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Madison County Sheriff's Office
Serving the Citizens of Madison County, Since 1836.
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Past Sheriffs of Madison County

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Sheriff John A. Phillips

 

1927-1930

Madison County Record, December 1930 - June 1931

December 22, 1930: The greatest shock the citizens of Madison county has had in many years was that late Tuesday afternoon, caused by the cold blooded murder of Sheriff John A. Phillips when he was shot to death instantly by Jason L. Matlock, whose arrest, on a charge of assault, with intent to kill, was attempted by Sheriff Phillips and Constable T. D. Parker. The tragedy occurred in a room at Matlock’s home about two miles north of Alabam.

A Shotgun, was the weapon used, a full load of which struck the sheriff in the breast. This was the only wound known to have been inflicted until after Mr. Phillip’s body had been brought to his home in Huntsville and was more thoroughly examined, when it was found that he had also been shot in his left leg with a revolver, the ball passing through his thigh muscle and lodging in the wall of the room where Mr. Phillips was standing.

It is not known by whom the revolver was fired. The only witness to the killing was Constable Parker who states that he and the Sheriff had no trouble gaining admittance into Matlock’s House, that Matlock met them on the porch and shook hands with both of them, inviting them to go into the house and be seated; that Sheriff Phillips occupied a chair near the stove, while Constable Parker sat on a trunk near the front door; that Matlock took a position beside a bed on the opposite side of the stove from the sheriff and was standing there engaging in conversation with the officers; that Matlock remarked something about them being there to arrest him; that Sheriff Phillips informed him that was the purpose of their presence and asked the Constable to read the warrant; that Mr. Parker had just begun to reading the warrant, when he heard Sheriff Phillips say “don’t do that!’ twice in rapid succession, when Constable Parker looked up as Matlock shot the Sheriff, it being presumed that Matlock snatched the gun from concealment about the bed; that as Sheriff Phillip fell Parker fired at Matlock who fell back across the bed; that Parker believing that he had wounded Matlock immediately left the house and hurried to Alabam to phone for a physician, hoping that Sheriff Phillips might not have been fatally wounded.

When Dr. Charles Beeby and other parties had joined Constable Parker they went to the Matlock home, which they found locked with all the windows securely nailed down. Admittance was gained by kicking in the front door. Sheriff Phillips body lay apparently as he had fallen with his head towards the wall and back to the stove; however Constable Parker insist that it had been moved, he stated that the Sheriff had fell with his head towards the front door. There is no question about Sheriff Phillips still being on the opposite side of the stove from Matlock when he was shot, as a large hole was torn in the stove pipe by the gun load before it entered the Sheriffs breast.

By the door being locked and the windows being nailed down, it was expected that Matlock would be encountered when the door was forced open, but he had gone. Posses were formed one headed by Dr. W. E. Acree, Coroner and another under the direction of Sheriff Henry Walker of Washington County who accompanied by two of his Deputies hastened to the scene of the killing when informed of the tragedy.

Searching for Matlock had continued only a few hours when he was located at the home of Avery Gage, about two miles away and his capture was effected without resistance, as had not been expected and eventually not as Matlock had intended. He had his shotgun with him, but his captures were in the house before he knew of their presence about the premises and he was in another room from where his gun had been placed. Even with the surprise given him he was slow to put up his hands and did not do so until Earl Stroud, the first of the posse into the room, had flashed a light on him and told him a second time to “stick em up”, emphasizing the command by presenting a revolver against his breast. Matlock was taken to the Fayetteville Jail, with a charge of first degree murder.

Matlock is between 80 and 85 years old, a union soldier of the civil war, and had resided in the Marble and Alabam communities the past several years, coming to this county from Missouri. He had been living alone since separating from his fourth wife or running her away from home a few years ago. Aside from being know as abusive and cruel to his wife, he was not likable in any kind of association and most of his acquaintances consider him a sort of nuisance in the community. A few have expressed their opinion that he is partially insane but he is not generally considered so, rather a majority of the people that know him believe that he is just a criminal his cruel murder of Sheriff Phillips marks him.

