As a federal prosecutor in Mississippi for over thirty years, John Hailman worked with federal agents, lawyers, judges, and criminals of every stripe. In From Midnight to Guntown, he recounts amazing trials and bad guy antics from the darkly humorous to the needlessly tragic.
In addition to bank robbers–generally the dumbest criminals–Hailman describes scam artists, hit men, protected witnesses, colorful informants, corrupt officials, bad guys with funny nicknames, over-the-top investigators, and those defendants who had a certain roguish charm. Several of his defendants and victims have since had whole books written about them: Dickie Scruggs, Emmett Till, Chicago gang leader Jeff Fort, and Paddy Mitchell, leader of the most successful bank robbery gang of the twentieth century. But Hailman delivers the inside story no one else can. He also recounts his scary experiences after 9/11 when he prosecuted terrorism cases.
John Hailman was a federal prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Oxford for thirty-three years, was an inaugural Overby Fellow in journalism, and is an adjunct professor of law at the University of Mississippi. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Thomas Jefferson on Wine from University Press of Mississippi.
Here is the eleventh installment of Midnight to Guntown by John Hailman: Thunder Eagle Ghost Dancer Launders His Loot
James Keith Johnson was a veteran incompetent bank robber. His main claim to fame was his use of the fake but colorful pseudonym “Thunder Eagle Ghost Dancer.” He was white with no Native American roots, but apparently just liked the name. He robbed two banks in north Florida on successive days in March 1995. As he was escaping from each bank, dye packs given him by the tellers exploded. Because the money was stained red by the dye, Ghost Dancer drove all the way to two casinos in Faraway Tunica to “launder” the money by feeding the red money into slot machine bill validators and “cashing out,” in effect exchanging dirty bills for clean ones. It didn’t quite work out that way.
Several people at each casino observed Ghost Dancer playing the slots. At Fitzgerald’s he hit a jackpot, winning $1,600 at a slot machine. Because of tax reporting requirements, casino employees made an IRS report of his gambling winnings. He foolishly used his real name, “James Keith Johnson” and his real social security number. The next day’s “soft count” of currency found several thousand dollars in red dye-stained money. Both casinos reviewed their videotapes for anyone having a connection to the red-stained money. Both soon identified a man and woman who matched the descriptions of Ghost Dancer and his girlfriend “Cat Dancing” playing slots where the red dye bills were discovered and taking large amounts of tokens to the cashiers.
Ghost Dancer testified at trial to both his gambling methods and his past legal entanglements, which included being in prison most of his adult life “for protecting women and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.” He also claimed he was shot “through both eyes” by a sniper in Alabama, that he was the personal bodyguard for a U.S. Magistrate, and had suffered 72 broken bones while being “roasted” by federal agents. Strangely, he denied he was crazy. He claimed he was a registered Shaman for the Creek Indian Federation. The trial judge rejected his request to be allowed to enter the courtroom for trial in “a cloud of ritual smoke.” The judge also rejected Ghost Dancer’s proposed alibi witness, Danny Schertz, aka “Snakeman,” a Satanist priest I had recently convicted (see Chapter 5). The judge sentenced Ghost Dancer to five years on top of his two lengthy Florida sentences. The Court of Appeals affirmed and Ghost Dancer was through dancing for many years.
Click on the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth or tenth installment of John Hailman’s From Midnight to Guntown to read.