By Massad Ayoob
A madman shoots dozens of people — until a citizen with a gun drops him in his tracks.
When NRA’s Wayne LaPierre famously said, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he had the weight of history behind him.
Monroe Phillips was a big man physically who had always hoped to be a big man socially, but it hadn’t turned out well. His business interests in timber and real estate had failed, probably because people found him surly and unpleasant. He’d always spoken of many people conspiring against him, and paranoia doesn’t attract customers or business associates. On May 6, 1915, he and his lawyer had an appointment to sit down with a judge and the attorney for some of his creditors, Col. Harry Dunwoody, who was what Phillips had long wanted to be: one of the most prominent men in their town of Brunswick, Ga.
Phillips’ wife informed him of a phone conversation she’d just had with lawyer Dunwoody. The man had insulted her, she reported. She’d sold a lighter (a type of barge) for a $75 down payment, and the lawyer said property was attached, in essence accusing her of trying to steal the money.
“I’ll go and speak with Dunwoody,” Phillips told his wife. When she heard those words, she couldn’t have realized she would never see her husband alive again.
The Murders Begin
Dunwoody’s secretary, Ila Lee, was at the reception desk of Dunwoody’s second-floor law office at the corner of Newcastle and Gloucester Streets in Brunswick when the hulking Phillips strode through the front door and demanded to see Dunwoody. She told him the lawyer was busy and couldn’t see him. Phillips simply brushed past her.
She watched him kick open the door to her boss’s office, and then saw the shotgun he was raising to his shoulder. She heard a deafening blast and fled from her desk into the office legal library. Behind her, another shotgun blast exploded.
She heard Phillips leave and emerged from the library to peek into Dunwoody’s office. She saw her employer in his chair, what was left of his head lolling backward; he had taken a full 10-gauge charge of buckshot in the face, killing him instantly. On the floor lay the man he had been in conference with, A.M. Way, his face a bloody mask with a ruined eyeball hanging out of its socket. She didn’t know the killer was just outside the door in the second-floor hallway, reloading.
Death in the Stairwell
The roar of the powerful 10-gauge had been heard in the street, and passersby were gathering at the floor-level door and entryway to see what was going on. At this point, Phillips — who had thumbed two more big shells into the twin barrels of his huge Parker shotgun — looked down the staircase he had just ascended and saw his next victims.
The men below were caught in a fatal funnel. Phillips threw the shotgun to his shoulder and fired both barrels. One of the men he aimed at collapsed instantly, while the other, though visibly hit, remained on his feet.
On the floor, riddled with buckshot and dying, was C.L. Padgett. Padgett had been a Brunswick police officer. He was not on-duty at this time, having taken a job as a motorman, and historical accounts conflict as to whether he was associated with the BPD at the time Phillips shot him. However, Padgett was well known in town, and it’s reasonable to assume Phillips recognized him as “a cop.” The other man, whom Phillips had only wounded in the right leg, was attorney Eustace Butts.
It must have been an interesting tableau in the long seconds which followed: Phillips perhaps realized if the downed Padgett had a gun on him, Butts could reach it and shoot him before he could reload his empty shotgun. And Butts probably realized he couldn’t make it up the stairs and attempt a disarm with a wounded leg.
Instead, Phillips broke open his Parker to reload from his pocket, and Butts and other citizens quickly dragged Padgett back out the door and out of the line of fire.
The Rampage Continues
Phillips, having reloaded, now proceeded down the staircase to the office door of another nemesis, prominent businessman and real estate magnate Albert Fendig, whom Phillips had publicly accused of swindling him out of $25,000 in a real estate deal. He discovered the target of his hatred was not in, but Phillips did confront one W.K. Boston. “I’m not going to kill you,” he said to Boston. “You’ve been my friend.”
It was a courtesy the killer would extend to no one else.
Bursting out the front door of the office building, Phillips blindly fired a shotgun blast into Kaiser’s Store across the street, where a number of women were shopping. The buckshot shattered the display window, sending lead and glass flying through the store. No one was hit, but the customers fled in panic.
On the sidewalk, Phillips ran his big shotgun like an automaton. His sequence was fire once, open the action, pluck out the empty, replace it with another long shotshell pulled from his pocket, close the gun and fire again.
His eye fell upon a long-time local cop, George Asbell, who was moving across the street. Asbell had also left the police department to become a motorman, but the killer either didn’t know or didn’t care. Phillips carefully aimed at him and fired. The buckshot charge caught Asbell in the back of the head, killing him instantly.
