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Did war on illegal liquor lead to death of popular Mayes County District Attorney in 1952?


On the night of June 7, 1952, Henry Lawrence “Jack” Burris, who was the Mayes County District Attorney at the time, was murdered at his home in Locust Grove. He was behind the house working on the air conditioner when someone came up behind him and shot him.


His wife Melba heard the shot but saw no one when she came out and found her husband dying. He was killed with a single shot to his face at point blank range with a .12 gauge shotgun.


Theories circulated about the killer or killers and all were investigated through the years, but no one was ever charged, even though a United Wire service story dated a few weeks later quoted the Oklahoma Crime Bureau chief as saying that they had arrested one person and might arrest more.


Burris had apparently ruffled some feathers by trying to enforce liquor laws, and some feel that his murder was a hit committed or arranged by state mobsters.


A popular attorney and well-liked man in the county, Burris was born in Locust Grove and attended law school at the University of Oklahoma. He served in the Coast Guard during WW II and was elected as county attorney for three consecutive terms and his fourth term was expiring when he was killed.


He was not, however, seeking a fourth term of office, so theories that the killer or killers wanted him out of the county attorney job did not hold up.


Law officer Herman Greathouse commented at the time that it was a “cold-blooded murder” and “obviously a vengeance killing. I guess Jack prosecuted too hard somewhere. Everybody except those he sent to jail loved him.”


A newsman from KOLS radio station in Pryor later secretly recorded an interview with a man claiming to be Burris' killer. The newsman described him as a "quiet man from Vinita" but never turned the tape over to authorities.


Undersheriff Ralph Willcutt

Ralph Willcutt of Adair was serving as sheriff when the the shotgun slaying of Burris occurred. He worked day and night for the rest of the year following leads in the case. Willcutt was defeated by Slim Weaver in the 1952 election.


Sheriff Weaver said he did not learn of the existence of the tape until October of 1958. Rather than notify the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation of its existence, Weaver spent the next five months "negotiating" for it. In March, 1959 the newsman disappeared and the case remains unsolved.


Although this case is over 62 years-old, if you have any information that might help shed some light on this mystery you can call the Mayes County Sheriff Office at (918) 825-3535.



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