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

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 73)

“Well, I was just hoping to come out and see ya, you know.  For old times sake.”

“You know where to find me,” Stanley replied and then abruptly hung up the phone.

Leo shook his head and wondered just what was up with his former partner.  Maybe he was even crazier than he had been the last time they had spent any time together.  It had after all, kind of seemed that way from his discussion with Jimmy.  Either way, he had a job he needed to get done and Stanley was the guy who was going to do it.  The next day Leo hopped on a train and headed to California.  

He arrived in Bakersfield six days later, having stopped off for several days in Reno, Nevada to visit another of his female pen pals.  During this time with her Leo managed to secure a loan of two hundred dollars, for which the woman would never receive repayment.  She had no such thoughts at the time though, dropping him off at the train station and waiting to wave a tearful good-bye as it pulled away.  She returned to her home while Leo traveled on to Bakersfield, stepping off the train and into a rather cool morning on December 21st.  The clouds in the sky were thin and scattered with an intermittent breeze blowing from the west.  The place looked different than when Leo worked his scheme in 1926 as the continuing oil boom drove a rapidly expanding urban area.  Stanley’s shop though had changed little and Leo walked right up to it and opened the door, eager to speak with his former partner. 

Hermelink clock courtesy Smithsonian art museum

Hermelink clock courtesy Smithsonian art museum

Instead, he was brought to a dead stop just a few feet inside the door.  The shop, which formerly had been mostly devoid of decor or adornment, now had hundreds of gilded clocks sitting on a haphazard collection of shelves, stands and chairs.  There were even timepieces piled up on what had previously been the work bench at the front of the shed.  These clocks were of all sizes from small pocket watches right up to an impressive grandfather clock standing next to the small hallway that led to the rear portion of the building.  It was a lot of shiny objects to take in all at once and Leo realized that Stanley had likely done the gilding work on a good percentage of the items on display.  That made it easy to understand why he might be going crazy.  He was still taking it all in when a very long-haired, heavy set man in disheveled clothing shuffled out of the back area of the shed.  It took another few moments for Leo to realize it was Stanley even though he had been prepared for a changed appearance after his discussion with Jimmy back in prison. 

“Stan, whoa, you, well you don’t look so good old friend.”  

“Who…oh yes, it’s you huh, Leo?” 

“Yes, like I said, came to see you, it has been quite awhile.” As he spoke Leo took in just how dirty Stanley’s hair was, how downcast his face seemed and the sadness in those eyes that now peeked out at the world between tangled pieces of hair.  “What the hell happened to you?”

Stanley laughed loudly before replying.  “Oh Leo, my friend, you are such a joker, a funny guy.  It’s so good to see you!”  His eyes had  lit up suddenly and he stepped quickly toward Leo and embraced him, a gesture that was reluctantly returned.  Once they separated Leo spent several moments straightening out his suit and tie, smoothing out his pants and brushing off the general filthy feeling that had transferred with Stanley’s embrace.  

“Well, yes Stan, it’s good to see you too.  You really have changed.”

“Oh, I’m just busy, very busy with all of this work.  No time for vanity anymore, just important work to be done.  Do you see all my pretty clocks?”

“Yes, I see them.  Aren’t you selling any of these?  How did you get so many?”

Stanley’s face, which had brightened considerably several moments ago, now darkened.  “No one comes anymore, well I mean, hardly anyone.  I just find clocks and fix them, make them pretty.  But no one comes.” 

Leo was pretty sure he knew why that was happening but it really did not concern him at the moment.  He ran his hand through his hair and then asked Stanley if they could step into the back area of the shop so they could talk privately.  Once back there he started asking Stanley about his more recently discovered talents in relation to bomb-making.  It immediately changed his former partner’s demeanor, as he now became excited and focused, giving enough details to Leo implicate himself in several well-known crimes.  It did not appear that Stanley had much attachment to reality or the idea of consequences.  Leo then launched into his story about Otto Knaack and the Marlborough Hotel although Stanley did not appear to be listening until he mentioned that he wanted to get revenge by using a bomb.  Focused again, he asked Leo for information on the building and then told him he was sure he could bring the whole place down.

“No, that’s not what I want,” Leo replied.  “You need to pay attention to me, especially this part, ok?  I don’t want no kids hurt or any of the other people staying or living there.  Just get that janitor and do some damage to the building. That’s it, that’s all.  You understand me right, no collateral damage?”

Stanley shook his head vigorously.  “It ain’t no fun without collateral damage” he shouted in reply.

