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Legendary lawmen search for wrong man, find right man

Jacob Bembry: Greene Publishing, Inc.

Whether people loved them or hated them, they would be hard pressed to deny that Simmie Moore and Joe Peavy were legends in Madison County law enforcement, and, arguably, in Florida law enforcement. Moore served as Madison County Sheriff for 24 years, and Peavy, his heir apparent,

Photo by Tommy Greene
At approximately 2:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, Sept. 18, 1968, Madison's law officers were right where the action was. Pictured far left to right: FHP Cpl. Joe Peavy (to the side, facing away from camera), FHP Trooper B.W. McDaniel, Sheriff Simmie Moore, Kenneth Billard, and Suwannee County Sheriff-elect Buddy Phillips. Moore discovered Billard in a sagebrush field, six miles west of Live Oak. Authorities had thought they were searching for Larry McCullar, who had escaped from a prison camp in Troupville in Lowndes County, Ga. Phillips was in charge after the capture before Billard was returned to Madison County to face charges in Madison County and in Moultrie, Ga.

served for 28 years before his record as longest-reigning Sheriff in the state was eclipsed by Gadsden County Sheriff W.A. Woodham, who served 33 years.

Moore and Peavy had made quite a team for a while. The younger Peavy worked as a corporal with the Florida Highway Patrol when Moore was Sheriff. They worked many cases together, and it was no different in September 1968 when maybe the longest manhunt at the time in Madison and Suwannee Counties occurred. This time, Moore and his fellow heroes wearing badges were pursuing a Georgia man, only to find out at the end that they had caught someone else.

Authorities were seeking 21-year-old Larry McCullar, a six-foot tall, 165-pound, brown-haired, gray-eyed fugitive, who was armed and dangerous.

McCullar had escaped from a prison camp at Troupville in Lowndes County, Ga. on Saturday, Sept. 14.

The search in Madison began the next evening, Sept. 15, when Suwannee River High School had been broken into and a truck was found parked at the location. It was discovered that the truck had been stolen from Moultrie, Ga., and Sheriff Moore, Cpl. Peavy, Trooper B.W. McDaniel, and other law officers began immediately searching the area for the man they thought was Larry McCullar, who was from Moultrie.

Also hit that evening by the burglar were Hill-Brown Mill and Elevator and the Madison Country Club. Sheriff Moore spotted the burglar that evening at the clubhouse and a search began through the swamp and woods neighboring the country club. The search continued into Monday night.

On Tuesday morning, it was discovered that the Western Auto store had been raided. Items missing including two pistols and some ammunition.

Authorities had earlier alerted trains passing through the area to keep a lookout for McCullar. The fugitive was noticed by trainmen as he jumped aboard a freight train near the Madison woodyard, as the train headed east at 6 p.m. The train McCullar was on immediately notified the Jacksonville office, which called Live Oak and notified law enforcement of McCullar’s presence on the train.

The train, along with Suwannee County and Madison County law officials planned to converge at the intersection of US 90 and Interstate 10, at the bridge, however this plan went awry when the train stopped for a deputy’s car. The lawman was merely carrying a passenger to the mental hospital in Chattahoochee. McCullar was seen jumping into the woods when the train stopped for the patrol car.

Dogs were called in from Troupville to assist in the search. This was the third time dogs were used in the manhunt. Sheriff Moore had called in dogs from Hamilton County twice to use in the search in Madison County.

Sheriff’s units from Suwannee County and Madison County, Florida Highway Patrolmen from both Madison and Suwannee County, and the Live Oak Police Department assisted in the search for the prison escapee, which went into Wednesday morning. McCullar was finally captured at 2:30 a.m.

Jack Garrett of the Beverage Department in Suwannee County was the first person to spot fresh tracks. Agent Garrett called Madison County Deputy Ed Porter over. Porter confirmed the tracks were the same that had been seen in Madison County.

As officers searched the general area for McCullar, a woman, who lived nearby called the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office to report a strange man drinking water in her backyard. Officer Garrett and Deputy Porter were across US 90 from the house at the time of the call.  All officers in the vicinity immediately moved into that area.

Sheriff Moore and other law officers surrounded the area around the house and began walking about the area. Cpl. Peavy and Trooper McDaniel rode down the fence area and made a wide circle as they turned around, and Peavy parked the car down the road from the house, with the high beam headlights and emergency lights shining brightly into the field.

The captured fugitive later said the car may have made his capture imminent. He was trying to get down the fence line to elude arrest when the car, with Peavy and McDaniel inside, made escape at that moment impossible, so he had to stay in position for a few minutes.

The Madison County Sheriff was the law officer who caught the man, as he lay on his stomach near the fence, attempting to crawl beneath the level of the sagebrush field in an effort not to be seen.

The fugitive was identified as 27-year-old Kenneth Billard of 3100 West Walnut in Garland, Texas, and not 21-year-old Larry McCullar, who law officers thought they were searching for.

Found at the scene was a .38 caliber pistol on the ground where Billard had lain. In his pocket, a .32 caliber gun was found. Ammunition was found for both pistols. A total of $58 in cash was also found. These items had been stolen from Western Auto in Madison.

Also found in Billard’s possession were a ring, whose estimated worth was $2,000, candy, insect repellant, a thermos, and another several hundred dollars in cash.

Billard had eluded capture by running in circles for the last seven-and-a-half hours of the manhunt. He had been backtracking himself to make the dogs lose his scent.

Suwannee County Sheriff-elect Buddy Phillips turned Billard over to Madison County Sheriff Simmie Moore on Wednesday evening, Sept. 18.

Billard was charged with three counts of breaking and entering in Madison, three counts of breaking and entering in Moultrie, and one count of stealing a truck in Moultrie.

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