A Burning Cold Morning (Part 81)

The time period from his loss of the King Company job and the start of 1966 were filled with longer and longer absences from home, an increase in diabetic symptoms and attacks, more crime and a return to his womanizing ways.  He did maintain his cover while back in St. Anthony with Amanda and Sharon, getting right back into the groove of home life for the limited amount of time he spent with them.  He read his newspapers, went to church, worked at his role as a father and purchased gifts for Amanda.  He did still frequent the Gay 90’s club where he was a popular regular and as one former manager put it, “he loved that place and we loved him.”  When he was not with his family in Minnesota he had his other side on full display as he frequented clubs in many cities, had a large cache of girlfriends and spent his days plotting crimes.  When he did pull off a job, he was increasingly direct and stern when committing those acts, not suffering fools or any attempts by victims to deviate from his instructions.  He did not kill anyone but several people suffered pistol-whipping or gut punches after he judged them to be non-complaint.   

In late December of 1965 Leo was hospitalized in Montana after a severe diabetic incident and did not get released until ten days later.  When he was finally out he walked away from the hospital feeling uncertain of his future.  Beneath his tough demeanor even Leo knew that this last incident was a dire sign and that he may not have much longer to live.  Although he never had followed medical advice very well he had thought he was getting along well enough with his combination of partial compliance with doctor’s instructions, home-made remedies and general tough-guy refusal to be sick.  He was not so sure anymore about his immortality and quickly spun into a depression.  Eventually he made his way back to St. Anthony and although he never told Amanda the details of his hospital stay, she could tell that he had been sick and was not doing very well.  It was in January of 1966, while home with his family, that Leo met Tracy King one night at the Gay 90’s.  He was still feeling low and a bit depressed and they quickly started dating.  

The relationship accelerated quickly, much past the point Leo usually stoped at with his girlfriends and in May of 1966 he agreed to take her with him on his next trip.  He had already staked out a possible bank robbery in New Mexico which is where they headed.  The job was successful and that night Leo, flush with cash and with crime fueling his good spirits, got caught up in the mood and agreed to marry Tracy.  He thought better of that by the next morning and realized he was in a bit of a situation. He had to admit to himself that he did have deeper feelings for her than was usual and also that he enjoyed her company quite a bit.  She was young and full of energy, thought him to be quite the dashing gentleman and fit in well when they went out to clubs and dinner.  Deciding that he wanted to make her happy, Leo paid a man in Albuquerque to pretend he was a minister, after which he took Tracy to a park where that man performed the ceremony. 

Immediately after that they traveled to Denver, Colorado as Tracy stated she wanted to move there because she had family in the nearby area.  Leo set her up in an apartment and gave her some additional money for living expenses.  Telling her that he would be on the road quite often but would ensure that she was well-taken care of, he then departed and was back in St. Anthony by early June.  As he whiled away some time in his domestic role Leo came to realize that he had complicated his life quite a bit and that his expenses were going to go up considerably.  Having to maintain two residences, juggle his relationships and make time for everyone, along with plotting and committing enough crime to pay for it all, was going to be a challenge.  Leo felt certain that he was going to be able to make it work.  He did well for almost a year and although he was not getting rich from crime he did manage to make enough to keep both his Minnesota and Colorado lives rolling along smoothly.  

1967 Buick Skylark

1967 Buick Skylark

On May 1, 1967 Leo was in Carson City, Nevada and involved in a car theft scheme that he had set up.  In an unusual move for him there were some other players involved in this caper, mostly because it had expanded rapidly and Leo needed experienced car thieves to keep up with the demands of the chop shop he was working with at the time.  One of these men, Charlie Kittle, who had just joined up with the car-theft crew had also known Leo in the 1920’s back in Bakersfield.  A comment by Charlie one cold afternoon stunned Leo and brought some old feelings and memories back up to the surface.  The two of them were hanging out at the chop shop after Charlie had turned over a Buick Skylark he had taken from a grocery store parking lot.  

“What brought ya out here to Carson City anyway?” Leo asked.

