Curley Messer purchased Franklin County’s first official squad car.
Mayor Curley Messer of Carrabelle is known for his storytelling skills. Recently he shared a story of his early days in local law enforcement.
Messer, a native of Kentucky, first came to Carrabelle during World War II when he helped build Camp Gordon Johnston and later trained there before shipping out for the Pacific theatre of the war. During the 18 months he was stationed here, Messer, then 17, met and married Audrey Riley and Carrabelle became his home.
After the war, Sheriff Herbert Marshall hired him hired as a deputy. Messer said he was “recruited with a shake of the hand.”
“(Marshall) said ‘Raise your hand’ and swore me in right there,” Messer said. “Then he wrote on a piece of paper and he said, ‘You’re a deputy.’ I said, ‘Where’s my badge?’ and he said my gun was my badge. I said I wasn’t going to make an arrest without a badge, so he got out a catalog, and I ordered two badges, one for my cap and one for my breast. A friend of mine went over to Tyndall and brought back three officers’ uniforms for me to wear.”
Audrey sewed black stripes on the trousers. “She was good with a sewing machine,” said Messer.
It was 1947 and Messer received $2,200 in “muster pay,” wages accumulated over the last two and a half years of his military service. He used $942 of this to buy a squad car from Freddie Mason at the Apalachicola Ford dealership, a brand new white Crown Victoria. Mason arranged to have it detailed in green to look official.
Messer bought star-shaped decals for the doors to complete the effect. The car was used more as an ambulance than a police car.
“I made two trips to New Orleans, four to Gainesville and hundreds to Apalachicola and Tallahassee carrying people in need of help,” said Messer.
He paid for his own gas and repairs.
Messer remembered once, after a trip to Panama City with Audrey and their oldest boys, he had a blowout. After Audrey watched him change the tire she told him to stop in Apalachicola. “The tires were so bald, she bought me new ones from her tip money,” recalled Messer.
The Crown Victoria was often used to transport prisoners from the east end of the county to the jail in Apalachicola. Sometimes, this was quite an adventure.
Once, he was carrying a pair of prisoners who had broken into “Jim Putnal’s Hard Hat,” a Carrabelle bar. One was a Californian and the other a long-line fisherman known as “Jitterbugging Shorty.”
Messer said Shorty had a drinking problem but was a good sort and “could be as drunk as he could be, but, if he came up to a lady he’d tip his hat. “He would never have broken in if it hadn’t been for the other fellow,” said Messer.
Shorty began harassing the other prisoner and said, “I told you (Messer) would get you. It ain’t like the city.”
The Californian responded, “I’ve killed people for saying less than that.”
Messer warned he would shoot the Californian if he tried anything. The westerner then threatened to jump out of the car and Messer responded, “Let me speed up first. I’m only going 60 miles an hour.”
After the Californian was jailed, local authorities learned he was wanted for murder in Sacramento, Calif., Texas and New Orleans.
“There was lots of murders after the war because we had a lot of deep sea boats in here and a lot of bad bar rooms,” said Messer. “Men drifted in from everywhere looking for work. Every two or three weeks I’d have a killing. They’d throw them overboard and I’d have to drag ‘em up. I never gave up on a killing. I got them all.”
Local newspaper accounts of the late 1940s in Franklin County confirm that violent crime was prevalent.