Yesterday, Sun Herald reporter Anita Lee did a “subsequent event” update of those still living that were involved in the murder conspiracy involving Circuit Court Judge Vincent Sherry and his wife Margaret way back in 1987. The echos of this Dixie Mafia inspired hit still reverberate across the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans to this day. For those of you with an interest in this subject, which inspired several books and at least one documentary, Anita’s story is a must read along with the reader comments as the descendants of the felons involved remain firmly in denial. This comment sums the whole deal up save for Margaret Sherry IMHO, who paid with her life for her husband’s prior legal associations. That said, with the descendants of Pete Halet proclaiming his innocence in the story’s comments, I thought this comment was most appropriate to highlight here on Slabbed:
The Sherry’s had children too…
Indeed they did and daughter Lynne Sposito’s son Thomas commented on my last post on this topic taking umbrage with me terming his granddad “dirty as the day is long”. While it was not my intent to inflict emotional pain on the family of the victim I stand by my assessment. The story is out there and by “story” I don’t mean Mississippi Mud, the Sherry family sourced book which unfairly IMHO impugned former Biloxi Mayor Gerald Blessey due to his prior history of locking horns politically with Margaret Sherry when she was on the city council. In hindsight Mississippi Mud is the literary equivalent of a blog as it was published when events were still unfolding and before everything became known. Locals that remember the events real time such as myself often wonder why it was never updated. I think I figured that one out after my last post.
Back to the story being out there, one of Anita commenters posted a link to an extensive account of the murders and history of the Dixie Mafiosos that felt free to greenlit a sitting Circuit Court Judge written for TRU TV and for those with some time to kill is also a must read. Here are a few snippets:
Sometime later that night, outside the Sherry’s ranch-style, four-bedroom house on fashionable Hickory Hill Circle, a yellow Ford that had been driven off a used car lot earlier in the day and never returned pulled up. Vince got up to answer the door and moments later was lying dead on the floor, felled by shots fired from a silenced.22-caliber Ruger automatic. Margaret, clad only in her underwear in her bedroom, came out to investigate, and she, too, was cut down and left to die. The stranger who fired the fatal shots disappeared into the night.
Who was the killer and why did he do it? The story that unfolded over the next ten years turned out to be more complicated than anyone would have first imagined, with big money at stake, prominent individuals working with career criminals to pull behind-the-scenes scams. Ultimately an intricate web connecting organized crime figures, elected officials and well-connected businesspeople would be unraveled. The city of Biloxi was in for the greatest shock to hit the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Camille had made landfall nearby 18 years earlier.
Indeed the Biloxi Beachfront of the 1980s was both seedy and run down. Local Dixie Mafia Kingpin Mike Gillich was able to politically eliminate his flesh trade competitors on the Biloxi strip, where his strip clubs blended in nicely with the local whorehouse. There was lots of cross pollination between the two.
Dixie Mafiosos of yore needed lawyers too and after a life of crime that culminated in the hit on Italian Mobster Frank Corso, whose descendants ran money laundering rackets along the coast based out of Bay St Louis, Kirksey Nix Jr’s life of crime seemingly came to an end. (As a point of disclosure I am personally fond of one of Frank’s descendants and I do not blame the guy for the sins of his forefathers.) “Seemingly” is a good word because after entering Angola prison Nix began running lonely hearts scams targeting gay men, which was pure evil genius as scamming people with something to hide (in this case being in the closet) minimized the risk the victim would complain to the authorities. Nix needed help to run that scam and into that breech stepped Vincent Sherry. Let’s visit with page 17 of Biloxi confidential to flesh this part of the saga out and reinforce the point I made in my earlier post:
Along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast from the early ’60s to the late ’80s, the clients in need of criminal defense who had the most money were often those whose gains had been ill-gotten through vice and corruption. Those were in fact the kinds of clients on which the Halat & Sherry law firm had seemed to thrive. But, more than simply viewing their criminal defense work as “just a job,” Pete Halat and Vince Sherry seemed to move comfortably among the figures of Biloxi’s shadowy underworld. They were well-liked, respected, and welcomed into the fold. Vince, particularly, seemed fascinated by this underground culture, according to accounts.
