A Burning Cold Morning (Part 62)

Sterns County Jail courtesy theclio.com

Sterns County Jail courtesy theclio.com

The Sterns County Jail at the time had quite a significant overcrowding problem, bad enough that it was a well-known issue around the state.  That did not prevent Sheriff Schomer from taking Leo there and promptly getting him secured as an inmate.  As he emerged from the area where he had been processed into the jail Leo was met with a surprise.  Instead of being led down the grey corridor toward the entry to the proper jail, he was instead walked toward a hallway that turned to the right off the jail entry.  Across the front of that corridor a temporary wall had been erected, one that had a black metal double-door set firmly in the center.  That door was secured by a thick piece of chain that ran through the door handles and was attached by a padlock.  In front of the door stood a deputy and a jail guard, both holding shotguns.  The guard walking Leo grabbed his elbow to stop him about ten feet from the double door. 

1930's handcuffs

1930’s handcuffs

“Alright, now you’re going to be a resident of our special containment unit for right now, until a proper cell opens up, whenever the hell that might be.  You’ll be in there with a few other fellas so you’d better behave yourself, ya hear me?”

Leo nodded his head in reply, wondering exactly what he was about to experience.  He could already detect a very strong smell, one that was a mixture of body odor, urine and dirty canvas, and he could hear the distinct hum of voices from the other side of the wall.  The guard took off Leo’s handcuffs and then the deputy unlocked the padlock and pulled the chain before opening the right side of the door and motioning him inside.  

What greeted him on the other side was more than a “few other fellas”, as it was in fact the entire overflow from the county jail, all being held in the corridor of what looked to have previously been an office space.  The walls were cement and painted a dull brown, the ceiling white with a crack running down the middle.  Although it was bright at the entry, the lighting was uneven along the length of the hallway with some areas very dim especially near the far corners.  The doors to the rooms that had opened up off the hallway were all solid wood and were secured by gate hasps and padlocks.  There was a single window, about two feet by three feet, at the end of the corridor which had bars covering it.  That wall was also, for some unknown reason, painted a stark white.  When Leo later managed to look out that window he confirmed his belief that this cell was on the second floor of the jail building.  Wooden benches lined the sides and there were four small tables and about ten chairs scattered around the open floor space.  Some of the prisoners occupied these sitting locations although the majority of them were lounging about on the floor itself with ten of them fast asleep.  There were no mattresses or cots, just a collection of pillows and blankets which were apparently community property.  Leo would come to find out that it was best to retain those items when you did mange to get your hands on them, as there was no guarantee you would get either of them back if you lost possession.  In a corner near the metal doors were three large buckets that the men used to relieve themselves and which were emptied twice a day by the designated “newest rat”, which as of that moment was Leo.  He later also learned that the men were taken out of the community cell in pairs once per day to “tend to their business” and it was considered to be proper protocol to save your messier bodily functions until that time of the day.  All in all, it was a very unpleasant situation and Leo was quite upset at being held in such a place, something that he let the guards know right away and continuously during his imprisonment.  

Several days later he had the first opportunity to meet with a lawyer, at which point he found out that Otto’s betrayal of him extended far beyond the theft of the eight hundred dollars.  He also was informed about the Marlborough’s cooperation with the investigation and that the bank teller in Meier Grove had been the one to positively identify him and swear out the affidavit which led to his arrest.  All of this left Leo in a rage, one that he carried into the courtroom that day for his arraignment.  When asked to enter a plea he instead launched into a bitter diatribe about the jail conditions, his refusal to be kept in such squalor and the fact that he vowed vengeance on everyone who had betrayed him or been involved in his, “faulty and manufactured arrest.”  Although the judge let him go on for a few minutes, watching him with an amused, patient look on his face, eventually Leo started attacking the court’s credibility at which point a not guilty plea was entered by the judge and he was forcibly hauled out of the courtroom.  

barred window

Over the next couple of days Leo did manage to calm down, just as he always did when incarcerated, and began to seriously consider the situation in which he now found himself.  He was well aware that if convicted of armed bank robbery the prison sentence was going to be quite severe, a situation he wanted to avoid.  Based on the evidence against him that he knew about he also felt that a conviction was likely.  That left him with the determination to escape.  At the time the Stearns County Jail was only seven years old, having been completed in 1922, and was lauded as being inescapable, a boast that was often repeated by prison guards and inmates alike.  Leo took that into consideration as he wandered around the large improvised cell, testing the door hinges on the former offices, the window bars and anything else he saw as a potential avenue for escape.  The other inmates all told him to forget about it, that they had already tried all of that, but Leo pointed out that he was a civil engineer who had went to Duke University, and as such had a far better chance of figuring out weak points.  That was mostly met with shrugs and laughter, but he remained undeterred for several days, finally abandoning the idea on the twenty-forth.  He would need to come up with some other plan for escape.  

It came to him that night, as he lay on the cold tile floor of the hallway, absent a blanket that had been stolen from him earlier in the day, and comforted little by the thin pillow beneath his head.  Staring up at the ceiling he decided that despite his own embarrassment over his diabetic condition, he needed to try to make use of it.  The next morning he went to the double-door and started pounding on it.  Finally the small slit, which had been cut into it as a window to allow the guards to occasionally observe the cell, opened and a grey eye stared back at Leo.

“What’d you want, boy?” 

“I need to speak to the warden.  Right now.”

Laughter from the other side.  “This ain’t no prison dummy, it’s a jail.  We ain’t got no warden.  Go sit back down.”  Leo blushed at his mistake, feeling even worse because he realized the other’s had heard the whole conversation and it would effect their perception of his criminal credibility.  He almost gave up but then went back to pounding on the door.  It took almost two hours but finally the guards were so tired of his hammering on the door that they hauled him out of the cell and into the jail administrators office.  Once there, Leo outlined his medical issues and insisted that he needed to be placed in the infirmary.  The administrator just stared back at him and laughed.

“Prisoner, that cell is just as damn crowded as the one you’re in, so no use in trying this trick.  And don’t waste nobody’s time with this nonsense again.” 

