Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Friday, December 11, 2009

Edward Tillman Branch, 1901-1963

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I am reading "One Night of Madness," a true account of tragic events that took place in Attala County, Mississippi in early 1950. Interestingly, Stokes McMillan, the author, has included a brief description of one of my paternal grandfather's cousins, Edward Tillman Branch. An excerpt from the newly-published book containing a brief biographical sketch of "Tillman" as Branch was known, is included here:

"Tillman Branch was ten years older than Leon (Turner.) Born to a prominent Attala County Beat 4 family, he was a big, mean fellow rumored to be involved in moonshining, prostitution, bribery, and bootlegging. He had killed at least two men through the years and had served time in the state prison. Twice married to white women, Tillman also kept black mistresses in a house trailer off Highway 51 near Goodman. One of the wives, fed up with these extra-marital affairs, kidnapped her husband's favorite black mistress and sent her packing to Detroit. Tillman found his lover and returned her to the trailer. Beneath his unsavory aspects, Branch was a keen businessman. His most lucrative business was located just south of the Goodman city limits, where Tillman owned one of the most popular juke joints around.

Although the white bars along (MS) Highway 51 were unruly, disorderly businesses of unrestrained debauchery, none of them could compare to the sheer, uninhibited wildness of Tillman's juke joint, the Blue Flame. Also called "The Spot" by locals, the Blue Flame had it all: boozing, dancing, fighting, gambling, cockfighting -- and an occasional shooting to keep things lively.

Tillman worked the bar in his joint and was the only white person there, but he was bad enough that no one messed with him. He ruled the Blue Flame with a blue-steel snub-nosed .32 caliber pistol, whose trigger guard was bent from pistol whippings of unruly patrons.

Leon Turner and Tillman Branch somehow met and being two of a kind, they formed a relationship of mutual interests and respect. Tillman, a successful entrepreneur with money, power, and prestige was a role model to Leon. The men got along but at a distance -- they were too alike to fraternize closely.

Branch's Blue Flame did a brisk business selling moonshine. Tillman owned several local stills to supply this commodity: he also bought from independent operators like Leon."

Although the lives of Leon Turner and Tillman Branch intersected many times, by no means did they parallel one another. But their deaths bore one similarity: neither man died of natural causes. Additional details about the life of Tillman Branch and his death on April 14, 1963, at the hands of a gunman that he allegedly knew, are not included in McMillan's book. But "One Night of Madness," does chronicle the life and subsequent death of Leon Turner. Fortunately, for those involved, the tragic events related in the book finally came to an end when Turner died at Mississippi's Parchman State Penitentiary in February 1968. I encourage you to read the book for the entire story.


  1. The guy that killed Tillman Branch was Matthew Winters who is still alive and serving time for another killing

    1. Would like to hear more about what you know regarding this incident and about Matthew Winters.
      You may contact me privately through my email address at

  2. Here is more recent news of Matthew Winters.

    Apparently labeled a trustee by MDOC, shipped to Hinds County and involved in a scandal.