“Hell, I was running from a botched job in Atlanta.  Big mess really, on a safe cracking gig.  Damn explosives malfunctioned and almost took the building down.  Two guys killed right there.  I ran for it but the noise had drawn a crowd out in the street.  Musta’ been twenty folks that saw me clear as day.  This is about a far away as I could get.”

“Sounds like one hell of a mess indeed,” Leo replied as he lit a cigarette.

“No kidding.  Your old buddy was to blame for it, too.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah, you know, that wacko clock-maker you hung out with in Bakersfield back in the day.  It was his job. He’s the one that lit up that building.”

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 80)

As that year moved into spring Leo felt that he definitely needed to get some additional money stashed away to ensure that he could properly provide for his growing family.  This marked a period of time in which very slowly but steadily his time and attention were more focused on the planning and commission of crimes.  Although he still stuck mostly with bank robberies there were some occasions when he returned to stealing cars or grifting.  He ran a few fake jewelry schemes in Nevada and New Mexico, including one in which he narrowly escaped capture in Reno.  He had been running that operation under an alias of course but the close call did scare him enough that he mostly stuck with banks and cars after he managed his getaway from the police.  Leo, when home, played the part of father in a forced but kind way, trying to interact with Sharon especially when she was playing outside in the yard or at the park.  That seemed to be much more comfortable for him than other parental tasks such as teaching life skills, reading stories or enforcing discipline.  He and Amanda continued with a strained, lukewarm relationship and Leo spent most of his free time pouring over out-of-town newspapers.  He often would leaf through eight or more of these every day, seemingly skimming the pages in a manner that made no sense to his wife.  She questioned him about it a couple of times but his non-responsive answers made it clear he was not interested in discussing it with her.  As it seemed harmless enough she just figured he was restless to be back on the road or was looking for information to help him with sales opportunities while he traveled.  

As the end of 1962 approached, Leo’s performance for King Manufacturing had hit a low point.  Internal documents reveal that the executives in the company had been aware of the decline going back to at least 1957.  It seems as though they had held several meetings to discuss Leo’s roles with the company and the possibility of firing him had come up first in 1959.  That time he was saved mostly by his prior reputation, although he was confronted with the issue and made aware for the first time about the company’s concerns.  He turned things around starting after that meeting and lasting through the fall of 1960 when things began again to decline.  There were some highs and lows in his performance after that, seemingly always just enough to head off another confrontation.  However, by November of 1962 the company general manager had seen enough and called Leo back to Flint for a meeting.  He arrived over an hour late blaming an issue with his vehicle.  As always, Leo was sharply dressed and still exuded confidence and charisma. 

His issues were of course caused by the criminal activities which were taking up more and more of his time.  Bank robbery had become an extremely risky thing to do as law enforcement tactics had evolved as had bank technology and security.  Leo found himself having to do more extensive planning and surveillance than ever before to ensure success, all of which took him away from his real job of selling for King Company.   The general manager started the meeting with an abrupt statement.

“Right now Leo, you are basically here to convince me not to fire you.”

Leo blinked back in reply, took a deep breath and replied, “You know, after all this time, that’s a bit of an unfair way to jump on me.”

“Yes, well that may seem so, but the issues with your productivity really have to be faced by you and quite frankly, by us.  You have been with us a long time, eighteen years in fact, and there were some great times in there.  Your record as a sales manager back then and for many years, really top-notch stuff Leo.  That’s not now though, and your previous success has well, basically it is why you still have a job right now.  But you’ve burned up all of that goodwill and consideration.  These last years have been several variations of poor or awful and we need to move on.  Look at this report on your productivity.”  He slid a few sheets of paper across the large wooden desk toward Leo. “Your run is done, maybe you can find another start at something else, get your fire going again like back in the day with us.”

The GM steepled his fingers together as he finished speaking, peering at Leo over the top of his reading glasses.  Leo looked down at the top page of the reports, saying nothing and not picking them up.  Several tense seconds clicked by on the wall clock behind the desk, the GM continuing to stare at him.  Finally, Leo looked up and delivered a very impassioned response, citing a long litany of good deeds done for the company mixed in among details about the increasingly difficult sales scene in the United States.  He went on for over ten minutes and finally the GM gave in and stated, “exactly one more chance Humbert, just this last one.  Go out and save your career and you better start at it right now.”

