The Dixie Mafia
Unlike the original, predominantly Sicilian Mafia, the members of the Dixie Mafia were not tied together by family or blood. It was, rather, a loose-knit, freelancing group of individuals of many nationalities but all with a common goal: to make money and wield control over illegal moneymaking operations by whatever means necessary, even including influence peddling, bribery of public officials and murder.
And murder became the group's hallmark. During the heyday of the Dixie Mafia, from the early 1960s to the late 1980s, dozens of people met violent ends at the hands of members of the organization, usually at the losing end of a gun, and most often because they testified or threatened to testify against other Dixie Mafia members. "Junior" Nix fit right in with this mode of operation.
"The Strip" in Biloxi was home base for the Dixie Mafia, and Gillich was the group's unofficial but universally acknowledged kingpin. Of Croatian Slavic descent from a large family, he had raised himself up from a poor upbringing in the city's Point Cadet section to become a wealthy entrepreneur along The Strip. He owned a string of motels, sleazy nightclubs that doubled as strip joints and gambling dens, and even a Bingo parlor. He was known and trusted by every member of the Dixie Mafia, especially those who trusted no one else. In the words of one investigator of the Sherry murders, "Mr. Mike runs the criminals' post office. He's their banker." And he was Junior Nix's patron and protector.
In December 1965, at the age of 22, Nix was caught carrying illegal automatic weapons in Fort Smith, Arkansas. An old friend of his, Juanda Jones, ran a bordello there, and Nix had taken a liking to Jones' blonde, adolescent daughter, Sheri LaRa. And the feeling was more than mutual: for LaRa it was an infatuation that would grow with time. In later years she would play a key role in Nix's operations, one that tied directly into the murders of Vince and Margaret Sherry.
With the aid of his father's connections in neighboring Oklahoma, Nix beat the charges in Fort Smith and moved on to other crimes. By 1967 he was on a spree that would have deadly consequences for many who crossed his path. He was suspected in the gangland-style murder of a gambler named Harry Bennett who was about to turn state's evidence against several Dixie Mafia members. Although Nix's involvement in Bennett's murder was never proven, this incident precipitated a string of killings that left 25 people dead in six states over the next four years. And Nix was just getting started; his next encounter would be with an American legend.