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 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 56)

The man seemed to pick up on the implied insult and his cheeks flushed a little bit but he regained his composure after a few shallow breaths.  Leo seemed pleased by the effect of his words.  

“Well, yes I suppose you might think that but people can be more than what you may judge them to be initially.  I have connections here, close ones.  My brother-in-law Otto, it’s his place, well his and his brother Louis I suppose, but he died a couple years ago.  Otto’s had a rough time of it, managing the hotel himself and getting older all the time.  He asked me to come up and help to run this place.”  The clerk’s voice was proud as he spoke although his eyes lacked the strength of his words.  

“You?  He asked you to come up here and help him?  At this fine place?”  Leo’s tone was derisive and harsh.   The man’s ears reddened and he rubbed his hands together nervously before replying.

“Yes, well, yes of course he did.  I have experience you know.”  A short silence followed with Leo drumming his fingers on the desk.  The man looked down and continued talking.  “Well, I suppose that maybe my wife talked him into it.  She’s quite close to him, you know, and worries about his health.  I’m quite capable of doing this though, of working here. Quite capable.”

“I guess we’ll find out then,” Leo replied, “set me up in a nice room.” 

Seelbach Hotel Louisville Kentucky

Seelbach Hotel Louisville Kentucky

And so he was checked in and started a short residency at one of the most popular places in the country for gangsters to visit, play cards, relax and of course, scheme.  Leo felt that he needed to make a strong play for attention from these men and spent most of his remaining money on two things: nice clothes and setting himself up as a fence for stolen goods, hoping to pick up some action from the guests at the Seelbach.  He inflated his credentials and added events to his past experience as he always did, although this time he was careful to follow the false timeline and life story he had developed in Selma.  He made sure that those he talked to had the proper story to bring back to the big-time gangsters. He also picked up several female companions within his first few days in Louisville and promptly fell back into his routine of social outings and romantic interludes.  The letters back and forth with the women also continued and he also wrote to Olivia informing her of his new address.  He was not quite sure why he did that except that he was thinking of her occasionally and it gave him a sense of connection, his only one, to his family and roots.  That seemed to be mattering more to him than it had in the past.  In that letter he also inquired if Stanley was still in New Munich and asked again for a new check to be sent to him.  His current operation was proving quite expensive and he needed all of the money he could get so that he could keep it running and gain a reputation that would get him noticed.  He did not tell Olivia that of course, as he knew it would only make her angry.  He simply stated that the money would come in handy.  

April of 1928 went well for Leo and by the early part of May he had attracted the attention for which he had hoping.  A member of Dutch Schultz’s operation approached him one night at the hotel, pulling him into a corner of the hotel’s restaurant.  They spoke for about twenty minutes, with the man being slightly cagey with details, but making it clear that Leo was being looked at and might be given a test job soon, to see if he measured up to expectations.  Leo walked away from that meeting beaming and positive that the future was looking bright.

Ten days later, and before he had received any kind of a test from the Schultz gang, Leo woke up feeling weak and nauseous, symptoms that got worse as the day wore on.  By seven p.m. he felt poorly enough to ask that the hotel find him transportation to the hospital.   They did so promptly and he was admitted around seven forty-five that night.  The next morning a doctor delivered some unwelcome news to Leo, namely that he had diabetes and it was severe enough that he would need to take medication for the rest of his life.  That did not sit well with Leo, who disputed the idea that he was diabetic and asked to have the tests run again.  When those results came back, confirming the diagnosis, he lashed out, calling the doctor an incompetent fool as the man walked out of the room.  

The real problem of course was that Leo found the idea that he had any medical issues at all to be a blow to his criminal credibility and future plans.  He felt it was a weakness that others would use against him and that would prevent them from looking at him as the big-time boss and gangster that he wished to be.  Also, being sick and weak, especially if that came up during the commission of a crime, was not something that was going to be acceptable.  It was undignified and unbecoming, or that at least is how he described it in a note written to Olivia two day later.  That letter was never sent as Leo really had no wish for anyone to ever know about his diabetes and he vowed to maintain that secret at all costs.  He did accept the medicine from the hospital, or at least he did after initially refusing it and then finding himself back at the emergency room four days later.  It was a fact of life he would deal with while keeping it a secret from everyone.  From that day forward he gave himself shots behind closed doors, spoke little of it (although it would come up and be known during some future incarcerations) and moved on with his plan to be a big time gangster.  Soon after his trips to the hospital Leo was back to running the fencing operation, had passed the test from the Schultz gang and was formulating another scheme that he hoped would bring him a good amount of quick, easy money.  It would be that scheme though which would lead him back into the prison system. 

…to be continued