Three minutes later Leo was back in the community cell, and one hour after that John F. Williams was booked into the jail and joined the group.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 61)

Leo’s exit from Louisville ended up being just in time to avoid capture.  Once the police realized they had missed catching up to Leo in Minneapolis they had gone back over their notes.  Giving more attention to some of the ideas Olivia had given them, they started to call around to the specific cities she had mentioned her brother having lived in at some point.  By the afternoon of the sixteenth they had the Louisville police, who had connected the MBCA info with their Robert O’Hara file, out chasing down known associates of Leo’s.  That eventually led to a knock on Lucy’s door and her admission that the man they were seeking had been there recently, although she did put up a good verbal battle with the police before admitting to it.  She also did not disclose that she had mailed the letter.  Initially excited by the near miss, the MBCA quickly realized that they now were going to be involved in a game of trying to trace their fugitive all over the United States.  By the evening of the seventeenth no further information had surfaced and it was beginning to be thought that Leo might have slipped away.

Doanldson's Glass Block restaurant

Doanldson’s Glass Block restaurant

That thought prevailed for much of the next morning and at lunchtime the small task force that was involved in the case sat down to lunch at the Donaldson’s restaurant.  The elegant and airy eatery, located in the department store’s large Glass Block building, was a strange place to hold a law enforcement meeting.  The Minneapolis police chief commented on that fact as they all sat down and it was quickly explained by the Stearns County Attorney, James Quigley, that his wife was related to the Donaldson’s and had arranged the luncheon.  Also present were  Stearns County Sheriff B.E. Schoemer,  an unknown FBI agent assigned to assist the investigation and several other officers who had been involved in the search up to that point.  The group had just finished their soup and were discussing the lack of new leads when a Minneapolis police officer appeared and walked quickly to the table.  After a whispered conversation with the man the MPD chief turned to the group.

“Well gentleman, I think we just got the break we need.  Our man has written a letter to the Marlborough requesting his shoes back!”

After a few moments of disbelief at such an odd mistake being made by an experienced criminal, the men all left the restaurant and hastened to the hotel to recover the letter from the manager.  Thirty minutes later attorney Quigley and Sheriff Schomer were on their way to Chicago, arriving there by nightfall.  Several hours later they had arranged a stakeout with the cooperation of the city police and had the hotel staff informed of what was happening.  The two Minnesota men remained on duty the entire night, sitting in an unmarked vehicle provided to them. 

1929 Checked taxi cab

1929 Checked taxi cab

There was of course no way of knowing just what Leo meant when he wrote he would be “arriving soon”, or even if the whole thing was some kind of a joke he was playing on the police.  It certainly made no sense to anyone in law enforcement that a criminal would be interested in getting back a pair of shoes, especially given the risk it involved.  Both men had started to think that was more and more of a possibility as the afternoon dragged on, with each of them swapping out attempts to take a nap in the uncomfortable vehicle seats.  At three p.m. Quigley walked over to a nearby diner and purchased a couple of sandwiches.  He was on his way back to the vehicle when he saw a Checker taxi cab pull up to the Drake.  Keeping his eye on it as he slid back into the stakeout vehicle, he watched the passenger emerge from the cab.  The man was the correct height and build but had a fedora pulled low over his face and kept his head down as he strode up to the hotel door.  Nudging the sheriff, Quigley pointed the man out and the two of them watched as he disappeared inside the building carrying a small brown valise and a briefcase.  At this point the rest of their plan played out well.

Leo would of course have to identify himself as Leo Humford, as that was the name he had used at the Marlborough and which they would have used to forward his forgotten belongings.   Once he did that, the Chicago police had arranged for the hotel to direct him to a room down the hall where he was told parcels were kept until picked up.  Although he headed that way a little reluctantly, he did walk to the room.  After stepping inside he was confronted by a police detective who held him while the hotel staff summoned the two Steans County officials from their vehicle.  

After being handed over to Sheriff Schomer Leo was led into a small room near the lobby of the hotel where he was briefly questioned.  That interview began with Quigley dramatically producing the brogues and placing them on the table in front of Leo.

“I believe you wanted these back?” he said. 

Leo scoffed before replying.  “I guess I did, I like nice clothes and shoes.  Is that a crime?”

“Hardly, but robbing banks is,” the sheriff replied.  

“I didn’t rob no bank,” Leo snapped back.

“You mind if I look through your bag?” the sheriff asked.

“You won’t find nothing in there, at least nothing you’re looking for anyway.  It’s just clothes and letters.  Oh, and a few pictures that might offend your lawful sensibilities. But go ahead, I don’t give a damn.”

The small bag did in fact include a nice suit and a few personal effects along with a large numbers of letters to and from various women and the risqué pictures Leo had mentioned.  As Schomer shuffled through the letters Leo spoke up.

“Whatever happens, don’t let them get out, ok?  You might ruin a lot of pretty ladies lives with what’s written in there.”  The sheriff raised an eyebrow at that but kept looking through the items.  

He did not find much else as, other than the content of the valise, Leo had four hundred dollars, a watch and some newspapers stuffed into his briefcase.  When the inspection of his belongings was done the sheriff informed him that he had been identified as the man who robbed the Meier Grove bank and that he would be seeking Leo’s extradition back to Minnesota. 

“Ya don’t need to bother with that, I’ll waive it,” Leo replied, “I didn’t do nothing and the sooner we get this over with the better.” 

One hour later the two men from Stearns County and their prisoner were on the train back to St. Cloud.  As they pulled out of Union Station attorney Quigley had a question for Leo.

“Whatever possessed you to write that letter anyway?  I mean, a pair of shoes and some clothes?  Surely they cannot be that important and you could easily get others.  Why risk being captured over that?”

It was then that Leo realized that Otto had stolen the eight hundred dollars.  

Brainerd Daily Dispatch 19 Sept 1929

Brainerd Daily Dispatch 19 Sept 1929

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 60)

That early morning conversation which Olivia had with law enforcement was a detailed one, in which she told them about Leo’s real name, his use of aliases including the ones she knew about and also a list of places that he had lived.  She of course informed them about his recent incarceration in Kentucky as Robert O’Hara after which they contacted the prison for more information.  Finally, as they were wrapping up the interview, Olivia gave them a description of the Essex along with a partial plate number.  She stated that she believed Leo would have fled the state and be in hiding until he turned up somewhere else under another name.  The detectives thanked her but had their own suspicions that Leo had not gone far and put the information out to other law enforcement agencies in the state.  To obtain a recent photo quickly the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension convinced the prison in Eddyville to send an official to meet their officer in Rockford, Illinois, about halfway between the two cities.  That allowed them to have a mug shot in hand by late afternoon, after which the bank teller quickly identified it as the man who had held him up.   He swore out an affidavit to that effect and the MBCA thought they had a good start on chasing down their fugitive. 

