40 years ago on June 3rd, 1983 the quiet hills of rural Lawrence County were anything but quiet.
On that evening described as humid with afternoon showers in the area, Lawrence County Sheriff Gene Matthews and federal fugitive Gordon Kahl were both killed during a shooting that occurred as law enforcement attempted to arrest Kahl who was the subject of a nationwide manhunt.
Kahl was on the run after another shooting incident in Medina North Dakota that occurred on February 13th 1983. During that incident federal agents along with local law enforcement attempted to arrest Kahl for violating his probation. On a lonely road outside Medina agents set up a roadblock and stopped two vehicles carrying Kahl and others. A shootout ensued in which left US Marshal Kenneth Muir and US Marshal Robert Cheshire dead and several others injured. Among the injured was Kahl’s son, Yorie Kahl was later arrested along with Scott Faul for their role in the shooting incident.
Gordon Kahl was a self proclaimed Posse Comitatus and served prison time for not paying his taxes. Kahl removed himself from the Social Security system in the late 1960’s and was know to authorities for conducting meetings with other like-minded individuals. He was wanted by authorities for violating a condition of his parole which included paying his taxes.
Kahl fled the incident and was rumored to have fled to Texas before eventually ending up near Mountain Home Arkansas at the residence of Arthur Russell. Kahl stayed in the Mountain Home area for a period of time before moving on to the home occupied by Leonard and Norma Ginter a few miles outside of Smithville Arkansas.
Authorities acting on a tip began aerial surveillance on the farm and after a few days believed they had a sighting of the fugitive. It was later discovered that Arthur Russell’s daughter tipped off authorities and collected a $25,000 reward for information leading to his whereabouts.
After authorities believed they had a sighting of Kahl at the Ginter farm outside Smithville authorities with the Arkansas State Police, FBI, US Marshals, Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department and other local departments converged on the home on the evening of Jun 3rd 1983.
There are many different accounts of the incident that evening, we respect them all.
After authorities detained Leonard and Norma Ginter outside the home, Sheriff Gene Matthews along with two other officers made the fateful decision to enter the residence. Shots were fired inside the residence leaving Sheriff Matthews mortally wounded and the suspect dead.
The following events have led to numerous conspiracy theories surrounding the event.
The “official” report concluded that Sheriff Matthews and Gordon Kahl simultaneously shot each other in the confrontation. This has been widely disputed.
Once gunfire was exchanged, officers retreated with the wounded sheriff, he was placed in a vehicle and transported to a waiting ambulance. Sheriff Gene Matthews was transported to Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Walnut Ridge where despite the efforts of doctors and nurses, he died.
At some point after Sheriff Matthews was taken from the scene, authorities decided to pour fuel down vent pipes on the roof of the structure and set it on fire. The building was a concrete structure built into the side of a hill, commonly referred to as an underground home.
After what was described as a “raging fire” a local volunteer fire department was called in to extinguish the flames.
Several witnesses stated that Sheriff Matthews had announced he’d killed the suspect during the shooting raising questions as to why the authorities burned the interior of the structure.
A body was discovered in the ashes and sent to the Arkansas State Crime Lab for identification. Ironically the two bodies of Sheriff Matthews and Gordon Kahl were transported to Little Rock side by side in the same vehicle.
In the days following the event, local, state and national media descended on the Smithville farm. During which a news reporter discovered a charred foot near a refrigerator in the debris, this sparked more controversy and fueled rumors about the incident. The Arkansas State Crime Lab later confirmed the foot belonged to the body and the body was confirmed to be Gordon Kahl.
Since 1983 there have been hundreds of newspaper reports, several documentaries, books and a television show (although not very accurate) produced telling the story from all sides.
Sheriff Gene Matthews is buried in Walnut Ridge Arkansas.
Gordon Kahl’s remains were buried in Heaton North Dakota.
Several people including the Ginters and Arthur Russell were later indicted by authorities for harboring fugitive Gordon Kahl.
The ruins of the former Ginter home have been reclaimed by the forrest and are on private property which is not accessible to the public.
According to records, Yorie Kahl was eligible for parole in 2022.