Criminals, Indianapolis, Pop Culture, Sports

John Dillinger the ballplayer.

John “Jack Rabbit” Dillinger and the Mooresville “AC’s”

Original publish date:  April 8, 2021

Despite John Dillinger’s meteoric rise to infamy and spectacular headline grabbing death, his Indianapolis boyhood was unexceptional. He attended public schools for eight years in the Circle City and was a typical student. His teachers recalled that he liked working with his hands, was good with all things mechanical and liked reading better than math. He liked hunting, fishing, playing marbles, the Chicago Cubs and playing baseball. He was energetic and got along well with others (although he often bullied younger children), was cocky and quick witted. Dillinger quit school at age 16, not due to any trouble, but because he was bored and wanted to make money on his own.
During World War I, Dillinger tried to get a job at Link Belt in the city but was rejected because he was too young. Instead, he took a job as an apprentice machinist at James P. Burcham’s Reliance Specialty Company on the southwest side of Indianapolis and worked nights and weekends as an errand boy for the Indianapolis Board of Trade. All the while, Dillinger played second base on the company baseball team. One slot on Dillinger’s resume included a four day stint with the Indianapolis Power & Light Company drawing the hefty sum of 30 cents an hour. Just long enough for the “ringer” to help the IPL team win a league title.
In his spare time, Dillinger hung out at the local pool hall where he drank and smoked with the older men and cavorted with the local prostitutes. One of the regulars later recalled, “John would come in, hang up his hat and play pool at a quarter a game. He wasn’t very good, and he frequently lost. When he would lose two dollars, he’d put back the cue, get his cap, and walk out without a word. Never gave anyone any trouble and never said much.”

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In 1920, his father, John Dillinger Sr., believing that the city was corrupting his son, sold his eastside Indianapolis Maywood grocery store property and moved his family to Mooresville. For the next 3 years, young Dillinger split his time between Moorseville, Martinsville and Indianapolis, traveling by interurban or motorcycle nearly every day. The athletic Dillinger quickly caught on with the semipro Mooresville Athletic Club’s “Athletics” baseball team. His reputation on the local sandlots and his quick speed earned him the nickname “The Jackrabbit”.
The 5-foot-7, 150 pound middle infielder batted leadoff and led the Athletics in hitting, for which the team’s sponsor, the Old Hickory Furniture Company, gave him a $25 reward on their way to the 1924 league championship. His game was so tight that other local teams began to pay him to play ball for them and throughout that summer the cash poured in.

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Dillinger’s younger sister Frances, who passed away in 2015, insisted that her brother was good enough to draw Major League scouts to tiny Martinsville just to watch him play. Flush with confidence and blinded by the glare of an obviously bright future, Dillinger married Beryl Ethel Hovious in Mooresville on April 12, 1924. The couple moved into his father’s farm house but within a few weeks of the wedding, the groom was arrested for stealing 41 Buff Orpington chickens from Omer A. Zook’s farm on the Millersville Road.
Though his father was able to work out a deal to keep the case out of court, it further strained his relationship between them. Dillinger and Beryl moved out of their cramped bedroom and into Beryl’s parents’ home in Martinsville. There Dillinger got a job in an upholstery shop. All the while, Dillinger continued to play baseball. In between calling balls and strikes during AC Athletics games, umpire Ed Singleton (a web-fingered local drunk and pool shark 11-years his senior) was in the young shortstop’s ear. Singleton said he knew an old man, Frank Morgan, who carried loads of cash in his pockets around the streets of Mooresville.

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Beryl Hovius and John Dillinger