By the next morning this information had started to pay off as a Minneapolis police officer found the Essex, promptly alerted the MBCA and county sheriff, and an intensive manhunt began in the downtown area.  As that search got within two blocks of the Marlborough Hotel Otto happened to be at another business nearby, which was owned by the same man, and where he picked up occasional extra work.  It took him only a moment to determine what was going on and he hastily made an excuse that he had to leave for a few minutes.  He walked quickly back to the Marlborough and found Leo sitting in the lobby reading a newspaper.   Other than a cleaning woman the rest of the area was deserted, a quiet and calm Saturday morning with thin rays of light falling across the plants and art work on display.  Otto had only managed to get about five words out when Leo held up his hand and quickly went to the front entry, stepping out slowly and looking up and down the street.  He then repeated this at the back entry after which he walked briskly to his room, Otto following quietly behind him.  At the door to the room Leo turned around and told him to stop and wait in the hall.  

clubhouse brogue shoe courtesy thepeoplehistory.com

clubhouse brogue shoe courtesy thepeoplehistory.com

Once alone with the door closed behind him, Leo sank into a faded grey armchair that was next to a window overlooking Third Avenue.  He had already seen that the police were very close and that his escape was going to have to be quick and done with a minimum of encumbrance.  That meant he would have to leave behind most of this personal belongings including all of his new suits and hats.  After a minute or two, he rose with a sigh and hastily packed up a small valise. He then took the remaining cash he had obtained from the robbery, around eight hundred dollars, and stuffed it into one of his clubhouse brogues.  He figured that if he was captured it would not look good to have almost the same amount of cash on him as the amount taken from the bank.   He then placed those shoes and some miscellaneous other clothing and personal items into a large black suitcase.  Stepping out into the hallway he motioned to Otto who was leaning against the wall several doors down.  When the young man approached, Leo handed him the suitcase and asked that he keep it safe, stating that it contained one of his best pairs of shoes and he would either send for it or retrieve it himself very soon.   He then shook Otto’s hand, thanked him for the tip-off and walked away down the hallway.  Several minutes later Leo had slipped past the police that were out and about on the streets and was on his way out of town.

He had of course failed to give Otto any money for providing him with the information about the police, something that did not sit well with the young janitor.  It had only taken him about three minutes of contemplation before he opened the suitcase Leo had given him, determined to at least get a good pair of shoes out of the deal.  Several moments after finding them he also had removed the eight hundred dollars and was much happier although he still held a grudge against Leo.  About an hour later, when the police arrived at the hotel to continue their search, the staff could not positively identify the man in the photo as having stayed there.  Otto took that opportunity to pay off his grudge, marching up to the officer in charge, stating it had definitely been Leo who had stayed there and directing them to the room.  As it was being searched he decided that it would be a bad thing if he somehow was caught with Leo’s personal effects.  Going back to the detective, he turned them over, stating that he had found the suitcase in the alley and the shoes in the hallway outside the door of Leo’s room.  He then provided a very detailed description of the fugitive and mentioned the discussion they had about Louisville.  

That was exactly where Leo had gone, making good time by hitching rides and arriving by mid-afternoon of Sunday, September 15th.  He was angry when he arrived, about several things, and had stormed into  Lucy’s house without even knocking on the door.  Startled as she had been by his entrance, she quickly recovered and tried to calm him down and by nightfall they were enjoying each other’s company.  The next morning, having collected the items and cash Lucy had been keeping for him, he penned a short note to the Marlborough:

Sirs:

Having recently left your establishment, I found that I have forgotten a pair of my best shoes along with several other personal items.  Please inquire of your staff, especially the janitor named Otto, as I feel they are certain to have found these items.  I expect my belongings to be forwarded  immediately to The Drake in Chicago, where I will soon be arriving.  Your prompt action is appreciated. 

L Humford

Giving it to Lucy with stern instructions that it must go out that same  day via Special Delivery, he gave her a passionate farewell kiss and walked out of the house.  The last she saw of him he was stepping quickly down the street swinging his brown valise as he went along.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 59)

When Leo awoke the next day, September 3, 1929, he could not have known that he was just nine days away from initiating a series of events which would leave him as a minor criminal celebrity and grant him the place of notoriety for which he had been looking for such a long time.  It began with him sitting on the low brick wall that ran behind the motel he was staying at, trying to put together a plan on what he was going to do next.  Much of his prison time had been consumed with thinking about bank robbery and he knew that was the direction in which he wanted go in regard to the future.  It was time for him to make a move into more serious crimes.  He felt he had accumulated a good amount of information over the years and was ready to take action.  The only limitation he put on himself was that he was not going to do anything illegal in New Munich, mostly out of a sense of responsibility toward Olivia, something he had not thought would really matter.  It did though, now that he was back and had seen her again, he just felt a kind of family connection and knew that she was seen as a respectable part of the community.  He did not want to ruin that.  

He spent the remainder of the morning sitting in his room at the small table by the window, writing down some ideas on nearby towns to scout for potential targets.  Around eleven-thirty he had gone into the bathroom and when he came back out was surprised to find Olivia standing in his room right next to the table at which he had been writing.  His notebook was open and he hastened over to close it while attempting to not seem too concerned.  He did not know it at the time but she had indeed looked over the page and had made a mental note of a few things that were written down.  Olivia then invited him to lunch, which he declined, and she left after a few more minutes of conversation.  Leo, resolved to get things into motion as quickly as possible, got into his Essex and drove out of town for the day.