Nothing came of that chance as Leo was much too involved in casing a bank in Billings, Montana to spend much time selling. On March 3, 1963 the GM called him at his hotel and stated he needed to see Leo again back in Flint.  When Leo told him that he was working a “hot sale” and could not return immediately, the GM replied that Leo needed to be sitting in his office on March 6th or he would be terminated.  That day passed without Leo showing up and so ended his career at King Manufacturing. 

He did not inform his family about losing that job and continued to act as if he was still a traveling sales manager.  It was now necessary for all of his income to be made from crime as he had no intention of trying to arrange another legitimate career.  This actually made him happier as he had grown increasingly frustrated with the normal business and work world.  The seven year period where he had been devolving slowly back into his old lifestyle had made him realize that it was the only situation with which he was actually content.  It was high stress, dangerous and exciting, all things which he felt suited him perfectly.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 79)

He spent the next three months mostly on the road, returning occasionally to both Amanda in St. Anthony and also his room at the Durant where he maintained an address to look good for the company.  However, by the time that November of 1944 rolled around, Leo had realized that King Company hardly cared where he lived as long as he continued his high level of success and was present at the mandated quarterly meetings.  Realizing that the hotel room was just costing him money and that Amanda was getting increasingly upset about the amount of time he was away, Leo abandoned the room at the Durant and was thus able to spend a little more more time in St. Anthony.  

The next ten years passed quickly and were largely uneventful.  In fact, although he did pull off a very occasional bank robbery to reset his financial situation, for the most part Leo just worked hard and stayed successful.  He actually turned out to be a rather remarkable salesman who established close relationships with a large range of customers, including municipalities and construction firms.  This resulted in large profits for King Manufacturing and kept Leo in a position of prestige.   Along the way on his travels he did cross paths with some former cronies and was invited to join up on several capers, all of which he turned down.  If Leo was going to do any crime at all, he was going to do it by himself.  

There were a few other items of interest in Leo’s activities between 1945 and 1955.  One was that he gave almost eight thousand dollars to victims of the Marlborough Fire, usually by leaving small packages of cash wrapped in brown paper inside of a mail box.  Much of this money he directed at children who had been injured but it is believed that he managed to give some money to every victim that he was able to locate.  He also took at least two more trips to try to find Stanley, all of which proved fruitless and he was unable to find even the smallest indication that his old partner was still alive.  He became increasingly convinced that the Clockmaker was dead, especially as he heard many stories about how Stanley really liked to wait around and watch his bombs explode.  Perhaps he had perished in one of those explosions.  Leo also kept up some very infrequent contact with Olivia, although he never put a return address on his envelopes and as far as is known, she was not aware he was living in Minnesota.  He also engaged in a new hobby when he had free time, which was researching biological and other kinds of chemical warfare.  There is not much information on what drove him to this although some speculation is that he was telling King Company executives that he had been involved with it in the military.  Perhaps he decided that he needed to be more educated about the topic so he could effectively sell that kind of false story.   Finally, Leo was keeping up his tours of the strip clubs, not just in Minneapolis but everywhere that he went, although the Gay 90’s remained his favorite place.  In all of those clubs he was known for being generous to the women who worked there, buying them gifts and drinks while dating them as frequently as he could arrange.  He told many stories about his past to these women, sometimes about his true and exaggerated criminal activities and other times he stuck with his carefully crafted fake life story.  

By the time that 1955 had started Leo was deep into his split lifestyle and starting to think again about the allure of the criminal world he had enjoyed so much before his long prison terms.  He and Amanda had a strained but warm relationship as Leo always showered her with attention and gifts during the short periods of time he was home each month.  It was during one of these times, toward the end of February, that Amanda met him at the door as he was returning from walking down to the newsstand.  When he looked up at her and their eyes met he realized that she was smiling more brightly than she had in quite some time.  It was an odd enough event that is stopped him right in his tracks, fedora halfway removed from his head and the stack of newspapers still tucked under this arm.  

“What? What is it?”

“Oh, Leo, I hope you, well, it’s great news.  I just hope you are as happy as me.”

“Well, what is it?”

“I’m pregnant,” she replied and then burst into tears although the smile remained on her face.