Matlock confesses his guilt but gives a different version of the tragedy from that of Constable Parker, the following quotation being taken from a statement he made to a newspaper reporter since he was lodged in jail:“As the Sheriff moved towards me I thought he was going to catch hold of the barrel of my gun and I fired. I didn’t mean to kill him. I only meant to scare him. A part of the charge struck the Sheriff and part struck the stove pipe, cutting it nearly in two. The Deputy left the room but fired through the door with a pistol just as the Sheriff fell. I don’t know where the shot hit. The Sheriff staggered to the door after he was shot and fell behind a trunk near the door” Regarding the pistol wound in Sheriff Phillips leg it is certain he did not shoot himself as he did not draw his revolver from the holster and there was not an empty shell in the cylinder.

The warrant against Mr. Matlock was sworn out by Jim Allman, a neighbor, who was shot at by Matlock a few days ago when they had a disagreement while Allman was employed on Matlock’s farm.

December 24, 1930; Funeral Services conducted at the Presbyterian Church in Huntsville and the Alabam church by Rev. J.C. Boatright of Fort Gibson, Okla., and internment was made in the Alabam Cemetery, one of the largest numbers of sorrowing relatives and friends ever known assembled in Madison County attended.

Sheriff Phillips was born in Washington County, Arkansas April 1, 1856, but had resided in Madison County most of his life; was married to Margaret Long in 1892, and is survived by his wife and three daughters, Mrs. Joe Bevers of Hindsville, Mrs. John Bean of Seminole, Okla., and Mrs. John Foss of St. Louis. Also by six brothers and sisters, Charlie Phillips of Imperial, Cali., Tom Phillips of Hindsville, Mrs. Viola Dyer of Hartwell, M.I. Phillips, George Phillips, and Mrs. Ann Harwood of near Huntsville all the immediate relatives except the brother in California being present at the funeral. Mr. Phillips was a man highly esteemed by everyone who knew him; he had been twice elected Sheriff and collector, and in less than ten days his second term would have expired, when he planned to return to his farm near Hindsville. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church.

December 27, 2930; Mrs. Margaret Phillips Appointed Sheriff of Madison County, by Governor Parnell and served out the remaining five days of the unexpired term of her husband, John A. Phillips. Mrs. Phillips having assisted him all the time with the clerical duties of the office and is better qualified than anyone else to wind up the affairs in the office. She will appoint deputies to look after any work outside needing attention.

The Coroner, Dr. W. E. Acree was acting Sheriff during the four day interim, between the day of the killing and the appointment.

Jason L. Matlock was represented in Justice of the Peace George W. Duncan’s Court at Huntsville, Monday, by his attorney, John Mayes of Fayetteville, who entered a plea of not guilty, for his client and waived preliminary examination. The court held Matlock on the charge of first degree murder without bond to await the action of the Grand Jury at the next term of Circuit Court and continued to be confined in the Fayetteville jail.

Mrs. Margaret Phillips filed a Suit for $5,600.00 damages against Jason L. Matlock for the loss of her husband, Sheriff John A. Phillips and attaches the property of two farms owned by Matlock which are the only two properties he was known to possess. Judge J. B. Harris is retained as Mrs. Phillips attorney.

January 1931; A special term of the Circuit Court was held, Matlock confessed his guilt, but when arraigned for trial his attorney entered a plea that he was mentally irresponsible for his actions at the time of the killing and consequently did not put him on the witness stand. Matlock was sentenced to life imprisonment in the state penitentiary.

Matlock’s Case is appealed to the Supreme Court

June 16, 1931; Jason L. Matlock dies in the Huntsville Jail, and his remains were buried that afternoon in the potter’s field on the county farm. His death is said to resulted from gangrene developing in a chronic sore on one of his legs, caused by a wound, he received while serving as a federal soldier in the Civil War.

