Robert Camden - Robin Hood of the Ozarks



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The following articles and photos may not be in exact chronological order since most of them were taken from undated newspaper clippings and there are still probably other articles yet to be discovered to piece together complete story (if that is even possible).  If you have any articles concerning the "life and times" of Robert Camden which you can contribute, please email us.  Thank you!    



The Ozark desperado, Robert Camden, sometimes considered the Robin Hood of Reynolds County, has been captured after terrorizing for ninth months the northern section of Reynolds County and a part of Wayne County.

His frequently repeated boast he would never be taken alive fell flatter than a hoecake, when a small posse, headed by Sheriff Mal Jamison and Assessor Ray Brown of Reynolds County, hunted him down near a wilderness cave about four and a half miles west of Bunker, Mo.

Brown sighted Camden, a former convict, as the latter was making for shelter of the cave. Raising his [gun? - print faded], the Assessor sought a bead on Camden's shooting arm. The desperado reached for a revolver at his side and Brown fired. The shot missed, but Camden, concluding the Assessor intended business, raised his hands meekly. The Sheriff and deputies, who came on the scene just before the shot, completed the capture, taking two revolvers from the fugitive.


Camden, about 24, is in jail at Ironton, Mo. He will be brought to St. Louis to face a charge of holding up a post office last July 12, according to post office inspectors here. He is under indictment, the inspectors state, for robbing Postmistress Lydia A. S. Jenkins at Greeley, Mo., and escaping into the hills with $15. 50. Officers related Camden belonged to a gang that had been accounted responsible for the murders of several persons during holdups in Reynolds County.

Tales of the countryside give him a colorful reputation, if not a savory one. He made the sale of padlocks in this section a booming business. Farmhouses and village homes were locked for the first times within memory, since his advent in the hills.


His missives of defiance were left in letter boxes of sheriffs of Iron and Reynolds counties. He is said to have issued an ultimatum there would be no hunting season in Reynolds County and promised anyone he found with a gun tucked under an arm would be dispatched on the spot. It was reported fishing became a more popular sport.

When winter came over the countryside and the depression made the picture a more [dreary?] for some residents of the district, Camden sent forth a manifesto, so the story goes, that no one in "his" territory need go hungry; he would provide.

His appearance--hardly threatening in itself; he weighs only about 135 pounds--was the signal for farmers or their families to dig eagerly into larders to supply his wants. He is said to have invited himself to dinners at the point of his pistol, superintending the meal's preparation, the housewife directing one fearful eye on his brandished pistol, the other on skillet and saucepan.

He is being brought to St. Louis to face the possibility of a sentence of twenty-five years in prison, if convicted on the post office robbery charge. St. Louis Police Headquarters records show he served a three year term in the State Penitentiary for robbery, being released in January, 1925.

Last August Camden escaped capture near Poplar Bluff, Mo., in a gun fight with Butler and Wayne County officers. He was sought in connection with the slaying of Rev. James J. Radford in Reynolds County, August 9. Three of the outlaw's companions were captured in the fray.

SOURCE: Undated newspaper clipping.


Man Hunt Results in One Killed
While Other Is Still At Large,
Both Were From Iron County.

A man hunt that has extended from Pulaski County early in the week to the eastern part of Dent County, culminated in the killing of Burley Bartin by the Sheriff John R. Welch at the foot of the Penrod Hill a mile and a half west of Howes Mill on the Iron Mountain road, Wednesday morning about 9 o'clock and the wounding of Sheriff Welch by Barton's companion Robert Camden. Both young men are from Iron County, Barton living at Oats Post Office and Camden at Elvins.

Reports have been circulating this and adjoining counties the past few days concerning the unlawful deeds of these young men. Barton left his home some six weeks ago when Camden came there and begged him to go. Previously, he had not been away from home any and it was much against the will of his family that he left this time.

Barton and Camden left for Southern Missouri where they committed several small robberies and then started north to Pulaski County where they made their headquarters for two weeks. An attempt to rob the Bank of Crocker and capturing a citizen and forcing him to write them a check were among the many things pulled here.