On September 24, 1924, the young and impressionable Dillinger accompanied Singleton on what turned out to be a botched stick-up. After ambushing Morgan with a heavy iron bolt wrapped in a cotton handkerchief and knocking him unconscious, Dillinger fled the scene, thinking he had killed his victim. Turns out the bolt was not heavy enough to render an unconscious blow so Dillinger pistol whipped the old man in the face. The gun went off, firing harmlessly into the ground, unbeknownst to the young hoodlum. The robbery netted just $50 ($750 in today’s money).
Upon hearing the gunshot, Singleton panicked and drove away with the getaway car, stranding Dillinger, who ducked into a pool hall a few blocks away. Dillinger was arrested the next day at his father’s farm and held in the county jail in Martinsville. His father visited him there and told “Junior”, “Johnnie if you did this thing, the only way is to own up to it. They’ll go easy on you and you’ll get a new start.” Dillinger, who did not have a lawyer, pled guilty and received a 10-year prison sentence. His accomplice Ed Singleton hired a lawyer and received just 5 years. John Dillinger had launched himself into the big leagues of professional crime. But again, baseball would play a pivotal role in the young outlaw’s life.z pendleton
While incarcerated at the Indiana Reformatory in Pendleton, Prison officials recognized his superior ball playing skills and quickly recruited him for the prison ball club. On July 22, 1959, the 25th anniversary of Dillinger’s death, the Indianapolis News ran an article on Dillinger the ballplayer by “Outdoor Columnist” Tubby Toms. “His play was marvelous, both in the field and at bat… He might have been a Major League shortstop the caliber of a Pee Wee Reese or a Phil Rizzuto.” Tubby further mentioned an interaction between Governor Harry G. Leslie and Dillinger. Leslie, who has been detailed in a couple of my past columns, was a legendary athlete at Purdue University. Leslie always made it a point to stop and linger on visits to watch the prison ballplayers in action.
Tubby, who was the News Statehouse reporter at the time, recalls a 1932 visit to the prison with Governor Leslie when both men watched the reformatory’s baseball team take on a local semipro club. The two men couldn’t take their eyes off the shortstop whom fellow inmates were calling “jackrabbit”. Governor Leslie strongly believed in the rehabilitative power of organized competition and took a keen interest in inmates who applied themselves and excelled. So it wasn’t unusual that Dillinger captured his attention.

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Governor Harry Leslie


Later that day, as fate would have it, Governor Leslie presided over Dillinger’s parole hearing. After Dillinger was once again denied parole, the dejected outlaw asked a question of the board. “I wonder if it would be possible to transfer me to the State Prison up at Michigan City? They’ve got a REAL ball team up there.” The Governor then said, “Gentlemen, I saw this lad play baseball this afternoon, and let me tell you, he’s got major league stuff in him. What reason can there be for denying him this request? It may play an important part in his reformation.” His request was granted and to this day, his official records state that he was sent to the big house “so he can play baseball.” It was at Michigan City where John Dillinger, under the tutelage of more seasoned cons, learned how to be a bank robber.
On May 22, 1933, Governor Paul McNutt released Dillinger from State Prison. Within a month, he held up the manager of a thread factory in Monticello, Illinois. A month after that, he held up a drugstore in Irvington. From there, he graduated to robbing banks. Dillinger followed his beloved Cubbies for the rest of his short life. Legend states that he even attended a few games at Wrigley Field while perched atop J. Edgar Hoover’s most wanted list. In fact, while playing toss in the outfield before a game in August of 1933, the bank robber was pointed out to outfielder Babe Herman as he sat with a group in the left field box seats. Cubs Hall of Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett often recalled how Chicago police routinely knew that Dillinger was in the crowd of Cubby faithful at Wrigley Field but never turned him into the G-men. Cubs all-star Woody English was once stopped on his way to the ballpark because he drove the same model of car as the outlaw did.
In a letter to his niece Mary, with whom he used to play catch, Dillinger said he was going to try and head east to see the Giants play the Senators in the 1933 World Series. Unfortunately, he was arrested on Sept. 22, 11 days before the start of the Fall Classic. He did, however, make money betting on the Giants, who won the series in five games. The 1933-1934 hot stove season was a busy one for Dillinger. He busted out of two jails and on June 22, 1934, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI officially dubbed him Public Enemy No. 1. Dillinger responded by hiding out in plain sight in the city of big shoulders. He went to movies, partied at night clubs, toured the Chicago World’s Fair (more than once), and took in several Cubs games.Dillinger almanac


After a near fatal, botched plastic surgery in May of 1934, Dillinger dyed his hair, grew a mustache, and sported dark sunglasses to attend games at Wrigley to test out his new look out. One of Dillinger’s known hideouts in Chicago was an apartment at 901 W. Addison St., just two blocks east of Wrigley Field. On June 8th, Dillinger watched as his Cubs witness from the season before, Babe Herman, hit a 2-run homer in a loss to Cincinnati 4-3. In a story that made newspapers nation-wide, Dillinger watched from the upper deck as again Babe Herman drove in a pair of runs during a June 26th game as the Cubs defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers 5-2.
Mailman Robert Volk, who was in the garage in Crown Point on March 3, 1934 when Dillinger broke out of jail, instantly recognized the arch-criminal and the robber recognized him too. The outlaw got up and sat down next to the terrified man. After sitting in chilled silence for a while, Volk shakily said “this is getting to be a habit”, to which America’s most wanted bank robber replied “it certainly is.” Dillinger smiled and shook the mailman’s hand, introduced himself as “Jimmy Lawrence”, and left during the 7th inning stretch.

