Frank Mays served as sheriff of Patrick County for 28 years, the longest term of anyone in that office to date. In 1880, Mays was born in the Peters Creek section of the county to Abram Fontaine Mays and Elizabeth Campbell Mays.
In 1919, Mays married Annie Stedman, the daughter of Sallie Woolwine Stedman and Malvern Vance Stedman, the publisher of The Enterprise and the largest orchardist in the county. When Frank and Annie married, he was 38 years old, and she was 20. The couple made their home on Buena Vista Avenue in Stuart. One year later, the couple had a little boy who sadly, only lived for three days.
In 1940, Mays lost his beloved Annie to cancer; she was only 41 years old. In 1943, Mays married Miss Iris Lee Rogers, the daughter of Walter Lee Rogers and Grace Williams. The couple married in Chesterfield, SC; he was 62 years old, and she was 29.
Sheriff Mays kept very busy because the 18th amendment was ratified in 1919, one year before Mays took office. He spent the next thirteen years chasing down “moonshiners’ and “bootleggers” until the 20th amendment was ratified in 1933.
One of the most exciting times during Mays’ administration was on the morning of January 4th, 1944. L.B. Rucker, Cashier of The First National Bank of Stuart, was opening the bank doors for business. It was only a few minutes past 9:00 a.m., and Rucker had been arranging his cash for the day’s business. The only other person in the place was Rucker’s wife, who was also a bank employee. A man came up behind Rucker and first demanded $400, and then the robber changed his mind and demanded all “the dough you got.” Rucker calmly handed over all the money in sight and the gunman shifted his revolver to his left hand and stuffed the money into his pockets and left. About a half a minute later the Ruckers heard the grating of the gears as the car rushed away from the bank. The car was a maroon-colored car, but it was too far away by the time the Ruckers got to the door for them to get a complete license number, even though Mrs. Rucker thought she had seen the first three numbers on the plate.
Sheriff Frank D. Mays and Patrick County officers arrived at the scene quickly after the incident. Mrs. Rucker stated that the gunman was about thirty years of age, not more than 5’8″ tall and weighed around 130-140 lbs. With the description of the car and the description of the bank robber, Sheriff Mays made calls to Floyd, Martinsville, and Mt. Airy, N.C., and blocked every outlet from Stuart.
According to the tabloid magazine, “Official Detective Stories,” “Mays, was as a two-gun mountain sheriff, who had tangled with the hardest of criminals. He was a crack shot with either hand and feared no man. Many an outlaw who sought to hide in Patrick County had their chance of knowing Frank Mays. Sheriff Mays was said to be tough, “only when necessary.’’ The Sheriff could not have lasted long by being unduly tough because the unschooled mountain men who bitterly resented any interference with their mode of living, with what they considered their right to manufacture and sell “white lightning” would have made it hard for the Sheriff to last very long. Mays understood the mountain men and they knew and respected the fact that he was sworn to uphold the law and “would do it at the point of blazing guns if necessary.”
Shortly after 10:00 p.m., a call came from police in Winston-Salem reporting that a car answering the description of the getaway car and bearing the same first three numbers that Mrs. Rucker had managed to see was reported stolen from the city the day before the robbery. According to witnesses, the car, after leaving Stuart, was headed south in the general direction of Lawsonville, Mt. Airy and Winston-Salem. If the car had continued south on Route 8, it would pass through Lawsonville, but if it took Route 103, it would go on to Mt. Airy, and then on to Winston-Salem.
Mays figured the man would be less likely to go toward Winston since that was where he had stolen the car. Mays told his officers that he figured the bandit had given them the slip somehow, and that he felt they could learn more by back-tracking than any other way. After back-tracking from the point where the robber’s car was seen last, the deputies reached a local restaurant, about a mile from Stuart. The owner distinctly remembered that a man fitting the description given by police had spent the night there on Monday night. He further noted that he had seen the man around several times in the past four months. The Sheriff finally found someone who had spent some time with the man, whom she only knew as “Willie.” She said he told her he worked in a tobacco warehouse in Winston-Salem but grew up near Floyd.
Officers decided to place a group of officers around the suspect’s former boarding house on Hillsboro Street in Raleigh, because they learned that some of the suspect’s things were still there. Later that same afternoon, the suspect approached the house, and the officers quickly ran toward him. The suspect dashed down the street with two FBI agents and a highway patrolman behind him and captured him after a short chase. He had $1,900 in his pocket. The suspect told police that he had won the money in a poker game in Norfolk on Saturday night.
The police felt his story could have been true, since $3,125 had been stolen from the bank and with police on his trail every minute he could not have been able to get rid of so much money in such a short time. However, when he was taken back to Stuart, he was positively identified by the Ruckers and eight others who swore to have seen him in and around Stuart. He was also positively identified by the owner at the restaurant as well as the girl he met there. Confronted with this information, he admitted that he had been the robber.
A later check at the bank disclosed that nearly a thousand dollars, at first thought missing, was safe in the vault, so nearly all the stolen money was recovered. He was found guilty and on March 7, 1944, he was sentenced to serve 30 years in the State penitentiary.
After the 1944 bank robbery, Sheriff Mays served for four more years before retiring and his wife, Iris, continued working at United Elastic as an inspector. Mays passed away in 1962, at the age of 81. He was laid to rest in the Stuart Cemetery beside his wife Annie and their little son.
Information for this article was obtained from newspaper archives and the January 1945 issue of “Official Detective Stories” magazine. The name of the article on Frank Mays was entitled “Mountain Men’s Guns Don’t Wobble.”
Woody may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (276) 692-9626.