Howell County’s Jink Starling - A Life of Crime
Wed, 08/18/2021 - 12:26pm admin
My journey into writing local history was initiated over thirty years ago by a dear friend and co-worker, Sergeant Gerald Groves. He and his wife Charlotte had embarked on a project that would span many years, writing a history of any community in Howell County that once had a post office. Gerald was not much for typewriting in those days, which was a significant portion of my job. We had just installed a mid-range computer in the Troop G Headquarters office, and one of my duties was keeping the thing running. Gerald started his book writing project alphabetically with the community of Albina.
So, at the end of the 1980s, Gerald and I started typing his stories before the advent of personal computers. At the time, my interest in history was purely research. Writing history was not on my radar, but I took Gerald's manuscripts and typed them out because I could type fast. I still have copies of those first transcriptions from Gerald and Charlotte's handwritten pages. Personal computers came along, and we all moved onto one. It was another decade before I started writing anything of my own, and when I did the Groves were my greatest supporters.
I've told you all this to get to a different story. In all this research and writing, Gerald frequently mentioned a tale about a local criminal who caused quite a stir in Howell County soon after the turn of the century. He had an intriguing name, Jink Starling. He was a hard fellow to track, as career criminals often are. Most of his documentation is found in jail and prison records. He is usually listed as J.J. Starling or a bucket full of alias names but seems to have avoided the census takers and tax collectors wherever he went.
Jink's father, the Reverend William Starling, moved around a lot preaching in Christian churches, and I found trails indicating the family spent time in the Indian Territory of Oklahoma, finally settling near Moody after the turn of the century. Jink's career in crime began soon after. Newspapers indicate he had been a general nuisance in the community since his late teens as a petty thief, but in 1903, Jinks earned himself some prison time at the tender age of twenty-three.
In August 1903, the West Plains Journal Gazette reported, "The nerviest mule thief who has visited West Plains for some time is Jink Starling, the young man who came here last week with a span of splendid animals. Starling was riding one of the mules and leading the other. He visited several mule buyers about town and finally sold one of the mules to Ed Coker for $100. Mr. Coker gave Starling or "Fred Taylor" as he called himself, a check on a local bank for the amount."
"After getting the check, Starling went to a clothing store and invested in $20 worth of apparel. On presenting the check in payment of the goods, the proprietor of the establishment hesitated about taking it. Starling's actions alarmed him, and he refused to let him have the goods. In the meantime, Mr. Coker had become suspicious and stopped payment of the check. When Starling presented the check for payment at the bank, it was kept by the cashier."
Starling rode westward out of West Plains on the remaining mule and was tracked to the Arkansas border by the law. He stopped in Harrison and found a buyer. Authorities traced the stolen mules back to Lawrence County, Arkansas, and traced Starling to the Indian Territory, where his father was. Howell County Sheriff Kimberlin alerted authorities to be on the lookout for Jink, and he was found residing in a federal jail charged with bootlegging. He was hauled back to West Plains and, by January 1904, was convicted of horse stealing and sentenced to two years in the state penitentiary. He was twenty-three years old,
While in the pen, Jink picked up a new skill set, bank safe cracking, and robbery. Upon his release, Starling formed a gang including his brother William and committed a string of burglaries in Arkansas and Oklahoma. In October 1913, the Muskogee Oklahoma Daily Phoenix and Times-Democrat reported, "The bank robbery at Dardanelle was very daring. The bandits worked over the safe almost two hours, and twelve different explosions were heard by the citizens of the town shortly after one o'clock. Several men of the town armed themselves with Winchesters and attempted to capture the robbers, but they were held at bay by four of the masked bandits while the other two completed the opening of the inner door of the safe, and then all six made their escape after a running fight."
"The night after the Dardanelle robbery, the bank of Fulton, Arkansas, was blown up by robbers, but they obtained but seventy dollars in pennies. In escaping from the bank at Fulton, the bandits engaged in a pistol fight with several citizens. Deputy Sheriff Ward was shot in the shoulder, and the gun of one of the bandits exploded, severely wounding his hand. One of the robbers narrowly escaped capture by jumping behind one of the citizens, Henry Wilson, and forcing him to cry out, 'Don't shoot, this is Henry Wilson.'"
The story continued, relating how the robbers led by Jink safely reassembled and the same night broke into a hardware store in the same town and took every firearm in the place, along with a large quantity of ammunition.
A lone deputy sheriff trailed the robbers to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he arrested them one by one. In Morris, Oklahoma, he caught up with Jink and his brother and another of their compatriots. He found the Starling boys had purchased a restaurant a few days before and were posing as "peaceful country storekeepers."
Prison terms for all involved followed but were not long enough. On the night of March 26, 1915, Jink and his band returned to Howell County and struck the Willow Springs Post Office. The West Plains Daily Quill announced the next day, "Between $1,500 and 2,000 worth of stamps were stolen. Fifteen dollars in cash was also taken, but it is thought the money inside the safe was not reached. The outside door of the safe was blown off by a charge of nitroglycerin. This morning a large quantity of the explosive was found placed around the inner door, which has not yet been opened because officials fear any tampering with it will result in an explosion."
