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By John Oliver, President, Historical Society

We continue our look at sheriffs from Trousdale County by looking at another sheriff named “Turner.”

Last week we visited with Lawrence Turner, Sheriff of Trousdale County from 1950 to 1952. This week we visit with his slightly younger brother Rex Turner, who was the Trousdale County sheriff from 1970 to 1974.

Rex took a round-a-bout way to get into the sheriff’s patrol car!

Born a year after Lawrence, he was raised in the Shady Grove community of Trousdale County by parents Emzie Herod Turner and Beatrice Franklin Turner.

Rex served in the Army for a short stint, but he also married and started a family, and then began working at the Vultee Company in Nashville as a welder. That job led to his being hired as a welder for the Hartsville Gas Company.

After only a year, he was managing the company!

Submitted photo
Trousdale County Sheriff Rex Turner sits at his desk during his tenure as our county’s leading law enforcement official, which ran from 1970 to 1974.

At this time, his brother Lawrence was the owner of the local Western Auto store across the street from the gas company, where the Vidette office is today.

Once a day, Rex would walk over to the store and buy himself a five-cent Coke and visit with his brother Lawrence for a few minutes.

If readers are old enough to recall, you could buy a Coke in a bottle for a nickel back in the 1950s.

Then the Coke company made the decision to raise the price of their drink – to a whopping 6 cents!

Well, Rex continued to toss a nickel on to the counter and reach into the icebox and take his daily Coke.

Lawrence was generous at first, but after a while, he stopped being so generous. When Rex tossed the nickel down, Lawrence said, “You owe me a penny to go with that!”

Rex took offense and didn’t return to the store for a couple of weeks!

But brotherly love won over and he returned to his daily routine and started paying six cents!

Rex quit the job at the gas company and became a city policeman in 1968. In 1970, he ran for sheriff and was elected.

I spoke to people who recall those days.

Hartsville was almost like Mayberry of the old “Andy Griffin Show.”

Things were at a slower pace and crime was confined to a little bootleg liquor or a couple of teenagers making noise.

One story that has made the rounds was when Rex found and confiscated a moonshine still.

He took the contraption, a mess of copper tubes and a big copper barrel, and plopped it down on the lawn in front of the courthouse for everyone to see.

And people did stop by during the day to see an authentic “moonshine still.”

Evidently someone stopped by during that night to see it, because the next morning it was gone!

Maybe someone felt that it needed a good home.

Another story is when Rex arrested a fellow at the other end of town from the jail for public drunkenness. The man had made a mess of himself and smelled from the liquor and such.

Faced with putting the man into his patrol car, Rex instead told the man to start walking – all the way through town to the jail, as Rex rode alongside in the car.

We didn’t have any crime spree or headline-grabbing bank robberies while Rex was sheriff, but there was a jailbreak when four or so inmates made a dash for it. Cells weren’t always kept locked back then as the men might be used to cut grass or help prepare meals, so rules were sort of lax.

Anyway, Deputy Jim Ross caught up with the men before they had gotten very far. They were trying to use the creek bed to hide their movements.

Jim had to struggle with them and one of them hit him pretty hard up against the side of his head. Jim lost a little blood, but before it was over so did the escapee!

Nobody back then thought of “police brutality” as something to get worked up about. The thinking was, if you wanted to play the game of “breaking the law” then you better expect to get a few bumps and bruises.

After four years as sheriff, Rex served as Chief of Police for three years and then he retired.

Readers might envy the quieter times of the past, before gang violence and drugs were so prevalent. We are sure our law-and-order officers long for those days too, when you could just have your criminal walk down the street to jail while you ride in the patrol car!

NOTE: The Trousdale County Historical Society will meet on Saturday, May 11 at 2 p.m. at the County Archives building, 328 Broadway. Our speaker will be Mr. Key Dillard with Do Re Mi Gospel Music Academy.