Matlock was survived by a wife or wives, also one or more children, who reside in Missouri and perhaps other states, but not withstanding relatives were notified of his death none of them claimed his remains.

Jason L. Matlock Dies in County Jail - For the murder of Sheriff John A. Phillips

Article from the Madison County Record, 18 June 1931, Madison County, Arkansas

Jason L. Matlock, slayer of Sheriff John A. Phillips and sentenced to life imprisonment in the state penitentiary, whose case was on appeal to the supreme court, died in the Huntsville jail Tuesday morning, and his remains were buried that afternoon in the potter's field on the county farm. His death is said to have resulted from gangrene developing in a chronic sore on one of his legs caused by a wound he received while serving as a federal soldier in the Civil War. Matlock is survived by a wife or wives, also one or more children, who reside in Missouri and perhaps other states, but notwithstanding relatives were notified of his death, none of the claimed his remains.

The untimely death of Sheriff Phillips, which occurred December 22nd of last year, less than two weeks before the expiration of his term of office, was one of the most sensational criminal tragedies in the history of Madison County, the details of which are still fresh in the memory of the readers of the Record.

Sheriff Phillips was killed by Matlock while attempting his arrest on a warrant charging him with an assault with intent to kill. Before his indictment and trial at a special term of circuit court held in January, Matlock confessed his guilt, but when arraigned for trial, his attorneys entered a plea that he was mentally irresponsible for his actions at the time of the killing and consequently did not put him on the witness stand.

From the Madison County Record, 25 December 1930

Obituary reads:

Sheriff John A. Phillips Killed While Attempting An Arrest, Jason Matlock the Murderer. Phillips Lacked Less Than Ten Days till End of Official Service. Governor is Asked to Appoint Mrs. Phillips to Fill Out Term.

The greatest shock the citizens of Madison County has had in many years was that late Tuesday afternoon, caused by the cold blooded murder of Sheriff John A. Phillips when he was shot to death instantly by Jason Matlock, whose arrest, on a charge of assault with intent to kill, was attempted by Sheriff Phillips and Constable T. D. Parker.

The tragedy occurred in a room at Matlock's home about two miles north of Alabam. A shotgun was the weapon used, a full load of which struck the sheriff in the breast. This was the only wound known to have been inflicted until after Mr. Phillips' body had been brought to his home in Huntsville and was more thoroughly examined when it was found that he had also been shot in the left leg with a revolver, the ball passing through the thigh muscle and lodging in the wall of the room at the side of where Mr. Phillips was standing. It is not known by whom the revolver was fired. The only witness to the killing was Constable Parker who states that he and the sheriff had no trouble gaining admittance into Matlock's house; that Matlock met them on the porch and shook hands with them , invited them to go into the house and be seated; that Sheriff Phillips occupied a chair near the stove, while Constable Parker sat on a trunk near the front door; that Matlock took a position beside a bed on the opposite side of the stove from the Sheriff and was standing there engaged in conversation with the officers; that Matlock remarked something about them being there to arrest him; that Sheriff Phillips informed him that was the purpose of their presence and asked the constable to read the warrant; that Mr. Parker had just begun reading the warrant when he heard Sheriff Phillips say, 'don't do that!' twice in rapid succession, when Constable Parker looked up as Matlock shot the sheriff, it being presumed that Matlock has snatched the gun from concealment about the bed; that as Sheriff fell, Parker fired at Matlock who fell back across the bed; that Parker, believing that he had wounded Matlock immediately left the house and hurried to Alabam to phone for a physician, hoping that Sheriff Phillips might not have been fatally wounded.

When Dr. Charles Beeby and other parties had joined Constable Parker, they went to the Matlock home, which they found locked with all the windows securely nailed down. Admittance was gained by kicking in the front door. Sheriff Phillips' body lay apparently as he had fallen, with his head towards the wall back of the stove; however, Constable Parker insists it had been moved, he stating that the sheriff fell with his head towards the front door. There is no question about Sheriff Phillips still being on the opposite side of the stove from Matlock when he was shot, as a large hole was torn in the stove pipe by the gun load before it entered the sheriff's breast.

