Holding the Bag

A clever private eye brings the sky down on a Wythe County chicken-theft operation.

Illustration by Gary Hovland


You’d wonder if Robert Kent had put a fox in charge of his henhouse. Not only had he noticed that his little pluckers were disappearing, he was suddenly shy a few head of cattle and some sheep, and he had noticed suspicious losses from his corn crib. The farmer got serious about these affronts to his livelihood, reported Wytheville’s Southwest Virginia Enterprise, hiring a private dick from Roanoke “to bring the guilty parties to justice.”

Kent had a pretty good idea that the folks “depredating on” him were representatives of the Halsey family, and so his clever detective set about weaseling into the Halsey world, hoping they’d tip their hand so he could get the goods on them for nicking the birds and other livestock. He gained their confidence in just a few days, then was “persuaded” to join them in the lifting of chickens from the Kent concern “in order to make a little quick money,” said the Halseys. The sheriff’s office was brought in on the scheme.

The chickens came home to roost on a Thursday evening as the sting was set into motion. Sheriff Thomas Davidson and Constable Alexander Umberger “were on hand” at 9 p.m., waiting in an undisclosed location. When they spied three men approaching, the pullet surprise commenced as they watched brothers Frank and Stuart Halsey, along with Roanoke’s answer to Columbo, in the shelter of the farm’s scale house “filling a sack with fine, fat chickens.” The sheriff swiftly shone upon the trio the beam of what must have been a kryptonite flashlight, because without so much as a twitch of a struggle, the young men crumpled, confessing that they had indeed taken chickens and corn from Kent. What’s more, they implicated their father, Richard, another brother, Bud, and Kent and Edward Felty, as well as three women. The chicken-lifting stool pigeons!

The sweep began. Frank and Stuart were jailed in Wytheville immediately. Brother Bud joined them the next morning. Confessing to the magistrate and the Commonwealth’s attorney, Frank said that he and his father had carried some corn to the mountain and hidden it the week before, fearing that farmer Kent was about to sic the bloodhounds on them. The officers went to the Halseys’ neck of the woods and arrested the father along with Kent Felty, and the women. Seeing the officers approach, however, Edward Felty “took to the brush and has not been apprehended.”

“All parties bailed” for their appearance before the magistrate the next Saturday morning. In the chicken case, Frank and Stuart Halsey were given 90 days “on the roads” and were sent to jail to wait until the road authorities sent for them. As for the corn, Richard and Bud Halsey were fined $25 and court costs and given 30 days, sentences suspended “during good behavior.” Kent Felty, Frank and Stuart were fined $10 each plus costs and given 15 days in jail, likewise suspended. The women were dismissed.

All parties denied any knowledge of the quadrupeds that had gone missing from Kent’s herd. One of the Halsey boys did tell the detective that “he knew where he could dispose of a sheep,” but would not divulge the name of the putative taker.

The Editor is In


The Fauquier Democrat tries a novel audience-participation technique, “Call the Editor Night.” It is supposed to last from 7 to 9 p.m., but “it seemed that all of you called,” writes the editor, and the handset is at last cradled around 10:15, after caller number 50. The editor gives credit for the idea to the general manager for implementing one of those ideas big shots get at seminars “to find more work for their editors.” Readers mostly loved the paper, though one said an anti-hunting ad looked too much like editorial matter, and those behind the Casanova Point-to-Point Races the previous weekend thought its pre-hunt coverage “too anemic.” The story did not reveal how anemic they had hoped it would be.

Step Up to the Plate


The Chesapeake Post, along with virtually all newspapers statewide, publishes its yearly reminder to Virginia car owners that it is time yet again to buy new license plates. Tags go on sale in mid-March, and motorists must have them mounted on their cars by April 15. Plus, the price has increased. The cost is now $15 for the average car—$20 for cars weightier than 4,000 pounds. For 1964, the plates switch back to white numbers on a black background. (In 1963, the plates were black on white.) Simeon Leary, auto license agent for Chesapeake, urges motorists to step on it. “If people will come early, we can avoid the long lines of buyers at the last minute.”

It Don’t Mean a Thing


Despite waning interest in swing music nationwide, a “rapid-fire” survey by the Hopewell News “in conjunction with its Bureau on Foggy Facts” finds it alive and well in that city. Young respondents unanimously declare their affection for “hot jazz,” and most admit that they enjoy swing, but “like anything else, it loses its zest when overdone.” Oh, the appeal of moderation in all things. Oddly, the passion for swing is balanced by less than rave reviews for jitterbugging. Jitterbugs “get in your way on the dance floor”; jitterbugging is “exhibitionism”; it is “too hard on the arches.” But what kind of dance, pray, would they do once the swing commenced, the Virginia reel?

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