One Prosecutor’s Crusade Against Crime and Corruptionin Alexandria & Arlington

By Michael Lee Pope

History Press. 126 pp. Paperback, $19.99

At the beginning of the 20th century, saloons, brothels, gambling and murderous violence dominated the landscape of what is now Arlington County. The Navy-Marine Memorial sits atop the cornerstone of now-forgotten Jackson City, infamous in its day for its dens of iniquity. Rosslyn, another hotbed of vice, was home to Dead Man’s Hollow, where murdered corpses were dumped and forgotten.

Local journalist Michael Lee Pope tells the story of this little-known chapter of Northern Virginia history in his account of crusading lawman Crandal Mackey’s campaign to clean up what was then known as Alexandria County (the name was changed to Arlington County in 1920, 50 years after Alexandria became a separate city).

Elected county prosecutor by two votes in 1903, Mackey immediately took on the county’s gambling houses and their political protectors. In a famous raid, a shotgun-wielding Mackey led a posse armed with weapons and sledgehammers into the bars and tawdry gaming clubs of Jackson City. He later waged a long and ultimately successful battle to close the St. Asaph’s racetrack, which bordered what is now the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria.

‘Shotgun Justice: One Prosecutor's Crusade Against Crime And Corruption In Alexandria & Arlington’ by Michael Lee Pope (History Press)

Citing contemporary newspaper accounts, Pope paints a vivid portrait of the county’s gambling dens and the cutthroats who patronized them. He also puts Mackey into the broader political context of the time — a Southern progressive for whom political corruption and voting by African Americans were twin evils to be eradicated (although Pope cites a black newspaper’s endorsement of Mackey’s record in office).

Even so, Pope leaves the reader wanting more information about the central character in his tale, particularly why Mackey decided abruptly in 1915 not to run for reelection and the accounts of courtroom battles sometimes bog down in procedural arcana. Nevertheless, this is an entertaining and useful introduction to the wild-and-woolly world of early 20th-century Arlington.

— Robert B. Mitchell