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The Pursuit

Billy Dean Anderson of Pall Mall, Tennessee gained infamous notoriety in 1975 when he was added to the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List after a long list of crimes, for which he was jailed and paroled three times, including armed robbery and prison escapes, over the course of 20 years. His life as a criminal began in June of 1959, when he was jailed for shooting into a Methodist church at Pall Mall. That was followed by charges of armed robbery in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and California.

In October 1962, Anderson shot and injured a Tennessee state trooper. Paroled in 1966, he moved to Muncie, Indiana, had more run-ins with the law and was told to leave the state and never return. Back in Tennessee, he was involved in a shoot-out with police, served a short sentence, was paroled, and likewise, was told to leave Tennessee and never come back. Ignoring the ban in Indiana, Anderson moved back there and, in 1970, while working at a gas station, pulled a gun on a customer. Following the third parole, Anderson ignored the ban in Tennessee and moved back to Pall Mall. In December 1973, he was arrested for allegedly shooting a deputy sheriff in Jamestown. This time, instead of waiting for parole, Anderson escaped prison. On January 21, 1975, he was placed on the FBI's Most Wanted List.

Eluding authorities for more than four years by hiding out in the rugged terrain of Fentress and Pickett Counties, Anderson set himself up in a cave near the Fentress-Pickett line, with an opening halfway up the side of a hill hidden in an outcropping of rock. The opening was only three feet in diameter, and inside there was a 20-foot drop to where Anderson had fashioned a living area, complete with a system for channeling fresh water into the cave.

Anderson was a gifted painter and while authorities pursued him, he pursued art. Brushes and paint were found in the cave, and several of his oil paintings depicting religious topics exist to this day. According to Rural Life and Culture in the Upper Cumberland (Michael E. Birdwell and W. Calvin Dickinson, 2004), in his youth, Anderson displayed a prodigious talent, and under different circumstances might have been able to devote his life to his art. He even earned a reputation as a kind-hearted, religious young man. Teaching Sunday school and occasionally preaching, Anderson used his art to reflect his notions of Christianity. It was in prison that Billy Dean Anderson began turning his doodles and sketches into approximately three hundred full-fledged paintings, some life-sized. Most of his paintings idealized renderings of Jesus. According to the book, displaying his inherent talent, the paintings depict a muscular, self-aware Christ. His Jesus is not the Lamb of God, but more like the angered Messiah who drove the money changers from the temple. The photo above is of a painting by Anderson that is owned by Mitch and Linda Hurst, depicts the risen Christ with his wounds in vivid red, looking directly at the viewer. In addition to the paintings, he also produced a number of wood carvings, including interlocking chains, bas-relief plaques and crucifixes. Made from three pieces of chestnut, the crucifixes were minutely detailed, and were adored with red paint where the nails entered the stylized flesh of Christ.

Acting on a tip, the FBI surrounded the home of Anderson's 75-year-old mother just after midnight on July 7, 1979. When he didn't heed a call to surrender, two shots were fired, killing him. Anderson's nearly four-and-a-half years on the FBI's Most Wanted List were longer than all but nine of the more than 60 placed on the list during the 1970's.


  1. Are you sure only 2 shots were fired? I heard that they shot him to bits.


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