Backbeat Tours’ True Crime Tour Uncovers the Dark Secrets of Memphis

True crime podcasts and TV shows have never been as popular as they are right now. It may come as no surprise that Memphis has its own share of dark and fascinating stories.

From vice-fueled saloons to forbidden love and murder, Memphis’ rich history includes a wide variety of true-crime tales waiting to be uncovered.

Backbeat tour bus
Kelsey J. Lawrence
Backbeat Tours launches new historic true crime tour

When Backbeat Tours announced its latest offering, the Memphis True Crime Tour, I couldn’t wait to hear the gripping stories they explore and learn about the lasting impacts they’ve had on our city.

I had the pleasure of joining a tour led by Shannon, our knowledgeable and animated guide, and Mr. Michael, our experienced driver. We were also joined by Sheena, the history buff who researched and produced the tour.

Tour guide Shannon speaks during backbeat true crime tour
Kelsey J. Lawrence

Our tour group met at Alfred’s on Beale where we had the opportunity to enjoy a drink or two while waiting for the bus to arrive. Upon boarding, we were encouraged to bring our own bottles of water, sodas, and yes, even cocktails along for the ride.

Our adventure began with an overview of the Yellow Fever epidemic and the devastating effects it had on the Memphis area. That information transitioned seamlessly into the stories we would hear about the city’s resurgence fueled by vice–gin, gambling, and girls.

We learned our way through the darker side of Beale Street’s history, exploring the haunting legacy of The Monarch Club, which was also known as “The Castle of Missing Men.” How did it get that nickname? You’ll have to take the tour to find out. The building that housed the infamous tavern now happens to be a Memphis Police Department precinct.

Next, we were introduced to Georgia Tann, whose greed led to the kidnappings of at least 5,000 children as part of her black market adoption scheme in the late 1920s. She died before she could be held accountable for her crimes, but the unraveling of her deceitful web led to the implementation of federal rules in adoption laws.

About 30 minutes into the tour, we disembarked to stretch our legs and walk a one-block area of Downtown Memphis that served as the backdrop for three different crimes.

Group listens to tour guide during backbeat true crime tour
Kelsey J. Lawrence

At Fourth Bluff Park, high society collided with forbidden love and madness in 1892. The tragic story of Alice Mitchell and Frida Ward sparked an interesting discussion between a friend and I about the fine line between love and obsession.

In Court Square, we learned about the petty (and disheveled) life and death of slave trader Wade Bolton, whose unfavorable legacy managed to become the namesake of Bolton High School.

The essence of the tour lies in its unsolved mysteries, ranging from Smith Pyne Bankhead's mysterious murder to the disappearance of Jasper Smith, each of whom represents the city’s oldest cold and missing persons cases, respectively.

As the tour came to an end, I found myself reflecting on everything I learned over the course of the 90-minute experience. Our guide detailed the chilling reign of a serial killer who haunted Memphis in the late 1960s. We explored a murder intertwined with the nightlife scenes of both Memphis and Mississippi. We visited the favored haunt of gangster Machine Gun Kelly, where he often celebrated his criminal exploits. We stood in the shadows where one of the most notorious black widows used to roam the streets of Memphis.

From infamous criminals to murder and unsolved mysteries, Backbeats’ Memphis True Crime Tour opened a window into the darker side of Memphis' past. Each stop on the tour peeled back a new layer of the city’s rich–and often mysterious–history. This true-crime tour not only entertained, but educated, shedding light on the lasting impacts these crimes have had on the city of Memphis–and beyond.


The Memphis True Crime Tour lasts 90 minutes. Adult tickets are $30 and $15 for children ages 5 to 12.

Currently, the tour is offered daily at 4:30 p.m. Check availability to book your tour today.

Backbeat Tours also offers the following a Memphis Mojo Tour (a musical journey featuring Memphis attractions), ghost tours, Memphis Discovery tour featuring attractions and bbq, walking tours on Beale Street and downtown historic spots, and an Elvis & Johnny Cash tour.

Don’t miss out on all the Memphis goodness!

About the Author

Meet Kelsey J. Lawrence, an award-winning journalist and freelance writer with a passion for outdoor adventure and family travel. Kelsey loves sharing experiences that push her beyond her comfort zone. 

With a broadcast journalism career spanning 15 years, Kelsey made her mark as a TV news producer and digital journalist, earning two prestigious National Edward R. Murrow Awards and an Emmy Award. Her expertise also extends to Corporate Communications, having served as a Communications Manager at FedEx, where she earned numerous accolades for her work.

In August 2022, Kelsey welcomed her son, Parks, and has been embracing "mom life" ever since. She is the creative force behind Adventure Baby, a blog that aims to inspire first-time parents like herself to continue traveling and enjoying the great outdoors with their precious sidekicks.

Kelsey also enjoys working with business owners who are looking to enhance their marketing and communications efforts with compelling content and strategic outreach. Feel free to reach out to her if you’re looking to level up your branding and engage your audiences through impactful storytelling.

The most underrated thing(s) about Memphis:

Our beautiful and well-kept hiking trails and walking paths! Parks and I get outside to walk a few miles every morning. We especially love the natural beauty and shade of Shelby Forest as well as the views of the Mississippi River from the Riverwalk pathway to Big River Crossing. 

Your favorite Memphis event:

My favorite Memphis event is one I’m lucky enough to participate in annually. The Memphis Ski Freeze happens every year on New Year’s Day at Mud Island River Park. A few dozen of us water skiers and wakeboarders take to the Mississippi River in the frigid temperatures to raise money for The Dream Factory of Memphis. If you think that sounds cold, keep reading. I like to take it to the next level by braving the icy waters without a wetsuit. I was raised in North Dakota after all. 

Favorite thing to do in Memphis with kids:

There are so many family-friendly places to visit in Memphis, it’s hard to choose just one! We love the Memphis Zoo for so many reasons. Visiting the zoo is a great way to get some exercise and be outside while seeing some of our favorite animals. The zoo offers kids a variety of interactive opportunities to safely experience the wonders of the “wild.” My favorite experience, the Giraffe Feeding Adventure, gives children of all ages (and us big kids, of course) the chance to get up close and personal with the remarkable animals while learning and having fun. Pro tip? Check out the Memphis Zoo when it’s raining! That’s when the crowds thin out and the animals come out to play.

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