The Crime Files is a monthly column authored by Steve Willard.
It appears in The Informant The Official Publication of the San Diego Police Officers Association.
All material contained within is copywrited and may not be used in any part without the expressed written consent of Steve Willard.
During her ten year run she never lost a fight, killed four men and permanently maimed an untold number of others. Her reputation was so ferocious even the top gang in the city, the Live Oak Gangsters, went out of their way to avoid her. When she took up living with notorious criminal John Miller, the couple quickly became known as the toughest couple in the city.
Nicknamed “Bricktop” because of her flaming red hair, Mary Jane became a prostitute at the age of 13 in some of the sleaziest bars in town. Despite being a favorite among the men, most of the women who worked around Bricktop were scared to death of her.
Within a year Bricktop hooked up with the owner of a saloon and began calling him her man. That lasted for three years until one day the barkeep threw her out. Bricktop quickly regrouped and charged the saloon and savagely beat her former lover ripping off an ear and half his face.
Bricktop eventually took her trade to the roughest bar in town, the Dance House on Gallatin Street. The rumor was nothing was too rough for the Dance House but Bricktop quickly proved to be the exception and she was eventually forced to take up freelance work wherever she could find it.
Bricktop killed her first man in 1856 after he called her a “whore” to her face. A year later she was in a bar when she told seven foot tall Charley Longley “I bet you would fall forward if I stabbed you.” When Longley laughed at the idea, Bricktop proceeded to pull a knife and filet him.
On November 7, 1859, Bricktop and two other ladies of the evening were visiting a beer garden when a man seated at the next table named Laurent Fleury complained about their foul language. At first the women ignored him but when he told them to “shut up” Bricktop replied if he didn’t mind his own business she would cut his heart out. Obviously he didn’t know who he was dealing with and Fleury walked over to the ladies table and slapped Bricktop. Now the fight was on. The three women all pulled knives and jumped him. Joe Seidensalh tried to come to the rescue but had to back off after he was severely sliced. A bar employee pulled a gun and fired a shot but the women attacked him with bricks and he too had to retreat. By the time the police arrived the victim was dead on the floor with his pockets cut out. The pocket was later found under Bricktop’s skirt and became evidence against her in a murder trial.
Bricktop awaited trial in the Parish Prison where she met and fell in love with a corrupt guard named of John Miller.
Bricktop eventually beat the murder charge when the coroner’s inquest could not determine a cause of death. Bricktop’s lawyer seized upon heart failure as the true cause of Fluery’s demise and New Orleans toughest woman was back on the streets – this time with a partner, former guard John Miller.
The pair quickly became a colorful item even by Gallatin Street standards. Miller had lost an arm in a bar fight a few years earlier and, absent a prosthetic, he attached an iron ball and chain to his stump. The result was a ferocious weapon that was used in the robberies of a number of tricks Bricktop managed to lure to a back alley.
The savage robberies helped to make ends meet for while but the romance saw the beginning of the end in 1861 when Miller came home with the idea of whipping Bricktop into submission. Bricktop had other ideas and grabbed the bullwhip from Miller and gave him a bloody beating. When Miller tried to lash out with his ball and chain, Bricktop grabbed the ball in midair and began dragging him around the room while administering even more of a beating. Miller finally pulled a knife and tried to stab his lover. Bricktop bit his arm until he dropped it and then turned the knife on him.
It was fatal end to the story and the killing landed Bricktop in state prison for a ten year sentence. The stretch only lasted nine months when the military governor of the state, General George F. Shepley, practically emptied the prisons with blanket pardons. Bricktop didn’t wait for anyone to change their mind and quickly seized the opportunity to flee town never to be seen again.
The Crime Files
By Steve Willard
Given the current economy, there has been a lot of talk about the Great Depression – more specifically, crime during the era. Despite Hollywood’ portrayal of mobsters, public enemies and Bonnie and Clyde types in every town, the truth is crime actually went DOWN during the period of 1929 – 1943.
Even so, desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures and one industry that did thrive was insurance fraud. Which leads to the amazing story of “Indestructible Mike Malloy.”
The year was 1932. Anthony Marino owned a speakeasy on E. 177th Street in the Bronx section of New York City. To get a prospective on how bad things were, in some parts of the city the unemployment rate neared 50%.
That led to Marino, along with his barkeep, Joe Murphy, undertaker Frank Pasqua and friend Dan Kriesberg to devise a plot to scam insurance companies by taking out policies on drunks and then hastening their deaths with booze.
The scam worked ok for awhile and the men scored some easy money knocking off drifters or other societal drop outs. Among those, a pretty young blonde named Bette Carlson. After tricking her into signing an insurance policy naming the boys as the beneficiaries, she drank herself into a near coma. The boys quickly carried her upstairs, stripped her naked then poured cold water on her and left window open. The next day they had a natural death. An $800 policy payoff followed.
Then they picked the wrong victim.
At first fifty year old Mike Malloy seemed perfect. A former fireman and engineer, alcoholism had kept Malloy from holding down regular jobs and he eventually fell into the life of a drunken bum.
The conspirators met Malloy when he began hanging around the bar looking for handouts. It didn’t take long before the men figured it was only a matter of time before Malloy drank himself to death, so they invited him in with an offer of free drinks.
Malloy was accustomed to getting the bum's rush because of his lack of money, so he was thrilled with the generosity of his new “friends.” Several drinks later he was so grateful he eagerly signed a petition to help get Marino elected to local office. What he actually signed was an insurance policy from Metropolitan Life for $800, and two from Prudential for $495 each.
At first the boys tried to get Malloy to drink himself to death but the more they gave him, the more he seemed to thrive. Worse yet, after several weeks of feeding Malloy free liquor and a room in the back of the bar to sleep off his hangovers, (open window and all) Marino began complaining his new friend was starting to cost him money.
Fearing bankruptcy, Marino switched to some “new stuff” that had just come in. In actuality, it was anti freeze but Malloy eagerly chugged it down while commenting on its smooth taste. A couple hours later, Malloy collapsed on the floor and the boys carried him to a back room to expire in private. Imagine their shock when an hour later Malloy was back at the bar asking for more!
Over the next few days the boys kept feeding Malloy whatever they thought would kill him. When anti freeze was having no effect, they switched to turpentine. Malloy downed shot after shot with no effect. Even horse liniment laced with rat poison seemed to have no effect. The boys had to wonder what Malloy had been drinking all his life.
By now the boys figured nothing liquid could kill Malloy so they began feeding him raw oysters soaked in wood alcohol. Mallow downed two dozen and even commented “Tony, you should open up a restaurant, you sure know first class food.”
After several days of raw oysters and rotten sardines, the boys were desperate. They got Mallow drunk and hauled him outside in the snow where they stripped him, dumped five gallons of water on him and left him in a snow bank to die.