“Will you quiet the hell down?  We don’t need anyone hearing us right now.  Now you listen to me good.  You remember back in the day when I first came to this town?  Do you?”

Stanley nodded.

“Well, you weren’t nothing back then, just a dew-dropper hanging out with your Pa.  I made you money, made you someone important, remember?  It was my plan, my scheme that set us up and got you all those pretty hot tomatoes you used to chase around.  You owe me for that Stanley and I’m calling it in right now!”  Leo was red-faced when he finished and had been holding on to Stan’s shoulder and looking him right in the eye as he spoke.  “Now, you promise me you’ll do it and keep it clean like I said.”

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 72)

“You’re new.” Leo commented when the man stopped just a few feet away from the table where they were playing cards.

“I am, just yest’day in fact, over from Ramsey jail.  On a robbery charge.”

“You must’a been found guilty then,” one of the other card players commented back.

“Yes, yes indeed.  It was just a little thing really, easy job, shoulda been a clean getaway.”

All three of them men playing cards chuckled.  

“Ain’t they all,” Leo commented before motioning to the man to sit next to him.  

After another hand of the card game was played Leo took up the conversation again.

“Leo,” he said, pointing at himself, “and that bald-headed fella is Larry and then Mike.” 

“James Fillmore, but call me Jimmy.”

“Where you come from originally?” Mike asked.

“Ohio born but mostly Illinois.  Spent my young’r days in Chicago,” Jimmy replied.  

“How’d you get pinched on your last job?” Leo asked.

“Hell, it was that damn explosion that did us in.  Christ, what a mess that was, almost blew up the whole damn place.”

Browning King and Company Building courtesy cassgilbertsociety.org

Browning King and Company Building courtesy cassgilbertsociety.org

Jimmy went on to relay a story of the safe-cracking crew he had been working with and their attempt to break into the vault that was within the Browning, King and Company store in Saint Paul.  He had done two previous jobs with the same crew except that this time they brought along a new member, a fellow that they called the Clockmaker.  After a question from Larry about what they needed a clock repair man for on a robbery job, Jimmy informed them that this man actually was an explosive expert who apparently fixed clocks as a hobby.  

“At least they all thought he was an expert.” Jimmy said.  “That lasted right up until he set that charge off, supp’sed to just be enough to open that big ol’ safe.  Instead, blew up everything in sight and almost killed every damn one of us.  We ran like hell out of that place but people were alr’dy in the street and the police not far behind.”

“Funny, I knew a clockmaker once,” Leo commented, “he was an odd fellow, getting a little crazy I think when I last knew of him.” 

“This fella seemed a bit off for sure, mumbled to himself a lot.  Never found out too much about him ‘cept that he was from California.  Well, that and the thing about the clocks.”

Leo cocked his head to the side when he heard that piece of information.  “California?  Not Bakersfield I hope?”

“Yeah, I think it was there. Somethin’ like that anyway, I don’t know much about places in California.”

Leo then asked for a description of this man, which turned out to not sound exactly like the man he had been a partner with a decade prior.  He asked some more questions and over the course of about five more minutes it became apparent to him that this Clockmaker was in fact, through some kind of ridiculous coincidence, Stanley Bittenhopper.

They continued on playing cards after that but Leo was not focusing on the game.  Once the yard time was done and he was back in cell, he laid back and considered this new piece of information.  Then he applied it to his current obsession and soon came to what he knew was going to be the final plan, the one he would use to get some satisfaction.  He would use his old friend Stanley’s newly acquired bomb making skills to get his revenge on Otto and the Marlborough.  All he needed now was for his parole to be granted and then he would put his plan into action. 

Good news in that regard arrived on November 26th and on December 2nd of 1937 Leo walked out of Stillwater Prison on parole.  The revenge plan was definitely a priority but he stopped first to visit Jenny Tillman, a tall blonde woman to whom he had been writing while incarcerated. They spent three days together at a small cabin she had arranged at Leo’s insistence prior to his release.  Borrowing some money from her, he then traveled to Minneapolis where he spent a day spying around the Marlborough to verify that Otto was still employed by the hotel. 

Cherokee Heights Grocery

Cherokee Heights Grocery

After that, funded now by a quick hold-up job he pulled in Saint Anthony, he took a room above the Cherokee Heights Grocery in West Saint Paul and started trying to reach Stanley by phone.  It took four days of calling around before his old partner finally answered.

“Hello.”

“Hey Stanley, guess who?” Leo said, his tone friendly but condescending.