Leo did not immediately go to her side as he felt like he had just walked into a solid brick wall.  This was not something that they had wanted to happen although they had spoken about it several times over their decade of marriage.  As far as Leo knew, they had been in agreement about it.  He was not suited for the role of father, of that he was certain, and besides he was almost never at home.  Now though, he was going to have to step up and be one, a fact he realized and accepted in the space of just a few short moments.  Then he stepped over to Amanda, pulled down the hand she now had covering her face, and told her how very excited he was to hear the news.  

Things changed after that, as they do for new parents, although not all of the changes would be considered typical.  Leo still traveled of course although now he was much more punctual about getting back to St. Anthony, foregoing all of his stops at strip clubs and to visit girlfriends.  He had internally re-dedicated himself to his family and Amanda was much happier.  He also became very worried about the money, wanting to make sure that he was able to provide the best for the new child and also his wife, expenses that were not going to all be covered by his King Company salary and commissions.  He planned, although did not commit, several bank robberies and was much more aware of possible opportunities to make money, all ideas which he carefully filed away as he fought to contain his impulses. 

On November 19, 1955 the daughter of Leo and Amanda, who they named named Sharon,  was born and they both were proud parents, a fact which is obvious from the letters they wrote.  Leo even penned an unusually long one to Olivia detailing his daughters, “perfect little blue eyes and long eyelashes.”  As the year came to a close the Humbert’s seemed to be a happy, successful and growing family, Amanda a new and excited mother, Leo a reformed and eager father, and all of them together and living well on 39th Avenue. 

Inside Title Page Who's Who

Inside Title Page Who’s Who

 

Leo's Entry in 1960

Leo’s Entry in 1960

The beginning of the next year would see the trend continue, with Leo making his first appearance in the “World Who’s Who in Commerce and Industry,” a listing that would continue for many years, at least up until 1966.  That entry, which was submitted by his bosses at King Company, contained many of the false facts that Leo had created for his sanitized life story.  It even included the detail that he had been in the Army from the 1920’s up through the early 40’s, conveniently covering his years of criminal activity and imprisonment.  Listings in other years had incorrect addresses, a variety of invented roles including a mention that he was a traveling lecturer and researcher in chemical warfare while still also being employed by King Manufacturing.  It should also be noted that some of these later editions of the publication actually list his wife as deceased, a fact that Amanda was not aware of although the reason for it may be obvious from some of Leo’s later escapades.   And yes, although Leo was a rededicated family man in early 1956, that was not going to last.  

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 78)

They were taking it slowly but as the summer progressed she became more and more convinced that Leo was the man she was going to marry.  This despite the fact that there were a few odd things about him.  He was, of course, gone often and sometimes for extended periods of time and although he always had a briefcase Amanda had never seen what was actually inside of it.  He would reply with, “trade secrets,” and “nothing you need to worry yourself about, dear,” whenever she asked him about it.  When he was home he would spend hours pouring over out-of-town newspapers and also took to spending Saturday nights out of the house, claiming to be meeting up with his company’s executives.  He never offered to take her along or introduce her to anyone that he worked with or to clients to whom he sold whatever it was that he sold.  The time they did spend together though was tender and romantic and Leo would buy her expensive gifts and take her out to eat at fancy restaurants.   He also told her that he stayed at the Radisson downtown, a very upscale place to live, although he had only taken her there on two occasions. 

Hotel Radisson courtesy lakesnwoods.com

Hotel Radisson courtesy lakesnwoods.com

Gay 90's Night Club

Gay 90’s Night Club

Naturally Leo was in fact up to his old tricks, just doing so much more carefully than he had in the past.  By the end of June of 1944 he had pulled off an additional two bank robberies, one in Wisconsin and another right on the border of South Dakota.  These had netted him a handsome profit and allowed him to continue his charade with Amanda along with courting a few other woman on the side.  His Saturday “executive meetings” were in fact nights that he spent at the Gay 90’s night club on Hennepin Avenue, watching the strip shows and buying drinks for a variety of women.   He also had another plan in motion, one which involved a trip to Flint, Michigan in early July of that year.  