By the door being locked and the windows nailed down, it was expected that Matlock would be encountered when the door was forced open but he had gone. Posses were formed, on headed by Dr. W. E. Acree, coroner, and another under the direction of Sheriff Henry Walker of Washington County who, accompanied by two of his deputies hastened to the scene of the killing when informed of the tragedy.

Searching for Matlock had continued only a few hours when he was located at the home of Avery Gage about two miles away, and his capture was effected without resistance, as had not been expected and evidently not as Matlock had intended. He had his shotgun with him, but his captors were in the house before he knew of their presence about the premises and he was in another room from where his gun had been placed. Even with the surprise given him, he was slow to put up his hands and did not do so until after Earl Stroud, the first of the posse into the room had flashed a light on him and told him a second time to stick'em up, emphasizing the command by pressing a revolver against his breast. Matlock was taken to the Fayetteville jail. A first degree murder charge has been filed against him but the date for a preliminary trail has not been set.

Matlock is between 80 and 85 years old, a union soldier of the Civil War, and had resided in the Marble and Alabam communities the past several years, coming to this county from Missouri. He had been living alone since separating from his fourth wife or running her away from home a few years ago. Aside from being known as abusive and cruel to his wife, he was not likeable in any kind of association and most of his acquaintances considered him a sort of nuisance in the community. A few have expressed their opinion that he is partially insane but he is not generally considered so, rather a majority of the people who know him believe he is just the criminal this cruel murderer of Sherriff Phillips marks him. Matlock confesses his guilt, but given a different version of the tragedy from that of Constable Parker, the following quotation being taken from a statement he made to a newspaper reporter since he was lodged in jail; 'As the sheriff moved toward me I thought he was going to catch hold of the barrel of my gun and I fired. I didn't mean to kill him. I only meant to scare him. A part of the charge struck the sheriff and a part struck the stove pipe, cutting it nearly in two. The deputy left the room but fired through the door with a pistol just as the sheriff fell. I don't know where the shot hit. The sheriff staggered to the door after he was shot and fell behind a trunk near the door.

Regarding the pistol wound in Sheriff Phillips' leg, it is certain he did not shoot himself, as he had not drawn his revolver from the holster and there was not any empty shell in the cylinder. The warrant against Matlock for assault with intent to kill was sworn out by Jim Allman, a neighbor, who was shot at by Matlock a few days ago when they had a disagreement while Allman was employed on Matlock's farm.

Funeral services were conducted at the Presbyterian Church here and the Alabam Church by Rev. J. C. Boatright of Ft. Gibson, Oklahoma and interment was made in the Alabam Cemetery Wednesday afternoon, one of the largest number of sorrowing relatives and friends ever known assembled in Madison County attending.

Sheriff Phillips was born in Washington County, Arkansas, April 1, 1856, but had resided in Madison County most of his life; was marred to Margaret Long in 1892, and is survived by his wife and three daughters, Mrs. Joe Bevers of Hindsville, Mrs. Joe Bean of Seminole, Oklahoma and Mrs. John Foss of St. Louis, also by six brothers and sisters, Charley Phillips of Imperial, California, Tom Phillips of Hindsville, Mrs. Viola Dyer of Hartwell, M. L. Phillips, George Phillips and Mrs. Ann Harwood of near Huntsville, all of the immediate relatives except the brother in California being present at the funeral.

Mr. Phillips was a man highly esteemed by everyone who knew him; he had been twice elected sheriff and collector, and in less than days his second term would have expired, when he planned to return to his farm near Hindsville. He was a member of the Presbyterian church.

Governor Parnell will be requested to appoint Mrs. Phillips to succeed her husband in office for the few remaining days of the term, she having assisted him all the time with the clerical duties of the office and is better qualified than anyone else to wind up the affairs in the office. She will appoint deputies to look after any work outside needing attention.