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Despite this close call, Dillinger returned to Wrigley again on July 8th to watch the Pirates get pounded by his Cubbies 12-3 (for the sake of continuity, Babe Herman went 1 for 5 in this one). After the blowout, the Cubs left on an extended road trip. They were still on the road against the Phillies on July 22 when Dillinger decided to catch a movie at the Biograph Theatre. The White Sox were in town that afternoon playing a double-header against the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers ‘moidered” the north-siders in both contests. Had Dillinger been a White Sox fan he might have avoided his date with destiny and lived to die another day. He might have been in the bleachers to catch Babe Ruth’s 16th homer that day. Instead he caught a hail of bullets in a damp Chicago alleyway. According to the Cook County coroner, the jackrabbit was only three pounds above his old playing weight.

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animals, Criminals, Indianapolis, Wild West

The National Horse Thief Detective Association.

PART II

Original publish date:  November 12, 2020

The southern Indiana town of Warren, a stop on the route of the Indianapolis & Ft. Wayne Railroad in Huntington County, had one of the first local Horse Thief Detective Association chapters. The town’s story typifies why a HTDA chapter was needed. Warren had a race track that drew horses from across the tri-state area; horse thieves could easily ride trains and the interurban from larger neighboring cities, steal the horses, and hide them in Wells County caves – where the Huntington County sheriff couldn’t cross county lines to look for them. In 1800’s Indiana, a deputized vigilante force of constables was formed to track, arrest and detain these suspected horse thieves. Indiana was frontier back then. It might take days (or weeks) for a US Marshal to appear. So locals took matters into their own hands.
However, there was a frail line between being protectors of people and property and frontier vigilante justice. The latter, called whitecapping, led to the beating and very often lynching of people who whitecappers saw either as criminals or simply people whose actions were eroding the morality of a community. In many cases, by the turn of the 20th century, the NHTDA had devolved into a violent lawless movement among farmers defined by extralegal actions to enforce community standards, appropriate behavior, and traditional rights.


In September of 1897, newspapers reported on the “Versailles lynching,” or the “Ripley lynching” in which 400 men on horseback came to the Ripley County jail demanding that five men there, all facing charges for burglary and theft, be turned over to them. County residents were being victimized by thieves that were becoming bolder and more aggressive – sometimes conducting their crimes in broad daylight. One of the most egregious of these, which was reported to have led to the lynching, was the alleged torture of an elderly couple who had hot coals put to their feet by men demanding money. The deputy in charge of the jail refused to turn over the keys, but was quickly overpowered.
“The mob surged into the jail, and, unable to restrain their murderous feeling, fired on the prisoners. Then they placed ropes around their necks, dragged them (behind horses) to some trees a square away and swung them up,” according to an account in the Sept. 15, 1897, issue of The Madison Courier. The men killed were Lyle Levi, Bert Andrews, Clifford Gordon, William Jenkins and Hiney Shuler.

James A. Mount.
Indiana Governor James A. Mount had called immediately for those responsible for the lynching’s to be brought to justice, writing to Ripley County Sheriff Henry Bushing and ordering that he “proceed immediately with all the power you can command to bring to justice all the parties guilty of participation in the murder of the five men alleged to have been lynched. Such lawlessness is intolerable.” Despite his best efforts, the identity of those responsible for lynching these men was never discovered.

Anti-Horse Thief Association lapel badges.


Mount, who was ironically also the NHTDA’s president, reported that from 1890 to 1896 the association had investigated the theft of 75 horses and had recovered 65, leading to the conviction of 129 thieves. Mount condemned the lynching by saying, “The hideous crime of lynching is not to be measured by the worth or the character of the subject lynched, but by the dangerous precedent established,” he stated. “We would be unworthy of an organization created by the statutes if we dared to insult the law by becoming law breakers ourselves.” The vigilante spirit that once drove the organization ultimately turned ugly but remained strongest in Indianapolis.
The front page of the Feb. 25, 1925 Indianapolis Star reported that 13 Democratic State Senators bolted to Dayton, Ohio to thwart the forming of a quorum (subjecting themselves to a $ 1,000 fine per day) to pass an appropriation bill that included the gerrymandering of a Democratic Congressional District. The Star reported that “members of the Horse Thief Detective Association would come to Dayton to attempt to arrest the striking Senators.” It was clear that by 1925, the NHTDA had turned into little more than a well-organized mob of armed thugs with badges.