The next day the boys checked the papers but found nothing. This was especially upsetting to Frank Pasquq who almost caught pneumonia from the drop off. That evening Malloy was back at the bar telling his pals how he must have really tied one over because the police found him in the snow and bought him a new coat.
Now the boys were truly desperate. Not only would Malloy not die, he wouldn’t go away.
Faced with few options, the boys turned to a criminal cab driver named Harry Green to run Malloy down. After getting him drunk, the boys lead him out into the street and held him up for the cab to hit him. To make sure he was dead, green backed up and ran him over again.
Malloy was missing for three weeks this time before finally coming back to the bar explaining he had been in a car wreck and could sure use a drink.
By now the conspirators were beside themselves. They tried to hire a hit man to kill Malloy but couldn’t afford the $500 fee.
They then shanghaied another drunk, Joe Murray, loaded him up with liquor and stuffed his coat pocket with Malloy's ID and ran him over with a cab. Murray, a substitute for Malloy in every way, recovered from his injuries after two months in Lincoln Hospital.
By now the gang determined the only way to knock off Malloy was good old fashioned murder.
On February 23, 1933, the boys rented a room and held Malloy down and shoved a gas hose in his mouth until he stopped breathing. The killers then discovered they needed a corrupt doctor to sign a death certificate listing natural causes otherwise there would be an autopsy. That required another pay off.
Murphy posed as Malloy's brother and collected the $800 from Metropolitan Life. But, when agents from Prudential came around to pay off, they discovered he was in jail on another charge and became suspicious. They quickly contacted the police.
By now there were just too many people involved to keep quiet. Worse yet, the cab driver was complaining to friends the boys at the bar stiffed him on the car repairs. The police soon learned of a murder racket in the Bronx and began asking questions. Then they heard of Malloy’s death and subsequent burial four hours after his death. That was suspicious. Upon exhumation of Malloy’s body the gig was up and everyone started talking.
At trial at the Bronx County Court House, the four murderers either claimed insanity or shifted the blame to each other. None of it worked and they were all found guilty. The case was officially closed in 1934 when all four of the conspirators were executed at Sing Sing prison.
The Crime Files
By Steve Willard
Crime in the White House
With the presidential election coming up in November I thought it would be interesting to see what role the presidents have played in crime, both as victims and suspects.
The first sitting president on record as crime victim was Old Hickory, Andrew Jackson. A former military hero from the War of 1812, President Jackson already had his fair share of shooting and being shot at by the time he was sworn in as our seventh president in 1829. Even so, the idea of a president being attacked or worse probably still came as a surprise. The first attempt to do him harm came after Jackson fired a federal employee by the name of Robert Randolph for embezzlement. On May 6, 1833, the president was in ceremony in Fredericksburg Virginia when Randolph suddenly rushed him and struck him. Randolph fled the scene with several members of Jackson's party chasing him, including the well known writer Washington Irving. He was eventually caught but President Jackson decided not to press charges.
A more dangerous call came on January 30, 1835, when the president was crossing the Capitol Rotunda after a funeral. Richard Lawrence approached Jackson and aimed two pistols directly at Jackson. Both misfired. Jackson attacked Lawrence with his cane, prompting his aides to restrain him. Lawrence was acquitted of his crime by reason of insanity. Later, an actuary once estimated the odds of two pistols misfiring as 1 in 125,000.
Our 14th president was on the other side of the law and was once actually arrested. President Franklin Pierce was arrested in 1853 after his horse ran over a woman in the streets. The charges were dropped when the officers realized they had brought in the President of the United States. The official disposition of the case is now listed as lack of evidence.
The 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, holds the dubious distinction of being the first president to be murdered while in office. Robert Todd Lincoln had been invited to go to the Ford Theatre with his father but choose to stay at home and sleep instead.
During the term of President Ulysses S. Grant, the president was stopped for speeding through the streets of Washington DC on his horse. He was fined $20 and made to walk back to the White House on foot.
Just sixteen years after the first sitting president was murdered, it happened again. On July 2, 1881, the President James Garfield was walking through a Washington DC train station when Charles J. Guiteau shot him in the arm and in the back. The president eventually died on September 19, 1881 although historians are now sure it was more from his shoddy medical treatment than the bullets. In a side note, Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln was in the train station that hot muggy day and saw everything.
The next president to be a victim of a crime was William McKinley. The president was at the Pan American Exposition on September 5, 1901, when he was shot while shaking hands with members of the crowd. The first bullet grazed the president's shoulder. The second, however, went through McKinley's stomach, colon, and kidney, and finally lodged in the muscles of his back. The president languished in agony for the next nine days before finally succumbing to his wounds. Strangely enough, Robert Todd Lincoln was at the expo at the time the president was shot however he did not actually see it happen.
Think being related to three presidential assignations is strange? Then consider this. In Jersey City in 1863, Robert Todd Lincoln was in a train station when he almost fell into the path of a moving train. He was pulled to safety by a man named Edwin Booth, the brother of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth.
In 1912, former President Theodore Roosevelt was in Milwaukee campaigning for the Bull Moose Party when he was shot in the head by someone in the audience. Not one to ever back down, TR refused medical treatment and then continued his speech with apologies for the interruption.
In February 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was giving a speech in a Miami park when Joseph Zangara stood up and fired five shots at him. Zangaras aim was terrible when it came to hitting the president but several people standing near Roosevelt were hit including Chicago Mayor Anton Cermack who later died.
In the fall of 1950, the White House was undergoing an extensive renovation. President Harry Truman had been relocated to Blair House, a government owned building across the street from the White House. On November 1st Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola tried to make an armed attack through the front door of Blair House. White House police officers opened fire and drove back the attack. When the president heard the shooting, he walked over and opened a window directly above the gunfight and stuck his head out to see what was happening. Thankfully the attackers never looked up to see their intended target. Torresola was killed at the scene but so was police officer Leslie William Coffelt.
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas Texas, by Lee Harvey Oswald. Despite precedence, there was actually no federal law against killing the President of the United States and the crime was a violation of the Texas murder statute. That has since been changed.
President Richard Nixon almost secured his legacy as being the first and only president ever to go to prison for actions committed during his term in office. Ironically, Nixon’s reaction to the pressure from Watergate caused him to take extended breaks from the White House. One of those breaks would have saved his life had Sam Byke (previous article) had been able to carry out his elaborate scheme to attack the White House with a hijacked airliner.
President Gerald Ford had to have though he had a target painted on his back when he was shot at twice in seventeen days back in 1975.
President Ronald Reagan came a lot closer to death than anyone realized when he was shot and seriously wounded just weeks after taking office in 1981.
Of course we all followed the perjury issues of President William Jefferson Clinton as he came very close to being removed from office. So what does the future hold for our next presidents? No one knows but, regardless of party affiliation, let’s wish them better luck than some of the previous ones have had.
The Crime Files
By Steve Willard
Life Without Parole; absent the death penalty it’s the harshest prison term that can be meted out. But what does it really mean? And has anyone so far done a life sentence?
