June 21, 2005

Family Tree - Moore Side > Babe Simpson, the Bank Robber in the Family Tree

babe-picture-front.jpgLast week Melissa's mother Virginia gave her some of aunt Marg's old family photos and the stories to go with them. The man in this picture is Babe Simpson. Melissa's mom knew that he was Melissa's grandfather's cousin, and was a gangster of some sort.

The picture was apparently taken in Knoxville. The back of the picture is an advertisement for "The Askins Stores, 506 S. Gay St., Knoxville, Tenn."

Virginia knew that Babe had been a gangster, and had met him a long time ago when she was very young, but didn't know the whole story. Melissa called her grandmother Geneva, who said Babe had been in the Bunch Gang. We had never heard of them, so we went looking.

At Geneaology.com someone had once asked about the Bunch Gang and gotten an answer from Harry Till:

My cousin, Clarence was the leader. He was shot in Knoxville in 1934.

After escaping from the Cocke County jail at Newport Tn on May 15, 1934, Clarence and his gang rampaged through Claiborne, Grainger and Knox Counties. They killed Sheriff Hutchinson of Union County. They stole cars and robbed travellers until they were finally trapped at the home of C T Epperson, described as a bootlegger and a first cousin of Clarence's mother. Clarence was killed in a hail of machine gun fire as he tried to shoot Sherriff Brewer of Knoxville.

The Knox County Sheriff's Web site mentions that Wesley Brewer, in his term from 1932-1936, "was Sheriff in an era when the Roger Toughy Gang was headquartered here and Clarence Bunch was killed in a shoot-out with police."

I emailed Till to see if he had more information, and he responded:

babe-picture-back.jpg

The Bunch of the Bunch Gang was my cousin Clarence. They were primarily bank robbers. They operated mostly in Northeast Tennessee. I know Clarence escaped once while awaiting trial for a bank robbery in Virginia. He was killed in Knoxville in August 1935 [I think he meant 1934 - LJ]. Almost the entire front page of the Knoxville paper was devoted to the shooting, including a morgue picture.

According to this message board post, the front page story was in the August 23, 1934 edition of the Knoxville Journal. The Journal went into a long decline and was sold to its current owners as a shadow of its former self in 1995. I called their offices, and they said I'd need to go to the library to find back issues, so that's a project for a rainy day.

I'm not sure if Babe was present at the gunfight, but if so he survived. During Father's Day dinner Melissa and I quizzed her family. They say he did a long stretch in the penitentiary. After he got out he visited his relatives in Knoxville. I assume that's when Melissa's mother and grandmother met him. He was still handsome enough to make Melissa's grandmother "weak in the knees."

His brother Walt Simpson told them that the gang had hidden some of their loot on the banks of the Tennessee River. When the gang tried to retrieve it they couldn't locate the hiding place. If the story's true, there could still be a Bunch Gang treasure somewhere along the river.

After he got out of the pen, Babe apparently quit the outlaw life. He married, moved to Virginia, and had three children. This is a picture of him with two of his kids.

babe-simpson-family-sep-1963.jpg

Just last night someone on RootsWeb answered Melissa's post with more information, including Babe's real name - Jesse Edward Simpson. He was born in 1909 in Petros, Tennessee. He died in 1978 and is buried in Fries cemetery in Grayson County, Virginia. Walt Simpson passed away just last year.

Posted by lesjones



Comments

Cool story..

Posted by: Chris Wage at June 21, 2005

Thanks. It has been fun tracking this down. We're looking forward to reading that 1934 newspaper article.

Posted by: Les Jones at June 21, 2005

Cool indeed. Thanks, Les.

Posted by: Steve K. at June 21, 2005

Glad you liked it.

Posted by: Les Jones at June 21, 2005

Les, I think a young lady at the Lawson McGhee Branch of the Knox County Public Library would be interested in hearing from you and talking with you. She has been working on a thesis/book about Babe and the Bunch gang for some time.

Posted by: TVA at June 22, 2005

Cool! I'd love to get in touch with her. I'll shoot you an email with a phone number for her.

Posted by: Les Jones at June 22, 2005

i would like to find more info on clarence but dont know where to start. from the word of my family he is my great uncle or so i would like to make sure.

Posted by: curtis bunch iii at February 08, 2006

I live in easter tennessee, and my family has spoke often of Babe Simson. My Great grandfather and him were good friends. I could possibly give you some more information if you would like. Just email me and let me know.

Posted by: Brandon Kincer at May 09, 2006

Do you know were Clarence is buried?

Thanks
Dan

Posted by: Dan McCoig at June 27, 2007

I don't know that, but I bet Harry Till would. I found him here:

http://genforum.genealogy.com/bunch/messages/1879.html

Posted by: Les Jones at July 01, 2007

I posted this comment in the wrong place the first time, and of course I couldn't delete it........So here it goes again.....Babe Simpson was my grandmother's brother(Mary Nell Akers) and in fact I have seen these pictures in her picture albumns and in Walter Lee Simpson's picture albums. However, me nor my brother and sister knew that he was part of this gang. We did know he spent time in prison but was told other reasons for his time. After seeing this website lastnight I am checking into this with family members. Thank you so much for all this information and I would love to hear from you about this.

Posted by: Amy Wisham at November 04, 2008

I posted this comment in the wrong place the first time, and of course I couldn't delete it........So here it goes again.....Babe Simpson was my grandmother's brother(Mary Nell Akers) and in fact I have seen these pictures in her picture albumns and in Walter Lee Simpson's picture albums. However, me nor my brother and sister knew that he was part of this gang. We did know he spent time in prison but was told other reasons for his time. After seeing this website lastnight I am checking into this with family members. Thank you so much for all this information and I would love to hear from you about this.

Posted by: Amy Wisham at November 04, 2008
Post a comment










Remember personal info?