Virgil A. Stewart happened to be in the right place at the right time. In January 1834, he offered to help a friend in Madison County, Tennessee track down two missing slaves who were believed to have been stolen by a local thief named John A. Murrell. Posing as a man looking for a lost horse, Stewart won Murrell’s confidence over the course of several days and the thief shared with him stories of his exploits and revealed various criminal acts he had committed, including robbery, slave stealing, and murder. Murrell also admitted to being the leader of a vast criminal empire with one thousand members—some of whom were well-respected men in their communities—known as the Mystic Clan of the Confederacy. He wanted to convince slaves across the South to rise up against their masters on Christmas night in 1835, during which time Murrell and his clan would rob on a grand scale.History of the Detection, Conviction, Life and Designs of John A. Murrel, the Great Western Land Pirate…To Which is Added a Biographical Sketch of Mr. Virgil A. first published in 1835, and is the primary source for the life, crimes, and legend of John A. Murrell, a man Stewart labeled “the great Western Land Pirate.” He transformed a petty thief from Denmark, Tennessee into a criminal mastermind with a network of like-minded rogues that stretched across the Old Southwest.