Anti-Horse Thief Association badge and watch fob.


By 1926 there were still as many as 300 active companies of the National Horse Thief Detective Association in Indiana and neighboring states. The western states version was known as the National Anti-Horse Thief Association and out east, the Horsethief Detection Society (founded in Medford, Massachusetts around 1807). And while by this time, horses were few, crime had not diminished much. By the Roaring Twenties, most of the NHTDA agencies had formed alliances with the Ku Klux Klan. It is this late association with the KKK that hastened the end of the organization and forever tarnished its history.
D.C. Stephenson, Grand Dragon of the Indiana KKK, wanted to take advantage of the broad legal powers afforded to Indiana’s horse thief detective associations. Stephenson utilized the Hoosier NHTDA chapters, still on the books but mostly forgotten, as his “hidden” enforcement arm of the KKK. He succeeded in having KKK members infiltrate the group. The post-World War I atmosphere fomented fears of political radicals, outsiders, foreigners, seditionists and minorities which played right into Stephenson’s klan plan. Stephenson’s klan latched onto fears of racism and, particularly in Irvington, anti-Catholic sentiment at the time.

Anti-Horse Thief Association ribbons.


Stephenson’s klan quickly gained momentum in the state (membership cresting at half a million members) but that all changed with his brutal assault on Madge Oberholtzer, an adult literacy advocate and state employee. Oberholtzer died of injuries suffered in the attack, but not before implicating Stephenson in a graphic 9-page deathbed statement that ultimately led to his conviction for second degree murder. Madge’s death brought down the klan and proved once and for all that, contrary to his boastful statements, he was no longer the law in Indiana.

Klan Leader D.C. Stephenson


Stephenson was denied a pardon by the Irvington resident he claimed to have gotten elected Governor: Ed Jackson. He began to leak the names of all those he had helped to elect with his influence and dirty klan money. D.C. Stephenson’s savage attack of Madge Oberholtzer in Irvington hastened the destruction of the KKK and took the NHTDA with it. (In 1928, the Indianapolis Times won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the biggest scandal in the state’s history.)
In 1928, the group dropped the “Horse Thief” specification from its name in an attempt to rid itself of the Klan connection. The name change to “National Detective Association” didn’t take. By 1933, Indiana lawmakers had repealed all laws that gave the agency, regardless of name, any enforcement powers. These organizations remained on life support into the mid-1950s, but their reputations were ruined irreparably. By 1957, all such groups had faded into history. The desperate demise of the association has in many ways complicated its history. The Indiana organization, despite its onetime prominence and clear tie to the state’s history, has been largely stricken from the state’s history.


Like the Klan itself, association with the NHTDA in the Hoosier state seems to have become a taboo subject, deservedly so. So the task has fallen onto collectors, county historic societies, local libraries and archives to maintain records, roles and histories of local chapters of the NHTDA. However, the Anti Horse Thief Association fared somewhat better.
Likewise, the Anti Horse Thief Association was formed as a vigilance committee at Fort Scott, Kansas in 1859 with a noble cause: to provide protection against marauders thriving on border warfare precipitating the Civil War. It resembled other vigilance societies in organization and methods, but the AHTA did not share some of the shadier tactics of the Hoosier NHTDA. Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri had the largest number of active AHTA chapters. A major difference between the AHTA and the NHTDA was that not only could a thief steal a horse and hurry across a state line, they could also escape into the Indian territories where local authorities could not easily follow. Stealing horses was easy and lucrative. Horses were seldom recovered, since it typically cost more to go after them than they were worth.
The AHTA was not a group of vigilantes, capturing horse thieves and hanging them from the nearest tree. The group believed in supporting and upholding the law, and the last thing they wanted to do was break the law. The AHTA worked hand in hand with law enforcement, gathering evidence and testifying in court to punish horse thieves and other criminals. It was a way for law-abiding citizens to restore order by working with law enforcement rather than becoming helpless victims.


