://storyboardmemphis.com/featured-story/murder-may-hem-memphis/ Wild Bill Latura

© 2015 Robert Odell Jr

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