The answer is yes and no. There have been many lifers who have died in prison; with many of them passing well short of what would be considered an average lifespan. Consequently trying to quantify a really long sentence that way is next to impossible. But what about in terms of years alone? Who has done the longest stretch in a prison and are they still there?
As of now, the longest verifiable prison term in US history appears to have been served by Paul Geidel who, was sentenced to prison for murder in 1911, and not released until 1980.
Paul Geidel was born on April 21, 1894, in Hartford Connecticut to an alcoholic saloon keeper who died when the boy was just five. Paul spent much of his childhood in an orphanage before finally dropping out of school at the age of fourteen to work a series of menial jobs. He was seventeen when, on July 26, 1911, he decided to rob William H. Jackson, a wealthy broker, who was a guest at the Iroquois Hotel on West 44th Street in New York City. As a former bellhop at the hotel, Geidel knew the layout of the building and was able to sneak into Mr. Jackson's room and suffocate him to death with a rag filled with chloroform.
Despite his grand plans however, Mr. Jackson wasn’t carrying much money and Geidel only got away with a few dollars.
He was arrested two days late and subsequently convicted of second-degree murder and sent to prison for 20 years to life at Sing Sing in upstate New York. In 1926 he was being considered for parole for good behavior but prison doctors intervened claiming Geidel was legally insane. He was then moved to the Dannemora State Hospital for the Criminal Insane, where he was confined until 1972. He was then moved to the Fishkill Correctional Facility where he lived in a unit designed for elderly inmates that more resembled a dormitory, rather than a prison.
As Geidel's tenure in prison went by, he developed a rapport with prison officials, who sometimes took the old man out to a baseball game, or other outing.
Geidel was granted parole in August 1974, but the now 80 year old inmate did not want to leave. Having lived in prison for his entire adult life - and having no family - he believed that he would not make it on the outside. So instead he voluntarily remained incarcerated for almost six more years.
Paul Geidel finally left Fishkill on May 7, 1980 with the dubious title of having served the longest prison sentence in American history. When confronted by reporters as he was leaving Fishkill, Geidel simply smiled and said "no publicity please." It is believed Geidel lived out the remainder of his days in a Dutchess County nursing home. Paul Geidel died in May 1987.
As far as second longest amount of time in prison; it would appear that title could be claimed by Richard Honeck. A telegraph operator by trade, Honeck was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Menard Penitentiary in Chester Illinois in 1899 for murdering his former schoolteacher. He was 84 years old in November, 1963, when newspapers reported he was finally being considered for parole.
Prison officials reported during his sixty four years behind bars Honeck only received one letter; a four line note from his brother in 1902 and a visit from a friend in 1904. The next visitor didn’t come until Associated Press reporter Bob Poos brought media attention to the case. After the story made headlines, Poos authored a follow up article claiming the elderly murderer had subsequently received a mailbag of 2,000 letters, including a proposal of marriage from a woman in Germany, offers of employment, and gifts of money in sums ranging from $5 down to 25 cents. Honeck, who was permitted under prison rules to answer one letter per week, commented, "It'll take a long time to deal with these."
“I guess I'd have to be pretty careful if I got paroled,” the 87-year-old prisoner concluded when interviewed by Poos. "There must be an awful lot of traffic now, and people, compared with what I remember.”
Richard Honeck was paroled in December 1963 and faded into obscurity.
The Crime Files
By Steve Willard
With the release of the new movie, “Public Enemies” I thought it important to look at who the real John Dillinger was. First off, far from more than seventy years of Hollywood’s depiction of him being a folk hero celebrity, Dillinger was a ruthless killer who robbed more banks in one year than Jesse James did in 16.
Born on June 22, 1903, in Indianapolis Indiana, John Herbert Dillinger was the younger of two children born to John Wilson Dillinger - a grocer by trade and, reportedly, a harsh father. Dillinger's mother died in 1907 just before his fourth birthday.
John first brush with the law came at only ten years old when he and two friends were hauled into court for carrying a gun. The other boys were genuinely frightened, however young John was defiant. When the judge warned him that he was headed for a hard life if he didn’t change his ways, Dillinger simply shrugged his shoulders and responded, “yeah right.”
Dillinger only stayed in school to the seventh grade but was still frequently in trouble for fighting, petty theft and was noted for his "bewildering personality." John finally quit school all together to work in an Indianapolis machine shop. Although he worked hard at his job, he would stay out all night at parties.
Fearing the city was corrupting his son, John Sr. moved the family to Mooresville, Indiana about 1920. Despite the rural life, Dillinger's wild and rebellious behavior got worse and, when he was arrested for auto theft in 1922, the relationship with his father deteriorated. That lead to a stint in the U.S. Navy, but he deserted a few months later when his ship was docked in Boston. He was eventually dishonorably discharged and returned to Mooresville where he met married 16 year old Beryl Ethel Hovious on April 12, 1924.
Despite efforts to settle down, Dillinger had difficulty holding a job and his marriage ended in divorce on June 20, 1929. Unable to find work, Dillinger began planning a grocery store robbery with a friend named Ed Singleton. Things didn’t exactly go as planned and the two barely made it out of the store before they were arrested.
Singleton pleaded not-guilty but Dillinger's father convinced him to confess and own up to his crime. That resulted in a prison sentence of ten to twenty years. Dillinger ultimately only served eight and a half years before his May, 1933 parole, but after his brutal treatment behind bars, the die was cast – there would be no turning back.
Almost immediately after his release Dillinger robbed a bank in Bluffton, Ohio. Dayton police arrested him on September 22, and transported him to the Lima County Jail. As he was being booked, officers found what appeared to be plans for a prison break. Dillinger denied any knowledge of the scheme but four days later eight of Dillinger's friends escaped from the Indiana State Prison using shotguns and rifles which had been smuggled into their cells. Two guards were shot during the escape.
On October 12, three of the escaped prisoners and a parolee from the same prison showed up at the Lima jail posing as lawmen. The cons told the sheriff they had come to return Dillinger to the Indiana State Prison for violation of his parole. When asked to see their credentials one of the men shot the sheriff. The cons then freed Dillinger but not before locking the sheriff's wife and a deputy in a cell and leaving the sheriff to die on the floor.
Even though the escape had not violated federal law, FBI agents were brought in for assistance and the cons were soon identified as Harry Pierpont, Russell Clark, Charles Makley, and Harry Copeland.
Dillinger and his gang hit the road and pulled several bank robberies. They also plundered police arsenals at Auburn and Peru Indiana, stealing machine guns, rifles, pistols, ammunition and bulletproof vests.
On December 14, 1933, John “Red” Hamilton, a newer member of the Dillinger gang, shot and killed Chicago police Sergeant William Shanley after the sergeant responded to a call of a suspicious man who had dropped off a vehicle at a repair shop. Unbeknownst to police at the time was that just a day earlier Hamilton had lead a Chicago bank robbery.
