A Burning Cold Morning (Part 77)

Leo’s appearance before the parole board came on March first, which was also his forty-second birthday.  Up to this point in his life he had not been much of one to celebrate or even really mention this event, and few people he had encountered even knew the actual date of his birth.  Prison officials knew of course and the guard who escorted him that morning commented on it, causing Leo to reply sarcastically, “Well, maybe for once it’ll be a day worth something to me.” 

Leo had aged during his incarceration, his hair thinner and a little more receded since he had been brought back on the parole violation.  His features had also softened a little although there was still a fierce and determined look in his eyes.  The group of men evaluating him had changed also, with no members still remaining from that which had granted his previous release.  Still, they could read the record and had several detailed questions for him about how and why this time might be any different.  

Leo was prepared for that, giving a passionate performance about how much he had changed, the lessons he had learned and his determination to, “find a quiet place to just live a simple domestic life, no more foolin’ around, no more crime.”  He also mentioned that he wanted to get married and start a family and would find a job right after getting released.  Leo left the hearing not all convinced that it had worked as several of the board members openly questioned whether he was serious about any of his promises this time.   Leo spent the next five weeks in a rather black mood, sinking into a sullen silence as he contemplated the years that stretched before him in the the prison.

On the morning of April fourteenth a guard, one named Mike Maryland who had a fairly good relationship with Leo, walked up to his cell and stopped.  He stood there just shaking his head back and forth, a small smile on his face.  Eventually Leo looked up from the book he was reading.

“What is it?  What are you bothering me for?”

“Oh, I’m just wonderin’ about something,” Moreland replied.

“Well, go wonder about it some damn other place.  You’re bothering me.”

“I’m just wonderin’ how a creature like you manages to come up with so much luck.”

Leo raised an eyebrow but did not reply.  The guard stoped shaking his head, crossed his arms and winked.

Leo upon parole in 1943

Leo upon parole in 1943

“I’m here to tell you the news Humbert.  They granted you parole.”  He then walked away as Leo, who had sprung up in disbelief, shouted a series of, “Are you serious?” and “You better not be pulling my leg,” after him.  Three days later, at one-fifteen in the afternoon, Leo walked out of the prison with a small bag of his personal belongings and his fedora along with the three dollars he had been given by the prison.  

It took him exactly one day to violate the terms of his parole although he did not do so without a plan.  Leo was very serious about staying out of trouble and especially off of law enforcement’s radar but he had a pressing task to accomplish.  He needed to settle up with Stanley once and for all.  Spending some of his money on a bus ticket and a new suit, he was soon on his way to find his former partner.  When he arrived in Bakersfield he took the time to try to avoid being noticed, pulling his hat low over his face and avoiding any direct contact with people on the streets.  He arrived to Stanley’s workshop to find it empty and locked up with visible signs that it had not been in use for quite some time.  Peering through the window though he could still see some of the clocks sitting silently on the shelves and a small bucket of tools on the floor.   Not wanting to have to speak to anyone directly, Leo than made several phone calls, including one to Stanley’s father, disguising his voice when he spoke.  In every case the result was same.  No one knew where the Clockmaker was and he had not been seen around Bakersfield since sometime early in 1940.  Stanley’s father, obviously worried about his son, actually asked at the end of their conversation to, “Tell that boy to come back when you find him.  He can still come home.”    Leo spent a few more days poking around for information but ultimately decided that he needed to get back to Minnesota before it was noticed that he was outside the state.   Two days later he took a room at the Fifth Street boarding house and settled in to try to figure things out on April 30, 1943.  

