Mississippi takes “Dixie Mafia” inmate

Published 12:12 am Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The ailing “Dixie Mafia” inmate who linked prison telephone scams in Louisiana to the murders of a Mississippi judge and his wife has been moved to a Mississippi prison.

Bobby Joe Fabian, 64, is now at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, Miss.

“I don’t even want to get out. I’m just tired. I just want to lay low until I die, which I hope is sooner rather than later,” he told The Advocate of Baton Rouge on Sept. 30, before his transfer.

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Former U.S. Attorneys George Phillips and Brad Pigott of Mississippi credit Fabian with providing information that solved the Sept. 14, 1987, slayings of Biloxi Circuit Court Judge Vincent Sherry and his wife, Margaret, a former Biloxi councilwoman.

Federal trials in 1991 and 1997 convicted former Angola inmate Kirksey McCord Nix Jr., former Biloxi Mayor Pete Halat, strip-club owner Mike Gillich, contract killer Thomas Holcomb and others in the murder plot.

Phillips, retired FBI agent Keith Bell and Lynne Sposito, the Sherrys’ daughter, tried unsuccessfully for more than a decade to arrange Fabian’s unconditional release to Mississippi, where he thought he might have a chance at freedom.

He told the newspaper, during an interview at Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel, “There’s no place in this state I can go because of who I am.”

His transfer was worked out in months of negotiations among federal authorities and corrections officials in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Fabian’s attorney, Cynthia Speetjens, says the agreement is between the two governors and she has not seen it. She said Mississippi agreed to take custody of Fabian “for humanitarian reasons because he solved the Sherry murders and he was in danger” in a Louisiana prison.

Fabian was sentenced to life for aggravated kidnapping in Louisiana and life plus 30 years for murder and armed robbery in Mississippi.

Fabian said he signed out of a federal witness protection program for prisoners on April 30 and spent more than three months in isolation at a Marianna, Fla., federal facility before he was transferred to Hunt in early September.

Louisiana officials still have a “detainer” on him as part of “a long list of conditions” for his transfer, Fabian said

“If Mississippi gets through with me, Louisiana still wants me,” he said.

Phillips, Bell and others were “heavily in support of some concessions being made to him, but this was the only concession we could get,” Speetjens said.

“I think he’s reached that point in his life that he probably realizes he couldn’t make it on the outside,” Bell said. He said Fabian suffered a near-fatal heart attack in federal prison several years ago.

“I’ve got a few miles on me; I took all the back roads,” Fabian said. “I’d have to rob a bank to pay for all the medicine I take.”

He was sentenced for crimes committed over three months in 1970, beginning with his escape from federal custody in Oklahoma and ending with his arrest in Tallulah.

Part of a loose-knit group of criminals the press dubbed the “Dixie Mafia,” Fabian pulled his gun on two officers who stopped him and a companion for a traffic violation. They were caught the day after Fabian took State Trooper Wendell Lewis and Delhi Marshal Bill Curry to a secluded area and shot them in the legs.

Bell told the Pardon Board that Lewis told him in 1992, the year before he died, that he would not object to Fabian’s release. Lewis’ widow said the same in 1994.

Mississippi juries convicted Fabian of killing wealthy Memphis, Tenn., horse breeder and bond expert George Lenox and robbing a couple in West Point, Miss.

Fabian recanted a confession. He said last month he did not kill Lenox, but took the rap as a favor to an organized crime family.

“I already had forever to do. When you’re young and dumb …”

In the 1980s, Fabian, Nix and other Angola inmates began running “lonely hearts” telephone scams that mainly targeted homosexuals who sent thousands of dollars, thinking they were helping young men get out of minor scrapes with the law and join them.

Fabian estimated the ring may have collected $5 million. “We thought we were beating child molesters. I never dreamed they’d pay that kind of money for that.”

Prosecutors said Nix ordered the Sherrys murdered because Halat took money from Nix but said Vincent Sherry had taken it.

Fabian said he broke with Nix because Nix began taking too many chances, including letting his girlfriend bring marijuana into Angola while posing as a paralegal in Halat’s law firm.

Federal marshals moved Fabian from Angola in 1990.

“Kirksey was trying to make a move on me. Things were rocking back then. You play anybody short, and that’s the last time you play them short,” Fabian said.

“I’m glad I did something right before I go, but I sure wish some other people would do the right thing.”