Buford Hayse Pusser (December 12, 1937 – August 21, 1974) was the Sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee, from 1964 to 1970. Pusser is known for his virtual one-man war on moonshining, prostitution, gambling, and other vices on the Mississippi-Tennessee state-line. His efforts have inspired several books, songs, movies, and a TV series. The Buford Pusser Museum was established at the house he was in at the time of his death in 1974. A Buford Pusser Festival is held each May in his hometown of Adamsville, Tennessee.
Buford Pusser was born to Carl and Helen Pusser in Finger, McNairy County, Tennessee. His father was the police chief of Adamsville, Tennessee. Buford Pusser was a high school football and basketball player and was 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) tall.
Pusser joined the United States Marine Corps when he graduated from high school. His service ended during his United States Marine Corps Recruit Training, when he was given a medical discharge for asthma. In 1957, he moved to Chicago, where he married his wife, Pauline, on December 5, 1959. Pusser returned home in 1962.
Pusser was Adamsville's police chief and constable from 1962 to 1964. He then was elected sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee, after incumbent sheriff, James Dickey was killed in a freak auto accident, becoming the youngest sheriff in Tennessee's history. Pusser promptly began trying to eliminate the Dixie Mafia and the State Line Mob.
Pusser survived several assassination attempts. On February 1, 1966, Louise Hathcock attempted to kill Pusser during an on-site investigation of a robbery complaint at The Shamrock. Hathcock fired on Pusser with a concealed .38 pistol. Pusser returned fire and killed Hathcock. On January 2, 1967, Pusser was shot three times by an unidentified gunman.
Already a local hero, Pusser's "war" on the State Line Mob was brought to national prominence when according to Pusser, his wife, Pauline, was killed on August 12, 1967, during an assassination ambush intended for him. Pusser named Kirksey McCord Nix, Jr. as the contractor of his wife's killers, although Nix was never charged with the crime.
Pusser shot and killed intoxicated, Charles Russell Hamilton on December 25, 1968, after responding to a complaint that Hamilton had threatened his landlord with a gun.
Pusser was ineligible for re-election in 1970 due to the term limit then in effect. He was defeated in his bid as sheriff in 1972. Pusser blamed the loss to incumbent Sheriff Clifford Coleman in part on the controversy surrounding the making of the semi-biographical movie, Walking Tall. He was again elected as constable of Adamsville by a majority of voters who wrote in his name on their ballots. He served as constable for two more years (1970–1972).
According to Pusser, on the pre-dawn morning of August 12, 1967, Pusser's phone rang, informing him of a disturbance call on New Hope Road in McNairy County. He responded, with his wife Pauline joining him for this particular ride. Shortly after they passed the New Hope Methodist Church, a car came alongside Pusser's; and the occupants opened fire, killing Pauline and leaving Pusser, who had suffered a bullet wound to the chin, for dead. He spent eighteen days in the hospital before returning home and would need several more surgeries to restore his appearance,
Pusser vowed to bring all involved with his wife's death to justice. He identified four assassins: Louise Hathcock's former boyfriend, Carl Douglas "Towhead" White, George McGann, Gary McDaniel, and Kirksey Nix; but he later changed his story as to who the assassins were when he couldn't identify them from pictures and in person.
On April 4, 1969 White was gunned down in front of the El Ray Motel on U.S. Highway 45 in Corinth, Mississippi. The alleged triggerman was a small-time hood named Berry Smith. W.R. Morris, author of The State Line Mob: A True Story of Murder and Intrigue, wrote in 1990 that Pusser himself had hired the hit man who killed White with one shotgun blast to the head.
In late 1970, both McDaniel and McGann were found shot to death in Texas. According to Edward Humes in Mississippi Mud: Southern Justice and the Dixie Mafia (1994), Pusser was suspected by some law enforcement officials of having killed both. However, McGann was killed as a result of an unrelated matter by one Ronny Weeden, who was tried and convicted of the crime.
Pusser never brought Kirksey Nix to justice. Nix was sentenced to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola for the Easter Saturday 1971 murder of a New Orleans grocer, Frank J. Corso. Nix was later involved in the 1987 murder-for-hire of Judge Vincent Sherry and his wife Margaret, in Biloxi, Mississippi. His co-conspirator, Biloxi Mayor Pete Halat, had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from Nix and blamed it on his law partner, Judge Sherry. Nix ordered a hit from prison and was later sentenced to isolation for the rest of his life. Nix has repeatedly refused to comment about Pusser's claims that he was one of Pauline Pusser's killers.
Pusser died on August 21, 1974 from injuries sustained in a one-car automobile accident. Earlier in the day, Pusser had contracted with Bing CrosbyProductions in Memphis to portray himself in the sequel to Walking Tall. That evening, Pusser, returning home alone from the McNairy County Fair in his specially and powerfully modified Corvette, struck an embankment at high speed, ejecting him from the vehicle. The car caught fire and burned.
Speculation as to cause included unfounded rumors of sabotage to the steering mechanism and the tie-rods but ignored a 0.18% blood alcohol content and witnesses who saw him drinking at the fair. The Tennessee State Trooper who worked the accident, Paul Ervin, later became McNairy County sheriff. Both Pusser's mother, Helen (1908–1987) and his daughter, Dwana (1961–) believed he was murdered. Dwana, who was a passenger in another car, came upon the scene of the accident moments later.
No autopsy of Pusser's body was performed. As sheriff, Pusser survived seven stabbings and eight shootings.
Pusser's memorial service was held at the Adamsville Church of Christ.