The communities closest to New Munich included Greenwald, Melrose and Freeport, and Leo drove through all of them scouting out the banks.  It was in Meire Grove though that he found a promising opportunity.  The First State Bank of Meire Grove was a small brick building situated on a road near the edge of that town.  This road branched off into two directions about three hundred feet from the building, giving Leo a choice on escape routes and also potentially adding to the difficulty for police in pursuing him.  Pulling over under a tree near the bank, he got out his notebook and sketched a map of the area.  Then he walked into the bank and pretended to be lost, asking a clerk for directions to Melrose.   Chatting with that man for a few minutes, Leo took in the general layout of the bank and tried to assess the place for any potential pitfalls or problems.  When he left, he felt fairly confident that he had found his target, and he spent the next eight days doing more scouting and planning.  He was ready by the evening of September 11th and he went to bed that night with a strange nervousness in his system, one that made his stomach uneasy and caused him to have difficulty falling asleep.

The robbery itself seemed anti-climatic to Leo, especially when he had the opportunity later to look back on it.  His plan had been to commit the hold-up by himself, partly because he did not want to split the money but more due to the fact that he really did not have any criminal connections in the area.  He wanted to get this robbery done and over with so he had some cash and could maybe start putting together his own gang.  That was how he pulled it off too, just Leo going into the bank and sticking a gun into the cashier’s face, despite the fact that some later newspaper reports would say several men were involved.  After getting the  money, which amounted to eight hundred sixty dollars, from the bank, he took off toward the Twin Cities and abandoned the Essex on a street near the Mississippi river in downtown Minneapolis.  He then walked to the Marlborough Hotel and registered under the name Leo Humford, figuring that slight variation should be enough to conceal his true identity.  It also was an alias he had not previously used, at least as far as can be determined from historical records.  As he was walking out of the hotel lobby to go to his room, the hotel’s extroverted janitor Otto Knaack commented that Leo was a, “nifty dresser,” a comment which of course got Leo’s attention.  He spoke to the man for several minutes after that as the floor was wet from just being mopped.  That conversation quickly went from that brief compliment into a rambling discussion of Otto’s family, his recent stint in jail for punching a man he thought had insulted a hotel guest, and why he did not like Ford motor cars.  During this conversation Leo even discussed his opinion of Louisville after Otto mentioned he had a sister living there and working as a seamstress.   As he said good-night to Otto, he made the further mistake of thinking they shared some kind of criminal bond due to the jail time the janitor had mentioned.  Leo told Otto that he would pay him generously for any info he could bring to him in regard to potential police activity around the hotel.  It was more conversation than an on-the-run bank robber should have had and it would come back to haunt Leo. 

St Cloud Daily Times Headline 12 Sept 1929 - Evening Edition

St Cloud Daily Times Headline 12 Sept 1929 – Evening Edition

Back in Meire Grove, law enforcement was at a dead end in regard to trying to to apprehend whomever had robbed the First State Bank.  They had a description of the man, a few conflicting ones on the vehicle and that was about it.  The information went out to all local police agencies and it was of course picked up on by reporters, with the story running on the front page of the next day’s newspaper.  In New Munich Olivia read that article while drinking coffee after breakfast and recalled immediately that Meier Grove was one of the town names she had seen written in Leo’s notebook.  She had not been quite sure at the time what it related to, and was still not certain, but after some soul-searching she made contact with the police.  The information she gave them was unknown to a peacefully resting Leo who had just asked Otto to go out to a local diner and pick him up some lunch.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 58)

Leo was held again in the Louisville city jail, much angrier this time but still taking the opportunity to write letters to various women.  He knew that he needed to speak with Lucy in regard to the trunk and also tried to convince at three different women to come and visit him, all of whom refused to be seen in such a place.  No attorney was dispatched to assist him this time and after a few attempts to reach out to contacts on the outside, all of which were rebuffed, he realized that he was going to face his current charges alone.  Although he could have arranged for some of his hidden money to be used to hire a powerful lawyer, Leo had correctly deduced that no manner of defense was going to save him, and that the upcoming trial was going to be a mere formality.  For that reason, he chose to conserve his funds, finally convincing Lucy to come to the jail so he could whisper some more specific instructions to her about what to do with his stash while he was away.  On October 21st Leo’s trial began and he was convicted before the close of business the next day, represented by a public defender who barely raised an objection during the entire trial.  

KSP Eddyville

KSP Eddyville

Two days later he was processed as a new inmate (#5958) to the Kentucky State Prison at Eddyville and began to serve his one year sentence.  His time there is mostly undocumented, although several facts are known.  Leo immediately got back into the routine of inflating his criminal background and accomplishments, weaving into his story the new information of his recent, “stint with the Schultz gang.”  He made few friends but the ones he did associate with were all convicted bank robbers and Leo grilled them for information whenever he had the chance.  He even began to plan a robbery with one of these inmates, although that person turned him into the warden, resulting in Leo spending two weeks in solitary confinement.  He also wrote letters to several female acquaintances, again asking for and being rebuffed in regard to visiting him, and sent one letter to his sister Olivia.  In addition to asking a few questions about how she was doing, Leo inquired as to whether she knew the location of Stanley Bittenhopper and if his former partner had done anything to betray him.   Her return letter to him was recovered and reads as follows:

Brother – 

I am well, thank you for asking, and things are about as quiet and peaceful as you might imagine them to be in New Munich.  Although it is good to hear that you are well, it is apparent that you are determined to continue to involve me in your shady business.  I have already expressed my distaste for your name games and your current alias is no better than the previous.  You will, however, see that I have (begrudgingly I assure you) addressed the envelope to you, Mr O’Hara!  

Another item I must point out is that it cannot possibly have escaped your attention that, despite what I must assume was an attempt to conceal the fact, your last letter is clearly postmarked from a prison in Kentucky!  What foul thing you done to be incarcerated in a place such as that, well, I refuse to think of it.  Your associate Stanley has stayed here in town but away from me, thank heavens, and I have no information on what he may have or have not done in regard to his intentions toward you.  He did approach me one day in town to hand me an envelope, saying I was to inform you that his debt has been paid.  There, you see I have now become a go-between in your criminal mischief, a turn of events that distresses me greatly.  I will have your little package for you, if you ever choose to retrieve it, as I feel honor-bound to deliver it to you.  

Do not ask again about your check – I will not be replacing it as I can receive no information that satisfies me it cannot be cashed later.  