About one week ago the Sheriff of Pulaski County and deputy had a pistol battle with Camden and Barton. However they failed to capture them at the time but were constantly on watch for them.

From Pulaski County, reports have it that they then went to Texas county and into Phelps county, carrying out much the same plan that had been used to working the territory gone over.

Although a sharp lookout was kept for Burley Barton and Robert Camden, they were not seen until they appeared at Joy Post Office and Barton sent a suit case home, also a small amount of money as the money order and insured mail receipt were found on his person later.

Sheriff Welch received a tip the first of the week that the two were working through the south part of Dent County and he at once prepared to capture them.

About 6 o'clock Tuesday evening Barton and Camden passed Stone Hill and from all evidence slept in the barn loft of Earnest Leonard living near Stone Hill. Early Wednesday morning Earnest Leonard called to Sheriff Welch and informed him of the whereabouts of the wanted boys. The sheriff at once deputized Geo. Redwine and they started for Stone Hill where they got Leonard and learned that Barton and Camden had started for or towards Howes Mill. The sheriff and his party immediately took this road and when about a mile from the foot of the Penrod Hill learned that they were only a short distance ahead.

On reaching the foot of Penrod Hill the posse came upon them. Sheriff Welch on the running board of the car armed with a 45-70 Winchester rifle, commanded them to throw up their hands--Camden obeyed--Barton ran to the left of the car making play to reach his gun. At this point Redwine, armed with a revolver, fired four shots at Barton as did Leonard one shot, who was also armed with a small arm. Seeing that no revolver would ever stop the fast fleeing Barton, Redwine told Sheriff Welch who still covered Camden to get Barton. Barton at this time was ten feet from the road. Welch turned and fired. Barton threw his hands in the air and fell dead.

As Welch turned to shoot at Barton, treacherous Camden quickly drew his gun and fired at Sheriff Welch. Camden then turned quickly and removing his coat as he ran, escaped through a line leading to the R. H. Sellers place. Welch fired two shots at Camden as he fled, his rifle jamming on the third shot. Camden escaped, the reports are that he ate dinner at the home of Allen Short who lives three miles directly east of the place where the shooting occurred.

The shot fired by Camden struck Sheriff Welch in the right leg but did not touch the bone. He was brought to town immediately and the wound medically treated.

Another posse of men were organized and started on the hunt for Camden who is at this writing still at large. It is thought that he will be captured within 12 hours as officers of Crawford, Shannon and Reynolds counties have been notified.

The only bullet that hit Barton's body entered his back near the spine, barely touching the kidney, severed the principal abdomen blood vessels. The bullet came out just under the lower rib. He died with an old style 32 rim fire revolver in his hand.

Camden has served one term in the Boonville reformatory and a five year sentence in the state penitentiary. He is now 25 years old, 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs about 150 pounds, wears a grey cap, jumper and overalls. His father is Ben Camden who lives at Elvins, Mo.

A note found on Bartin after his death stated that they were expected to be killed at any time and to notify their parents at their death.

The inquest was held at the spot of the shooting after which Barton's body was brought to Salem and prepared for burial. The remains were taken to his home in Iron County where burial will take place at the family cemetery.
--The Post, Dent County.

Published by THE LEAD BELT NEWS, Flat River, St. Francois Co. MO, Fri. Aug. 14, 1925.

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Robert Camden, who escaped from Sheriff Welch of Dent County, after a gun fight in which his companion, Burley Barton, was killed by the sheriff, and the sheriff wounded by Camden, the above incidents transpiring some three weeks ago, was the central figure in a second spectacular gun fight with officers near Marked Tree, Arkansas, August 29, last Friday. The account of the first encounter with officers was carried in our issue of August 14th.

Following his escape from the Dent County officers Camden gradually worked his way south through Missouri and into Arkansas, making his way through guard lines of officers on the lookout for him in every county. At some point along the line he picked up a new companion, Earl Ewell, 16 years of age, who gave Hannibal, Mo., as his home address. Last Wednesday the pair are alleged to have held up the crew of a gravel pit near Marked Tree, since which time officers have been close on their trail.