When Leo arrived Flint was well into its tenure as Vehicle City, USA.  It was bustling with a population that was approaching two hundred thousand and offered all of the kinds of vice to which Leo was attracted.  He was, however, not there for that kind of distraction.  Away from the scrutiny of the parole department in Minnesota, he had decided that this particular risk was worth it.  He had come to find a job as he knew that his current story was wearing thin with Amanda and he did not want to lose her.  She represented his opportunity to “get respectable” with societal expectations and being married would also look good to his parole officer.  Such a job would also allow for him to approach that PO and get permission to leave the state, or at least that was what Leo hoped to accomplish.  Then he would be free from any worry if he was pulled over for some reason while traveling.  It was all going to fit together nicely into his plan.  Unable to completely avoid a little elegance, he took a room at the popular Durant Hotel, figuring that no one would know him so far from Minneapolis.  

Durant Hotel Flint Michigan

Durant Hotel Flint Michigan

He then set to work on finding a job, one that fit his preference for extensive travel and limited supervision.  He found such an opportunity with King Manufacturing, a company that sold septic tanks and related equipment.  They were looking for a salesman to cover twelve states and although Leo had no verifiable selling experience he convinced them to give him the job, mentioning his civil engineering degree more than once.  He spent a few days training at the Flint location, learning about the products from a portly, bald-headed man named Larry, and then hit the road with a promise to send in his receipts and be back for the quarterly meeting in September.  

Back in Minneapolis by early August, Leo did in fact receive official authorization to travel outside of the state for work relating to his employment.  The record reflects that the parole officer confirmed his employment with King Company; however, as it is a fact that they knew nothing of his criminal record it would appear that Leo ran some kind of scam on them involving a false phone number and a friend who impersonated a company executive.  The details of that, and how he explained the fact he had obtained an out-of-state job without leaving the state, are lost to history. 

The day when this approval came through marked a turning point in Leo’s life.  It was not, as you could perhaps hope, a turning point away from crime but rather one in which he realized that he could pull off his big scheme.  He had managed to secure a good job, the ability to travel and case out places to rob, a healthy bundle of ready cash and a girlfriend who thought he was someone important.  If he was careful, Leo was convinced that he would be able to live below the radar of the police, continue to fund his life through crime, and enjoy the good life.  With that in mind, he asked Amanda to marry him on August 7th and they were hurriedly married on the 29th of that same month.  A week later they purchased a house just outside of St.Paul in St. Anthony at 3100 39th Ave NE.  Life was going well for Leo.  

3100 39th Ave NE

3100 39th Ave NE

…to be continued

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 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

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 67)

After a few brief comments about the general type of vehicle he was looking for Leo and Williams followed the salesman around the lot for about ten minutes.  There were also a few cars displayed inside on the showroom floor and as they stepped inside Frank Stiles turned back toward Leo.

“So, how’s the city planning on paying for this purchase?”

Leo shrugged and turned his palms up.  “They never give me the details on stuff like that.  The boss just told me to come check out cars and find one that’ll work.  Then I guess he’ll be in contact.”
“Hmm, well ok, what’s the name of your boss down there?”

“I think we’d like to give that one over there a quick test ride,” was Leo’s non-responsive answer.  

“You two been with the city for very long?”

“Oh, you know, seems like forever,” Leo replied and added a short laugh.  

“Yeah, I bet,” Frank chuckled back, “I’m just going to give them a quick call down there, protocol you know, just to verify things.” 

Leo smiled broadly before replying.  “You bet, no problem.  When you talk to them, let ‘em know that me and Sam here are planning to stop for lunch on the way back, will ya?  I don’t want to get no grief about it if we come back later than expected.”

For whatever reason that information seemed to ally the salesman’s concerns and he instead introduced Leo and Williams to a few of the employees who were hanging out inside of the dealership.  Then he reached behind a desk and pulled out a set of keys.

1928 Oldsmobile

1928 Oldsmobile

“Here you go then Mr. Owen.  They’re for that blue Olds you pointed out.  Go ahead and take her out. I think you’ll find it’s just what the city needs.”

“Thanks Frank, really good. I’m sure it’s gonna be the one.  We’ll just run it ‘round the block a few times so we can say we did what we were told.”  Leo winked and shook the man’s hand, then he and Williams climbed into the vehicle and eased it out into the street.  They of course then took the first right turn, just out of the dealership’s line of sight,  and sped off toward the edge of town.  

