Frank Abbott interview (1998)
Tuesday, May 26, 1998 – 5:30 p.m.
Frank Abbott is another of the workers who were laid off from the Bowlan Glove Factory on April 11, 1958.
In 1998, Detective Nelson interviewed Mr. Abbott at his home at 583 Cardinal Street, Oxford.
- Detective Terry Nelson
- Frank Abbott
Detective Nelson: Mr. Abbott, I sure appreciate your taking the time to talk with me. Hope I'm not keeping you from your dinner.
Frank Abbott: Oh, no. We just got home from work. Dinner'll be another hour, at least. Can I get you something to drink? A glass of tea?
Detective Nelson: No, thanks. I won't keep you long.
Frank Abbott: That's all right. You don't mind if I drink some, do you?
Detective Nelson: Not at all. Mr. Abbott, just so I keep my notes straight, could you remind me where you work?
Frank Abbott: Over at the university, physical plant. I work in outdoor maintenance: mowing and trimming and such.
Detective Nelson: Been there long?
Frank Abbott: Let me think. It'll be 20 years come next April. Three more years and I'll be retiring. Worked for a while at the casket factory over in Batesville before that, but jumped on the university job when I found out about it back in '79. Good retirement benefits, even for staff.
Detective Nelson: That's what I hear, all right. Now that's out of the way, I wondered if I could ask you a few questions about 1958.
Frank Abbott: I figured that was what this was about. Sure, go ahead.
Detective Nelson: You were working at Bowlan Glove that year, right?
Frank Abbott: Right. And was one of the ones laid off that April. Terrible thing what happened that day. With the Izards and all.
Detective Nelson: Sure was. I suppose you've given it some thought through the years?
Frank Abbott: It's the kind of thing that doesn't leave you easy, but everything dims in time.
Detective Nelson: Could you tell me some of what you remember from that day or that time?
Frank Abbott: You have to understand that that was a difficult time, detective. Unions have never been particularly well received here in the South, and they sure weren't back then. The folks still had visions of communists dancing in their heads, thanks to Senator McCarthy. And unions… well, unions were pretty much considered to be part of a communist plot to break the backbone of the American economy. So it wasn't a popular thing to be in favor of unionization.
Detective Nelson: But you were.
Frank Abbott: Yes, I was. And I still would be, all things being equal. Labor was being taken advantage of something fierce back then. Shoot, you can just look at what happened with Bowlan Glove. None of us was making more than a bare living wage out there, and working as many hours and as much overtime as Mr. Bowlan said. If a machine was clearly dangerous but making it safer would cut into the profits, we just had to live with it. If we didn't like it, we were welcome to leave. He could always find somebody to replace us. Individually, we had no chance at all to get any changes made. Unionization was our only hope.
Detective Nelson: Sounds like you still believe in it.
Frank Abbott: I believe in the basic idea. I can't say that I'm still in favor of unions, the way they've turned out to be these days. Seems like they're more about getting people too much pay for too little work, instead of what they were to start with. But you didn't come here to discuss labor politics.
Detective Nelson: It's interesting, though. Tell me, was the unionization movement at Bowlan Glove advocating violence?
Frank Abbott: No! No. No. No. I can't state that strongly enough. There was no violence involved, and if we heard of anybody talking that way, we scotched it right away.
Detective Nelson: Did anybody advocate violent actions?
Frank Abbott: Oh… you know how some people are. Basically, the men who were always just bruising for a fight anyway. They thought the union movement was going to give them a chance to whip up on somebody and be admired for it. We stopped that idea before it got any farther.
Detective Nelson: Remember who they were?
Frank Abbott: That was a long time ago, detective. People change. I don't want to be getting anybody in trouble now for being a hothead 40 years ago.
Detective Nelson: It won't get anybody in trouble, Mr. Abbott. We already have lists of all the suspects from back then. I'm just curious about your perspective since you seem a sensible man.
Frank Abbott: Well, if you say so. Okay. There was a little pod of troublemakers all along, but we knew who they were and kept a close eye on 'em. Jimmy Warren was the worst of the lot. He thought at the ends of his sleeves and below his belt buckle if he thought at all, which I'm still not convinced he ever did. He just walked through life looking for a reason to brawl.
Detective Nelson: Did he have a particular problem with Richard Izard?
Frank Abbott: Detective, I don't think you're understanding. Jimmy Warren didn't need a problem with somebody to want to fight with them. He was the kind that could take offense if you just looked at him wrong. Know what I mean?
Detective Nelson: I believe I do, yessir. So Jimmy Warren was one of the hotheads. Who else?