On January 15, 1934 Dillinger, Hamilton, and Harry Pierpont robbed a bank in East Chicago Indiana. Pierpont waited in the car while the other two emerged with the money and hostages. Patrolman William O'Malley responded to the alarm and arrived shooting. The bullets were stopped by Dillinger's bullet proof vest and he gunned the officer down with a machine gun burst.
The Dillinger gang also suffered a loss - Hamilton was mortally wounded and ultimately died at the hands of the incompetent mob surgeon Joseph “Doc” Moran.
Realizing they were hot in the Midwest, the gang headed south to Florida before ultimately winding up in Tucson, Arizona. It was there, on January 23, 1934, a fire broke out in the hotel where Clark and Makley were hiding under assumed names. When several firemen recognized the men from wanted posters, police moved in and arrested them, as well as Dillinger and Harry Pierpont. Officers also recovered three Thompson submachine guns, two Winchester rifles, five bulletproof vests and more than $25,000 in cash.
Dillinger was extradited to Crown Point, Indiana to stand trial for the murder of Patrolman O’Malley.
As police were boasting the jail was absolutely escape proof, Dillinger was working on a plan. On March 3rd he confronted guards with what he claimed later was a wooden gun he had whittled and then colored black with shoe polish. With the guards and trustees locked up Dillinger grabbed two machine guns and fled.
Dillinger then made the mistake that would ultimately cost him his life - he stole the sheriff's car and drove across the Illinois line en-route to Chicago. By doing that, he violated the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act, which made it a Federal offense to transport a stolen motor vehicle across a state line. A Federal complaint was sworn charging Dillinger with the theft and interstate transportation of the sheriff's car. After the grand jury returned an indictment, J. Edgar Hoover labeled Dillinger as “Public Enemy Number 1” and the FBI became actively involved in the nationwide search.
Harry Pierpont, Charles Makley, and Russell Clark were returned to Ohio and convicted of the murder of the Lima sheriff. Pierpont and Makley were sentenced to death and Clark received life imprisonment. Apparently the condemned men figured they had nothing to lose and attempted a jail break using fake guns carved out of soap. Makley was killed by the guards immediately and Pierpont was riddled with bullets. Still suffering from injuries incurred during his attempted escape, he had to be carried to the electric chair to be executed on October 17, 1934.
Meanwhile, Dillinger joined up with his girlfriend, Evelyn Frechette, in Chicago before heading to St. Paul Minnesota where they teamed up with Homer Van Meter, Lester "Baby Face Nelson" Gillis, Eddie Green, and Tommy Carroll. The gang's business prospered as they continued robbing banks of large amounts of money.
On March 30, 1934, an FBI agent talked to the manager of the Lincoln Court Apartments in St. Paul, who reported two suspicious tenants by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Hellman. Figuring they might have a Dillinger lead, bureau men began a surveillance.
The next day, an agent and police officer knocked on the door. Frechette answered but quickly slammed it shut. The agent called for reinforcements to surround the building.
While waiting for backup to arrive, lawmen saw a suspicious man headed for the Hellman's apartment. When they attempted to question him, the man, later indentified as Homer Van Meter, pulled a gun and started shooting. Van Meter fled the building and quickly kidnapped a truck driver at gunpoint to drive him to safety. As agents were regrouping, the door of the Hellman apartment suddenly flew open and Dillinger began spraying the hallway with lead while he and Frechette moved to the back door.
The gang later regrouped at Eddie Green's apartment, where Dillinger was treated for a bullet wound received in the escape.
A search of the Lincoln Court Apartment found a Thompson submachine gun with the stock removed, two automatic rifles, one .38 caliber Colt automatic with twenty-shot magazine clips and two bulletproof vests.
Across town, other agents located one of Eddie Green's hideouts where he and Bessie Skinner had been living as "Mr. and Mrs. Stephens."
FBI agents caught up to Eddie Green on April 3. When Green tried to pull a gun to make his escape he was shot multiple times. He died in a hospital eight days later.
Meanwhile, Dillinger and Frechette fled to Mooresville Indiana, where they stayed with his father and half-brother until his wound healed. Frechette eventually returned to Chicago to visit a friend and was quickly arrested by the FBI. She was taken to St. Paul for trial on a charge of conspiracy to harbor a fugitive and ultimately convicted, fined $1,000, and sentenced to two years in prison. Bessie Skinner, Eddie Green's girlfriend, got 15 months on the same charge.
Dillinger made his return to crime by robbing a Warsaw Indiana police station of guns and bulletproof vests. He then moved north and hid out in Upper Michigan, departing just ahead of a posse of FBI Agents dispatched there by airplane.
Then the FBI received a tip that there had been a sudden influx of rather suspicious guests at the summer resort of Little Bohemia Lodge, about 50 miles north of Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
FBI agents were quickly dispatched from Rhinelander but lost the element of surprise when barking dogs tipped Dillinger off. As agents spread out to surround the lodge, machine gun fire rattled down on them from the roof. One agent ran for a phone to request back up. During the call the operator broke in to tell him there was trouble at another cottage two miles away. FBI Special Agent W. Carter Baum and a constable went there and found Baby Face Nelson holding three people hostage. Nelson opened fire killing Agent Baum. Baby Face then stole the officers car and fled.
When the firing had subsided at the Little Bohemia Lodge, agents discovered Dillinger and five others had fled through a back window before they surrounded the house.
Faced with growing pressure to end the scourge, J. Edgar Hoover assigned Special Agent Samuel A. Cowley to head the FBI's investigative efforts against Dillinger. Cowley set up headquarters in Chicago, where he and Melvin Purvis, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago office, planned their strategy.
A break came on Saturday, July 21, 1934, when Anna Sage, the madam of a brothel in Gary, Indiana, contacted a police officer with information. An illegal alien facing deportation as undesirable alien, Sage was willing to sell the FBI information about Dillinger if they would prevent her deportation.
Anna told Purvis and Cowley that she, Polly Hamilton and Dillinger would be going to the movies the following evening at either the Biograph or the Marbro Theaters. She also said that she would wear a red dress so that they could identify her.
The next day Cowley ordered all agents of the Chicago office to stand by for urgent duty. Anna Sage called to confirm the plans but she still did not know which theater they would attend. Cowley quickly assigned men to both locations.
At 8:30 p.m., Sage, Dillinger, and Polly Hamilton strolled into the Biograph to see Clark Gable in "Manhattan Melodrama." Purvis was outside and quickly phoned Cowley who shifted the other men from the Marbro to the Biograph. Cowley then phoned Hoover for instructions. Hoover cautioned them to wait outside rather than risk a shooting match inside the crowded theater.