It took about ten minutes before Frank Stiles got worried and twenty before he called the police to report the stolen vehicle.  By then Leo had managed to acquire a handgun (although the specifics of where it was obtained were never determined) and the two fugitives were on their way toward Meier Grove.  On the way Leo spent much of the time retelling the story of his previous robbery of the First State Bank, railing against the bank employee who had ID’d him, and also against everything that had happened at the Marlborough. 

Melrose Mn Corner Drug Store courtesy lakenwoods.com

Melrose Mn Corner Drug Store courtesy lakenwoods.com

Although they did drive through Meier Grove so Williams could see the bank, Leo decided they would stay in nearby Melrose, and they paid for a small room above the Corner Drug Store and settled in for the night.  

Williams went out later in the evening to grab them some food and came back also clutching a wanted poster he had torn down.  As he set the bag of sandwiches on the coffee table, he smoothed out the large sheet of paper on the floor.  

L Humbert and J Williams Wanted Poster

L Humbert and J Williams Wanted Poster

“Look at this, will ya?” he said, “I’m a very dangerous character!”
“What?”

“Yeah, look at this, it’s a different one than they had up in the city.  This thing has it up to two hundred each for our heads!”

Leo walked over and looked down.  “Nice picture Francis.”

“Hey, you look like a damn accountant and you better watch yourself, you shouldn’t be taking any chances with me,” Williams snapped back sharply but with a twinkle in his eye, “I might just have to kill you.” 

Brainerd Daily Dispatch 12oct1929

Brainerd Daily Dispatch 12oct1929

“You just try it buddy, and don’t take these things too seriously.  Look at the article I was reading,” Leo replied and then shoved a folded page toward his partner.  “They can’t get anything right.  This says I was arrested weeks after the robbery but that’s not how it went at all.  Not to mention that I didn’t leave any damn shoes in Chicago.  Don’t expect things you read about us to be true, even wanted posters.”  With that Leo walked away and sat down in the paisley-colored armchair that was next to the room’s one window.  He would not get into it with his partner but he wanted to be the one mentioned as being dangerous.  This was his operation, he was the mastermind and he should be the one about who warnings to the public should be issued.  

After eating their small meal the two men spent about half an hour discussing the robbery they planned to commit the next day and then both of them went to bed.  Leo was up first in the morning and rousted Williams a few minutes later.  After a hurried breakfast of toast and coffee at the drugstore food counter Leo drove them to Meier Grove and parked under an Elm tree about three hundred feet west of the bank entrance.  While they waited Williams softly hummed gospel songs with his eyes closed while Leo kept his eyes trained on the building.  At seven fifty-five he nudged his partner, who stopped humming, and gestured toward a tall man who had just walked out from somewhere inside the bank and unlocked the front door.  That man, who was in fact the bank teller Edward Ortman who had sworn out the affidavit against Leo,  was currently standing outside and lighting a cigarette.

“That’s him right there.  He’s the one who’s gonna get some pay back today.” 

“Sure, sure, whatever it is for you, let’s just get this job done and then be on our way.  It’s money-making time.”  Williams had a reckless look in his eye that Leo had not seen before as he stepped out of the Oldsmobile.  

“You keep it together now friend, “ Leo said.

“Oh, I’m fine, worry about yourself,” his partner replied.  

They both waited until Ortman walked back inside the bank and then started in that direction themselves.  Williams now was focused almost exclusively on the bank, leaving it to Leo to do a check of the surrounding area to make sure that no one else was approaching.  All was clear as he reached out and pulled open the door.    

