John C. Sirmons Fought Graft in Atlanta Police Department

John C. Sirmons, a native of Berrien County, GA , made a lifetime career in education. In 1917 he was teaching at Tech High School in Atlanta.  There, he suffered the indignity of having his car  stolen.

His car was recovered by Atlanta police and in attempting to claim his property, John encountered some difficulty which sparked an investigation into municipal graft.

The February 17, 1917 Atlanta Constitution reported on the incident:

February 23, 1917 Atlanta Constitution reports charges of police graft brought by John C. Sirmons

February 17, 1917 Atlanta Constitution reports charges of police graft brought by John C. Sirmons

Atlanta Constitution
February 17, 1917

Board Will Probe Charges of Graft

Rewards Demanded by Policemen for Recovery of Automobiles, According to Professor J. C. Sirmons.

    A special meeting of the police board will be called to investigate Professor J. C. Sirmons’ charges that policemen charged him a reward of $25 to recover his stolen Ford car.
    This course of action was decided upon by Chairman Andy King after a conference held by Mayor Asa G. Candler, Chief of Police W. M. Mayo and the board chairman, in the mayor’s office Friday afternoon.
    “Of course, Professor Sirmons must make his verbal charges to Mayor Candler against the two policemen in writing,” said Chairman King, “before they can be tried before the police board.
    “Chief Mayo has detailed Captain L. S. Dobbs to investigate Professor Sirmons’ charges tomorrow, and if the captain finds that there is sufficient grounds for a further investigation by the police board, I will call a special meeting immediately, and the matter will be sifted out thoroughly.

Rights of Policemen.
    “Policemen have a right to receive rewards for cars stolen out of the city and recovered in Atlanta, but they have no right to demand rewards for cars stolen in Atlanta, and recovered here.”
    When Mayor Candler received information from Professor Sirmons indicating graft in the police department in connection with the recovery of stolen automobiles, he asserted that Professor Sirmons’ case had the appearance of an “outrageous offense” by the police.
    Professor Sirmons laid the case plainly before Mayor Candler, and later told the newspaper men of his grievance as follows:
    “My car was stolen from in front of the Lyric theater last Saturday night. I notified the city detective department on Sunday.
    “Several unsuccessful efforts were made to get me by telephone on Monday and Tuesday. I was teaching classes and could not answer the phone at Tech High. Early Tuesday afternoon I answered a call at the school and was informed that it was a policeman. The policeman wanted me to offer a reward for the recovery of my car.  Finally, at his insistence, I agreed to give $25 for it.
    “‘Come down to the police station this afternoon and get it,’ he said.
   “I went down, taking a fellow teacher with me.

Wanted $25 Reward.
    “When I asked concerning the car, the station sergeant told me that there was my man over there, point to an officer in knickerbockers.
    “The officer pointed to my car outside.
    “‘What are the charges.'” I asked.
    “‘You said you’d give me $25 reward,’ he said.
    “I said I’d pay the next day, as I did not have the money with me.
    “‘Leave the car here until then.’ answered the policeman.
    “I then gave a check, made payable to Chief Mayo, in compliance with his request.
    “As I came through up town, I didn’t think I ought to be made to pay for my car, so I stopped at my bank, and ordered payment stopped on the check.
    “Later I informed Chief Mayo of my action. I made no explanation of the details to the chief, but laid the matter before Mayor Candler today.”
     Chief Mayo said the officers’ names were Barfield and Fain.
    Mr. Sirmons said he did not remember any of the names of the policemen he talked with.
    “It’s an outrageous offense,” said Mayor Candler, after receiving the facts as laid before him by Professor Sirmons. “I shall insist upon a probe at once.”
     The mayor was given facts in a similar case where an insurance man recently had his car stolen, but refused to pay any reward for the recover of his car. The facts were given by a local newspaper man who stated his friend, the insurance man, did not want his named mentioned, but would present his grievances to the police board.
     The police board has a rule against policemen receiving rewards, but it is always laid aside and special resolutions passed granting rewards to policemen whenever rewards are offered.