Although it was a “secret” organization, nearly any man could join. To become a member of the AHTA, it was only necessary that you be a citizen in good standing, male and over eighteen years old. One of the reasons the AHTA was so successful was because the members didn’t have to worry about getting extradition orders and crossing state lines while bringing back a thief. The AHTA had a clever way around this. If a thief was chased into another state, part of that state’s AHTA group would remain close to the state line. When captured, they would take him to the line and tell him to, “get out of our state and don’t come back.” As soon as the thief crossed the state line he would be arrested by AHTA members on the other side waiting for him.
AHTA membership peaked at 50,000 in 1916. As with the NHTDA, World War I changed rural life, members left for the war, many never to return, and mechanization replaced horsepower. As automation took over, and horses were used less, stealing them became a misdemeanor offense. By the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, AHTA membership shrank drastically, only a few individual chapters survived as social clubs.
Although the Horse Thief Associations are all gone now, horse thieving still exists. There are no solid statistics available, but it is estimated that between 40,000 to 55,000 horses are stolen each year. It is relatively easy to pull up to a pasture and coax a horse into a trailer and haul it to an auction and make a quick buck. Sadly, most of these stolen horses taken to auction end up at a slaughterhouse. There is a modern-day version of the AHTA. It is called Stolen Horse International (SHI). Thanks mostly to the Internet, SHI boasts a 51% recovery rate of stolen horses that are reported within the first day of the theft.
And what what remains of Indiana’s NHTDA? Today, badges once worn by HTDA, NHTDA and AHTA members are highly prized by collectors. Badges vary in style, size and design according to chapter and year. Collectors also seek out buggy markers (designed to be nailed to a buggy to signify a buggy owner’s membership) and books, stickpins and ribbons are also highly sought after. Relics from a lost era when horses were a part of the family and the only pollution being produced could fertilize your garden.

Criminals, Indianapolis, Wild West

The National Horse Thief Detective Association.

PART I

Original publish date:  November 5, 2020

I’ve spent the past month talking about the past. Relics from the past. Some good. Some bad. One of those relics has an unusually ancient sounding name: The National Horse Thief Detective Association. Sounds like something from an old B-western movie right? Visions of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry on horseback riding hell bent for leather immediately gallop through our minds. Truth is, the NHTDA is not as ancient as you might think. And of course, it has ties to Irvington.
The National Horse Thief Detective Association was sort of a nineteenth-century rural neighborhood crime watch, aimed not only at prevention but also apprehension and the execution of justice. And it wasn’t just looking for horse thieves. The NHTDA was as much a civic organization as a law enforcement agency — largely composed of white, property owning men wealthy enough to pay the dues. The NHTDA was well organized. It had branches (or companies) in 92 counties of Indiana. Delegates attended annual regional meetings to swap stories, catch up on NHTDA news and share the latest law enforcement techniques.


According to the Indiana Historical Society, the horse thief detectives were Hoosier-based from the beginning, with the first official company, the Council Grove Minute Men, formed in 1845 near Wingate, Ind. In the 1840s, Indiana was literally a wild frontier and these companies were created to police rural areas and track down criminals where law enforcement (principally enforced by US Marshals) might be days, or weeks, away. The main focus was on horse thieves but soon expanded into tracking down any “evildoers” who brought crime to an area.
Expanded duties required expanded membership and soon companies were popping up all over the state, eventually spreading to Ohio and Illinois. The NHTDA itself was founded in 1860 as an umbrella group to organize the hundreds of individual detective companies among the three states. The Hoosier countryside was riddled with bandits, outlaws and horse thieves who preyed on the people living and farming in rural communities with little established law enforcement. Stealing horses, which were crucial for farming and transportation of people and goods before the arrival of the railroad and the automobile, was crucial to survival on the frontier. Many times, these thieves were better organized than the residents themselves.


These bands of marauding bandits, rustlers and gypsies were sophisticated, with established “stations” where stolen horses could be stashed to rest during the day and moved to the next station by cover of night. These horses stolen from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Illinois were transported to Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, where they were quickly sold. To combat these professional horse thieves, during the 1850s, Hoosier lawmakers passed legislation officially appointing association members as constables, granting them the authority to arrest and jail criminals and recover stolen goods. This legislation allowed them to cross county lines to track and apprehend thieves – something county sheriff’s couldn’t do.
Horses and livestock were one of the most vital resources a pioneering family had in those days of early westward expansion. Without horses travel was slow, plowing impossible and getting perishable goods to market a hopeless proposition. Horse thievery in antebellum Indiana resulted in crops being abandoned and farms being lost. Indiana winters are harsh and a stolen horse was no laughing matter. Failure to locate and prosecute horse thieves by US Marshals and local law enforcement often led to vigilante justice.