“Who is this?”  The man answered quietly.

“Don’t you remember my voice, old pal?” 

“I don’t know who you are.  I’m hangin’ up.”  

“Whoa! Hold up now, it’s Leo, it’s me Stan.  Remember?”

A silence followed, about ten seconds of nothing, then Stanley replied.

“Leo huh? Yeah, I remember.  What you been up to?”

Leo started to answer but Stanley cut him off.

“Good lord man, it’s been ages, ya know?  It was such a damn long time ago, what a time we had back then!  Those were the best times.”   His voice was exuberant and filled with happiness. 

Leo was taken aback by the sudden change in Leo’s tone and manner.

“Yeah, we had fun, made some money,” he replied.

Stanley ranted on for about three more minutes before falling into a sudden silence again.

“You there Stan?” Leo asked.  “Stan? Hello?”

It took another minute but finally a reply was heard.  “I’m here.  What do you want, anyway?”  The voice was soft again, with a timid, hesitant tone.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 71)

Stillwater State Prison

Stillwater State Prison

As Leo settled into his life at Stillwater Prison he turned to his usual practice of playing up his criminal credentials, all of his exaggerations now augmented with some of the recent real-life escapades with which he had been involved.  He was a bit of a minor celebrity due to the double robbery of the bank in Meier Grove and he took every opportunity he could get to tell the story of his act of revenge.  Occasionally the details of his tale would be contradicted by Williams, who seemed more content with the actual version, but Leo’s personality was much louder than that of his partner.  As such, he managed to become known as a player of some importance within the society of prisoners while Williams faded into relative obscurity.  In his free time Leo continued to read civil engineering books, play cards and write letters to various women, some of whom he had known on the outside and some who were lonely heart types that wrote to prisoners at the prison.  

He did have several issues with his diabetes during his incarceration, although he usually self-reported when he was feeling ill and refused to be seen for any kind of regular treatment.  For this reason, although the individual incidents were recorded by the medical staff, no formal entry was made in his prison record to indicate he was a diabetic.  Leo was generally well behaved and there are no indications that he was ever disciplined for violating major prison rules or causing any issues.  In fact, the major entry in his file involves him protecting another inmate during an exercise yard fight.  During that incident Leo shielded the man, who already had a broken arm suffered during a previous assault, from a group of four prisoners who were intent on either killing the man or causing some further severe injuries.  It is noted in the file that Leo’s action, “likely saved Foster from death.” 

One issue that Leo spent a lot of time thinking about, especially in the early morning hours and before going to sleep at night, was Otto Knaack and the Marlborough Hotel.  He had certainly stewed, ranted and raved about it before but during his time in prison in the 1930’s this became a full blown obsession. Leo became even more steadfast in his belief that Otto’s actions and the hotel’s cooperation with the authorities had robbed him of his prime years as a criminal, interfering in the growth and improvement of his skills and reputation.  He believed that without their interference he would have gotten away with the initial robbery in Meier Grove and gone on to further success, happiness and most importantly, noteriety.  Leo wrote many letters, full of threats and promises of revenge, only to tear them up once he had completed them.  He did want to do something to make the hotel and the janitor pay though, and this time he wanted to make sure that it worked out the way he intended.  

L Humbert

L Humbert

As the years went on, Leo’s features changed of course and he went from looking like a rather severe-minded accountant to the appearance of a middle-aged salesman.  His hairline receded a little bit more, although it still stayed a dark chestnut color and his eyes remained alert and intense.  Some of his fellow inmates would say that when he had his glasses on he looked like FDR from the side, but Leo always scoffed at that. He would tell them that his nose was much too sharp and he was not, after all, a Democrat anyway.  

Time moved on and as October of 1937 approached Leo was informed that he was going to be up before the parole board the next time that it was in session.  This caught him by surprise, as he did not believe he was eligible until 1939 but was told that the warden had actually recommended him for early consideration.  Apparently this was due to his good behavior, as no one including Leo could come up with any other reason why the warden would have taken this action.  He had done nothing to especially ingratiate himself with the man during his time at Stillwater.  

Leo prepared himself well though and when he went before the board he made a very positive impression.   He talked about “going straight”, finding a job in the civil engineering field that he had educated himself in, and played up his protection of Jack Foster during the prison yard fight.  The board president asked him a few questions about how he planned to stay away from crime and seemed satisfied with the answers.  After he was dismissed from the hearing Leo went back to his cell feeling like things had gone well.  He received confirmation of that over the next several days and became convinced that he would be paroled when the board announced their decision in late November.  That belief got him more focused than ever on plotting out specific ways to enact revenge on Otto and the Marlborough.