5th Street boarding house

5th Street boarding house

He had, of course, no intention of actually settling into some kind of boring, work-a-day life that he was sure the prison officials thought he ought to pursue.  Leo did, however, need cash in order to survive until he had a plan so he took a position as a delivery driver for a hardware company.  That job filled the dual purpose of providing him with a wage while also giving him the opportunity to drive around the Twin Cities and its surrounding towns as he made his deliveries.  As he did so Leo was casing banks and it took him only two weeks to pick out his target.  He proceeded carefully, true to his personal pledge to not get caught, and spent an additional month planning everything out, using his days off to observe and note every detail about the bank and its operation.   When he did finally act it was a simple and smooth robbery, with Leo in and out in under four minutes and a total take of six hundred and fifty-one dollars.  He quit the delivery job the next day and purchased himself several sets of nice clothing and a brand new fedora.  He did, however, remain in the boarding house, figuring that moving into a high-end place was definitely going to get him some unwanted attention.  Flush with cash again though, he went back to his practice of visiting strip clubs, wining and dining women and eating steak whenever possible.  He was feeling much better about things and was sure that his plan for the future was going to work out well. 

It was while out one night at a downtown bar that Leo first met Amanda.  She was a striking woman, with dark brown hair that featured natural auburn highlights along with bright green eyes and ivory skin.  She was also taller than many women, so easily noticed in a crowd and wore clothing that complemented her slight figure.  Leo was attracted to her immediately, offering to buy her dinner, an offer that she refused.  He did convince her to meet him for a drink a few days later and, after a few weeks of trying to resist his entreaties, she agreed to a dinner date in late May.  That went well enough that she continued to meet him almost nightly for another two weeks and by early June she was starting to believe that she had herself a boyfriend.  Leo also realized that the relationship was evolving although he continued to escort several other women around town later in the evening after Amanda and he had said good-night to each other.  She knew nothing about it and was certain enough of her feelings to start mentioning him to her parents and friends.  

During all of this time that they were getting to know each other Leo had told her that he was a traveling salesman who was often out of town because he had so many clients to visit.  The way he dressed, acted and spent money convinced her that he was very successful and he told stories about his sales career that made it seem believable to her.  Leo also used some of the details of the fake history he had developed in prison as he expanded on his life-story for her as they spent more and more time together.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 76)

At Stillwater Prison the day of tragedy passed with absolutely no mention of the events in Minneapolis.  The inmates went about their usual routines with discussions about the possibilities in the new year already having faded into the background.  It was a quiet and ordinary day.  After a fitful night of sleep Leo woke up on January 4th and was lined up to go to breakfast when the first bit of news relating to the events of the day before began to be discussed.  This initial conversation did not mention the name of the hotel and it made little impression on him until he sat down with his tray of grits and toast.  Each table had one newspaper that was shared between the inmates who sat there and several minutes after sitting down Leo was passed the front section.  Several moments later he stopped chewing on the toast in his mouth, his attention focused solely  on the story in the paper.  

His reaction would probably be lost to time except for the fact that it was written about by another inmate in a letter to his girlfriend the next day.  This letter was actually intercepted at the prison during the routine review of all out-going mail and confiscated, although that was not due to the details it provided about Leo.  It was instead a strange sentence near the end, which read “Tomorrow seems like a good day for catching minnows”, that seemed to draw the suspicion of the reviewing jail employee.  Perhaps they thought it was a code for something that was going to happen or a request for contraband.  That letter remained in the file of the inmate who wrote it and was later discovered by a journalist investigating Leo’s life.  The relevant part read:

Let me tell ya about this guy, the one in the cell just one down from me that I told ya about, the one back because of that parole bust.  He’s readin’ the paper yesterday and then slams it down hard, spilled his food and a few other fella’s too.  Got up and tried walking out, he had to be pulled down by a guard.  We aren’t supposed to be up like that without askin’ if we can.  The whole time he’s talkin’ to himself about bombs and clocks.  Couldn’t make no sense of it really but he said it was all in the papers.  They tried to get him to sit back down but he got up again and said he needed to make a phone call right then.  Well, the same guard came back and took him down to his knees and then dragged him off.  Ain’t seen him since so I figure he must be in solitary.

Leo was indeed very upset about what he read in the paper as he had been immediately convinced that it was Stanley’s work that had caused the destruction at the Marlborough.  It was just too hard to believe in the coincidence that some random other kind of explosion had destroyed the one hotel against which Leo held a grudge. The papers were saying the cause was unknown but he was sure it had been the bomb, the one he had almost told his former partner to stop working on.   Now that bomb, obviously much more powerful than it should have been, had killed and maimed innocent people possibly including children.  Leo had wanted a measured amount of justice and had instead been given a serving plate full of dead and injured bodies.  The article he had read was unclear on if any children had actually been hurt but it was that possibility which caused him the most anger.   

