1895 – “Stagger” Lee Shelton kills William Lyons

Lee Shelton (sometimes spelled Sheldon) killed William Lyons in a bar run by one Bill Curtis in St Louis, on Christmas Eve, 1895.

Shelton was a cab driver who moonlighted as a pimp – he was in fact a member of a group of fashion-conscious pimps called the Macks. Perhaps this explains his murder of Lyons, who, in the course of a lengthy argument with Shelton, grabbed the other man’s hat and refused to return it even when Shelton drew on him. So Shelton shot him.

He was convicted of the murder, and spent the rest of his life in prison, where he died of tuberculosis in 1912. He almost certainly heard at least one version of the multitude of variants that exist of the song about his crime.

Referenced in:

Stagger Lee – Lloyd Price
Stagolee – Mississippi John Hurt
Stagger Lee – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

The above selection includes just a few of my favoourite versions – there are literally hundreds out there.