Source: Williamson Herald
Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted by permission of Southern Exposure Magazine. Fleming Williams passed away Sunday after a recent illness.
Fifty years ago, Williamson County was a much different place than it is today. The same can be said of most places. But the man behind much of the transformation never set out to affect that change.
He was recruited unknowingly by a group of diners at the community table at Dotson’s when the restaurant was located across the street from its current location – now the site of Landmark Booksellers. His life has given him a front row seat to many changes, including some he had a hand in.
Fleming Williams Jr. had followed in his father’s footsteps, working in the family oil business and was content to do so. But when he stopped in at one of his favorite haunts to enjoy a bite of home cooking with some friends, he noted that a piece of paper had made its way around the table to all but him. When he inquired why, he discovered that one of his dining companions – Paul Lankford – had urged the others at the table to sign a piece of paper – a petition – for Fleming Williams to serve as the next sheriff of Williamson County. That was 1970. He was handily elected to the office soon after and thus began his impact on Williamson County.
The man who would be sheriff is a native of Williamson County, born to Fleming Sr. and Inez Williams in 1927. He attended Battle Ground Academy and served his country in the United States Navy from 1945-46. He returned to attend the University of Tennessee on a football scholarship. When his father died in 1947, he left the Cotton States Dry Goods Co. and followed in his father’s footsteps in the oil business. He married Miss Ophelia Jordan in 1950, and the couple raised five children.
Fast-forward to 2013, the now-retired and former sheriff has decided to tell the story of some of his most impactful cases and, at the age of 86 years young, has spent the past couple of years putting together a book in his own words. A Tennessee Sheriff: Williamson County Cases 1970-1990 is due on local store shelves by mid-August.
A first-hand account, Fleming Williams tells the story in his own words of nearly 80 cases that were solved during the time he served the people of Williamson County. The book describes, at times in graphic detail with pictures for proof, incidents that happened on his watch and how he and a staff of a few resolved these crimes. The pages of the book outline a common sense approach to solving crimes including theft, murder, prostitution, moonshine and drugs.
One such case involved two local men and a moonshine still. Williams writes:
“The Williamson County Sheriff’s Department received information that a still was located on Duplex Road in Williamson County. We proceeded to the location of the still and I found Larry Giles at a whiskey still. This was located across the road from a house where A.C. Veach lived. I received a search warrant for A.C. Veach’s house. We went there and beside the house was an outdoor shed that was locked up. I advised Mr. Veach to remove the lock and he refused. I told him we had a search warrant for his house and all of his property. He then opened the shed and inside were thirty-one gallons of untaxed whiskey. State and Federal officers accompanied us on the raid.”
Another case involved a murder on Hargrove Road.
Williams: “On June 16, 1988, Lt. Bennett and other officers of the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department had been sent to Hargrove Road to investigate a shooting. Robert Rhoades, Sammy Baker and Sgt. Mike Gann, Detective Horn and Detective Ken Anderson, along with Lt. Bennett began to find out what happened at the crime scene on Hargrove Ridge Road. We found Ricky Farmer lying on the side of the road. He was already dead.
Jeffery and James Osborne told us that they had shot Ricky Farmer, but it was self-defense. Timmy Smith had a broken arm. Jeffrey Osborne later changed his story.”
The book, though largely work-related, offers some personal memories as well.
“When I was in the sixth grade at the grammar school in Franklin, Miss Jesse Gray was our teacher…On the front row in her classroom there were three seats that were near her desk.I was sitting in the chair on the right; Wiltz Fristoe was sitting in the middle chair; and I do not remember who was sitting in the left chair. Something happened and Wiltz Fristoe jumped up, pulled out his pocketknife, opened it, and started toward Miss Jesse Gray.
“The boy in the left chair and I jumped up and caught Wiltz before he got to Miss Gray. We held him until Jake Horn, our principal, came in and escorted Wiltz from the room.You might say this was the first time that I had helped subdue a person that was going to cut or harm another person.”
Fleming Williams believes that day’s events determined his destiny as a lawman.
Fleming’s wife also served a two-year stint as sheriff – because of term limitation rules that have since been changed.
“By 1975, I had served the maximum concurrent number of terms as sheriff of Williamson County. But there was still a lot of work to do,” he reflects. “It took a lot of discussion, but I convinced my wife to run for office. She won and we continued to clean up Williamson County. The maximum term limits were changed and I ran again and continued to serve through 1990.”
Today, the Williams live in nearby Hickman County. Fleming shares a passion for this county with the old-timers and newcomers alike and he feels a sense of pride for his contribution to help make Williamson County the safe and enjoyable place it is today.
Donna O’Neil is the former managing editor of the Williamson Herald. She assisted Fleming Williams in editing his book, A Tennessee Sheriff: Williamson County Cases 1970-1990.