The post office was located in the Frank Sass building on the corner of Main and Center Street, which the Willow Springs Main Street group is now restoring. The first explosion was heard and raised the alarm, the reason the robbers fled and didn't ignite the second planned explosion. Being a federal crime, postal inspectors went to work, and by the first of April 1915, Jinks and his associates were rounded up. Jinks led authorities to the stolen stamps hidden under a brush pile north of Willow Springs. They had been ruined by rain. All participants, including Jinks, got two-year sentences in the federal pen in Leavenworth, Kansas, for their trouble. While awaiting trial in Springfield, Jink assaulted a guard and escaped with four other prisoners. He and the others were soon recaptured. They behaved as model prisoners, and the men served eighteen months.
Immediately Jink was back in business and arrested on June 22, 1917, for bank robbery. This time his gang blew the safe of the Bank of Waynesville and netted eleven hundred dollars. They were pursued near Mountain Grove, where they abandoned their car and fled into the woods, leaving behind eight hundred dollars in silver. The men were soon captured at Okmulgee, Oklahoma.
In March 1918, Jink was sentenced to twenty years in the Missouri State Penitentiary, by far the worst sentence he had received to date. He again served his time as a model prisoner and in 1925 appealed for an early release which was opposed by banking associations and the individual businesses he had robbed. When finally released in 1929, Jink again made headlines.
The West Plains Journal Gazette reported on December 19, 1929, "When Jink Starling, a native of Howell County was sentenced to the penitentiary, he didn't have enough money on his person to buy a package of cigarettes. Last month when he was released from the state penal institution at Jefferson City, he had $3,660 to his credit. He drew $660, leaving exactly $3,000 in the hands of the prison treasurer. 'Just keep it for me,' Jink told Henry A. Smith, secretary of the State Penal Board, as he was leaving the prison. 'Maybe I'll come back some time, and then I'll need it,' Jink laughingly said as he shook hands with the prison officials and left for Oklahoma."
Note, there was a local connection at the prison. Henry A. Smith lived at Hutton Valley and served in several Howell County offices before landing the job on the prison board. He was well acquainted with Jink Starling.
"How did Jink Starling, post office burglar, horse thief, and bank robber, accumulate the sum of $3,660 inside the walls of the Missouri Penitentiary? Once each month and on holidays, the convicts are allowed to visit with each other and spend the time in harmless amusement and in games of chance where nobody stood any chat at all with Jink Starling in the game. He always won, and he saved his winnings, depositing the money with the prison treasurer. Jink Starling was a model prisoner. Men like him, who have served terms in the prisons of several states, know how to conduct themselves and make the best of the situation. Watchful waiting, not for a chance to make a getaway, but for the final date when their terms expire. This was the idea Jink had in mind."
"Back to Oklahoma for Jink. He found that his wife had secured a divorce from him during his enforced absence. Being somewhat of a sheik, Jink soon won her back, and they were again married. Jink Starling has a saving account, but it draws no interest. Some day he may send for it, but the chances are, as he told Henry A. Smith, 'maybe I'll come back and will need it.'"
In November 1930, Starling returned to West Plains. The Journal Gazette reported, "When asked what he was doing here, Jink replied that he had been enjoying the sea breezes at Miami, Florida, and was driving to his old boyhood home. He stopped here for a stay. 'I drove out West Main Street, and it didn't look natural. I used to take the road to Moody by way of this road, but when I got to the end of the pavement, I became lost and bewildered. So I came back in town to get my bearings.'"
"While in West Plains, Jink looked up Aunt Liza Collins, who resides in the eastern part of this city and many years ago was a next-door neighbor to the Starling family near Moody. Jink also visited Mark Summer, owner of 'The Spot,' who was a secret service man and brought about the arrest of Starling after the Willow Springs Post Office robbery. Jinks is now conducting a 40-room hotel in Tulsa and is making money. He says he has quit the old game for good; it doesn't pay. 'No more prison life for me,' he told friends here. It don't pay. It's just as easy to make an honest dollar as it is to get a dishonest one and a whole lot safer. My advice to all young men is to walk straight."
I'd like the story to end here, but it doesn't. In January 1933, Jink was at a roadhouse in Desoto, Missouri, in the company of two other men when police officers arrested them on suspicion. Starling resisted; perhaps he hadn't done anything. An officer struck him over the head with a gun, fracturing his skull. He was put into a cell in the Jefferson County Jail at Hillsboro, where he died. A coroner's jury exonerated the deputy who struck Jink. He is buried in the Memorial Park Cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
In newspaper accounts locally, Jink is consistently identified as "Jinks." His tombstone says Jink, as do his prison records. So I've gone with Jink. The article relating his death stated, "Starling did not give his own name at the time of the arrest, and his identity was not discovered until after his death. His brother, who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, went to Hillsboro to complete the identification, after which he took the body to Tulsa for burial."
It sounds like the "Jinks" Gerald and I so often discussed.