In most cases, horse thieves were transient and almost impossible to locate having crossed state lines in the blink of an eye. Brands were disguised, herds were split and mixed, and apprehension, let alone prosecution, was rare. However the operators of the safehouse stations were locals and word soon circulated that some neighbors were being paid by the gangs for tips on who had the fattest, fittest herds that could be easily stolen. To make matters worse, due to the sparse rural population, these operations were conducted quite brazenly during the day. It was this environment of widespread horse thievery that led to the first horse thief detective agencies being founded in Indiana.
The citizenry’s earliest attempt to tame the wild regions of rural Indiana were called the “Minute Men.” According to an association pamphlet, that membership included “only the best men in the community” and represented all the “vocations in pioneer life.” There were secret passwords and signs, and strict standards of behavior; Any member who played cards, gambled, or “used liquor to excess” was expelled. A registered member paid dues and became a constable with police powers. Operational enforcement was pretty straight forward.


If a horse was suspected as stolen (and not just a stray) the owner would go to a neighbor and ask them to notify the local association, passing along identifying information about the stolen horse (color, breed, type of shoe, height, etc.). Then, association members would call in other members who would ride immediately to a designated secret meeting place nearby. Once organized, the duly notarized constables would fan out individually, inquiring at toll booths, homes, farms, and stores in an effort to track the culprits down. The more people they notified, the more likely a horse could be found before the trail ran cold.
National Horse Thief Detective Association ledgers digitized and found on the internet, libraries and various private collections detail the lengths to which a particular chapter would go to retrieve a stolen horse. The October 1867 Warren Township HTDA Ledger, which included the Irvington area, reports of HTDA agents hunting for the horse of Mr. George White, who resided just off Brookville Road, east of Arlington Avenue.


The October 6, 1867 ledger entry reports: At 7:00 a.m. Leander White notified me that his father’s bay horse had been stolen the night before. I proceeded immediately to select men to hunt said horse. I selected 10 men to meet at George White’s house as soon as they could get there by 9:00 p.m. The men reported ready as soon as I could get a description of the horse and the direction he had started. I started 4 men to Indianapolis and Wilson, George Butcher, Henry Wilberg and Alonzo Snider to inquire at the toll gates and see if they could find any track in that dirt road. I went with the others to the National Road and there we found by the track, that he had crossed the road and went south towards McClain’s Gate; not finding any track where he had come back. I was satisfied that he had gone in a southern direction. I then sent Mr. McClain and Mr. White to Indianapolis to search the gates south and I went with the rest of the men Hiram Morehouse, John Wagoner, Conrad Reah; Thomas Cammel and Chris Wilder to the Brookville Road and started 2 men on that road and 2 south to go in a southern direction and Thomas Cammel to go on the Lawrenceburg Road and to get Jacob M. Springer to go with him. I then went to Indianapolis to meet the other men and did meet them at 12:00. M. Lonzo Snider reported that he had seen a horse pass where he had camped near Cumberland that morning about daylight that suited the description of the one he was hunting. I then sent Alfred Wilson and George Butcher east on the National Road and Lonzo Snider and Henry Wilberg south on the Bluff Road. McClain and White came home. I gave out word for the company to meet at the town house the next evening at 5:00 and ordered all the men that went to hunt to return by the next night if they got no track and if they got track, to keep on and not come back as long as there was any chance of getting him. Company met Monday evening; no word from the men exception Morehouse and his partner. They reported no track. Meeting approved for next morning at 7:00 a.m.
Oct 8, 1867: Company met all the men had returned. Cammel Springer reported. Heard of the horse at Shelbyville. Followed the tracks a few miles lost it; and could not find the track any more. Company agreed to send 6 men back to hunt said horse and called on me to select the men. I did select 6 men: Alfred Wilson, John Wagoner, Hiram Morehouse, Thomas Cammel, John Shearer, and Conrad Rahl to start immediately and if they made any discoveries, they were telegraph to George Parker. On Thursday we received a dispatch from Morehouse; they had heard of the horse. Friday evening, company met and the men all reporting no further track could be found. Company agreed to send 12 men to hunt said horse and ordered me to select the men. I did select Daniel Sharer, George Askren, Henry Wilberg, Isaac Wheatley, John Buchanon, Henry Jorger, Peter Kissel, Fred Brady, Conrad Gemmer, David Springer, Gorden Shimer, and Chris Raseno to meet at the townhouse Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m. Company met Sat morning; the men all reporting for duty. On motion, it was agreed to send one man by rail to the Ohio River to examine the ferries and towns along the river between Lawrenceberg and Vevey. On motion of A. Parker, it was agreed to send the Captain. I did start the same evening at 6:00 (the first train I could get on) went to Lawrenceberg. From there, walked to Aurora thence by boat to the bay making thorough inquiries at all towns and ferries. I then went back to Aurora and took the train to Osgood thence to Versailes by hack. Soon after I got to Versailes, William Wheatly, Conrad Grammer and Peter Kissel came into the Versailes and reported no track found by them and that 7 of the company had started that morning to Lawrenceberg together. After dinner I took William Wheatly and Peter Kissel and hired a man by the name of Stevens to go along. We left Gemmer at the hotel and I road his horse. We went about 4 miles from Versailes to a place noted as a horse thief harbor, it is in the hills and about 5 or 6 miles square we rode in and thru those hills and hollows but made no discoveries. We returned to Versailes that night. Shortly after we got back George Askren and John Buchanon came in and reported no track of horse found by them.