Despite my displeasure brother, know that I wish you well – O

Leo appears to have had no disciplinary issues other than the one associated with his time in solitary and the only other incident of note was a brief stint in the medical ward for issues related to his diabetes.  An appeal undertaken on his behalf (by a lawyer he hired with his own money once he figured no one was paying attention to him anymore) managed to get his sentence slightly reduced and Leo was released from Eddyville on August 16, 1929.  During the out-processing that day his suit, which he had been wearing when arrested, could not be found, a discovery which set Leo off onto a three minute rant on police incompetence.  He had to walk out of the prison that day wearing some over-sized prison issue work pants and a shabby shirt provided from the prison’s “missionary basket.”  That fact did nothing to improve his mood and Lucy, who had picked him up, heard about it all the way back to her place.  

As per what appeared to be his usual routine whenever he was released from custody, Leo quickly hit the road and disappeared for awhile.  He had recovered most of his stashed money before he left, along with several good suits and a few other personal items. 

1929 Essex sedan

1929 Essex sedan

It is not known when he decided on his ultimate destination but on September 1 he rolled into New Munich driving a brand new Essex sedan.  He proceeded to check into a motel, doing so under the name of Hombert.  Leo knew that the whole town would soon know he was back in the area and it would be very hard to explain the use of any of his aliases without arousing suspicion.  It would probably also be convenient to use that name in that it was largely unknown to law enforcement.  He used some of his money to buy new suits and two hats and the next day went to see Olivia.  She turned over Stanley’s package, which included the money that had been stolen plus interest along with a short note of apology.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 57)

Before that trip to prison, however, Leo spent most of the summer doing two things; fencing property for the Schultz gang and running his own separate operation against the city of Louisville.  Due to the influence of the high profile criminals in town Leo understood that he probably should not be running any unsanctioned operations, especially ones that were directed at the city.  Some of those gangsters, including Schultz, had arrangements with various local officials to look the other way in regard to their illegal activities.  Those agreements came with the implicit understanding that these criminals would go easy on the city itself.  Unfortunately for Leo, his usual sense of independence and desire to increase his own standing in the criminal world made it almost impossible to work solely under the direction of Dutch’s operatives.  Instead, he applied for and was swiftly hired into a job at the Louisville city manager’s office (also under the name Robert O’Hara) as an engineer, his falsified degree from Duke apparently never being looked into very closely.  Leo quickly learned the ropes of the operation and within weeks he was diverting newly purchased construction equipment to his own fencing operation and selling it to local contractors.   Things rolled merrily along for him through June and July as Leo made the rounds at the Seelbach’s evening social hour, escorted a rotating cast of women around town and piled up a good amount of cash.  Those funds he kept inside lock boxes in his room and at various other places around town.  

Then on Monday August 13, 1928 he stepped out into a rather cold summer morning and was met on the steps of the hotel by a police officer and city detective.  Leo was arrested for converting stolen property relating to the work he was doing for the Schultz gang and promptly brought to the city jail.  He languished there for several days before an attorney, dispatched by Dutch, arrived and spoke to Leo.  As it turned out, the detective who arrested him was new to the force and not quite familiar with all of the local arrangements in regard to the illegal enterprises being run in the city.  It would have been simple enough to get the whole thing thrown out expect for the fact that there was also new pressure from the city council to clean up some aspects of the criminal element in the city.  That basically meant that Leo was going to have to do some time although it would be a short sentence, just enough to mollify the council.  The attorney encouraged him to, “think of it as a little vacation,” and informed him that all his legal bills were being taken care of by Schultz.

Leo, of course, did not view the situation as any kind of a vacation.  He was focused on making money and improving his reputation and the sentence, one month in city jail, was going to hamper his efforts.  After a day or two of sitting silently in his cell though, Leo’s mood improved and he spent the rest of his time writing letters to women, another to Olivia (that did not mention his location or current situation) and reading up on Duke University.  One of those letters was written to Ginny Mayburn, an auburn-haired local socialite whom Leo spent more time with than any of his other paramours, and highlights his state of mind at the time.

Gin – 

As you’ve surely heard I have landed in the local slammer for a spell – can’t say I enjoy the place much!  Looks like my lucky steak is over but I needed some more time in anyway – it helps make me stand up better with the fellas.  I’m sure I’ll be right back to it next month.  

Free up some time for me around the 20th – I should be out and your company will be just the thing to make me happy.  I’ll be thinking about the night you wore the red satin as I while away my hours in here. 

L

In what would perhaps be a further reflection that Leo’s luck had gotten thin, during the month that he was incarcerated in Louisville his scheme against the city was exposed.  It only took a few days after he failed to appear for work at the city manager’s office before a new person was hired to replace him.  That man discovered the irregularities (which Leo had not covered up very well anyway), reported them up the chain-of-command and eventually Dutch Shultz became aware of them.  Needless to say, both he and the city officials were not happy that such an operation was being run, and things were put into action to deal with the situation.  

It was yet another unusually cold summer day when Leo was released from the jail.  As he was recovering his personal property he mentioned to the officer on duty how good it felt to be back in, “my proper shirt and suit,” after which he counted the money returned to him three times before signing for it.  He scoffed at the comment made by the officer as he walked away, “see ya soon Bob,” although he would later regret not heeding those words.

Leo was determined to get back into the swing of things quickly, heading straight for the Seelbach after his release.  He was met in the lobby by the hotel’s general manager, an aging man with slicked-back grey hair and a constant smile, who seemed to have been waiting for him. The man informed Leo that due to his extended absence and unpaid bill his belongings had been removed from the room he previously occupied, a statement Leo reacted to with indignation.  The man proved unmoved by the protest and further informed him that he was no longer welcome, although the outstanding bill had been, “taken care of by an interested party.”  After a few more minutes of ineffective protesting Leo stormed out of the Seelbach and walked to the house of a woman named Lucy seven blocks away.  