Frank Abbott: Walter Hinkley. Howard Hadley. Lou Corbett, to a degree. Those were the worst of 'em.
Detective Nelson: Any others?
Frank Abbott: There was some other men they palled up with in town, but those others didn't work at Bowlan or have anything to do with the union effort. It's been gone for years, but there was a honky-tonk out on 6 toward Batesville just over the county line, that was pretty rough. Pappy Harris's place. Jimmy Warren and young Hinkley and Howard Hadley, they all spent most every weekend out there with a hard bunch. I didn't want to let those three, in particular, into the union meetings, but Elliot said you couldn't afford to exclude anybody if you were serious about group negotiation.
Detective Nelson: Anyone else?
Frank Abbott: Among the younger guys, I'd guess you'd have to count Jesse Danahy and his pals Pete Corey and Harvey Booker in.
Detective Nelson: Did you ever do any thinking about who might have killed the Izards that day?
Frank Abbott: Now, detective, you know that's a dumb question. Of course, I did. We all did. Lotta suspicion around the county for several months. Lotta talk.
Detective Nelson: What do you think?
Frank Abbott: Well, fact is, I'd think it was one of those three—
Detective Nelson: Warren, Hinkley, or Hadley?
Frank Abbott: Yep. Except that I doubt they'd have taken it out on Dick Izard. They were plenty mad and got way too tanked and mean at Sid's. They got to talking big about how they were gonna teach somebody a lesson for messing with people's lives.
Detective Nelson: All four of them were there?
Frank Abbott: On and off, yeah. Mind you, everybody was upset, and most were drinking, so I couldn't tell you exactly who was there at what time, not even back then. I sure couldn't tell you now.
Detective Nelson: Any names named when they talked about teaching somebody a lesson?
Frank Abbott: I heard later they were talking about doing something to Bowlan, but then somebody said he was out of town. You know how drunk logic is — illogical. Since they couldn't get to Bowlan, they decided it was Elliot who'd caused all the trouble. Jimmy Warren took a swing at him, and he left right away, I think.
Detective Nelson: Elliot Perch?
Frank Abbott: Right. Some of the boys who stayed at Sid's most of the day said Jimmy Warren was getting madder and meaner and picking fights even with his own buddies. He tried to jump on Elliot, but the others pulled him off long enough for Elliot to get out of range. They finally all cleared out sometime in the late afternoon, 'bout the time we heard about the killings.
Detective Nelson: But you don't think any of them killed the Izards?
Frank Abbott: Anything's possible, but I'd be surprised.
Detective Nelson: How about Perch? Could he have killed the Izards?
Frank Abbott: Why on earth would he do that? Elliot liked Dick. Even downright admired him a little, I think. Dick Izard was playing a fairly dangerous game, staying neutral as far as anybody could see but secretly supporting the union. Old man Bowlan would've had Dick fired in a minute if he'd known, and Dick couldn't afford to lose his job. Not with that house and wife and two babies to support.
Detective Nelson: How about Elbert Warren? Could he have killed the Izards?
Frank Abbott: Again, all I can say is that anything's possible. But I can't imagine it. Elbert talked a big game, but he was mostly hot air, and everybody knew it. He might've taken a swipe at Dick if he was drunk, but kill him? I don't think so.
Detective Nelson: He was a prime suspect at the time.
Frank Abbott: I know that, and it was worth considering. But most everybody figured the main reason Elbert stayed a suspect so long was because Jack McPhail had it out for him. Nearly won, too.
Detective Nelson: Nearly won? You lost me there.
Frank Abbott: Jack McPhail. All that pushing and prodding and insinuating he did with Elbert Warren just about drove the poor fellow right over the edge. He couldn't get a job for nearly two years, partly because of suspicion. People who knew him didn't think he could've done it, but not everybody in the county knew Elbert personally. And a lot who did know him only knew him as an unemployed drunk. Yeah, Elbert got pushed right up to the brink, mostly because McPhail was still mad about his wife. You know about that, right?
Detective Nelson: I've heard, yes.
Frank Abbott: Man'll do funny things when he's had his pride wounded by a woman, but McPhail didn't quite win out in the end. My daddy said it was religion made the difference for Elbert Warren. I'm not so sure about that, but I have to admit that once he got in church regular with Miz Jeannie, things did start turning around for Elbert. Who knows? Maybe the Lord really did change him.
Detective Nelson: Stranger things have happened.
Frank Abbott: You got that right. You sure do. So bottom line is, no, I don't know who killed the Izards. I don't know that we'll ever know.