SIU Press

The stories of Charlie Birger, the Sheltons, their men, and their adversaries don’t end after the trials, the sentences, or even the hangings. Several men outlast their years in prison. Some fall to enemy bullets. Some vanish into obscurity or old age. But a few—like Charlie Birger—leave us with a legacy that has survived a hundred years and may well survive a hundred more. 

The murder trial of Ethel Price concludes, Arlie O. Boswell and other prominent officials stand trial for violating the Volstead Act, and members of the Birger gang set the record straight who was responsible for the destruction of Shady Rest.

On April 19th, 1928, Charlie Birger is executed for his crimes, marking the last public hanging in Illinois. After his death, the trial of the accused murderers of Ethel Price begins.

Until the day of his hanging is upon him, Charlie Birger spends the last months of his life behind bars.

On October 21st, 1927—a year after the murder of Ward “Casey” Jones—Birger gangman Rado Millich mounts the gallows, reads aloud his final words, and is hanged.

The testimony of Jesse Cremer, a witness to the murder of Joe Adams, results in the conviction of Harry Thomasson. In August 1927, Sheriff Coleman arrests Fred “Butch” Thomasson and Joe Booher for the murder of Lyle “Shag” Worsham. Meanwhile, Arlie Boswell is again fired upon by, he believes, members of the Birger gang.

At trial, Art Newman’s schemes are expected to ensure convictions for Charlie Birger and Ray Hyland, leading the men’s attorneys to mount a weak defense. While Newman and Hyland receive life imprisonment, Birger’s hanging is scheduled for October 14th.

Charlie Birger’s trial unfolds, captivating the entire town, from reporters to small children. Witnesses to the gangsters’ crimes tell story after story of their harrowing ordeals.

After a brief trial full of conflicting testimony, two Birger gang members, Eural Gowan and Rado Millich, are convicted of killing Ward “Casey” Jones.

Birger and his gang members confess to numerous crimes and murders, including the gruesome killing of an innocent witness, Ethel Price. As the truth comes out, shaking Southern Illinois to its core, Birger attentively watches the trials’ outcomes, aware of his own precarious fate.

The Thomasson brothers confess to the murder of Joe Adams and recount the details of the crime, revealing the roles of Charlie Birger and Art Newman.

All three Shelton brothers are sentenced to 25 years in prison for the mail robbery in Collinsville; meanwhile, the body of patrolman Lory Price is found. Charlie Birger is arrested at his home, and Arlie Boswell is attacked and threatened by an anonymous letter.

Shady Rest is destroyed in an explosion and four bodies are found at the scene. Soon after, state highway patrolman Lory Price, who remarked that he had seen Charlie Birger, Art Newman, and Connie Ritter driving toward the scene that night, goes missing along with his pregnant wife Ethel. Charlie Birger testifies against the Sheltons in the trial for the Collinsville mail robbery.

With the murder of Joe Adams and the theft of a local reverend’s brand new red Chevrolet, the Birger gang’s criminal disruptions have pushed the law to its limit, and authorities devise a plot to arrest Charlie for good.

A bank robbery, attacks on Shady Rest, home bombings, and even the murder of a mayor: the squabbles between Birger’s gang and his enemies grow increasingly violent as Birger’s notoriety spreads.

When Birger and his gang have scores to settle, dressing in drag might be their best option to take care of their dirty business. Meanwhile, Birger resorts to threats of violence to keep the doings of his gang under wraps.

The war between the Birger and Shelton gangs rages on, with Charlie Birger desperate to get his hands on the Sheltons’ prized tank. In October, the bodies of two gangsters are discovered, with no culprits in sight.

Summer and fall of 1926 sees several attacks and murders in quick succession between the Birger and Shelton gangs. The Sheltons’ attack on their former friend Art Newman and his wife Bessie causes Newman to reconsider his allegiances.

Relations between Birger and the Sheltons break down, owing to a variety of circumstances, including Birger’s refusal to pay the Sheltons their cut of the proceeds from local slot machines. Tensions in Williamson County are nearing a breaking point.

New Illinois Supreme Court rulings force Attorney Arlie Boswell to dismiss dozens of liquor cases. In 1926, a Herrin election sparks another battle between the Klan and bootleggers, which spells the ending of the Klan’s influence in Southern Illinois.

One of a string of burglaries south of Harrisburg in 1925 leads to the arrest and trial of one of Birger’s most notorious gangsters, a man known by the pseudonym “Steve George.” In 1926, Birger marries his new wife, Bernice.

A shootout ensues when Earl Shelton’s bulldog kills Charlie Birger’s in a dogfight, one of the common forms of entertainment at the bootlegger’s hideout, Shady Rest.

After escaping suspicion in the investigation of a bloody shootout, Charlie Birger serves a month in jail for possessing intoxicating liquor and then, a free man again, builds his most notorious entertainment complex, Shady Rest.

As dangers mount, Beatrice Birger draws away from her husband, but Charlie is obsessively desperate to keep her.

On March 26, 1924, Charlie Birger is found guilty on several bootlegging-related charges and sentenced to a year in prison. Meanwhile, Carl and Earl Shelton ambush S. Glenn Young and his wife and take part in a Herrin shootout.

In December of 1923, a war sparks between bootleggers and law enforcement, many of whom are prominent Klan members. When Carl and Earl Shelton are indicted for the murder of one of these members, they seek out an alliance with Klan-connected Marion attorney Arlie O. Boswell.

After escaping another murder conviction, Charlie Birger is injured in a fight but recovers in a hospital in Herrin, where his wife Beatrice encounters one of his mistresses for the first time.

A complicated man to say the least, bootlegger and murderer Charlie Birger gains a reputation among locals for extreme acts of kindness. However, his deadly temper always lurks beneath the surface.

After Charlie Birger establishes the profitable “Near Bar” in town, Beatrice recalls her husband’s ability to “operate with minimum of interference” due to his weekly payoffs of certain local law enforcement.

In this episode of Inside the Blanket Fort, learn more about upcoming projects for Blanket Fort Radio Theater - and meet the students behind those projects.

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