Dillinger walked out at 10:30 with his female companions on either side. Purvis was waiting in a doorway and lit a cigar to signal the other men. Dillinger quickly realized what was happening and grabbed a pistol from his right trouser pocket as he ran toward the alley. Five shots rang out. Dillinger was hit three time and fell face down on the pavement. He was declared dead at 10:50 p.m. in a little room in the Alexian Brothers Hospital. Dillinger’s death marked the beginning of the end of the Gangster Era.
Agents Charles Winstead, Clarence Hurt and Herman Hollis all fired at Dillinger and, even though none ever claimed they hit the outlaw, the men were commended by J. Edgar Hoover for fearlessness and courageous action.
Eventually, twenty seven people were convicted on charges of harboring, and aiding and abetting John Dillinger and his cronies during their reign of terror.
"Baby Face Nelson" was fatally wounded on November 27, 1934, in a gun battle with FBI Agents in which Special Agents Cowley and Hollis also were killed.
Dillinger was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Lest we forget, I think it is important to recognize the law enforcement officers across the US that were murdered while attempting to stop the bloody John Dillinger gang:
Sheriff Jesse Sarber
Allen County Sheriff's Department, OH
October 12, 1933
Detective Henry C. Perrow
San Antonio Texas Police Department
December 11, 1933
Sergeant William T. Shanley
Chicago Police Department
December 14, 1933
Trooper Eugene Teague
Indiana State Police
December 20, 1933
Patrolman William P. O’Malley
East Chicago Indiana Police Department
January 15, 1934
Undersheriff Charles A. Cavanagh
St. Clair County Minnesota Sheriff's Department
March 16, 1934
FBI Special Agent W. Carter Baum
April 22, 1934
Patrolman Francis Lloyd Mulvihill
East Chicago Indiana Police Department
May 24, 1934
Patrolman Martin J. O'Brien
East Chicago Police Department, IN
May 24, 1934
Patrolman Howard C. Wagner
South Bend Indiana Police Department
June 30, 1934
FBI Special Agent Herman E. Hollis
November 27, 1934
FBI Special Agent Samuel P. Cowley
November 28, 1934
Chief of Police Franklin Pierce Culp
Fostoria Ohio Police Department
April 23, 1950 (from injuries received 16 years earlier)
The Crime Files
By Steve Willard
Talk about the POP project from Hell!
No other building in America, and perhaps even the world, had as many murders committed within its walls as the 19th century New York tenement known as the “Old Brewery.” With a total of more than 5000 dead, police estimate the building averaged almost one murder a day for more than 15 years.
Situated in what is now the intersection of Park, Worth and Baxter Streets, the Old Brewery was once the iconic center of a slum known as the Five Points of lower Manhattan. Originally opened as Coulters Brewery in 1792, the factory once churned out beer for most of New England. After the brewery was condemned in 1837, the five story building was transformed into a 100 room tenement of more than 1000 people. With windows on only two floors, most rooms had no natural light and no fresh air. Some children born there never saw the outside world until they were teenagers.
A lack of indoor plumbing made the building stench and disease ridden and, in this nightmarish existence men, women and children committed murder and were, in turn, killed and stuffed into the walls or left to rot on the floor. Occupants were divided equally between blacks and newly arrived Irish with the blacks segregated to the basement. On the first floor was a large room called the Den of Thieves where more than 75 people lived without even basic furniture even though many of the women were prostitutes who entertained their customers there.
While the slum was home to some, outsiders found Five Points threatening and fodder for ridicule. Describing a visit in 1842, Charles Dickens wrote: "This is the place: these narrow ways diverging to the right and left, and reeking every where with dirt and filth. Such lives as are led here, bear the same fruit here as elsewhere. The coarse and bloated faces at the doors have counterparts at home and all the wide world over. Debauchery has made the very houses prematurely old. See how the rotten beams are tumbling down, and how the patched and broken windows seem to scowl dimly, like eyes that have been hurt in drunken frays. Many of these pigs live here. Do they ever wonder why their masters walk upright in lieu of going on all-fours? and why they talk instead of grunting?"
Every floor of the Old Brewery held some of the worst criminals in the city – thieves, pickpockets, whores and murderers. Twenty four hours a day their were fierce fistfights and drunken orgies as screams of starving children and alcoholics writhing on the floor in delirium tremens reverberated through the walls.
The fifth floor was the worst. That’s where a long corridor ran along the top floor - aptly named “Murderers Alley” the hallway led off to individual rooms no more than 150 square feet where it was not uncommon for 26 or more people to be in one room. In 1850 an investigator discovered one room where none of the occupants had left in over a week – the men just stood in the doorway and killed whoever happened to be drunk enough to come down the hall with food.
Police knew what went on inside the Old Brewery however, as long as it was confined; they didn’t do much about it. Not to mention the danger they themselves would face if they ever entered the building. When they did have to enter the always went in with at least fifty or sixty officers – smaller groups risked going in and never coming out.
Just as the law could not enter, inhabitants couldn’t leave unless it was through a secret tunnel. So hated were the residents that any time one would come out the front in the daylight, angry mobs would drive them back inside with bricks, bats and sometimes even gunfire.
Occasionally Protestant church missionaries would try to help the residents inside the Old Brewery however they were almost always driven out by the Irish who considered them heathens.
Finally, the Missionary Society raised sixteen thousand dollars to buy the building and tear it down. On the day it was supposed to be dismantled, police showed up in force and engaged in heated close quarter battles inside the building. When it was over more than twenty wanted murderers were arrested and a number of bags of bones were removed from its walls. As the cleanup was going on, a number of children were lead outside screaming in terror having never seen sunlight.
The destruction of the Old Brewery was a small step forward in improving the living conditions of the slums of New York City. However, other areas such as Hells Kitchen would later become breeding grounds for some of the largest gangs in the history of the United States.
The Crime Files
By Steve Willard
This month’s column may throw some of you for a loop but before I get too far into things, I need to apologize to Reserve Captain Ray Webb and Reserve Lieutenant Lee Louis.
The October Crime Files was about seniority and I completely left these two gentleman out. So first off let me say I am sorry and confess to being an idiot. Then, let me ask that we all salute both of these men who served more that 40 years (Lee is still active).
Now here are a few fun facts I am almost positive you didn’t know about the city of San Diego and its police department:
The geographical cooridinates for the city of San Diego is: 27°45′45″N 98°14′20″W27.762559°N 98.238771°W
Since the year 2000, the population of the city of San Diego has decreased 6.7%.
Speaking of population, the population density of the city of San Diego is 2721 people per square mile.
According to the 2000 census, the demographics of the city of San Diego stands at 46.6% male and 53.4% female.
According to the 2000 census the racial makeup of the city of San Diego is 78.06% white, 0.27% African-American, 0.78% Native American, 0.02% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 17.72% from other races and 3.11% from two or more races.
In 2004 more than 71% of registered voters in the city of San Diego cast ballots for John Kerry and John Edwards.
On the national crime index, the city of San Diego’s overall rate is some 60 points lower than the national average.