As pedestrians realized what was happening and ran, the madman had fewer targets, but his spreading shot patterns were able to hit more victims at once at the greater distances. Evidence would later show when he filled his pockets with shells, Phillips had, perhaps inadvertently, included some small birdshot rounds in with the buckshot. This likely changed many victims who would have been “dead” to “wounded.”
Some of the wounded were also hit at distances far enough to render even Phillips’ buckshot impotent. “Several persons standing blocks away were struck by stray shots,” the New York Times would report the next day. The first L.E. officer to return fire on the mass murderer was special agent S.A. Ellard of the Southern Railway police. Shot from the front, “A number of buckshot (sic) lodged in Ellard’s face.
“When Phillips backed down the street loading and firing his gun Ellard ducked behind a telephone post, whipped on (sic) his revolver and joined in the fusillade which was being rained upon the madman,” the Atlanta Constitution reported two days after the shooting. If Ellard was far enough away buckshot pellets “lodged” in his face from the front, it is understandable his revolver fire took no effect.
By all accounts other than the Constitution’s, there was no “fusillade being rained” upon Phillips as yet.
But it was about to come.
Citizens Arm Themselves
Almost simultaneously, two citizens took it upon themselves to get guns. Both of them made their way to the nearest gun shop, the United Supply Company hardware store. One was Eustace Butts, still bleeding from his wounded leg, the lawyer who had dragged the dying ex-cop from the foot of the office building stairs minutes before. The other was a young man named Ralph Minehan.
Minehan got a .32-caliber revolver and cartridges to hastily shove into its five chambers; reports indicate he had to pay for it. Butts demanded a shotgun, and specifically requested #3 birdshot for it because, he said, he didn’t want to kill the gunman, just stop him. The counterman, either in a hurry or a helluva lot smarter than Butts, gave him buckshot. The record does not show whether cash was demanded for the scattergun.
Armed Citizens End It
It wasn’t far from where the shooting started to Branch’s Pharmacy, where the mass murderer next made entry. It was at this point the first uniformed Brunswick Police officer was able to run to the shooting scene. Young Rexford Deaver saw the gunman, and opened fire. It’s believed he hit Phillips. However, the bulky gunman didn’t go down. Instead, he was seen to aim his gun at the rookie cop and fire. The 10-gauge blast caught Deaver, only 60 days on the job, in the chest. He fell, mortally wounded.
Meanwhile, the two armed citizens had entered the drug store from behind the madman and pinpointed his location. Minehan fired first, emptying his revolver as fast as he could pull the trigger. It’s believed at least one of his bullets struck the gunman, but Monroe Phillips was big and .32-caliber bullets are small, and the raging mass murderer was still on his feet and armed.
It was then Butts discharged a single round. He said later he was trying to shoot the gun out of the big man’s hands, but his shotgun blast hit Phillips in the kidneys. Phillips dropped his gun and collapsed.
It was over. “Well, you’ve just about got me,” witnesses heard the murderer say. “Finish it up.”
No one fired again. It was already finished. The murderer quickly bled out and died on the drug store floor.
Five innocent people died at the scene from Monroe Phillips’ mad dog shooting spree. Mr. Way, the second shooting victim, amazingly survived, though he lost an eye and suffered horrendous facial injuries from the point-blank buckshot blast: remember, a 10-gauge dispenses about a “double dose” compared to a 12-gauge.
A total of 32 people were reported to be wounded by the killer’s fire, two of whom would die from their injuries, and at least one, many years later, would be said to have died sooner than he should have, at least in part from the old wounds inflicted on him during what became known as the Brunswick Massacre.
This atrocity occurred a century ago. We have to remember forensic investigation, then, was primitive compared to our standards today. Once the investigators knew “who killed who,” the case was closed and no further resources were wasted on research.
To this day, the records don’t seem to show what make, model, gauge or type of shotgun the hastily-armed citizen Eustace Butts used to stop Monroe Phillips. We do know from contemporary newspaper reports of the autopsy Butts’ shotgun blast was indeed the fatal shot, shredding the gunman’s kidneys. (The Glynn County Coroner’s Office did not return multiple phone calls, and we can’t be sure the autopsy report even exists today.)
Nor do we know what make and model of revolver Ralph Minehan used in his courageous attempt to stop the killer, but all reports agree it was .32-caliber and apparently 5-shot. Early accounts had Phillips murdering Padgett and wounding Butts outside the building, but later newspaper articles with info gathered after everything calmed down indicated the sequence described here.
