The Birger Gang continued
Page 2

Birger's Beginnings
 Shady Rest
 Conviction & Hanging
Visitor Stories

Shady Rest

Birger built Shady Rest between Harrisburg and Marion in 1924 as a "hideout" of sorts to offer bootleg liquor, gambling, cockfights and dog fights. There were few people, if any - including the police - who did not know the true purpose of Shady Rest. During the day, liquor runners from Florida rested up there before making the last leg of trips to St. Louis. The authorities never touched the hideout despite its notoriety. 

The hideout was remarkable in its construction: foot-thick logs, running water, a bathroom, and electricity were some of its features. It was a popular destination for locals until early 1926, when the relationship between Birger and the Sheltons fell apart.

There are a number of possible explanations why the rift developed between Birger and the Sheltons, but these are not discussed here.  Regardless of why the relationship broke down, it led to a feud that resulted in the gangs exchanging bloody killings in 1926 and 1927. Understandably, the violent climate kept many customers from Shady Rest.


The Birger Gang at Shady Rest

Birger, on porch at far right, with his gang at Shady Rest circa 1926 

Birger and his gang were prepared in the event of warfare at Shagy Rest: the hideout had an ample supply of rifles, sub-machine guns, ammo, and cases of canned goods. Birger even had his own version of a tank, a truck sheathed with steel plate. 

But the gang warfare was ineffective in ridding the Shelton Gang from the area, so Birger found another way to get to them. He and some of his men implicated the Sheltons in the robbery of a post office messenger; their testimony helped convict the Shelton brothers to 25 years in prison.

Nonetheless, Shady Rest was destroyed by fire in January 1927. Only ashes and four charred bodies remained.

Armored truck used by Birger's men 
Things really began to deteriorate for Birger when Harry Thomasson, 19, was arrested on a robbery charge. Franklin County Stateís Attorney Roy Martin suspected the young man also was involved in the December, 1926, slaying of West City's Mayor, Joe Adams. Thomasson, who had begun to suspect that Birger himself had blown up Shady Rest, killing Thomassonís brother Elmo, eventually confessed to Adamsí murder and implicated Birger.

More...NEXT: Birger's last days...

Shady Rest ruins
 Onlookers and the charred ruins of Shady Rest 

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 Great Tornado of 1925  |
 Herrin Massacre  |
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Last updated July 31, 1999.
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