She at least seemed happy to see him and Leo, spooked by what had happened at the hotel, laid low in her house for the next two days after sending her back to collect his belongings from the manager.  He also contacted two other women, with whom he had secreted other items, and arranged for Lucy to retrieve them.  Once all of it was back at her house Leo packed it into a large trunk, locking it and making her promise to always keep it safe.  It was a calm couple of days, with Leo and her spending much time wrapped up in each others arms.  Then, as evening fell on September 23rd, Leo felt safe enough to venture out on a walk after eating dinner.  He made it two blocks before a police vehicle pulled up behind him and he was arrested again, this time for embezzlement and obtaining goods under false pretenses.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 53)

Selma Alabama street scene around the time Leo lived there

Selma Alabama street scene around the time Leo lived there

The Selma, Alabama that Leo had arrived in was one with deep racial divisions and lingering scars from the Civil War battles that had been fought in and around the area.  It carried much of the tone and temperament of the entrenched white majority that had long lived in the area and had an “Old South” feel to it that Leo found foreign to his own experience.  He adapted fairly quickly though and was especially interested in the several banks which occupied a four block area in the downtown of the city.  The two men he had found, Jim Tunnney and Max Miller, who were also interested in the idea of robbing banks were locals and well known to the Selma police department.  Once Leo was sighted hanging out with them he started to gain some extra attention himself although that did little to dampen his enthusiasm for breaking the law.  He really saw himself as a big-time operator and was very interested in branching out into larger crimes.  One day, right after the turn of the new year, he met up with his partners at a local speakeasy.  One of the men had brought his girlfriend along, something Leo was not happy about initially although he changed his mind a little bit later when she starting flirting with him whenever her boyfriend was not paying attention.  After a few drinks all four of them walked out of the speakeasy and down to a local park where they planned to have their first serious discussion about the bank robbery plan.  A stiff breeze was blowing through the park when they arrived and they took some time to find a location that offered a little shelter.  

“You sure it’s ok to talk around the dame?” Leo asked as they all sat down behind a large decorative water fountain in the park.

“Sure, sure,” Jim answered, “she’s been in on a few things before.”  He spoke with a deep Southern drawl that Leo found difficult to understand some of the time.

“Few what?” Leo asked.

“Things,” Jim replied, “jobs, ya know?”  As he answered, the woman, who was his girlfriend and seated behind him, gave Leo a small wink for at least the sixth time that afternoon.

“Well, alright I suppose.  I’ll give you a quick idea of what I’m planning for this thing, just a little bit right now.  You’ll get more details when it’s closer to when we’re gonna do this job.  Until then I’ll be giving you some things to do, to get us ready.”

Max Miller, a man of medium height and dark brown hair cut in a crew-cut style, barked out a short laugh.  “You gonna plan it?  The whole thing, ya think?  Who made you my boss?  or his?”  He finished with a gesture toward Jim.

Leo’s face reddened as he replied.  “This is my thing, my plan.  I’ve had much more experience in this stuff than either of you, I’m sure.  If you’ve got something to say, to add to the plan, bring it up but it’ll be my decision.”  The woman gave him a quick, eager look that seemed to indicate she liked his style of leadership.

“I’m alright with it,” Jim said, “I don’t know much about banks anyhow, that’s for sure.”

“Yeah, but how do we know that he does?” Max replied.  “He’s a nobody around here, we all know it.  New to town and trying to make himself into a boss, how do we know he ain’t just telling tales?  We trust him too much and we could all end up in the clink.”

“Listen,” Leo snapped back, “I know what I’m doing!  I already told both of you that I ran with the Pendergast crew in Kansas City and I was boss of my own operation in Bakersfield.  Maybe you’ve heard of Bob Markword? He’s a friend of mine, a bank robber, ok?”  Leo was upset at having to explain himself and getting very worked up.  “And I’ll have you know I’m a civil engineer myself and spent time on construction jobs at banks.  I know them inside and out so you’ve got nothing to worry about.”  He stopped to take a breath and Max cut in on his rant.

“So, you’re a real civil engineer then?”

“I said I was!” Leo replied defensively.

“Where from?” Max asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Where is your degree from?”

“Wh, what, well,” Leo stammered, somehow unprepared for that question.  He paused a moment and his mind quickly came up with Duke University, a place he had read about in his books as having a respected engineering program.  He replied with that information but it was too late.  Both men had started to walk away and the woman was trailing behind them a little, laughing and pointing back at Leo.  She swayed her hips a final time before hastening to catch up with her boyfriend.  Leo was furious at all of them but also at himself for not having been more prepared and vowed never to be caught out like that again.  He got up and walked back to his room.

When he got there he immediately sat down and sketched out a basic history of his life, at least the one he planned to sell to others going forward.  He made sure to weave in the time and places that would allow for him to have received his degree from Duke and still have all his criminal endeavors, both real and imagined, in place.  Once he had finished with that task he decided to write a letter to his sister and tell her that he never received the check and see if she would send another.  He told her up front about the name he was living under as he felt it would be too risky to try to figure out how to get mail under his real name in Selma.  By the next day he had most of his composure back and was out on the streets, working for the gang while still plotting a bank robbery in his head.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 52)

His whereabouts from that day until September 10, 1927 are again unknown, although it would probably be safe to assume that he was traveling by car or train and keeping a very low profile.  Shortly after he disappeared from Pomona the LAPD apparently put together enough information on Leo to make an inquiry back to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.  They asked for any details that might be available although what response they received, if any, in also unknown.

Marianna FL courtesy mariannaonline

Marianna FL courtesy mariannaonline

What we do know is that on September 10th Leo pulled into a motel in Marianna, Florida and registered under the name of Robert O’Hara.  A surprisingly diligent clerk noted on the registration paper that he “appeared a bit nervous or drunk”, and had asked for a room with, “a clear view of the road.”  It is impossible to know if he was actively running from a crime he had recently committed during his flight from Pomona or if Leo had just picked up a healthy dose of paranoia.  He was given the key to Room #7 and proceeded to settle in to his new base of operations.  

Marianna is a town located in the panhandle area of Florida, a place that in its past had been the location of many plantations due to the fertile soil provided by the Chipola River.  When Leo arrived those days were long gone although farming still remained a major part of the area’s economy.  It was a quiet town, certainly much more tame than the places Leo usually chose to stay, and he may have been hoping to remain undetected in such a rural location.   If that was his intention, his actions while in Marianna would not serve him well.