The officer to citizen ratio is almost 2.0 officers per thousand residents.
In 2007, the average San Diego police officer enjoyed a salary of $24,874.00. That number is roughly $5,000 higher than the average median income for the city.
The average home price in the city of San Diego is approximately $48,000.
The average rent in the city of San Diego is $325.00 per month
The San Diego Police Department runs a small jail at its headquarters which is located at 404 South Mier Street.
Neither the city of San Diego or the San Diego Police Department has a website.
The San Diego Police Department has no detectives – all officers are responsible for their own follow up.
The chief of the San Diego Police Department is Jose A. Olvera
By now you have probably guessed while I am indeed talking about the city of San Diego, it is not the one in California. This city really is an incorporated municipality named San Diego and it straddles the border of Jim Wells and Duval County Texas, roughly 118 miles south of the state capital, Austin. The city of 4433 residents is approximately 1.4 square miles and is protected by a force of eight police officers.
LET’S GO BACK A LITTLE FARTHER – MEMORIES BEGINNING IN 1947.
By Detective Lieutenant John Hoolihan - SDPD Retired
Do you remember “Karrow’s College of Knowledge?” In 1947, recruits attended this academy on week days from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM, had one hour off for a bite to eat and then worked the 4th Watch from 6:00 PM to 2:00 PM. All Police Officers worked a 44 week, with one day off one week and then two days off the following week.
Remember the two bowling alleys below the gym with a small cubicle manned by Kewpie Treleven (sp), a retired Lieutenant. Bowling was five cents a line and candy, cigarettes, soda, coffee, etc. was sold by Kewpie? Sometime in the 1950’s the bowling alleys and cubicle were removed and replaced with a coffee shop and an extra locker room.
Only the east parking lot in front of the station was used for parking. The west lot was landscaped until it was paved for more parking.
Yes, all of the police cars were parked, refueled and repaired inside the garage at Central.
The Radio Room was located above the Patrol Captain’s Office. The SDPD, SDSO, SDFD and the Police Departments of Coronado, Chula Vista, National City, La Mesa and El Cajon were all on the same frequency.
You were issued a .38 caliber revolver, 18 cartridges, a badge, and a cap piece, a short wooden baton, which was carried in the sap pocket of the trousers, a call box key and an I.D. card. You bought the rest, i.e. cap, two uniforms, gun belt, leather jacket, dress uniform jacket, raincoat, boots, flashlight, handcuffs and a First Aid kit. Some first aid items could be obtained from the doctor’s office at the jail, but you had to purchase all other items.
When all uniform shirts were made of wool and had long sleeves and cost $12.00 each? The uniform pants were also made of wool and cost $18.00 each. A gun belt made of black smooth leather, no embossing, with two ammo cases, holster, handcuff case, key ring and four keepers cost $35.00. The belts had to be made by one of two leather makers in the downtown area. I believe the names were Mc Phearson’s and Mc Kibbin’s.
All women arrested for prostitution, or “shacking up”, had a HD (health hold) attached to their booking slip and had to spend five days in jail to complete a venereal disease check, conducted by the Police Physician, before being released.
Patrol Captains wore dress coats and the Sam Brown (shoulder strap) with their gun belt.
The “blue” light above the intersection of 5th and Broadway that could be illuminated to notify the beat patrolman to call the Patrol Captain.
The security boxes located on the main streets leaving the city, i.e. Harbor Drive and Main Street at the City Limits with National City, 73rd and El Cajon and US 101 in Torrey Pines that contained pylons, barricades, lanterns and signs. After a major crime had been committed, i.e. bank robbery, beat cars were dispatched to those locations where they used the equipment to blockade the street so that all vehicles were made to stop and be inspected for suspects.
There was no such thing as “overtime.” Tough luck if you couldn’t get your reports typed during your shift.
Flashlight batteries were furnished and were kept in a closet in the Patrol Captain’s Office. To get new batteries, you had to turn in a like number of used batteries.
The sirens were located on the left front fender of the patrol car.
When there were three sub-stations (circa 1947). They were located in La Jolla, Ocean Beach and East San Diego. The La Jolla sub-station was located in the Fire Station at Herschel and Wall. The Ocean Beach sub-station shared quarters with the Life Guard Station and East San Diego sub-station was adjacent to the fire station. The La Jolla car (Unit 28) worked from the La Jolla sub-station. The Ocean Beach car (Unit 26), which patrolled Ocean Beach and all of Point Loma and Unit 27, which covered Mission Beach and Pacific Beach, worked from the Ocean Beach sub-station. Unit 22, which covered from Park Blvd. to 32nd St. and Unit 23, which covered from 32nd Street to 73rd Street, worked from the East San Diego sub-station. The three sub-stations were under the command of a Patrol Captain, who had his office in the La Jolla sub-station. When on duty, he made trips to each sub-station to check their operations.
The East San Diego and La Jolla sub-stations each had an ambulance unit. When they were notified by Central that an ambulance was needed, the desk man locked the door and manned the ambulance. Central had two ambulances which were manned by a jailor, who had been designed as the driver. Within the flash of an eye, they slipped on the white coats and they were officially ambulance drivers.
When the only women on the Police Department in uniform were the Jail Matrons. The matron’s primary duties included searching all female prisoners entering the jail, fingerprinting the prisoners, supervising the female tank assisting the Police Physician while he was examining female prisoners.
In 1947 there were only three black members of the Police Department. Sgt. Bert Ritchie in Investigations, Jack Bransford was assigned to the radio room and Jasper Davis, who did foot patrol on Imperial Ave. between 25th and 30th Streets during the evening and early night hours.
When an Officer in uniform rode free on any streetcar or bus.
When the City, in the 1950’s, in an effort to save money, bought Plymouths and Ford 6’s for Patrol Cars. Both lacked power and speed and almost every other car on the road could outrun them. US 395 had just been constructed through Balboa Park, but not open to traffic, when my partner and I bypassed the barricades and gave our Ford 6 a speed test. Couldn’t get it over 90 mph.
When transients arrested for vagrancy appeared in Court and Judge John J Brennan gave them a suspended sentence on the condition that they be out of town by 1:00 PM that day.
When the highest rank below Chief was Captain.
When the Kettner Street entrance to the garage was closed and locked at midnight and all police cars entered the patio and garage through the front arched entrance.
When in the mid 1950’s, the Narcotic Detail was a part of the Vice Squad. Vice Squad Officers assisted the Narcotic Detail officers conduct surveillances. All narcotic evidence was kept in a steel container 10x13x18 and was secured with a padlock. The Vice Squad was adjacent to the Chief’s Office and the steel container was stored in a safe in the Chief’s Office. The Vice Squad was commanded by a Sergeant, who answered only to the Chief.
The Crime Files
By Steve Willard
This edition of the Crime Files looks back at two officers who will be forever immortalized in SDPD history. One we have known about for a very long time but the other is brand new but equally deserving.