The four days that Leo spent in solitary confinement allowed him plenty of time to vent his anger, which he did by shouting curses, ranting to the white-washed walls and eventually lying on the floor and envisioning ways to kill Stanley without drawing any suspicion on himself.  The guards at Stillwater were taken aback by his behavior as it was well outside the normal calm demeanor and relative conformity that Leo had displayed up to this point in his time at the prison.  None of them could figure out why a newspaper article had apparently made him snap although they had seen enough odd behavior from prisoners and mostly just chalked it up to “prison insanity.”  

By the morning of January 8th Leo had exhausted most of his anger as far as the prison officials could tell and internally he had decided to take solace in the fact that Otto the janitor was almost certainly dead, so at least that score was settled.  After he was escorted back to his regular cell he spent the remainder of the day silently continuing to plot his revenge against Stanley.  It was two days later when he read a follow-up article about the fire in which the cause had now been ruled to be accidental, a statement that left Leo chuckling to himself.  Five sentences later his eyes narrowed and his thin, pointy fists curled around the edges of the newspaper.  He had just read a quote from Otto Knaack who had been interviewed as a survivor of the Marlborough Hotel fire.  It took quite a bit of effort but Leo kept himself together until the inmates were marched back to their cells.  Once there he slammed his fists into the cinder block walls, breaking three fingers in the process.

The next day, while he was lying in the infirmary, Leo made an unexpected decision.  He had of course already been thinking a lot about what he would do when he got out of prison the next time.   He still wanted to hold firm to his resolution to not get caught again, to not have to be returned to this life behind bars that he had grown to hate so much.   It was likely that continuing to try to find ways to get back at Otto would just end of bringing too much police attention onto him.  Plus, he had realized a little too late that carrying around so much stress and anger about what had happened was not really doing him any good.  So, with a very loud and audible sigh that managed to turn the head of the medical attendant, Leo let it go.  He decided that Otto had earned his life by living through the explosion and deserved to be free from the debt that he, perhaps unknowingly, owed to Leo.  The same, however, did not apply to Stanley.  That was one final score that Leo felt he really needed to settle up properly, regardless of his commitment to a discreet life of crime in the future.  

He was back in the general population two days later and things returned to normal, although he grew increasingly anxious about getting parole and more determined than ever to avoid returning to what he has taken to calling, “the pen of misery.”  His chance finally came in March of 1943.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 75)

Circleville Herald June 3 1940 - 1

Circleville Herald June 3 1940 – 1

Circleville Herald June 3 1940 - 2

Circleville Herald June 3 1940 – 2

Circleville Herald June 3 1940 - 3

Circleville Herald June 3 1940 – 3

Marlborough hotel fire from street

Marlborough hotel fire from street

Marlborough hotel fire onlookers

Marlborough hotel fire onlookers

Marlborough hotel firefighters

Marlborough hotel firefighters

Marlborough Apartment Hotel Fire, January 3, 1940 | MNopedia - 1

Marlborough Apartment Hotel Fire, January 3, 1940 | MNopedia – 1

Marlborough Apartment Hotel Fire, January 3, 1940 | MNopedia - 2

Marlborough Apartment Hotel Fire, January 3, 1940 | MNopedia – 2

1 - life magazine article

1 – life magazine article

2 - life magazine article

2 – life magazine article

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 74)

Silence filled the air after that with Stanley staring down at the floor and Leo standing with his hands on his hips, expecting an answer.  Two minutes later the clockmaker looked up at Leo with a dangerous glint in his eye that Leo did not interpret correctly, thinking it was just the sign of a man who had accepted his orders.

“I’ll do it for you, I’ll do it just like you want.  A real good one, some kind of special timer to make sure it works like you said.”

