The Tri-State Terror: The Life and Crimes of Wilbur Underhill

Key Information

The Tri-State Terror: The Life and Crimes of Wilbur Underhill, By R. D. Morgan

2005 [ISBN: 1-58107-107-8; 384 pages; 5 ½ x 8 ½ inch; soft cover] $17.95


TSTwebcovWilbur Underhill—the “Tri-State Terror”—is the Boogeyman of Depression-era outlaws in more ways than one. For nearly a decade in the turbulent period of the 1920s and 30s, he was one of the most infamous and feared criminals in the Southwest. Convicted of one of his murders in Oklahoma he was sentenced to life and escaped, killing a cop and receiving another life term in Kansas, and then escaped again, leading ten others in a mass breakout. In the last months of his life, he rose to national notoriety as a prolific bank robber and suspect in the infamous Kansas City Massacre and became the first criminal ever shot down by agents of that fledgling agency which would soon become the FBI.

True criminal immortality seemed to elude Wilbur after his death, his name eclipsed in the national headlines by the likes of John Dillinger, “Pretty Boy” Floyd, and “Baby Face” Nelson. But scratch the surface and he’s still there.

  • From his native Joplin where Underhill began his career modestly as a “lovers lane” bandit,
  • to the Tri-State mining district where he is best remembered as a lone wolf scurrying about the night terrorizing the populace and committing a half-dozen robberies at gunpoint,
  • to Wichita, Kansas where he was known as a vicious cop-killer,
  • to Jeff City, Lansing, and McAlester where he became a legendary figure among the inmate populations and seemingly possessed a talent to break out at will,
  • to the Central Oklahoma oilfields and his hideouts in the wild and wooly Cookson Hills,
  • to the many towns he struck in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arkansas his impact is still felt.

Underhill emerges from the shadows at last in this work, thanks to the tireless research of R.D. Morgan. The Tri State Terror is a natural follow-up to Morgan’s previous works (especially Bad Boys of the Cookson Hills) but easily stands on its own as the definitive biography of a long lost superstar of thirties crime whose position in the criminal constellation is reaffirmed.


Robbin’ Banks Ain’t No Crime! “History has all but forgotten Wilbur Underhill, a contemporary of men like Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson, but thank goodness R.D.Morgan hasn’t. Seventy years after Underhill’s spectacular death at the hands of the FBI, Morgan has produced a long-overdue biography that should fascinate anyone interested in the subject of Depression-era outlaws. Packed with new information and very readable, The Tri-State Terror is an invaluable addition to the literature of American criminal history.”

—Bryan Burrough, Author of Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the History of the FBI, 1933-34 and co-author of Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisct

“TheTri-State Terror is one of the finest true crime books written in years.”

—Rick Mattix, co-author of Dillinger: The Untold Story and Public Enemies: America’s Criminal Past.

The Contents

  • Foreword v
  • Preface xv
  • Chapter One: Early Life 1
  • Chapter Two: Up the River 15
  • Chapter Three: Like a Lamb to the Slaughter 23
  • Chapter Four: The Tri-State Terror 41
  • Chapter Five: Trial and Punishment 57
  • Chapter Six: Big Mac 73
  • Chapter Seven: Wichita 87
  • Chapter Eight: Guilty as Hell 113
  • Chapter Nine: Greetings From the Big House 135
  • Chapter Ten: The Great Escape 163
  • Chapter Eleven: Robbing Banks Ain’t No Crime 195
  • Chapter Twelve: The Bradshaw-Underhill Gang 215
  • Chapter Thirteen: Brothers In Crime and
  • A Trip To the Alter 231
  • Chapter Fourteen: Running With the Devil 247
  • Chapter Fifteen: Epitaph For a Badman 263
  • Chapter Sixteen: Home Sweet Home 283
  • Chapter Seventeen: A Funeral Fit For a King 299
  • Chapter Eighteen: Epilogue 311
  • References 349
  • Testimonials

The Author

R. D. Morgan is the author of four non-fiction books concerning Oklahoma Lawmen and outlaws. He has also written numerous articles on the subject for Oklahoma newspapers and historical magazines. He and his wife, Naomi, make their home in Muskogee County, Oklahoma, with their two trusted hounds, Jack and Skeeter.

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