Sheriff Archibald Brownlee born 1874

The story of Sheriff Archibald Brownlee's pursuit and capture of Bill Sawyer who was wanted for murder.


Sheriff Archibald Brownlee, Sheriff Archibald Brownlee was born in 1874, the son of Hugh Brownlee and Mildred Bartlow. He served as deputy sheriff on Marco Island Florida in the 1940s. The story of his pursuit and capture of Bill Sawyer who was wanted for murder was published in CRIME DETECTIVE Magazine in the 1940s. Archibald was 66 years old at the time. The story was submitted by Laura Jozwiak, Archibald’s great granddaughter.

Sawyer had killed one man and threatened four others, then fled into the mangrove swamp. The four men who had taken to the woods after escaping from the rampaging Sawyer sought help.  They were unarmed and helpless before the raging fury of the armed killer who had been dissuaded only by their frantic pleas to spare their lives.  They had escaped death only by a hair’s breadth, they knew, for Sawyer was consumed by a berserk madness beyond any reason. He might change his mind at any moment and come after them, and they knew that in his present mood he would shoot them, eliminating any witnesses to the murder.

The first house they came to belonged to Mrs. Molly Hamilton. They called her to the door and told her what had happened. She telephoned Deputy Sheriff Brownlee who lived on Marcos Island.  He knew Marco Island and knew he could find the man in the trackless hammock in daylight, but if Sawyer resisted, someone would get hurt.  Brownlee phoned the Sheriff’s office in Everglades. Within half an hour the sheriff, another deputy and the coroner were on their way.

Arriving at the point of departure on the mainland, the men found no boat available to make the two-mile trip to the Island. The only way across was a sagging railroad trestle with incoming tides occasionally washing over it. The Deputy Sheriff agreed to try to walk across the trestle while the Sheriff and Coroner looked for a boat.

The Deputy finally reached the Island safely and was greeted by a high-pitched hum which he identified as mosquitoes. While a nuisance in most parts of the country, in the Everglades they grow to a size and ferocity unknown anywhere except in some South Sea island jungles. He found the body of the murdered man which had been bitten so much by the mosquitoes that it was hardly recognizable.

When the Sheriff and Coroner arrived they met with Brownlee and decided to wait for daylight before looking for Sawyer. Brownlee told the others that he knew every inch of the Island and could find him. He was afraid if all the men went he would hear them and shoot.

Starting at the scene of the crime, Brownlee skirted the mangrove nearby and followed the shore looking for some sign of the rowboat Sawyer was known to have used.  He finally discovered it hidden in a dense growth of beach grape.  Hiding it in the dark, the killer had forgotten that dragging the boat up on the beach would leave a telltale path in the sand.  Brownlee found footprints leading into the hammock from the boat.  He followed the prints and soon heard Sawyer. He found him in a clearing, his shotgun in his hands, ready to shoot.

Brownlee called to him to drop his gun and come out. “You can’t reach me with a shotgun, but I can kill you with a rifle bullet”, he said. Sawyer knew it would be useless to fire into the thick foliage. He threw down his shotgun and surrendered. He was taken to the County Jail in Everglades.

Sawyer said that the murdered man had beaten him up and claimed self-defense. But he was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death by electric chair. He was sent to Raiford Prison to await execution. Meanwhile, he appealed to the Supreme Court but it upheld the conviction. The State Pardon Board finally reconsidered the sentence and it was commuted to life imprisonment.

Sawyer was sent to the State Road Camp near Fort Myers, Florida in 1941. He escaped a few weeks later. He was apprehended when he tried to contact a relative in Punta Gorda.

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