The following week the police officers involved in the case were exonerated of all charges,  but John C. Sirmons got his car back and his $25 dollars.  The practice of officers collecting rewards for the return of stolen property was abolished by Atlanta mayor Asa Candler.

Atlanta police practice of charging a "reward" to return stolen property to victims, reported Atlanta Constitution, February 23, 1917.

Action by John C. Sirmons brought an end to Atlanta police practice of charging a “reward” to return stolen property to victims, reported Atlanta Constitution, February 23, 1917.

Atlanta Constitution
February 23, 1917

Reward System To Be Abolished

Mayor Candler Tells Commissioners That It “Will Pervert Police Force” if It Is Continued.

There will be no more rewards for Atlanta policemen for recovery of property stolen from citizens of Atlanta, or any property stolen in Atlanta, and recovered here, if the wishes of the police board, as expressed at the meeting last night, are respected.
    Mayor Asa G. Candler declared that the “reward system would pervert the police force.” He urged that the system of granting rewards be abolished, and the police board, from expressions of the members, would have taken favorable action on his suggestion at once if City Attorney Samuel A. Hewlett had not informed the commissioners that he was at present drawing up a city ordinance, at the request of a councilman, the purpose of which will be to put an end to the practice of rewarding officers who are paid by the city. Attorney Hewlett informed the board that this proposed ordinance would be introduced at the next meeting of council, and further discussion was dropped.
    After hearing numerous witnesses in the cases of Call Officers Barfield and Fain, charged by Professor J. C. Sirmons of the Tech High school, with extorting a $25 reward for the recovery of his stolen Ford machine, the board exonerated the officers on motion of Mayor Candler, which was seconded by Commissioner W. A. Vernory.
    On motion of Commissioner Poole, the action of the board at its former meeting in granting the Sirmons reward to the two call officers was rescinded. This made it obligatory upon the call officers to return Professor Sirmons his check, on which the professor Sirmons his check, on which the professor had stopped payment after issuing it, claiming that he did not think he was obligated to pay a reward for his car.
    “I do not think these two officers are to blame for taking this reward,” said Mayor Candler.  “It is the system. I know the officers are honest men – have known Officer Barfield’s family for many years, and trust him. But a city policeman has no right to expect a reward from a citizen of Atlanta, or for property stolen in this city and recovered here.
    “The reward system will pervert the police force, and I am zealous to see the force a good force. Citizens of Atlanta have said to me that the police force is more anxious to catch the stolen car than the thief who stole it. I have several similar complaints to that of Professor Sirmans, and I do not wish that these officers will be allowed to be put in positions where they will bring discredit upon the police department.”
    Attorney J. A. Branch, of Moore & Branch, represented Fain and Barfield.
    The commissioners present were: Mayor Candler, Chairman Andy King, Commissioners J. Lee Barnes, Poole, B. F. Styron, Maddox, Vernoy, McGee, J. C. Vaughan and Foster.

It appears that after the 1916-1917 academic year at Tech High School, John C. Sirmons had had enough of Atlanta. He sought a chance to return to higher education and an opening at his former institution, Cherokee Junior College, San Saba County, TX provided the opportunity.

Related Posts:

John C. Sirmons, Big Man On Campus



Thomas R. Cox and The Bank of Willacoochee

Thomas R. Cox grew up at Ray’s Mill, GA (now Ray City) and later returned as a resident. He was only educated through the 8th grade, but made a successful career in bookkeeping.  In the early 1900s he went to Willacoochee, GA to live with his uncle Gid Gasksins and to work  in Gaskin’s general merchandise store as a salesman.

Within a few years Thomas secured a situation as Bookkeeper for the Bank of Willacoochee. The Bank of Willacoochee was chartered in 1900 with $25,000 capital investment. The Cashier of the bank was George F. McCranie, son of Malcolm McCranie who fought in the 1836 Battle of Brushy Creek.

All seemed well until the morning of Thursday, May 4, 1916 when Thomas R. Cox failed to show up for work at the bank.  With Cox’s unexplained disappearance Cashier George F. McCranie suspected the worst, and the bank was closed pending an investigation by the state bank examiner.