A Mystery Solved
One mystery in all of this is no revolver bullet larger than .32-caliber was recovered, according to newspaper descriptions of Phillips’ autopsy report in 1915. Local Brunswick history and the lore of the Brunswick PD hold the heroic rookie cop Rex Deaver shot Phillips before the killer slew him. Yet it has been written Brunswick cops carried .38’s back then, which would have made it impossible for Deaver to shoot his killer before being murdered.
We found the answer, thanks to Captain Kevin Jones of the Brunswick PD, who among other achievements could be described as his agency’s resident historian. When I visited there researching this case a century later, Captain Jones told me in the early days of the department, cops bought their own guns and often went with whatever was cheapest. A grandson of the slain hero cop, also bearing the name Rex Deaver, was chief of the department in the mid-20th century.
Captain Jones was able to put me in touch with a still-living descendant, Kirk Quarterman. Quarterman, a career lawman himself, oddly enough, tells me the hero rookie’s privately-owned service revolver used on the fateful day is still in the family’s possession. He has seen it, a 4″ S&W Hand Ejector, with ivory grips — in .32.
Therefore, it would appear to be entirely possible slain hero cop Rex Deaver, and armed citizens Ralph Minehan and Eustace Butts, all had a part in putting bullets into the madman who finally stopped hurting innocent people when enough good guys with guns put enough lead into him. It remains uncontested it was the shotgun blast fired by armed citizen Butts which decisively dropped Monroe Phillips and ended his rampage.
We’re reminded why American cops don’t carry .32’s anymore, even though they were quite common in the late 19th century, at least on the East Coast for this purpose, and fairly common well into the 20th. They use something bigger — ideally, something a lot bigger — to stop rampaging psychos. Brunswick, Ga., cops today carry Glock .40’s and have more substantial weaponry in their patrol cars for just such emergencies.
We learn “copycat mass murders” aren’t unique to the late 20th and early 21st centuries. One historian reports another mass murder was committed in Macon, Ga., 10 days after the Brunswick Massacre by an unbalanced young man who was reportedly obsessed with what had just happened in Brunswick.
We’re reminded of why first responders armed and ready to shoot back at a moment’s notice is important. If the courageous lawyer Eustace Butts had been armed when Phillips ran his shotgun empty in the stairwell, the toll in Brunswick could have stopped at only two victims killed and two wounded. Instead, Butts had to drag his wounded leg to a hardware store to get a gun, while a merciless clock was ticking and an equally merciless killer’s trigger finger was working.
Today, Georgia is a “shall-issue” state. In 1915, it would have taken a relatively significant amount of money to get a permit to carry a handgun. It’s not prohibitively expensive to carry there; had it been this way then, a citizen with his own gun might have been more likely to be present, and able to stop Phillips sooner.
Ex-cops who’ve served enough time on the job can carry guns under the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004. It wasn’t so back then. Had it been, former policemen Padgett and Asbell would’ve been legal to carry, and either might have been able to stop the rampage before Monroe Phillips could rack up the death toll he did. Instead, both ex-cops apparently died unarmed and helpless.
Today, gun-banners insist law-abiding citizens shouldn’t have “high-capacity magazines” in the name of preventing mass murders, and citizens don’t need guns at all because they can just jump mass murderers and disarm them when they’re reloading. A hundred years ago, the madman Monroe Phillips showed both ideas to be false. He shot some three dozen people with a 2-shot 19th century vintage Parker 10-gauge shotgun.
No one was able to disarm him because, as eyewitness Dr. G.W. Blanton told the Brunswick News a few days after the shooting, Phillips was running the double-barrel with what we would call today a “tactical reload.” Having been caught flat-footed with an empty gun in his second barrage when he stood at the top of a stairwell, the crafty murderer thereafter kept one live shell in one chamber, ready to fire with a quick movement — which simply closed the action. Dr. Blanton told the newspaper he had been waiting for Phillips to run dry so he or someone else could jump him and disarm him, but Phillips never gave them the opportunity. Never underestimate your opponent!
Let me close this history lesson with deepest thanks to Captain Kevin Jones of the Brunswick PD for his assistance. This article is dedicated to the memory of the courageous armed citizens and law enforcement personnel who ended this murderous rampage a century ago, an incident from which more should have been learned in the intervening years.