Once he was settled in at the motel Leo, as usual, started to plot out a way to make money.  He was dreaming bigger than usual and took several days to survey the two banks in the town, taking detailed notes of everything that he observed.  He also found out that there was another bank under construction, one which was due to open in a few weeks, and that fact greatly intrigued Leo.   He had a notion that if he could get some experience and knowledge of what a bank looks like while it is under construction, he may be able to use that to plan out his own successful robberies.  The idea of being able to take a large amount of money on a few jobs and then spend months living good and spending big appealed to him.  It would be much better than trying to muddle along picking up small sums on a large number of jobs, constantly exposing himself to the danger of arrest.  If he realized, or thought at all, about the fact that robbing banks would command much more focused attention from law enforcement, is something we will never know.  What he did do though is attempt to get into the construction site.

To try to accomplish this he entered the site one day and struck up a conversation with the foreman.  He told the man, a stocky and well-tanned Italian-American, that he was a civil engineer and had been asked to look over the building for any potential construction violations.  That statement did not sit well with the foreman who told Leo to leave and come back with written permission to walk the site.  Two days later, Leo tried again and this time the police were called although Leo was gone when they arrived.  After that, getting desperate for money, he returned to some of his usual schemes, this time working with a car theft gang.  

1927 Florida license plate

1927 Florida license plate

 

1925 Chevy truck

1925 Chevy truck

This particular criminal operation ran two different crews, one that actually stole vehicles and another, the one that Leo ended up working with, that would steal vehicle tags.  This gang was well-known to local law enforcement and kept under close observation when possible.  It only took three months before Leo was seen lifting a tag from a 1925 Chevy truck and pursued by the police.  He did manage to escape although he left everything he owned behind at the motel and arrived five days later in Selma, Alabama.  

His journey of one hundred and seventy-five miles was exactly equal to how much money he had in his pocket and the fuel he could purchase with it.  Completely broke when he drove into town at six o’clock in the evening of December 10th, 1927, Leo’s vehicle ran out of gas on Selma Avenue and he pushed it to the side before abandoning it.  He was exhausted and hungry by this time, neither condition of which he had the means to correct properly, so he walked to the nearest open space he could find and fell asleep under a grove of sugar maple trees.  He awoke in the middle of the night, bothered by some ants that were crawling on his face and the growling of his stomach.  Unable to get comfortable again, Leo sat up until morning plotting what to do next.  

His immediate need was of course money, which he solved temporarily by pawning his gold watch. That allowed him get a meal at a diner and then to rent a room at a boarding house located right at the edge of Selma on Summerfield Road.  He registered as Lee O’Dare, perhaps forgetting about the warrant issued under that name for him in Kansas City, a fact which would almost cause him some trouble later.  Then he took up his usual routine of plotting schemes and seeking out the criminal element in the area around where he lived.  This time Leo accepted that he would need to start small again, and he took up an invitation to be part of a local gang that committed a wide variety of crimes in and around Selma.  He did feel slighted though, having to start all over again despite what he had accomplished in the past.  To try to make up for this, and establish himself properly, he bragged often about his, “time with Pendergast in Kansas City,” and having run his own gang in Bakersfield.  He also spent his spare time scouting local banks and eventually recruited two other men into his scheme to pull off a double robbery.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 51)

It took another eight days of waiting but, with Lester finally feeling better and having traveled to the Sleepy Hollow resort area to make the call, the police had the opportunity to put their plan into action.

“Barnett.”  The detective, tall and handsome with thick black hair and sharply cut features, answered the desk phone in his usual clipped manner.

“I’m calling about the investigation into Robert Lester,” Leo stated, “I need to know if he has been found.”

Detective Barnett, who was not assigned to the case but was well aware of the plan, waved at his colleague Dan Robbins.  

“Go ahead, what was that again?” he asked, stalling for a little time.

“You know what I asked,” Leo snapped back, “do you have Lester in custody?”

“Robbins here, this is Leo, isn’t it?” the other detective asked, picking up the second extension.

“Yes, of course, now answer me!”

“Ok, I had to see if it was you.  We try not to give this information out to everyone, you know? It’s been awhile since we heard from you Leo.  I had started to wonder if you still cared about this case.”

“Of course I do, the man tried to kill me!” Leo replied angrily.  “Now, tell me what is going on.”

  “Ok, settle down a bit.  We did finally apprehend him two days ago.”

“Two days? Why wasn’t I notified?” Leo responded angrily.

“Well, I’m sure we would have if we knew where you were.  I’ll come talk to you now though.  Where are you?”

Leo had realized his mistake as soon as he spoke.  “Never mind that,” he said, “so you got him then? That’s good.  Now shoot him and throw the body in a shallow grave.”

Robbins chuckled before replying, “You know that’s not how this goes Leo.  We need you to come in though and give us another statement.  It’ll help get this wrapped up quickly just like you want it.”

“I already gave you a statement, use that.  Are you sure you have him?” Leo asked warily.  “He’s in jail, right in Pomona?”

“Yes,” Robbins replied.

“Let me talk to him.  I want to talk to him.”

“Again, that’s not how this works.” 

“You need to take care of him, get him locked up for good.  He tried to murder me.”  Leo’s voice was rising as he spoke.  “Get him locked up for a good long time.”

“Yes, that’s what we are trying to do, “ Robbins replied.  “Now listen, because like I said, you can help us get this wrapped up.  We need you to come down here.  If you won’t come today then you need to be at the courthouse for sure on Monday, next Monday the first, at nine in the morning, ok?  He’ll be there for arraignment and we may need you to provide some testimony so he doesn’t end up back on the street.”

“Well, I mean, I don’t know, what if you’re just foolin’ me?  Is this some kind of a set up?  Why can’t you use the statement I already gave you?”

“Leo, we have him and if you want him in jail so damn bad you need to be there, ok?”

“Prove to me you have him.  Can I see the, damn, forget that.  How do I know you have him?”

“We’ve been working on this case Leo, for you, to get justice for you.  You’ve called before and we never said we had him, did we?  If we were trying to trick you we would have tried that already.  We just arrested him and now you need to come in and help us convict him.  You need to be there, you understand?”

“Well, ok,” Leo responded in a half-hearted way before slowly hanging up the phone.  

