Dixie Mafia

Pete Halat

The Dixie Mafia is a criminal organization composed mainly of white Southerners and based in Biloxi, Mississippi, operating primarily throughout the Southern United States since at least the 1970s. The group used each member’s talents in various crime categories to help move stolen merchandise, illegal alcohol, and illegal drugs.

Unlike members of the American Mafia, the members of the Dixie Mafia were not connected by family or country of origin. They were loosely connected individuals of many nationalities with a common goal – to make money and wield control over illegal moneymaking operations by any means, including influence peddling, bribery of public officials, and murder.

Beginning in the late 1960s, the Dixie Mafia began working as a loosely knit group of traveling criminals performing residential burglary, robbery, and theft. The gang did not function with a set chain of command, but was led by whoever had the most money. Despite the informal structure, the Dixie Mafia had one rule that members were expected to obey: ‘Thou shall not snitch to the cops.’

The gang became known for carrying out contract killings, particularly against former members. During its peak, from the early 1960s to the late 1980s, dozens of people were murdered (usually shot) by its members. Victims were most often murdered because they testified, or threatened to testify, against fellow members.

‘The Strip’ in Biloxi, Mississippi, was home base for the Dixie Mafia, and Mike Gillich, Jr., was the group’s unofficial but de facto kingpin. Of Croatian descent and from a large, poor family, he had raised himself in the city’s Point Cadet section to become a wealthy entrepreneur. He owned a string of motels, nightclubs that doubled as strip joints and gambling dens, and a bingo parlor. He was known and trusted by almost every member of the Dixie Mafia, especially those who trusted no one else. In the words of one investigator, ‘Mr. Mike runs the criminals’ post office. He’s their banker.’

Gillich was also patron and protector of Kirksey McCord Nix, Jr., one of the gang’s most notable members. In December, 1965, at the age of 22, Nix was caught carrying illegal automatic weapons in Fort Smith, Arkansas. An old friend of his, Juanda Jones, ran a bordello there, and Nix became involved with Jones’ adolescent daughter, Sheri LaRa. In later years, she played a key role in his operations, including direct ties to the murders of attorney Vince Sherry and is wife. Edward Humes, in his 1994 book, ‘Mississippi Mud,’ chronicled their murders, and the subsequent investigation of Gillich, Nix, Bobby Fabian, and others who were involved either loosely or actively in the murders. With the aid of his father’s connections in neighboring Oklahoma, Nix beat the weapons charges in Fort Smith and moved on to other crimes. He was suspected in the gangland-style murder of a gambler named Harry Bennett, who was about to turn state’s evidence against several Dixie Mafia members. Although Nix’s involvement in Bennett’s murder was never proven, this incident precipitated a string of killings that left 25 people dead in six states over the next four years.

Nix was a suspect in the attempted assassination of McNairy County, Tennessee Sheriff Buford Pusser, and in the murder of Pusser’s wife. Nix was also convicted of murdering wealthy New Orleans grocery owner Frank Corso. At the time of the murder, Nix was believed to be employed by Darrel Ward in Clarksville, Texas. Ward was a noted associate of Chicago Mob boss Sam Giancana, and is thought to have controlled organized crime and bootlegging throughout Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. The Dixie Mafia was strongly connected to the State Line Mob (an association of criminal elements that operated in the 1950s and 1960s at the Mississippi–Tennessee state line along U.S. Route 45) and its leader, Carl Douglas White.

The Dixie Mafia’s origins were in the Appalachian states, which had a regionalism dating back to the Whiskey Rebellion (a violent tax protest during the presidency of George Washington) and the secessionist movement resulting, briefly, in the state of Franklin (Eastern Tennessee). This view that the federal government is oppressive and that criminal enterprise against it is justified spread from its place of origin to wealthier regions where the Dixie Mafia operated; primarily in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama, particularly around the cities of Birmingham, Baton Rouge, Hattiesburg, Corinth, Dallas, and Atlanta. Some of the group’s criminal activities were in more obscure parts of their major areas of operation, making the group and their activities harder to pinpoint.

The Dixie Mafia committed most of their crimes in areas that lacked strong, coordinated law enforcement, particularly in small communities throughout the South (such as Amity, Arkansas). Small-town and county law enforcement agencies, especially in poorer sections of the South up to the 1990s, were usually inadequately equipped, and rarely had officers with extensive experience in the investigation of homicide or organized crime.

The members of the Dixie Mafia usually created small, seemingly legitimate businesses such as buying and selling junk or antiques. These businesses provided fronts for the operators to buy and sell stolen items provided by others within the network. The businesses usually operated until they aroused suspicion, then moved to another location. Many members of the Dixie Mafia were former state or federal prisoners. Members were usually recruited while in prison; a history of violent behavior was generally a prerequisite to becoming a member.

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