By Derrick Perkins
After scaring up a compendium of local ghost stories and detailing the Port City’s history in the District, Alexandria newshound Michael Lee Pope has turned to Northern Virginia’s seedy past in his latest work.
“Shotgun Justice: One Prosecutor’s Crusade Against Crime and Corruption in Alexandria and Arlington” follows the exploits of lawman Crandal Mackey, who made cleaning up the Port City’s streets a personal mission in the early 20th century. Elected commonwealth’s attorney in 1903, Mackey led raids on Alexandria and Arlington’s whorehouses and gambling dens as well as exposed corrupt politicians.
“That shotgun that is on the cover of the book is [Mackey’s] shotgun,” Pope said. “One of the really interesting things about the raids is it’s really rare to hear of a prosecutor going on raids. The situation is the sheriff — this is the Alexandria County sheriff — basically was very unwilling to cooperate with Mackey, so [Mackey] put together his own posse of supporters and started conducting these raids.”
It’s a story that hasn’t been told in a very long time, if ever, Pope said. It wasn’t even covered at the time by the Alexandria Gazette — the forbearer of the Alexandria Gazette Packet, which Pope writes for when he’s not penning books.
While Pope can’t say for sure what kept Mackey’s exploits out of the paper, he suspects the local outlet was aligned with the political bosses running the county, which then incorporated parts of Arlington and the Port City.
“It’s not like they didn’t have the manpower to cover the story, and it’s not like they didn’t know what was happening,” he said. “I don’t know. These people aren’t around so you can’t interview them ... but it’s clear they intentionally avoided covering [Mackey].”
Instead, Pope relied on genealogical and archival records to conduct his research and turned to the now-defunct Washington Times — no relation to its modern-day namesake — for local color.
“It was very progressive and muckraking and a sort of yellow journalism newspaper from the early 20th century,” Pope said. “[Mackey] was sort of a hero to them. They reported on this guy’s doings pretty regularly, but in Alexandria, there was little or no coverage of him. That’s part of the story that I wasn’t expecting.”
Pope began working on Mackey’s story about a year ago and said researching Del Ray’s notorious — and long gone, thanks to Mackey — racetrack sparked his interest in the nearly forgotten prosecutor.
Nearly forgotten because Pope also discovered a low-level, present-day dispute over Mackey’s shotgun while working on the book. It rests in the possession of the Arlington County sheriff’s department, much to the annoyance of a former commonwealth’s attorney.
But outside of those few folks, not many know about Mackey or his exploits.
“That kind of stuff certainly does not appear in the brochures printed by the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association,” Pope said. “Although people are undoubtedly interested in it. When you talk to people about this, they’re eager to learn more. People are fascinated to learn more about the darker parts of Alexandria’s history.”
Shotgun Justice: One Prosecutor’s Crusade Against Crime and Corruption in Alexandria and Arlington
By Michael Lee Pope
128 pages. The History Press Inc. $19.99