February 8, 1924 dawned cold and icy, just like any other winter morning in Emory Gap, Roane County, Tennessee.
But the day would prove far from ordinary.
Constable James Jett had information about an illegal moonshine still on the Newport family farm. This was the era of Prohibition, and the U.S. Constitution had been amended to outlaw the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.” This moonshining had to be stopped, and Constable Jett was determined to uphold the law by destroying the still and arresting the moonshiners.
Constable Jett couldn’t conduct a moonshine raid by himself; he was going to need some help. And he couldn’t think of anyone better to help him on the raid than Deputy Sheriff John Franklin Swann. The two men worked raids together previously, and Deputy Swann was a good man he could count on to have his back. So Jett stopped by the Swann home that morning to ask for help. John got his gun, and said goodbye to his wife Essie and their four small children. He promised to be home for supper and left with Constable Jett at about 8:55 a.m.
That was one promise John would not be able to keep.
At the farm, 15-year-old Leland Newport went up from the house to the family’s moonshine still to get something. He arrived to find Constable Jett and Deputy Swann in the process of destroying the family’s still. The two lawmen arrested and handcuffed Leland, and Constable Jett went down to the Newport house, presumably to make more arrests. He left Deputy Swann guarding Leland.
At some point, Leland managed to run off through the chicken lot toward the house. An eyewitness said that Walter Newport, seeing his younger brother running toward the house handcuffed, called out to Leland “Son, what are you doing with them things on?” Leland replied, “Jett and Swann arrested me and put ‘em on me.”
An eyewitness in the home said that upon hearing this, Walter grabbed his gun and left the house for the barn. Less than a minute later, the witness heard shots ring out. He hightailed it away from the Newport farm, fleeing from the trouble.
Two young men were rabbit hunting near the scene and witnessed the shooting. Dewey Pressly and Roosevelt Stamps heard four rifle shots from either the barn or the nearby chicken house. Then the two men saw Constable Jett come running out of the Newport’s barn and fall down on all fours. They heard him loudly cry out “Oh!”
With the sharp sound of two more shots, Deputy Swann also fell. The two hunters heard him repeatedly crying “Oh Lord!” as he struggled to get back up.
According to stories passed down, it was Maynard Human who shot Deputy Swann. Walter Newport and John Swann often played pool together at the local pool hall and Walter considered him a friend. When Walter said he couldn’t shoot John, Maynard reportedly said “you have to” and took the gun from Walter and fired the fatal shot.
Deputy Swann’s liver was shot into pieces and part of it was completely severed, lying loose outside his body in the front of his shirt. Medical examiner Dr. H. M. Carr stated at the trial, “There was a piece of his liver about five inches long and two and a half inches wide that was out here under his shirt.”Details