Burke County Sheriff's Office
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Deputy Sheriff Elmore Wilson
 1883? - 1931
Although several officers passed away during their employment with the Burke County Sheriff's Office, the first deputy to die in the line of duty was Elmore Wilson, a successful farmer who resided with his family in the Icard township.
Wilson served under Sheriff Fred Ross and quickly became known as "one of the most fearless officers in the county and holds a record for the capture of (moonshine) stills," according to a quote taken from the News Herald in 1931.
On the evening of January 20, 1931, a sheriff's posse made up of Wilson, Chief Deputy Edgar Harris, Deputy Finley Berry, and Deputy John Stillwell converged on the Snow Hill Community west of Glen Alpine after receiving information the day before concerning the whereabouts of an illegal moonshine still. The information gathered suggested to officers that the moonshiners were "making a run" of white lightning at that moment.
The deputies were driven to Snow Hill Church Road by Wilson's son, Wilburn. At the still site, the officers found four men hard at work. The moonshiners reportedly began to run after Deputy Stillwell fired two shots into the air to flush them from the still. One of the moonshiners, Bill Lail of Marion (McDowell County) fired shots that struck Elmore Wilson in the arm and stomach. Wilson reportedly fired his weapon several times during the raid, shooting Lail in the right hip area. Wilson also struck Lail in the head with his pistol, according to several persons present. Lail was arrested along with with his brother, Carlos, and Clifford Burnett. The fourth man was not identified in newspaper and historical accounts.
Lail and Wilson were taken to Grace Hospital for treatment of their gunshot wounds. Four weeks later, on February 16, 1931, Deputy Elmore Wilson died from his injuries after a valiant struggle for life. Lail was charged with his murder and ordered to be held under no bond. He was taken to another county for safekeeping the day of Wilson's death.
In his capital murder trial, Bill Lail contended that he shot Wilson in self defense and was wounded before he fired a shot, a scenario corroborated by Burnett's testimony. The deputies had previously testified that the moonshiners fired upon officers first. As an added twist to the trial, Lail's attorney, W.T. Morgan argued that Wilson's gunshot wounds healed sufficiently in the month prior to his death and he actually died from "chills", a complication of malaria Wilson supposedly contracted while serving as a soldier in the Spanish-American war.
A Burke County jury was not convinced. Lail was convicted of second degree murder after one day of deliberation. On June 1, 1931, Judge J. H. Clement sentenced Lail to a 20-25 year prison term after refuting the defense's claim of self defense, stating Lail was armed and prepared to do battle with any law enforcement officer that interfered with his illicit business.
Deputy Wilson was laid to rest at the Mt. Harmon Methodist Church churchyard. His name is inscribed on a monument in front of the Burke County Courthouse along with the name of Sheriff David Oaks, who was to die in the line of duty 35 years later. The names of both men are also listed on the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Bill Lail served seven years at the Caledonia and Rutherford County prison units until his parole on June 17, 1938.