August first was just a few days away and Leo thought about what to do during his entire ride back to Pomona.  By that night he had managed to give himself quite a severe headache from the constant worrying and collapsed into bed hoping to put it out of his mind.  That did not happen and he was back up again at two a.m., pacing his room.  Leo was consumed by the conflict between making sure Lester received full punishment and his fear that the entire thing was a set up.  He wished he had better contacts in Pomona, ones he could check to see if there was a record of Lester’s arrest, but he did not and his need to lay low made any real inquires difficult anyway.  He spent the next two days that way and it was ten p.m. on Sunday when he found himself sitting in his easy chair, exhausted and staring up at the ceiling.  The streets were mostly quiet with the faint sound of a dog barking carrying into his room along with the hum of a radio playing in another part of the boarding house.  Leo was almost there, right on the edge of complete exhaustion, finally about to fall asleep, when a devastating fact occurred to him.  He realized that his call from the Kress building had likely been traced somehow, that the police knew he was nearby and had set up a trap for him.  They did not have Lester after all but were sure to get him if he showed up at the courthouse on Monday.

Energized completely now despite his lack of sleep Leo packed up a valise with his cash and the few items he had purchased since arriving in Pomona and waited impatiently for morning.  Once it arrived, he flagged down a passing oil truck and hitched a ride out of town.

San Bernardino Sun article on Humbert and Lester court appearance

San Bernardino Sun article on Humbert and Lester court appearance

Leo ended up being only partially correct.  The police did in fact have Lester, who had been arrested on July 27th in northern California and brought back to Pomona, and they did bring him to the courthouse on Monday, August 1, 1927.  His arrest had been a fortuitous addition to their plan as it initially was just to lie to Leo and see if they could get him to come in if he thought they had arrested the person who tried to kill him.  Lester had other issues that day in addition to the potential attempted murder charges involving Leo, as the Portland police also came down to serve a warrant on him.  There was also the plan to arrest Leo, both by the Pomona and Los Angeles police, who had sent officers to arrest him for the gas station robbery.  Ultimately though, Lester ended up back in jail and facing extradition to Oregon, while Leo escaped into the unknown thanks to his last minute realization.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 50)

Kress Building Pomona California

Kress Building Pomona California

Exactly why Leo thought it would be a good idea to return to Pomona is unknown, but it likely had something to do with his desire to keep track of the investigation into the shooting and Lester.  He realized that he was in danger by returning and vowed to keep a low profile, checking into a boarding house just down the street from the newly erected Kress Building under the name Lee O’Dare.  Knowing that he had enough money to support himself for awhile, he spent most of his time in his room, reading and day dreaming.  When he did venture out he used a variety of disguises and limited how much time he was actually on the street or in other public areas.  He made no friends and brushed off attempts by others to speak with him.  He was very aware of everything around him and would observe the streets outside for long minutes before leaving his room or a store he had reason to visit.  

Leo was actually in more danger than he knew even with his heightened sense of paranoia.  The Los Angeles police detective who had questioned Tom Brinnegan was energetic and resourceful, a veteran of twenty years on the force with a solid reputation for solving cases.  The information he had obtained from Brinnegan made him fairly sure that the Leo O’Malley who had been involved in the robbery was not local to Los Angeles and had likely used a false name.  Also, Leo had slipped up a few times, revealing some small details which would not have meant much except for the fact that Brinnegan proved to be an astute observer and recorder in his own right.  He was able to recount for the detective all of these small facts and that led the officer to start asking around at departments in surrounding communities.  Once he made it to Pomona it did not take long for him and the detectives there to link up the O’Malley and Humbert identities and to conclude that they were likely dealing with the same man.  The two departments agreed to work together in efforts to catch this criminal who had stained both of their communities and also to see what else they could learn about his past history.  All of this had happened in the ten days between the robbery and the day of Leo’s first phone call to the Pomona police department.

He had, of course, thought about it before calling.  He remembered telling the Pomona detective that he was planning to move to Los Angeles but wanted to be kept up to date on the Lester investigation.  He also realized that there was a possibility that his activity in Los Angeles might be linked to his past identity in Pomona, although he thought that was fairly unlikely.  He was confident that he had gone mostly unnoticed while in the bigger city and that Brinnegan knew nothing about him that could identify him.  Mostly though, Leo was driven at this time by his intense desire to see Lester punished for trying to kill him.  That action, that attempted murder, had been a step way beyond anything that Leo was used to or considered to be proper.  He and Lester may have been at odds but they were, after all, fellow members of the criminal world.  There had to be some justice for Leo after such an insult.

Granada Theatre Ontario CA

Granada Theatre Ontario CA

He was careful about it though, hiring a car to drive him to Ontario, California on June 25th and calling back to Pomona from a phone in the lobby of the Granada Theatre.  The conversation was short, with Leo asking for updates and the detective trying to get Leo to say where he was currently residing.  After five minutes Leo hung up in frustration after yelling into the phone, “You better find that murderer and get him locked up!  I’ll be calling you again!” 

That began a game of cat and mouse between Leo and the police department.  While continuing to live at the boarding house in Pomona, he would travel to other cities and call back to the department to insist on updates.   During this time Leo started to have problems sleeping, mostly due to a series of nightmares that replayed the shooting incident, often with the embellishment of his actual death or more prolonged suffering being included.  This lack of sleep eventually led to Leo becoming very ill with a range of symptoms including high fevers, nausea and loss of appetite.  He avoided any interaction with doctor’s as he feared this would lead to his identity being revealed and by July 20th he was weak and delirious along with desperate to get the nightmares out of his head.  Too ill to travel anywhere, Leo could not wait any longer for an update so he walked down to the Kress building, which housed a five-and-dime store, and called the Pomona police from their pay phone.  

1927 Public Pay Phone

1927 Public Pay Phone

That, of course, proved to be a mistake although Leo would not realize it for a couple weeks.  He knew at the time that making the call was not a wise decision but he was so desperate for information that he took the chance, limiting his time on the phone to two minutes.  Although he felt that this was too short of a time for the police to get any useful information on his location, it turned out that the Pomona police were a few steps ahead of him.  Based on some advice from the LA detective, they had alerted all of the city’s operators to take careful note of the origin of all calls requesting the detective section of the Pomona police department.  The operator that day dutifully noted the Kress building as the location where the call came from and the next day the detectives got that information from her.  Realizing that their suspect may well be right back in Pomona, they developed a plan to lure him into the station.  

…to be continued