Leo went through a long list of possibilities in regard to accomplishing this goal, a few of which he planned out in much greater detail than others.  He wanted to stay clear of a murder charge but stilll included a plan to run down Otto with a delivery truck and another one which involved poisoning the janitor and starting a fire in the hotel’s main administration office.  In all his plans though he was very focused on Otto and the hotel itself and abandoned ideas that would involve too much risk of hurting other guests and residents of the building.  On the afternoon of November 15th Leo was playing cards with two other inmates during their time in the exercise yard when a third man approached the group.  He was a tall, thin black man with closely cropped hair, walking with a slight limp and whistling softly.  Leo did not recognize him and one of the men he was playing with commented that this inmate had just arrived yesterday.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 70)

Both of the captured criminals were taken back to the Stearns County Jail, the irony not being lost on either of them or the officers involved in their transport.  As the in-processing of Leo was being finished a short, balding man with grey hair came through the door accompanied by the jail supervisor.  After a short comment from his companion, the short man walked right up to Leo and introduced himself as Earl Foley, a state inspector.  

“What’ya think I care about that for?” Leo snapped back, not shaking the man’s proffered hand.

“Well, I hear you’re the man who made it out of this place.  Must think you’re pretty clever.”

“I’m clever enough to have beaten these dumb Dora’s, aren’t I?”  Leo wiped the ink from the fingerprint process off his fingers and glared back at the man.

“Bet ya that you can’t make it outta this place a second time.” 

Leo sneered at the man before replying.  “Tell ya what, you give me thirty minutes alone in that corridor and I’ll take that bet.”  

The man, nonplussed by the bravado, walked away, leaving Leo to snicker at him as he was grabbed by a deputy and escorted to a regular cell.  

So concluded what had been a very full day for him and he settled back into the hard cot with resignation and weariness.  Nine days later, on October 25th, he was in court for a preliminary hearing during which immediate charges were not pressed for the second robbery.  Instead he was bound over for sentencing in regard to the first Meier Grove bank job to which he had confessed.  

His partner Joe Hendricks also was not immediately charged for the second Meier Grove robbery.  Instead, he pled guilty to the St Michael’s robbery, the one he was being held for in Stearns County when he escaped with Leo, and was sentenced to life in Stillwater State Prison.  He was joined there on December 26th of 1929 by Leo, who entered as prisoner number 10038.   The prison would be his home for quite some time but it would not hold him forever.  

brainerd daily dispatch 16 oct 1929 part 1

brainerd daily dispatch 16 oct 1929 part 2

brainerd daily dispatch 16 oct 1929 part 3

modesto news herald 16 oct 1929

brainerd daily dispatch 17 oct 1929 part 1

brainerd daily dispatch 17 oct 1929 part 2

brainerd daily dispatch 17 oct 1929 part 3

brainers daily dispatch 19 nov 1929

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 69)

In the vehicle Williams was complaining loudly to Leo.

“Damn it! You’re throwin’ me all over the place in here.”  Just as he spoke Leo pulled out of the sliding turn he was in, jamming his partner back against the passenger door.  

“No time, no time for keeping you cozy,” he snapped back.  “Besides,”

That was a far as he managed to get in that sentence before catching a flash in his peripheral vision.  It was the windshield of Deputy McIntee’s squad car, which was bearing down on them from the west.  Yelling a quick curse word, Leo slammed on the brakes and yanked the steering wheel harshly to the right, causing the vehicle to careen in a small semi-circle and almost roll completely over.  His quick action did cause the police vehicle to miss them and they heard the squeal of its brakes as the deputy tried to avoid crashing into an oak tree.  Taking advantage of the moment, Leo jammed his car back into second gear and stomped on the accelerator, tearing off back onto the road and speeding away toward Paynesville.  A minute later they passed by a group of women who were apparently out for a walk, and also heard the roar of the police vehicle approaching again.

1929 Colt revolver

1929 Colt revolver

“Damn, damn, damn!” Williams shouted.  “I’ll kill that copper!”

Taking his gun out of the pocket in which he had stashed it, he rolled down the window, flung his arm to the rear and started shooting.  Leo reached over and grabbed his partner’s shoulder, trying to pull him in enough to get the firing to stop.

“Knock it off!  Idiot!  You’re going to hit one of those people on the road.”

