During the Prohibition-era there were many people who opposed the new laws prohibiting the sale and manufacturing of alcohol, in any form. As with any such restriction, there were plenty of people who were willing to take matters into their own hands and make, in this case, illegal liquor. It was a profitable business, and there were a number of people and gangs who wanted in. The Shelton Brothers Gang had a good thing going, when the famous bootlegger, Charles Birger and his gang wanted in.
The Shelton Brothers Gang had other ideas, however. Both gangs were based out of southern Illinois. The best way to control the market price, is to be the only game in town. With all the fighting for supremacy, the Shelton Brothers Gang would allegedly be known as “America’s Bloodiest Gang” when the fighting quickly became a “Turf War.” The Shelton Brothers Gang was formed by Carl (born 1888), Earl (born 1890), and Bernie “Red” Shelton (born 1898) of “Geff” Jeffersonville, Wayne County, Illinois. They started their gang shortly after Prohibition came into effect in 1920, operating mostly in Williamson County, Illinois, making moonshine and other illegal alcoholic beverages. The operation grew, and they eventually dominated both gambling and liquor distribution in Little Egypt until 1926. That’s when a former ally now turned nemesis, gangster Charles Birger, attempted to take over the Sheltons’ bootlegging operations. The result was a violent gang war. The weapons were varied. Both sides use homemade armored trucks and included an eventually included an aerial bombing raid by the Sheltons on Birger’s Shady Rest headquarters. They were out of control, and with the “stepped-up attacks” came what was considered the first bombing from a plane on US soil. Strangely, the “Turf War” was also responsible for keeping the KKK out of their general area after the constant flare ups into fights. The battle was for the control of bootlegging in all of southern Illinois and nothing more.
The whole thing was brutal in every way, and finally, the Shelton Brothers were set up and blamed for a murder they did not commit. Based on the testimony of Birger and Art Newman, the Shelton Brothers were convicted of an unsolved 1925 mail carrier robbery of $15,000 and sentenced to 25 years in prison, but they were later released. In the meantime, without its leaders, the Shelton Brothers Gang slowly faded, and just as he had planned, Birger dominated bootlegging in Southern Illinois, until he was hanged in 1928 after being convicted of ordering the murder of West City, Illinois, Mayor Joe Adams, who was a Shelton supporter. Eventually, the Shelton Brothers Gang was released for lack of evidence against them. The decided to move the operation to Peoria, Illinois, and focus mainly on gambling. They built an alliance with known gangsters like Al Capone and dominated their territory with very few serious rivalries. They did, however, come to the attention of the Federal Officials who eventually placed a $15,000 bounty on each of the Sheltons heads. Carl and Bernie Shelton were both murdered in 1948, on orders from former gang member Frank “Buster” Wortman, who had taken over the Shelton operations while they were in prison. Worman dominated Saint Louis’ illegal gambling and other criminal activities until his death in 1968. Earl Shelton was also ambushed and shot, but he survived. The hits just kept coming, and after a third attempt on his life in the early 1950s, Earl and his family left Illinois for Florida. Earl lived a quiet life there, and in 1986 at age 96, he passed away. He was the last member of the Shelton Brothers Gang.