Lester Woodrow (Tarzan) Gwinn was born on January 17, 1915. As the name “Tarzan” might suggest, Gwinn was a large man standing 6 ft.-3 1/2-inches tall and weighing some 280 pounds. He had been a local Golden Gloves heavyweight boxing champion and an amateur and professional wrestler earlier in his career. During the Second World War he had earned the Silver Star, the Oak Leaf Cluster, as well as the Purple Heart, Good Conduct and marksmanship medals while serving as a sniper in the Pacific. Gwinn joined the Knoxville Police Department on July 9, 1949. As a police officer he was known to be particularly tough on drunk “repeaters” and “shady characters” who made trouble on his beats. Some who remembered him described him as a sadist.
He had another side to his personality as well. He grew flowers and operated a seller’s truck on Market Square during flower season where he habitually gave away the flowers that did not sell on a particular day. He was well known for his youth work and worked as a counselor at the FOP boys’ camp. He and his wife Rose adopted a son, Harlas, after the child’s father was made an invalid in an accident and could no longer care for the child.
On January 31, 1955, Tarzan Gwinn died in Knoxville General Hospital of five gunshot wounds suffered in a shoot-out with Roy Porter at the home of Robert and Margaret Van Winkle. Gwinn is buried in New Gray Cemetery. [Biography written and memorial photo by Dr.Wesley Morgan firstname.lastname@example.orgUniversity of Tennessee ]