“Good, good.  That’s what I wanted to hear.  Now, I’m happy to give you some cash for expenses and we need to get this thing done quickly, ok, so how,”

Stanley stood up quickly and started shoving Leo toward the front of the shop.  “You can’t rush these things, it’s art.  Art, art, art, no rush jobs! You let me take care of it, no money needed.  You need to go,” he said and then slammed the door shut after pushing Leo out into the narrow lane that ran past the building.   Disconcerted by the dismissal, but figuring he had made his point and the plan was in motion, he stepped off back toward the downtown area to find a room for the night.

Leo meandered a bit on the return trip although his exact stops are not known.  He was back in Minnesota by January 2nd and as he had already violated his parole by traveling outside of the state, he saw no reason to not accept some criminal work that came his way.  It involved being part of a small crew, something that Leo disliked, but he did need to collect some cash and this was a fast way to accomplish that goal.  As he worked with this crew on some holdup jobs he started thinking about his interaction with Stanley and became worried that whatever kind of bomb he used it was going to do more damage than Leo wanted.  It took a few nights of worrying about it, going between his desire for revenge and his unwillingness to see innocent people injured, before he called Stanley on January 15th, 1938 and told him to stop working on the bomb.  Two days later he called him again, telling him to go ahead but to be very careful with how it was detonated.  He was not so sure that Stanley was listening on either call and Leo continued to worry and fret about the plan.  On the evening of January 28th he had resolved to call the whole thing off, to come up with some other way to get his satisfaction, and he planned to call Stanley the next afternoon and instruct him to stop all work immediately.  Unfortunately, at ten a.m. the next day Leo was picked up during a police raid on the crew’s hideaway and soon after it was discovered he was a felon on parole.  His parole was formally revoked at a hearing on February 4th and by the 5th Leo was back behind the bars of Stillwater State Prison.  

He settled back into that life, converting his short parole adventure into an escapade that even some of his closest associates found hard to believe.  The story itself has not survived but a letter from one of those men references a “tall tale from this fella that just got pulled back, said he had stolen a piece from the Met in New York.”  That certainly seems in keeping with Leo’s style although he usually told stories that were a little more difficult to disprove.   

Overall though, things returned to normal.  Leo was so angry though at being back in prison that he abandoned his idea of stopping Stanley and instead waited impatiently for news of the attack having been carried out.  Time went on though and no news came even though Leo read every newspaper that he could get his hands on.  Eventually he realized that it was not going to happen, that Stanley had been too crazy and unfocused after all and no vengeance was going to be meted out to Otto or the Marlborough.  Once that fact had settled itself into his mind Leo began a new train of thought, one in which he planned how to get back at his unfaithful partner Stanley Bittenhopper.  He was going to get out again and he would figure out a way to discreetly take out his anger.  

It would have to be done carefully because Leo also made another firm resolution as he sat in his cell through those long days of 1938 and 1939.  He was not going to spend anymore time in prison.  He may have valued notoriety and recognition in the past but that had not gotten him everything that he wanted.  It had, in fact, taken him away from the nice clothes, good meals and alluring women that he now greatly enjoyed.  Once he was released from this current term, another chance at parole being what he considered a certainty, he would try a different course from the one he had spent his previous years pursuing.  In this plan, Leo decided to assume a respectable career and lead what appeared to be a happy, domestic life while still committing crimes.  He would be careful and discreet, working alone and planning each job well.  This could allow him to enjoy the gangster lifestyle without the danger of capture.  As he refined this plan he included getting married, finding a career that required him to travel often and sharpening his fake biography so he would seem to be law-abiding and socially acceptable.  He re-worked some of his previous story so that it appeared he got his degree in the 1920’s from Duke and spent all the intervening years in the Army.   As 1939 drew to a close Leo was still angry at Otto and Stanley, impatient about getting released and missing all of the finer things and pretty women from his previous life.  

The prison had a very muted New Years Eve celebration for the prisoners with the main attraction being ice cream cones and candy bars.  It was the dawning of a new decade which brought a sense of reflection to some of the inmates and left Leo bragging to anyone who would hear it that, “I ain’t finishing the forties inside this cold prison.”  Two days later, on January 3rd, the prisoners woke up early as usual, just at about the same time that the bomb exploded.  

…to be continued