Williams fought back, slugging Leo in the side and pushing him away.  “Shut up old Grundy, you gotta toughen the hell up.  You think you wanna go away for this?  You know what it means, gettin’ pinched for bank robbery?  Life is what it means.  You drive.  I’ll take care of the coppers.”

With that, Williams went back to firing out the passenger window and Leo, who had enough to worry about as he tried to control the vehicle at speeds that exceeded seventy miles an hour, did not try to stop him again. 

Deputy McIntee was doing his best to stay close to the fugitive’s car, sustaining several hits to this police cruiser from the shots being fired.  He had radioed in his location and knew that help was on its way but he wanted to be there to arrest these two criminals.  The firing stopped for a minute and he figured they were either out of ammunition or reloading.  

Back in the getaway vehicle it turned out to the latter, and as Williams fumbled getting the shells into his pistol, Leo spoke up again, his voice a little high-pitched from excitement and stress.

“We gotta ditch this thing and get into the brush somewhere.  They’ll be setting up a roadblock for sure, can’t hardly believe we haven’t run into it already.  Get loaded up and then I’m pulling over.  You plug that deputy and then we run.”

“Shuck that all to hell friend, we keep going in this car.  On foot we’re as good as dead or cuffed.”

“No way, we’re gonna hit that roadblock anytime.  We ain’t got enough ammo to shoot it out with the whole police force.”

“Probably the FBI too by now,” Williams replied with a glint in his eye, “keep driving.”

“It’s my damn show,” Leo snapped back but did not get a chance to finish as the front right wheel, which had drifted off the road, ran into a tree stump.  The impact only caused the vehicle to jump and rattle around, but once it has settled back down it was obvious that a tire had been blown off its rim.   

Forest

Forest

“Looks like you’re getting your wish,” Williams stated as he snapped the chamber closed on his gun and stepped out of the car.  “We gotta get to running.”  He turned toward the patrol vehicle which had stopped about thirty feet away and fired once, then took off at a sprint into the nearby woods.  Leo, pulling his own gun but not firing, followed closely behind.  Before the deputy had the chance to pull his weapon and return fire they had disappeared into the thick greenery of the oak, elm and fir trees about ten feet beyond where their vehicle had come to a halt.  

McIntee could hear the men thrashing their way through the underbrush and, although he knew he was supposed to wait for back up, decided to go after them.  Radioing in that he was a going in pursuit, and not waiting to hear the reply, he checked his weapon and headed into the trees.  He was about twenty feet in, moving quickly but trying to stay under cover for protection, when he heard the other vehicles of the posse pulling up nearby.   He could hear the sheriff cursing him out for not waiting and then instructing the men to follow him into the woods.  McIntee kept on pressing ahead, determined to make the arrest.

It was a cat and mouse game for awhile, with the two fugitives occasionally in sight but quickly disappearing.  The deputy almost had a shot once, just as Williams crested a small rise and had to step over a large tree that had fallen fairly recently.  The branches of that tree made the criminal slow down and his entire upper body was silhouetted against the light slipping in from the holes in the canopy.  McIntee was just about to pull the trigger when Williams disappeared from sight.  It was five minutes after that when the deputy almost met his own end as he was standing behind a large oak tree.  He believed that he was in cover and did not realize that the suspects had partially doubled back in his direction.  Leo had slipped into a small grove of strawberry bushes and had a clear line of sight on McIntee, raising his gun slowly while breathing heavily.  He held it there, arm shaking slightly from the exertion of the past forty minutes, watching the law man peek around the tree in a direction he and Williams no longer were headed.  Then, with a deep sigh, he lowered the gun and moved on.  The resources of the posse, which was large at twenty-five men but not near the one hundred that was later reported, eventually won out.  Leo and Williams ended up surrounded just on the other side of a small creek that cut its way through this particular forest.   Although there were a few tense moments before they gave up, eventually both of the fugitives emerged from cover with their hands held high in the air.  McIntee did get to put the handcuffs on Williams, with Sheriff Henderson taking care of Leo.  

“We got ya, boy, we got ya and now you’re going away for good,” Henderson stated as he clicked on the cuffs.

Leo shrugged and replied, “Well, it’s all just part of life, I guess.” 

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 68)

Ed Ortman probably did not even hear the two of them enter the bank.  He at least appeared genuinely startled as he turned to enter the cashier’s cage and caught sight of Leo, whom he recognized immediately.

“Damn it, you again!  What for, the last time wasn’t enough?”