Although the culprit (or culprits) were never found or prosecuted, this particular case shows the lengths that the HTDA in Indianapolis would go to solve a case. Apparently, even though this caper almost bankrupted the group, similar associations continued to be formed throughout the city, eventually resulting in 16 chapters in Marion County alone. Eventually, the National Horse Thief Detective Association was formed to bring them all together. State laws were passed giving NHTDA members authority to arrest and detain, granting members extraordinary policing powers. While sheriffs and deputies could not cross county lines to apprehend lawbreakers, NHTDA deputies could. Justice was swift and often judgement was enforced at the end of a rope.
In time, chapters broadened their jurisdiction to include not only horses but also carriages, cows, poultry and other livestock. By the turn of the 21st Century, NHTDA were primarily tasked with looking for car thieves, home invaders… and people. It was the twisting of that last pursuit that would see the demise of the National Horse Thief Detective Association.

Criminals, Indianapolis, Museums, National Park Service, Pop Culture

A Hoosier Guard on Alcatraz PART IV

Albright Part IV
The author and Jim Albright at the Albright family home in Terre Haute.

Original publish date:  July 30, 2020

I asked guard Jim Albright what he remembers about the closing of Alcatraz prison in March of 1963, in particular the visit by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. “Oh yeah. I remember. He toured the island and had about 50 bodyguards all around him. He didn’t want any of those bad guys to get near him.” Jim can still recall the names and numbers of the infamous inmates on the island when he was there. “Whitey Bulger # 1428, Alvin Creepy Karpis # 325. Alvin was the lowest number left when I was there. Alvin did more time on the island than any other convict. He did just straight at 26 years.” Jim recalls both Bulger and Karpis as “good cons”, both were “quiet and respectful when they spoke to you.” However Jim does say this about Karpis, a notorious kidnapper with the Ma Barker gang, “He was creepy, oh yeah, he was creepy.” Jim states, “I always treated them like I would have wanted to be treated had I been the convict. My job was not to punish them, my job was security.”z ce unnamed
Jim recalls, “Everybody talks about that escape in the Clint Eastwood movie, but I was on duty for the last escape from Alcatraz. John Paul Scott # 1503. December 16, 1962. That was 25 years, almost to the day from the first escape. I was in the control center. I got the call on the red phone, that’s the emergency phone, and you ‘dial the deuces’ as they call it, 222. ‘Jim get me some help, I got a couple missing from the kitchen basement’ was all I heard.” It was Jim Albright’s responsibility to call out the news, order the boat and man the towers for that final escape. Once again displaying his amazing recall after nearly 60 years, Jim says, “Darrel and Don Pickens, they were from Arizona, and they were both red haired and red freckles, red faced…I put them out in # 2 and # 3 towers and every thing’s going along and pretty soon they’re yelling.” They had found Scott’s fellow escapee Daryl D. Parker clinging for life on “Little Alcatraz” (a small rock in San Francisco Bay roughly 80 yards off the northwest side of the Island). Scott, by now naked and battered senseless, came to rest on a rocky outcropping in the bay near Fort Point. He was brought back to the Rock.z JOHN PAUL SCOTT L