On February 11, 2010, the San Diego Police Historical Association dedicated the second in a four part series of memorials to honor exceptional officers of the SDPD. This time the memorial was to Lieutenant Allen D. Brown, the founder of the SDPD SWAT team and the man who almost singlehandedly ended the Hub Loan Shootout – the largest police gun battle in the history of the United States.
The memorial sits next to the Rodney Pease monument at the police pistol range at Home Avenue and Federal Blvd. The date of February 11th was chosen as it was to have been the 67th wedding anniversary of Allen and his lovely wife Vera. Among those on hand were Assistant Chiefs Zimmerman and Long, the Honorable Judge Frank Brown and many members of the Brown family. SDPHA President Rick Carlson, Executive Commissioner Ed LaValle, Vice President Gary Mitrovich and I were also on hand.
On another note, San Diego Police Historical Association Deputy Director Tom Giaquinto was researching our vast archive of historical documents when he stumbled across the case of Patrolman Earl H. Smouse. Officer Smouse was hired as an SDPD officer on June 17, 1912. In accordance with city policy he was the minimum age of twenty five when he was hired.
Officer Smouse was promoted to Inspector on August 30, 1913, to Detective on June 1, 1914, and back to patrolman on May 17, 1915, when the detective bureau was abolished.
In the fall of 1917 the city council was notified Patrolman Smouse had contracted tuberculosis in the course of his duties and was gravely ill. The police department requested Patrolman Smouse be provided a disability pension to support his family as he was the sole provider to a wife, children and aged parents. The city did not respond.
In late January the police department sent a memorandum to the city stating a pension to Patrolman Smouse would now be a moot point as he had succumbed to his illness.
Patrolman Smouse was thirty years old at the time of his death.
Like Patrolman John McCann who died of duty contracted TB in December of 1913, and Patrolman Walter B. Holcomb who died of duty related Spanish Influenza in October of 1918, the dearth of Patrolman Smouse qualifies as a line of duty incident.
To honor Patrolman Smouse, the San Diego Police Historical Association has listed him on our fallen officer page. We will also begin the work to add him to the California Peace Officers Memorial in Sacramento as well as the national memorial in Washington D.C.
And while memorializing him will ensure his life will not be forgotten, looking back on how the city did not step up to do anything to help one of their own officers, one can’t help but wonder what their response would be today if faced with an identical situation. Sadly, I think it would mirror the response then. That is truly sad.
The Crime Files
By Steve Willard
Thieves in City Hall
Within months of San Diego officially becoming an American town, one of the men chosen to build it would attempt to pull the biggest heist in its history.
The scheme started when Mayor Joshua Bean tried to steal the building housing the courthouse and City Hall. Since the structure was too large to be lifted up and carried away, Bean tried to steal it in a much more professional manner, with documents.
Bean was the mastermind of the scheme but when he realized the size of the task he recruited Cave Couts, a former Army officer who had moved to San Diego after getting into trouble for bookmaking. After laying out his plan, Bean officially made Couts part of the deal when he sold him half of the take for $2.50.
The two men set things in motion on June 15, 1850, shortly after Bean took office. As soon as Bean walked into City Hall, he began to throw away all official paperwork. When other members of the council demanded to know what he was doing, the new Mayor told them he was now the building’s owner and everything belonged to him.
To bolster his ownership claim, Bean produced a deed signed by the former landowner, Senora Amador, which clearly showed he had bought the property. To further persuade the council members, he told them if they not did accept the deed he would evict them from their offices by December. Meanwhile, as the Mayor was trying to pull off his end of the scam, Couts was busy constructing a two-story building next door.
Much to both men’s surprise, the council wasn’t intimidated and began an investigation into Beans claim of ownership. They first questioned Senora Amador and found that while she did sell the land to Bean, she was under the impression he was acting on behalf of the city. Amador said if she had known he was buying the land for his personal use, she would never have sold it.
The council then checked the past ownership of the lots and made a surprising discovery. Senora Amador never had a legal right to the property! When Alcalde Alvarado sold the deed to Amador’s husband several years earlier he failed to attach an official seal to the document and did not use official town paper. Alvarado also neglected to record the price of the property on the deed. Because the family wasn’t sure about the legality of the transaction, the Amador’s never occupied or improved the land. When soldiers built the structure several years later apparently no one bothered to check to see who actually owned the land.
In light of this the council members wrote up the results of their investigation and, on August 20, 1851, filed a lawsuit against both Bean and Couts. In the lawsuit the plaintiffs were listed as the “Mayor and Common Council of the City of San Diego” even though Bean was both Mayor and one of the defendants.
The suit went to trial in Judge Witherby’s courtroom in the very building the two men were trying to steal. After hearing the council’s arguments, it was Bean’s turn to present his side. The Mayor began by telling Judge Witherby he knew Amador's ownership of the land was null and void, but pointed out that in such a case the lot reverted back to the city, and as Mayor, he could dispose of the property as he wished.
After hearing Beans argument, Judge Witherby questioned why, if he really believed that, did he bother to buy the deed? Why not just stake a claim to it? The Mayor was stumped. Next came a strange twist in the lawsuit. Midway through the trial, the council told Judge Witherby they had changed their minds and now wanted to recognize Bean’s claim to the property. They further stated they wished to drop their lawsuit against the two men and allow both sides to pay their own legal costs. The judge was perplexed at the sudden change of heart but agreed to allow it and with that he awarded the courthouse to Bean and Couts.
Nine days after being awarded the property, the two men changed their minds and were back in court willing to sign the deed back over to the city. In light of the request, Judge Witherby returned ownership back to the council.
To punish Bean and Couts, Judge Witherby ordered the men to pay all court cost for the trial. In an act of kindness towards Couts, the judge allowed him to keep the building he had constructed next door. Couts later opened it as a successful hotel known as the Colorado House. Today the building still stands next to the courthouse and houses a Wells Fargo Museum.
The courthouse theft case of 1851 wouldn’t be the last time Couts would be involved in the justice system. He would re-appear several more times as a defendant in murder trials in which he was acquitted. Joshua Bean wouldn’t be so lucky. He was murdered in November 1852.
The Crime Files
By Steve Willard
Several past Crime File articles have focused on tough male criminals, so this month I though we would look across the isle at one of the most nefarious women to ever come to the attention of the justice system.
Mary Jane Jackson was born on Gridon Street around 1836 and during her short life she was probably one of the toughest, most ruthless criminals in all of New Orleans.
The Crime Files
By Steve Willard
From the Police Station to the White House
With the presidential election season unfolding, it’s interesting to look at the backgrounds of the candidates running. For as long as anyone can remember, the men (and, for the first time ever, one woman) seeking the nations highest office have been DC insiders or former governors or senators. But now let’s go back more than 100 years, to a different era. In a period of less than ten years, there were two presidents who, at one time in their professional careers, were former law enforcement officers.