“Oh no, this is personal, just for you.  I’ll teach you to swear falsely against me,”  Leo replied while waving a gun very close to the teller’s face.  

“Wasn’t nothing false in what I swore against you.  Look at yourself, you just being here proves that, don’t it?”

“You shut your mouth and get to giving me that money!”  Leo shouted back, his cheeks flushed with anger.  As he did so Williams, who had faded back a few steps, told him to keep his voice down.  As Leo turned to answer his partner Ortman made a break for the office area at the rear of the bank.  Both of them took off after the man and it was Leo was managed to grab him by his coat collar just as he was trying to slam the office door shut.  He pulled the man close and pointed the gun directly at his face.

“Why would you run like that?  You trying to get shot or something?” 

Ortman, who seemed to be keeping his composure better than Leo, gave a small smile before replying.  “Well, you didn’t shoot me last time now,  did you?”

“You didn’t give me no reason to.  Don’t take things like that as promises about the future.  Now, I got a score to settle with you about that affidavit,”

“Hey, look out now!” Williams interrupted from his position a few feet away which he has taken up so he could observe the front door.  “We got company.”

Leo, still holding the teller firmly by his collar, dragged the man along as he took a few steps toward his partner.  As he did so, the two men whom Williams had observed walking up to the bank stepped through the door.  They were both in their early to middle fifties, dressed in work clothes, with the taller of the two men smoking a cigarette.  Before they were even two steps into the building Williams raised his gun and pointed it at them.

“You two, get your hands up!” 

Both men stopped but did not comply, looks of confusion quickly changing to fear as they realized what was going on within the bank.  

“Hands up boys, right now!  And start walking toward my partner over there.”

This time they both complied, slowly stepping toward and past Leo, who waved them on toward the back with his gun.  Ed Ortman tried to reassure the men, who both were regular customers and one a personal friend.  

“Take it easy Bill, you too Frank.  These guys aren’t planning on hurting no one.”

“Except you,” Leo rejoined, “I got some business with you after we get the cash.”

Ortman’s face betrayed his apprehension at that remark but he smiled at his two customers anyway in an effort to keep them calm.  Leo made the two men lay face down on the floor, then pushed the teller toward the cashier’s cage.  

Bank Cashier Cage

Bank Cashier Cage

“Get me my money!”

Ed did as he was told, stepping into the cage and then handing back a bag.  Leo glanced inside it and his cheeks flushed again.

“You better not be trying my patience!  Give me the rest!”

“Christ man, we got more company!”  Williams was also now talking rather loudly.  “Lots more!  We gotta scram right now.”

Leo could see that his partner was correct as six or seven men, all in typical farmer’s attire, were approaching the door of the bank.  It was far too many men for the two of them to handle.  He turned to Ed Ortman.

“I guess I’ll have to come back another time to finish up with you.” 

He then took off running toward the front door, cash bag in hand, and Williams followed closely behind.  They pushed their way past the farmers, sprinted to the car and jumped in with Leo gunning the engine before Williams had even closed his door.  As the witnesses would later recount for the FBI, the vehicle first headed east and then it made a careening turn to the south before disappearing from their view.  

The word went out quickly in the community and the sheriff’s department was alerted within five minutes of the bandits getaway. The radio call, which detailed the vehicles general direction of travel, reached the squad car of Deputy Arthur McIntee.  He was on patrol in the area just north of Paynesville, a small town twenty miles to the south of Meier Grove.  Arthur was fairly new to the force, having joined just nine months before, and was a stocky, blond-haired young man with a hastily receding hair line.  The call excited him as he had joined the department with the intention of making a name for himself and hopefully becoming sheriff one day.  Capturing two fleeing bank robbers would be a great start to accomplishing that goal.  Having grown up just ten miles west of Paynesville he knew the area well, and pulled his vehicle into a hidden driveway north of the small community.  Sitting at that vantage point he would be able to see any vehicles coming from the north and hopefully be able to intercept the fleeing bandits. 

Back in Meier Grove Sheriff Paul Henderson had quickly formed a posse to pursue the men and they headed out of town in six private vehicles and two police cars about thirty minutes after the robbery.  Just as they did so Leo and Williams, who had stopped at an unknown location for fifteen minutes when their vehicle started to overheat, slid around a turn in the road that exposed them to Deputy McIntee.   As they came into view, driving at a very high speed and in a vehicle matching the radio broadcast description, the young law enforcement officer put his patrol car into gear and prepared to speed out and intercept the getaway vehicle.  

…to be continued