The encounter came Friday, and in the resulting battle Camden was shot through the breast, the bullet passing through his body just above the heart. Ewell was captured and placed in jail at Harrisburg, Ark. Camden was taken to Memphis, Tenn., where he is in a hospital with little hope held out for his recovery. His father, Ben Camden of Elvins, was notified and went to Memphis Saturday night, returning Monday.

The sympathy of this community is with the parents of Camden, who of necessity, must suffer the most from his waywardness.

Published by THE LEAD BELT NEWS, Flat River, St. Francois Co. MO, Fri. Sept. 4, 1925.

Additional InformationRobert Camden didn't die in hospital in Memphis.  He went on to commit more crimes in the 1920's and 1930's and also ended up spending time in prison.  He was well-known throughout  Southeast Missouri as the "Robin Hood of the Ozarks".  



CENTERVILLE, Mo., Nov. 6 -- (AP) -- The names of two more men, one of them in the penitentiary, were added to the list of defendants facing trial at the November term of circuit court, for the murder of the Rev. James A. Radford, Ellington preacher-farmer, Sheriff M. M. Jamison said today.

They are Robert Camden, known as the "Robin Hood" of the Ozarks, and now serving a 30-year prison sentence at Jefferson City, and Mac Camden, his cousin.

Five others held for the past six weeks are James Wofford, 73, and his son, Bud, 49, both living in the Reynolds County hills; Vernie Smith, Will Camden and Emmet Smith, who was returned from Denver, Col.

Sheriff Jamison told that Robert Camden admitted his part in the murder of the minister, saying he had been hired to kill the man by Wofford, his son, and by Vernie and Emmet Smith, brothers.

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CENTERVILLE, Mo., Oct. 4 -- Sheriff M. M. Jamison today said five men were in custody, all facing charges of murder in connection with the death in August, 1933, of the Rev. James A. Radford, Ellington farmer-minister.

Jim Wofford, 73 years old, and his son, Bud, 40, are held in jail at Salem, where they were taken for safe-keeping. Vernie Smith, 25, and Will Camden, 48, are held in the Iron County jail at Ironton, and Emmet Smith, 28, brother of Vernie, is being detained at the penitentiary in Jefferson City. He was recently returned from Denver, Colo.

The five arrests, according to Sheriff Jamison, followed a purported confession by Robert Camden, "Robin Hood of the Ozarks," that he killed the Rev. Mr. Radford and was hired to commit the crime. Camden is serving a 30-year sentence in the State penitentiary.

SOURCE: two undated newspaper clippings.


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By Associated Press.

CENTERVILLE, MO., May 27 -- Moving swiftly, both state and defense completed testimony late today in the murder trial of Robert (Bobby) Camden, Ozarks outlaw charged with the murder of a preacher.

Camden was brought to this isolated village at noon from State's Prison. He pleaded not guilty. A jury of 11 farmers and one filling station attendant was quickly selected. The state presented eight witnesses, the defense one. The jury may receive the case before noon tomorrow.


John Chitwood, Ellington, Mo. lawyer named by the court as counsel for the 5-foot, 125-pound desperado, known both as the "Robin Hood" and "The Scourge" of the Ozarks, did not object when the state read a purported confession of Camden to the slaying of Rev. James A. Radford.

In the confession which Sheriff M. M. Jamison said Camden made to him, the outlaw said he slew the hill preacher for $200. Five others, who allegedly arranged for the slaying, were granted severances by Circuit Judge E. M. Dearing and will be tried separately.

John R. Johnson, special prosecutor, read the confession before a courtroom so crowded with hill folk it was necessary to clear the aisles three times. Many persons were kept in the courtyard because of lack of room.


When Camden arrived under guard of four highway patrolmen, a half dozen young women rushed to the outlaw, embraced and kissed him. Camden said he knew none of them.

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Johnson said he would ask death for Camden, already serving a 30-year prison sentence for robbery, but made no mention of requesting such a penalty for five other defendants charged in connection with the slaying of Rev. James A. Radford in August, 1933.

