Alabama state officials had allowed crime and corruption to fester in Phenix City for decades. Some suspected large payoffs in the form of political contributions. The Hoyt Shepherd mob that ran the town were extremely wealthy from the rackets they ran. But when crusading attorney Albert Patterson was shot down in cold blood after he won election as the "man against crime," the state's high officials could no longer afford to ignore Phenix City. Investigators from the state attorney general's office concluded after a visit to the crime scene that local law officials were corrupt and the only way to solve the Patterson murder was to declare martial law and take over the town's government, in the meantime wiping out the illegal activities that had funded the mob's political empire. Three weeks after the murder, Governor Gordon Persons, under increasing pressure from the state's newspapers to do something, declared 'limited martial rule' in Phenix City. Maury Smith, then a young lawyer in the office of the attorney general investigating the Patterson murder, recalls the governor's action as needed against local police who were trying their best to cover up evidence rather than find it.

General Walter J. "Crack" Hanna, Alabama Adjutant General in charge of the National Guard, had been ordered by the governor to Phenix City hours after the murder of Albert Patterson. Even before martial law was declared, Hanna began laying the groundwork for the cleanup he knew was forthcoming, keeping tabs on the slot machines and other evidence of crime being hidden away in the countryside to avoid the crackdown. Pete Hanna, who served as his father's driver, talks about how the National Guard took over Phenix City.

Reporter Bob Ingram of the Montgomery Advertiser recalls the pugnacious character of Crack Hanna and how he responded to his discovery that Phenix City, though a notorious den of iniquity, had more churches per capita than almost any other town in the nation.