…to be continued

A Burning Cold Morning (Part 66)

Leo and John Williams did not go too far, traveling just one hundred miles back to Minneapolis, where they ditched the stolen car outside of the city near a newly painted farm house.  They then walked fifteen miles along several dusty roads before coming to the city proper, where they holed up in a nondescript boarding house.  Leo, who on top of being tired and hungry had also been badgered by Williams the whole way about the promise to rob a bank, was quite irritated when they finally settled into the small room.  It smelled like moldy socks to Leo although his partner seemed oblivious to that, commenting instead that he liked the fact it had a big dresser.  Leo mumbled a reply to that and then, taking his shirt off and tossing it onto the bed closer to the door, snapped, “I’ll need a few minutes, you take that other bed.”  He slammed the door behind him and stalked down to the community bathroom.  Ten minutes later, his face washed and shaven, Leo returned to the room in slightly better spirits.  Williams had kicked off his muddy shoes right in front of the door and was lounging comfortably, and mostly undressed, in the one chair available in the room.  His boxer briefs looked filthy and Leo was not impressed.

“You go get yourself fixed up,” he snapped at Williams while motioning toward the door, “it’s your turn.”

Williams took a deep breath before replying.  When he spoke, his voice sounded tired but petulant.  “I’ve had enough already, I just wanna sit here for a few more minutes and then crawl into my rack and sleep for a damn long time.  I’ll square myself away in the morning.”

Leo wrinkled his nose up a bit.  “Better do it now, no sense in putting it off.”

“You know,” Williams replied, “if you’re so worried about something maybe it should be that we need to find a bank to do the job at, you know, find it and hit it fast, get some cash and get outta this state.  That’s what we should be talkin’ about.” 

“We’ve got time for that, don’t worry.  You trust me fella, I know about this stuff, ok? Right now, it’s hot out there.   We’re too hot right now to be out on the streets planning a job.” 

“That’s where you’re one hundred percent wrong I tell ya,” Williams retorted, “and I know things too, about the damn police around here.  What is really the truth is that there’s too much heat for us not to be doin’ something real quick.  We need to act now and get out before they find us around here.”

“We can wait,” Leo replied as he laid back into a flat pillow covered by a dingy pillowcase.

“We shouldn’t, we really gotta get out.  Let’s just pick a bank around here, anyone will do.  We just hit it and then go.”

“Oh no,” Leo sighed as he replied, “it definitely cannot be just any old bank.  It has to be just one bank, just one.  This thing’s personal.”  He then drifted off to sleep even though Williams was continuing to argue with him.  

The next day the two men took a short walk out into town with the intention of getting a few supplies and trying to get an idea of exactly how much notoriety they may have gained.  That question was answered clearly enough when they saw the wanted posters that were hanging up in many of the businesses they passed by and also pasted up to the exterior walls of several brick buildings.  That fact seemed to spook Williams who went to the effort of tearing down two of the posters and stuffing them into the pocket of his jacket.  Sensing that things were even more perilous for them than even Williams had imagined, they quickly returned to the boarding house without stopping for any supplies.  Once they were inside they began to argue again about the same things as before and by the night of October fourteenth Leo had endured enough.  He agreed that if Williams would just shut up for the remainder of the evening then he would agree to go with him and do the bank robbery the next day.  He did, however, stipulate that it was still going to be the bank he “owed a little pay back to.”  

They both awoke early the next morning and collected the few belongings they had with them.  Pulling hats low over their faces they stepped out and walked briskly to the corner where a small diner was located.  Leo, despite Williams protests, had insisted that they get a good meal, “just in case things go badly for us, at least we will have eaten well.”  His partner had commented that sitting around and eating was exactly what was likely to make things go badly for them but had really been too hungry to protest for very long.  Both of them had subsisted on very little food over the previous two days.  Their meal was consumed uneventfully and Leo then led the way seven blocks north to the location of Miner Motor Sales.  As they approached the lot Williams hurried along beside him.

“What’s the plan here then?” he asked.

“You just play along with me, or better yet, just be quiet,” Leo replied.  “We’re going to need a ride and this is where we get one.” 

“But what,”

“Shhh!” Leo interrupted, “just act like an official type of person, ok?”
Before Williams could answer, a tall and gangly salesman with a brown suit on approached with his hand out.

“Frank Stiles gentleman, what can I interest you in today?”
Leo shook the man’s hand and replied.  “Lee Owen, from the city manager’s office.  We were sent your way because our office has need of several additional vehicles.  I’m sure that’s music to your ears.”  Leo laughed as he finished and Frank laughed back.

“You bet it is friend!  You’re just my kind of people.” 

…to be continued