The outlaw, dubbed by hill dwellers both the "Robin Hood" and "the scourge" of the Ozarks, depending on whether he helped or harassed them, was captured a year ago.


Sheriff M. M. Jamison of Reynolds County said Camden confessed he slew the minister for a fee paid by the other defendants. The Sheriff said Camden told him the others suspected Radford of responsibility in the death of his second wife, the mother of Vernie Smith, a defendant. Others to be tried are James Wofford, 73, and his son, J. C. (Bud) Wofford, 49, Will Camden, 49, an uncle, and Mac Camden, a cousin of the outlaw. Mac Camden, also serving a prison term, was brought here with Bobby.

Mrs. Radford died of injuries received in a automobile accident on a lonely road. Mr. Radford, the driver, was unhurt. He said he lost control of the car. An investigation by officers, at the request of Vernie Smith and his brother, Emmet, exonerated the minister of any blame. Soon afterward Radford was slain from ambush.

As the hill folk ate their lunches in the shade of maple trees, in the Courthouse yard the village hogs roamed about. They darted swiftly for any food dropped, squealing and fighting over the larger pieces.

Court week is a holiday for the mountain farmers, and men, women and children come to this town of 350. There is no railroad, no telegraph and only three telephones.

SOURCE: newspaper clipping dated 1936.


Centerville, Mo. July 19 -- Robert Camden, escaped convict once feared as "the scourge of the Ozarks," was captured early today at a farm home about four miles east of here by a posse of six highway patrolmen and law enforcement officers from Reynolds, Wayne and Iron counties.

Camden, who escaped last April 28 from the state penitentiary at Jefferson City, threw down his .30-30 carbine and surrendered meekly to the posse after he had been surprised at 2:55 a.m. at the farm home of Mr. and Mrs. Cluster Black, whom he had known since childhood. He was taken to Iron county jail at Ironton.

Word that the outlaw was roaming the hill country reached Sheriff Charlie Reed here shortly after Camden broke out of the penitentiary, where he was serving a life sentence for the murder in 1933 of the Rev. James A. Radford, a hills preacher, as well as 30 years on a series of Ozarks robberies.

Several times, Sheriff Reed almost caught up with Camden, but each time the convict eluded his pursuer. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, Reed learned Camden was holed up at the Black farm. Wading the west fork of the Black river, Reed crept a quarter mile south to the farm. Through binoculars he watched Camden, carbine in hand, standing outside the house.

Returning to his home here Reed telephoned Sheriff Ogle Selinger at Ironton, Police Chief [can't read first name] Chatman at Piedmont, Wayne county, Highway Patrol men C. A. Pohle and Frank Sheible and Police Chief John Goff of Ironton. They met that night at Sheible's home, studied plans of the farm house, and surrounded it early today.

As they closed in, a dog began barking in the dark and Camden, fully clothed, jumped from bed and into the doorway, calling out: "Who's that? Stop where you are!" Reed switched on a heavy searchlight and its beam blinded Camden in the doorway, carbine in hand.

"This is the sheriff," Reed called out. "Throw down that gun and get your hands up."

Camden hesitated a moment, then wheeled and threw the carbine inside the house. Seconds later the posse surrounded and handcuffed him. Then they marched him back through the river to where their automobiles were hidden.

SOURCE: undated newspaper clipping from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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Robert Camden of Middlebrook, was born April 29, 1921 [sic - should be 1901?] at Boss, Mo., and died Monday, Feb. 18, 1974, at Arcadia Valley Hospital, being 73 years of age. He was a son of the late Ben and Rosie (Black) Camden.

Mr. Camden made his home with Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur Keith of Middlebrook until the time of his death.

Funeral services were at 2 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, at Caldwell's Memorial Chapel, Bismarck, with Rev. Wm. Hodge officiating. Interment was at Edison Cemetery, Bellview, Mo., under the direction of Caldwell's Services, Bismarck.

Published by THE LEAD BELT NEWS, Flat River, St. Francois Co. MO, Thurs. March 14, 1974.