Vince also enjoyed the local wildlife he found in that underground culture and that has in turned caused speculation Mrs Sherry had very practical reasons to take on the strip clubs when she was on the Biloxi City Council. It is clear once Vince Sherry drank of that cup, he was sucked in like so many of the subjects in our Louisiana Political Corruption coverage never to remain the same as I continue:
Maybe it’s the element of chance and excitement that comes from living on the edge that draws normally straight-up people to the outlaw culture. Whatever it was in Vince’s case, it kept him and his wife in a comfortable lifestyle; one about which Margaret couldn’t have complained too much, even if she disapproved of the ways her husband’s clients likely came by their money.
One of the ways Vince earned his money was by being on the receiving end of the money Junior Nix was raking in on his lonelyhearts scam from Angola Prison. Vince was often the one who banked the money for Nix. And, the intermediary for most of this; the sweet voice that often answered the phone and handled the transaction details, was none other than Nix’s now-grown-up adolescent worshipper from Fort Smith, Ark., Sheri LaRa Sharpe.
Like I said, the results of those associations had tragic consequences for the Sherry’s, whose daughter later told Judge Pickering she forgave Gillich for his role in the murders.
The 1980’s were also a period of transition on the coast and no place symbolizes that transition more than the City of Biloxi as the illegal gambling and the flesh trades gave way to legalized gambling. The rapid transformation of the old seedy Biloxi strip into a glitzy casino filled section of beachfront known locally as casino row fueled the legalized gambling movement just to the west in Louisiana. I mention this because the legalization of gambling simply fueled more political corruption in Louisiana the impacts of which are still being felt. I mention all this because Sir James over at the T-P wrote a column yesterday that has me wondering if we simply did not replace one mafia with another as the legal concept of debtor prisons is evidently alive and well when those that are owed the money run a casino:
No need to break legs these days, though. The casinos’ modern enforcer is the district attorney. In a mere generation gambling has been transformed from a crime to a pet cause of law enforcement. The DA makes money as the debt collector, and it doesn’t cost the casinos a penny. Their unlucky customers just get fleeced some more.
The biggest loser snared by this unholy alliance in New Orleans is John Harvey, a car dealer from Mississippi, who owes $1.5 million to Harrah’s. Harvey is a keen blackjack player, but evidently not a particularly good one, for he lost another $1.5 million at Caesars joints in his home state.
Harvey agreed last August to pay the $3 million back, less a 20 percent discount, and delivered an initial installment of $150,000 in Mississippi. He was then to make $100,000 payments every month for the rest of the year, when the balance would be due.
But when he turned up with the second installment, Caesars declared the deal was off and he would have to cough up pronto or face prosecution. Harvey had been spotted committing the most serious of sins — gambling at another company’s casino. That was a violation of a clause in his repayment deal.
Harvey, like so many folks caught up in the old line vices, has an obsessive compulsive disorder: compulsive gambling. Never mind that the Kenner Convention and Visitors Bureau can be looted by Aaron Broussard cronies and its trade vendors stiffed without one peep from the local DA but by gosh if you owe a casino, the DA can throw your ass in jail collecting a hefty fee in the process. Harvey’s case has completely flown under the radar here in Mississippi, where the media has been silent on Harvey’s legal problems with Leon Cannizzaro but to the extent Mississippi has a larger casino market, I wonder if there is a similar, silly law here in Mississippi. This much is clear, gambling at Harrah’s in New Orleans is not much different from the old days gambling with the local Dixie Mafia.
My personal recommendation and one to which I adhere is to not set foot in a casino and I’d especially avoid the ones in places like Louisiana where the strong arm for the local casinos is the local DA.