He was one of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Men when Lafayette Sheriff Mayo Harson, Deputy Sheriff Eddie Breaux, State Police Capt. Gordy Simon, State Police Sgt. S.M. Hundley and an unidentified FBI agent burst into the house where Mathus was staying.
“You’re lucky I was asleep,” the criminal told the cops as they checked out the .38-caliber police special he kept by his side.
They knew about that gun and some others. The FBI bulletins had warned officers to consider Mathus armed and dangerous after he’d fled from Georgia, where he was wanted for robbing an elderly couple. When he was last seen in Georgia he was carrying a machine gun.
After his arrest, Louisiana officers told the press that Mathus had been in the Duson area for about a month before he was nabbed. In Duson, he’d worked at various odd jobs -- as an electrician’s helper, tool grinder, grocery clerk, and welder. He wasn’t a reliable worker, the police said. Women and gambling seemed to be his main interests in life.
Someone from Duson recognized Mathus from an FBI flyer hanging in the post office and called the local gendarmes. Mathus was the 47th man to be put on the FBI’s most wanted list, as 1953 was only the fourth year that the agency distributed wanted posters to post offices and other public places. The publicity paid off. His poster had been put out only three days before Mathus was arrested.
The FBI listed Mathus as 25 years old and described him as a slender 6-footer, weighing about 160 pounds. The photograph on the poster shows an oval-faced, sharp-nosed man with brown hair and a slightly receding hairline.
Newspaper reporter Bob Boyd sat with Mathus in his little cell in the parish lockup and talked to him after he’d been booked and fingerprinted.
“He looked young and almost ridiculously respecatable, sitting [in his cell] in neat gray slacks, white shirt, and necktie,” Boyd reported. “He was still wearing his natty gray hat.
“But the Birmingham, Ala., man’s criminal record went back to when he was a lot younger – 16, in fact, when he was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon. At the age of 20 he was sentenced to serve 20 years on two counts of armed robbery. He was paroled after eight months.”
Mathus told the reporter he’d always wanted “the fast life,” but that it looked like his plans might be put on hold for a while.
“The prisoner tried to explain what it feels like to face the probability of a lifetime in jail,” Boyd reported. “He turned to [the reporter and said], ‘Well, you’re sitting here on this bed now. Just suppose they shut that door on you and locked it shut.”
Mathus didn’t know it, but he was part of a record crowd in 1953. At the rate of two fugitives per month, 1953 held the record until 1968 for the most top 10 fugitives captured in a single year. A new name was added each time one of the top ten was picked up so that there were always ten fugitives on the list.
Mathus was among two dozen men from the list who that year heard the lock click shut on a prison door.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.