The first was the twenty second president, Stephen Grover Cleveland. The only president to serve two non-consecutive, Cleveland was defeated for re-election in 1888 by Benjamin Harrison against whom he ran again in 1892 and won a second term. A career Democrat, Grover Cleveland began his professional career in January 1863 as a deputy DA for Erie County New York. Later that year, Congress passed the Conscription Act of 1863 which required able-bodied men to serve in the army if called upon. A draft notice arrived shortly thereafter and Cleveland took advantage of a provision in the law that allowed him to hire someone to take his place. Cleveland promptly paid a thirty two year old Polish immigrant named George Benninsky $150 to go off and fight in the Civil War.
In 1865 Cleveland ran for the office of District Attorney. He narrowly lost the election to his friend and roommate, Republican Lyman K. Bass.
Cleveland practiced law until 1870 when he found himself elected sheriff of Erie County by 303 votes. He took office in January 1871. The new career took him away from the practice of law but the rewards were incredible. A salary of twenty thousand dollars per year!
In September of 1872, Sheriff Cleveland was faced with a moral dilemma. Condemned murder Patrick Morrissey was sent to be hung but Cleveland had issues with capital punishment. As the top lawman in the county, Cleveland could have washed his hands of the affair by paying a deputy $10 to perform the duty. By the time the issue came around, Cleveland had already demonstrated he was not the type of sheriff to delegate the less desirable duties to someone else and he chose to handle the matter himself. By the end of the year, Cleveland had personally hung not only Morrissey but also Jack Gaffney, a well-known gambler who had been found guilty of shooting a man over a card game.
Upon completion of his term as Sheriff, Cleveland returned to his law practice in Buffalo New York. Many predicted that he was through with politics, as he had been regarded as too much of a non-partisan, frequently clashing with the old line Democrats.
They were wrong.
In 1881, Cleveland was elected Mayor of Buffalo, and a year later became the Governor of New York State. He was recognized for his stance against corruption, and credited with the slogan, "public office is public trust." In 1884 he became the Democratic nominee, and was elected the 22nd President of the United States. Having been unsuccessful in his presidential reelection bid in 1888, Cleveland reemerged successfully in his third campaign in 1892, making him the only president in history to be reelected after a prior defeat.
Throughout his tenure he was known for his independence and controversy in his cabinet appointments, often again at odds with his political party. He eventually retired to his home in New Jersey where he subsequently died in 1908.
Today history judges Stephen Grover Cleveland as one of the most honest men to ever serve as president even if the legacy of his accomplishments as the commander in chief isn’t well known. Today his face is forever immortalized on the $1000 dollar bill.
The next former lawman to ascend to the White House may very well be one of the most memorable presidents in our nation’s history.
Theodore Roosevelt was a weak, asthmatic child who grew up to be one of the most robust and ambitious U.S. presidents ever. Born on October 27, 1857, into a wealthy American family of Dutch descent, Roosevelt was related to former President Martin Van Buren as well as the cousin of future president Franklin D. Roosevelt. His father was a merchant and banker. His mother was a descendant of Robert III, King of the Scots.
As a young boy, Roosevelt worked hard to improve his health through vigorous exercise of both mind and body. By age nine “TR” was running a zoological museum put together after seeing a dead seal at a market. To deal with bullies, the scrawny boy took up boxing lessons, a hobby he would continue almost to the day he died.
A voracious reader with a photographic memory, Theodore Roosevelt eventually went on to Harvard where he graduated among the top of his class.
By 1884 it seemed TR had it all. At age 23 he had already set his as the youngest state representative in the history of New York. Once in office TR made news by exposing the corrupt relationship between a New York Supreme Court Justice and railroad magnate Jay Gould. With his whirlwind enthusiasm and calculating mind, TR was easily reelected in 1882 and 1883, eventually being elected the youngest Speaker of the Assembly in the history of New York.
Then tragedy struck. After the joyful birth of his daughter Alice, on February 12th, his wife was diagnosed with Bright’s disease and died two days later, on Valentine's Day. Later that afternoon, TR's mother, Martha died of typhoid fever. TR was inconsolable and wrote in his journal, “the light has gone out of my life.”
TR packed his things and headed west, to the Dakota Territory. He wasn’t exactly welcome. TR quickly picked up the moniker "four eyes" and "tenderfoot." He proved his bravery in a saloon shortly after riding into town. TR came in looking for coffee. One of the thugs in the back of the bar took an instant dislike to him and made it known the bar was for whisky only. At first TR simply ignored him but when the thug pulled two pistols he had to be dealt with. So TR decked him. Then, he pulled him outside and beat the man to a pulp.
Later, TR was sworn in as a deputy sheriff. One of the highlights of his career was when he led a posse of men after outlaw Mike Finnegan and his gang of thieves who stole a boat. The chase lasted two weeks and covered 300 miles but TR eventually caught his man.
Between travels around the country, TR continued on as a deputy sheriff until permanently returning east in 1886. From there his political career went straight up. Nine years later TR was the police commissioner of New York City and he quickly set about cleaning house. Within months a number of corrupt officers were fired, the world’s first police academy was established and a merit system of promotions was in place.
TR left the police department in 1897 to become secretary of the United States Navy but even that was short lived. In February 1898, the US was headed to war with Spain and TR was headed to the Army as a lieutenant colonel. In July, TR was in Cuba where led the charge up San Juan Hill. One hundred years later, President Bill Clinton awarded TR’s descendants the nation’s highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Three years after the charge, TR had served as the governor of New York, vice president, and upon the September 14, 1901, assignation of William McKinley, President of the United States.
His list of stunning accomplishments was not even close to done. By the time TR left the presidency for good in 1909, he had established the National Park Service, laid the foundation for the construction of the Panama Canal, broken up huge corporate monopolies through anti trust regulation and won the Nobel Peace Prize.
TR continued his life as a private citizen making speeches around the US. In October 1912, TR was shot in the head by someone in the audience. The bullet smashed through his eye glasses and lodged in his skull. TR refused medical treatment and told the crowd “the bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech but I will try my best.”
By the end of the First World War TR’s health was failing him. He had lost his favorite son Quentin Roosevelt a year earlier when his plane was shot down by Germans in the air over France. Some say he never recovered from the broken heart.
His last day was January 16, 1919. TR told his manservant to “please turn out the light.” He was found dead the next morning. The official cause of death was listed as a pulmonary embolism brought on by the combined effects of inflammatory rheumatism and recurrent malaria. When the news reached Washington, D.C., Vice President, Thomas Marshall, was reputed to have said, "Death had to take him sleeping, for if Roosevelt had been awake, there would have been a fight."
Authors note: In keeping with a family tradition, TR would be proud to know his son - Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. - was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his role in the invasion of Normandy June 6, 1944. The awards make the Roosevelt’s part of a very elite class of Americans where a father and son duo have been awarded our nations highest honor.