Over the next two months some details unfolded, not only in local newspapers, but in papers  as far away as Honolulu.


Tifton Gazette
May 12, 1916

Bank of Willacoochee

Closed Pending Examination of the Books by Authorities

    Willacoochee, Ga., May 9. –  The doors of the Bank of Willacoochee of this place were closed Monday and the institution is in the hands of the state bank examiner.
     T. R. Cox, who was bookkeeper, has been missing since last Thursday. Soon after his departure, it was reported that George F. McCranie, cashier, discovered that errors had been made in keeping the books, and immediately wired for experts to examin into the affairs of the bank. The examination has continued through yesterday and today.
     Later reports say the errors in the books are not as great as reported and that the bank is in good shape.



Thomas R. Cox of Willacoochee, GA sought by police. Atlanta Constitution, May 17, 1916


Atlanta Constitution
May 17, 1916

Police Asked to Find Missing Bookkeeper


    Police Chief W. M. Mayo was requested to have his men be on the lookout for Thomas R. Cox, former bookkeeper of the Bank of Willacoochee, Ga., who was reported to have embezzled the bank of several thousand dollars.
    George F. McCranie, cashier of the institution, called at the police station and told Chief Mayo that the officials of the bank offered a reward of $500 for the former bookkeeper’s arrest.


Honolulu Star-Bulleting reports arrest of Thomas R. Cox, bookkeeper of the Bank of Willachoochee

Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports arrest of Thomas R. Cox, bookkeeper of the Bank of Willachoochee

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
June 19, 1916

Charged with the embezzlement of $30,000 from the Bank of Willacoochee, Ga., Thomas R. Cox, aged 28, was recently arrested in New York.



Tifton Gazette, May 25, 1916 reports Thomas R. Cox, formerly of Ray City, GA, arrested in New York.

Tifton Gazette, May 25, 1916 reports Thomas R. Cox, formerly of Ray City, GA, arrested in New York.

Tifton Gazette
May 26 1916


New York, May 25, — Thomas R. Cox, Age 28, was arrested here today charged with embezzling $30,000 from the Bank of Willacoochee, of Willacoochee, Ga.

     The Bank of Willacoochee, considered one of the soundest financial institutions in that section of the state, was closed May 8th following the disappearance of the Bookkeeper, Thomas R. Cox.
    It was at first stated that the shortage amounted to $30,000 but later there were reports that the defalcation was not so great, an error of the adding machine being in part responsible.
    Cox’s home was formerly at Ray City, in Berrien County.


Atlanta Constitution
May 27, 1916

Coffee Sheriff Holds Thos. Cox in New York

Willacoochee, Ga., May 26. — (Special.) — A telegram was received from Sheriff David Ricketson, of this county, last night stating that Thomas R. Cox, who is charged with wrecking the Bank of Willacoochee, was held by him in New York city and requisition papers have been forwarded to the governor of Georgia for his signature. The state bank examiner is still in charge of the institution and the amount of shortage is not known, though it is estimated at several thousand dollars.


Tifton Gazette
June 23,1916


From the Willacoochee Record.
      At a meeting of the stockholders of the Bank of Willacoochee Tuesday, the stockholders present representing 231 of the 250 shares of the bank, voted unanimously in favor of an assessment sufficient to bring the impaired capital stock up to its par value and resume business.
      This will make the institution as sound as it ever was. Besides a plan has been proposed by depositors are to be insured and new officers for the institution will be elected if the plan of reorganization is successful. It is understood that the present depositors will co-operate with the stockholders for the payment of their claims as it will assure the reorganization and at the same time protect themselves as depositors.


Atlanta Constitution, July 7, 1916 reports that the Bank of Willacoochee has reopened for business

Despite all the reported allegations of embezzlement by Thomas R. Cox, the available newspapers never reported that the Bank Examiners had any findings against him or that he was ever charged with any crime. He later worked as a book keeper in Ray City, GA.