The 2009 publication of "Dream Room: Tales of the Dixie Mafia" by Gulf Coast attorney Chet Nicholson afforded me an opportunity to dig into a seedier side of Mississippi's not-too-distant criminal history. It capped off my reading of three books on the so-called Dixie Mafia and their illegal enterprises from Alcorn County to the pre-casino strip in Biloxi.

W. R. Morris, the biographer of Buford Pusser, penned "The State Line Mob: A True Story of Murder and Intrigue" in 2001. Pusser, former sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee, fought legendary battles with the criminal elements along the Tennessee and Mississippi line inspiring multiple "Walking Tall" movies. Pusser, who figures prominently in the book, was the two-by-four wielding, car wrecking, and assassination surviving law man bent on bringing down the bootlegging, scamming, prostituting, and gambling highwaymen. Morris takes Pusser out of Hollywood and back to the country and describes him more as an outlaw with a badge bent on revenge in a blood feud.

While Pusser provides the climax of the book, Morris delves more into the individuals who ran the Corinth crime scene from the 1950s to the 1970s: Jack and Louise Hatchock, Carl Douglas "Towhead" White, as well as appearances by Kirksey McCord Nix, Jr. The dramatized narrative largely takes place at The Shamrock Inn and El Ray Motel, both on Highway 45 in Corinth, where naive tourists and foolish repeat customers were robbed, cheated, and sometimes beaten with little fear of prison from the perpetrators. It won't ruin the book, but none of the characters make it out alive.

Nix played only a minor role in "The State Line Mob" (despite his attempted murder of Pusser and successful murder of Pusser's wife). His role expanded when I picked up "Mississippi Mud: Southern Justice and the Dixie Mafia" (1994) by Edward Humes. Humes tells of the 1987 murder of Biloxi Circuit Court Judge Vincent Sherry and his wife Margaret Sherry, and the investigation and prosecution of those involved largely from the perspective of the Sherry's daughter Lynne Sposito.

"Mississippi Mud" reads like a process book, describing the struggle to unearth the secrets of the Dixie Mafia along "The Strip" in Biloxi. It reveals its characters slowly as Sposito discovers more: the kingpin Mike Gillich, Jr.; Sherry's partner, criminal defense attorney, and later mayor Pete Halat; Kirksey McCord "Junior" Nix; and the women they loved, employed, and pimped. Humes captures the grief and frustration of the Sherry family, the tedious search for truth, and the horror of the murder. Frankly, he captured it so well I was pleased to finish the book and somewhat reluctant to begin "Dream Room."

But "Dream Room" was a different animal and focused more on the criminals than the victims. Where Humes makes you feel the burden of the victims, Nicholson takes you on a wild ride with Henry Salisbury, Mike Gillich, Frances Salisbury Gillich (wife first to Henry, then to Mike), as well as Nix, as they live a life of crime filled with diamonds and death. Named for Gillich's strip-club on the Biloxi shore, "Dream Room" pulls no punches in the depravity of their crimes: beatings and murder, pimping wives, cheating each other - the only code in this "mafia" was fear and violence. Nicholson benefits from first person interviews with Mike and Frances Gillich.

From New Orleans to Point Cadet, and California to Atlanta, their felonious activity landed nearly every character in prison at some point. And that is where, while serving a life sentence in Louisiana's Angola State Penitentiary, Nix devised a lonely hearts scam largely targeted at homosexuals that funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into an account managed by his lawyer, Pete Halat. Nix planned to use the money to buy a pardon. When money came up missing, Halat blamed his partner Vince Sherry leading to the murder-for-hire plot that shook Mississippi. But where Humes describes the prosecution like a historian or reporter; Nicholson tells the story like he is writing for "Law and Order."

"Dream Room" beings with the criminals in their youth, moves past the Sherry murders and trials, and ends in a post-Katrina scene. Mike Gillich, out of prison due to a reduced sentence for cooperating in the prosecution of Biloxi Mayor Pete Halat, now blind, stands on the beach with his wife Frances (who was arrested for looting after Katrina) looking at the slab where the Dream Room - changed from a strip club to a t-shirt shop after regulated legalized gambling moved in - has been washed away.

The provocative cover of "Dream Room" features a partially clad, "platinum blond." If the cover offends you, don't bother opening it or the other two books. They all capture the profane, vulgar, and depraved words and lives of these criminals, but the story could hardly be told otherwise.

Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Contact him at