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February 1, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Buckingham Outlaws: Part XXI

Post_21_Common Law Book

Buckingham County Common Law Book Vol. 4

(Click on the image to enlarge)

Justice for Arvonia

With the incarceration of Charles Thomas in March of 1909, reports concerning the Zimmerman-Thomas Gang disappeared from the newspapers. Many years passed and, in March of 1916, Commonwealth’s Attorney Edmund Hubard declined to further prosecute multiple charges for felonies and misdemeanors against Ben Zimmerman, Arthur Zimmerman, and Willie Thomas.

Many questions remain.

Did the prohibition of alcohol in Arvonia and Marshall District in 1903 create the breeding ground for wide-spread resentment among the newly disenfranchised lower classes and for the inevitable establishment of the gang’s “blind tiger” and other illegal means of selling liquor?

What actually happened between Ben Zimmerman and his brother-in-law, Charles Newton?

Did Charles Thomas “take the fall” for the whole gang?

Was William Thomas ever apprehended for the shooting of Matt Gregory and other crimes?

What about the Zimmerman brothers? Did they flee Buckingham County, never to return?

What role did Sheriff Williams have in all of this? If he was the bondsman for Will Thomas, did he set up the possibility of the jail break by letting Thomas go free?


The arrest and sentencing of Charles Thomas was not the end of Buckingham County’s troubles. As it turned out, peace was short-lived.

During the winter months of 1908-1909, life in Buckingham County settled down. Edmund W. Hubard continued to serve as Commonwealth’s Attorney. Lewis W. Williams carried on as Sheriff. Then, in mid-April of 1909, the Stewart brothers were brutally murdered in another corner of the county.

On April 22, 1909, Roanoke’s The Evening Press reported that Edmund Hubard had visited the governor and requested a reward for the capture of the murderers of the Stewart brothers. The obvious question was raised. Was this crime committed by members of the Zimmerman-Thomas Gang? The article concluded:

Mr. Hubard intimated to the governor that he had no reason to suspect that the murder of the two brothers was committed by any of the desperadoes who figured some months ago in the Arvonia neighborhood and who are popularly known as the “Buckingham outlaws.”

This gang was broken up sometime ago, and several of the offenders have since been imprisoned. The section in which the Stewarts [lived] is at least twenty-five miles distant from the former region in which the desperadoes used to commit their infractions of the law.

If Mr. Hubard communicated to the governor any of his suspicions as to who killed the Stewarts and burned their cabin, the executive was put under a pledge of secrecy, for he declines to venture any surmises as to the guilty parties.

Within two months, Sheriff Williams arrested Dallas Wright, Edward Jones, and Richard Perkins for the murders of the Stewart brothers. Could the many irregularities which followed in their treatment and trials relate back to the pressures put on Williams and Hubard over the failure to capture “The Buckingham Outlaws”? Did officials manipulate proceedings to demonstrate that law and order operated successfully in the county? If so, they failed.

Buckingham County’s reputation had been seriously damaged during the summer and autumn of 1908 while the Zimmerman-Thomas Gang terrorized Arvonia. Ultimately, the events surrounding the murder of the Stewart brothers did not help restore the county’s peaceful image. By 1911, when Dallas Wright, Edward Jones, and Richard Perkins were all acquitted, newspaper editors may still have been scratching their heads and asking . . .

“What’s the matter in Buckingham County, anyway?”

Once again, special thanks goes to Mary Carolyn Minton for introducing me to the Zimmerman-Thomas Gang. Virginia Chronicle, created at the Library of Virginia, provided most of the newspaper articles, including Roanoke’s sensational The Evening News.

Coming Next: Epilogue

Need to catch up? Click here: The Buckingham Outlaws: Part I

Click here for the story of the Stewart brothers: The 1909 Buckingham Murders? Part I



Leave a Comment
  1. Virginia Bower / Feb 1 2016 6:27 pm

    Every story you do is more fascinating than the previous one….Happy New Year, Virginia

    Date: Mon, 1 Feb 2016 13:25:50 +0000 To:

    • Joanne Yeck / Feb 1 2016 6:42 pm

      Thanks, Virginia! Watch for the epilogue on Thursday.

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