The photographer had arrived late and the practice was wrapping up as he set up his Kodak Folding Pocket camera. The team was tired and sweaty so Charlie told them all to take a few minutes to get cleaned up as he chatted with his brother. During this conversation they spoke about the receipts from the last game, which Charlie had forgotten to put into the bank, a fact that he laughed off although his brother seemed less amused by it. The receipt can was apparently stashed in the tool box of the car that Michael often used, a Peerless Touring model. Sitting on the ground a few feet away was young Leo, drawing circles in the dirt with a stick.
The men returned to the field area and Michael grabbed the handles of his brothers wheelchair and started pushing him across the field, waving at the men to follow him toward the outfield fence. As they did so, Leo got up and wandered away toward the small dirt circle where the Peerless was parked. He looked behind himself several times, stopping to lean up against a broken fence post when he saw a few of the players looking in his direction. Several moments later, with all of the men staring at the camera, Leo slipped around the side of the car, opened the toolbox and dumped the contents of the receipt can into his pocket. It was all loose change which made a noticeable bulge, so he untucked his shirt on that side to cover it and softly walked away, the vehicle shielding him from the team’s view. His father could not find him when he walked off the field after the picture was taken and, after looking around for a few minutes, left to go back home. Leo appeared about an hour later, stating he had went for a walk in the woods. The theft had already been discovered by that point and by eight a.m. the next morning it was the talk of the small town.
It came to light that there had been a very small window of opportunity for this crime to have occurred. Charlie had actually seen the can in the toolbox about ten minutes prior to the photographer arriving. A player had found a rough spot on a bat and asked Charlie for the piece of sandpaper he was known to have in the toolbox for these occasions. Getting to it involved moving the receipt can, so Charlie knew it had not been empty when he gave the sandpaper to the player. Both of them had stayed by the side of the car as the player fixed his bat and the sandpaper had gone directly back into the toolbox after he was finished. Charlie had wheeled himself back toward the field at that point. Michael had been back at the car about two minutes after the photo was taken, and then had driven him and Charlie home. Several minutes after arriving and wheeling his brother into the kitchen, Michael had gone out to get the receipt can, intending to give it to Charlie with a stern reminder that he needed to get to the bank the next day. Discovering the money gone, the police had been alerted and the investigation had begun.
The Hombert residence was just on the outskirts of New Munich and the news had not traveled there the prior evening. The very small police force had taken the brother’s statements and spoken to a few of the players who lived nearer to town. The police did get to the outskirts the next morning, although Ben had already left for the day to work at another farm after tending to his own very early in the day. Leo was also gone, having told his mother after breakfast was finished that he was going fishing. The policeman asked Lizzie a few questions and then went to find Ben out in the fields. He answered their questions and went back to work, slightly disturbed by the fact that anyone would steal money from the team. Meanwhile, Lizzie had told her son Jospeh to keep an eye on the other children and went in search of Leo.
They say that mother’s know their children well and Lizzie, despite many prayers and an abundance of wishful thinking, knew that her son Leo did not have the moral character of her other children. She also knew that he was not very fond of fishing. His statement earlier in the day had struck her as odd although she had been too busy to do more than frown at Leo before telling him to be back by lunchtime. Now she felt that perhaps something else was going on, a slight ball of nausea and worry forming in her stomach.
It took almost an hour but she did find him, sitting at the counter of the diner downtown, sipping on what appeared to be at least his third ice cream soda. He did not see her come into the diner and when she grabbed him arm he yelped in surprise, knocking over the glass and spilling it onto the floor. The diner grew quiet as Lizzie stood there, her son’s arm held tightly, watery ice cream dripping off the edge of the table and her face turning red from the attention she was receiving from the other patrons. Leo had recovered quickly and was now smirking at his mother’s embarrassment. A few long moments passed and then a waitress came to the table with a rag. She spoke in a low voice to Lizzie, telling her she could just take the boy and go, that the ice cream was already paid for, and then began cleaning up the mess. Before she could act, Leo twisted his arm loose and ran out of the diner, his mother following quickly after and calling to him to stop which he did not do. When she arrived back at their house Leo was sitting on his bed and his mother let him remain there until Ben came home. The decision he reached that night after a long discussion with his wife was one they both would grow to regret. Although neither of them had any proof, Lizzie was certain that Leo was the one who had stolen the receipts and there was no other explanation as to why he had any money at all to use on ice cream. Ben went up and asked his son about this, to which Leo issued a single denial and then stopped talking. They chose to punish the boy severely at home, a lashing that left blood seeping through the boy’s shirt, and hoped that would send the proper message to their son without having to admit to the community what Leo had done. This would happen several more times in the following years, a pattern that was the main reason Leo managed to stay out of trouble with the law until he was almost twenty one years old. It was also one which Ben and Lizzie later realized was part of the reason he progressed from a troubled and incorrigible boy into an adult criminal. By the time of his first arrest their son had been gone from their house for several years and was living under a different, but similar, name.
…to be continued