24 March 2016

Sheriff Wyatt's Jail in Greensboro

Almost three years ago, I wrote in this space about Greensboro, Georgia's Spooky Old Gaol.  This structure was used to house (and hang) criminals until about 1895.  At that time, a new jail was established.  After the death of legendary Sheriff L. L. Wyatt, that "new" jail (though more than eighty years old at the time of Wyatt's death) was given his name.

100_3774Outside the jail is a historical marker that tells the tale of the professional life of Sheriff Wyatt:

"SHERIFF L. L. WYATT

This 1895 jail is named for the legendary Sheriff, Loy Lee Wyatt, who enforced the laws in Greene County for fifty-two years until his death in 1977.  Sheriff L. L. Wyatt was born on January 2, 1904, in Paulding County.  He was recruited to serve the citizens of Greene County due to his fast legs and honest reputation.  In 1925, L. L. Wyatt began his law enforcement career as a Greene County policeman who waged a "one-man war" against the making of illegal corn whiskey.  Prior to his arrival, moonshine production was considered the leading industry in Greene County and its product was enjoyed in all of the finest hotels of Atlanta.  After having rid the County of its moonshiners, Wyatt ran for the Office of Sheriff in 1940 defeating the incumbent.  He served as Sheriff until he died in 1977.  At the time of his death he was the longest standing Sheriff in the State, with thirty-seven years of service.

During his 37 years as Sheriff, Wyatt became a legend in his own time.  Few men become legends and even fewer achieve the status of a "living legend" as did Sheriff Wyatt.  He was a religious man who believed that God blessed him with protection during all of his fights, gun battles, and dangerous encounters.  His law enforcement exploits exposed him to at least five gunshot wounds in the line of duty, in part due to the fact that he seldom carried a gun on his person, requiring him to retrieve it from his car at the sight of danger.  In the early days of his career, when

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100_3775moonshiners resisted arrest, Wyatt regularly shot it out with them.  He killed over a half dozen men, all of whom shot at him first.

The most famous gunfight of Sheriff Wyatt's career occurred in 1974.  He was 70 years old at the time.  Bank robbers eluded a 100-car police chase that started in Wrens, Georgia, and ended in Greene County.  The bank robbers had killed a teller at the bank in Wrens and had taken two women hostage.  Sheriff Wyatt set up a road block midway between Union Point and Greensboro.  Wyatt stood in the middle of the road as the speeding car approached.  The robbers attempted to shoot him, but the gun misfired.  One bank robber was killed in the ensuing battle, but both women were unharmed.  Sheriff Wyatt subsequently received the award of Peace Officer of the Year for his bravery in this incident.

Sheriff Wyatt was a family man, devoted to his wife, son, and grandchildren.  He was a businessman, lending his experience to the operation and affairs of the Citizens Union Bank as a director.  He was a community leader who had concern for all citizens – rich and poor, black and white.  Out of a concern for these people, legend has it that Sheriff Wyatt confronted a notorious member of the Dixie Maffia and proclaimed, "These are my people and I want you to leave them alone!"

Sheriff Wyatt, also known as Mr. Sheriff, was the epitome of a community oriented police officer long before such an idea was born and served as an example for every officer to follow."

According to his burial notice in the Augusta Chronicle (Georgia, 11 April 1977, sec. A, pg. 11, as viewed online at GenealogyBank), Loy Lee Wyatt died 8 April 1977 "after he was stricken with an apparent heart attack." The notice goes on to say, "During his tenure [as Sheriff], Wyatt gave Greene county a reputation as one [of] Georgia's most crime-free areas.  Along the way, he was shot five times and narrowly escaped death twice in car crashes during chases."

Sheriff Wyatt was laid to rest at Greensboro Cemetery.

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