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Frank Weatherman & Jim Albright (far right)

“I escorted the last inmate off the island, Frank Weatherman # 1576. We never had reporters, they were never allowed on the island but that day (of the closing) we probably had 250 of ’em, from all walks of news. One of ’em almost got in line as we’re heading out and asked me ‘what do you think about this?’ as we’re walking and I said, ‘Hey! I’m still working. My job is going on right now. The biggest thing I gotta watch right now is that one of you damned idiots don’t give ’em something they can escape with. Afterwards, I thought, Jim, keep your big mouth shut.” I asked Cathy where she was during that final prisoner walk down to the dock and she answered, “I was on the balcony watching. I was filming it.” Jim says, “We took the film to get it developed, but never got it back.” Cathy answers, “Somebody’s got it but we don’t.” Cathy also notes, “Well the inmates did not want Alcatraz to close. Some of them cried when they left because where they were going they might have to go to a 4-or-5-man cell, Alcatraz was single cells and they liked that.” Jim adds, “Some of them went, and Creepy Karpis was one of em, to McNeil Island in Washington and they had 10-man cells up there. Creepy, for 25, 26 years almost was used to a one man cell. They finally paroled him and deported him to Canada…from there he went to Spain. I guess he couldn’t take being free, cause he hung himself.”

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Inmate # 594: Robert Stroud aka The Birdman of Alcatraz.

Jim missed Robert Stroud, the infamous “Birdman of Alcatraz”, by just a few days. “I went there in August and he left in July. But I heard all the stories about him,” Jim recalls. “He was not liked by inmates or staff, either one. You talk about somebody no good, that was him…He was a weird old, nasty guy.” Jim and Cathy remained on the island for three months after that last inmate was escorted onto the boat by Officer Albright himself. It was only afterwards that the couple allowed themselves a little luxury, “We were there March to June. We moved from 64 building over across the parade ground to the city side…They had what they called B & C apartments, these were nicer apartments, they had fireplaces in them.” Jim smiles as he recalls Alcatraz historian and author Jerry Champion jokingly asking, “You had a fireplace did ya? Where’d you get your firewood?” (There are no trees on Alcatraz island).

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Jim Albright returns to Alcatraz.

Jim guesses that there may be a “half a dozen or less” Alcatraz guards still living, and “two of them are in wheelchairs” and the former guard estimates the same for the former convicts. Cathy notes that the inmates used to come to the reunions too and Jim recalls that it took awhile for the inmates to show up because “they were ashamed of what the guards would think, ya know.” But spend five minutes with Jim Albright and you quickly realize that he was never one to hold a grudge. Officer Albright is simply not the judging kind. Jim Albright is a people person. He enjoys meeting people and loves to see their reactions when he shares his story, especially when he reveals that they lived on the island. “As soon as I tell them that and point to my wife, it’s “FWEET!” (he says with a whistle and grin), they go right over to her and I’ve lost ’em.”
For many years, Jim and Cathy traveled by train from Terre Haute to San Francisco, a 2 1/4 day’s travel from nearby Galesburg, Illinois. “There used to be 150 people come out to those reunions, but then it got down to 30 cause there’s just nobody left.” Because of the current situation with Covid-19, the couple’s trip has been postponed. Cathy admits, “Well, we’re all getting older” and Jim chimes in, “And that’s the thing about not going in August, that means that last August was probably our last time going out there. The odds are against us.” Jim and Cathy fear that the alumni association will soon be no more. “There’s just not enough of ’em left,” Cathy says.
z DYwvoC_VAAABixRA week after our visit to Jim and Cathy Albright, the United States Supreme Court lifted the ban on executions at the Terre Haute penitentiary located a mere three miles from their front door. At the time of this writing, there had been three executions in four days. While there were never any State sanctioned executions at Alcatraz, there was not much rehabilitation taking place there either. Convicts were different back then, some actually viewed it as a profession. When asked about the convicts of today, Jim simply shakes his head and says, “They were more like professional convicts ya know ‘I did the crime, I’ll do the time’. It’s just not the same. It’s a different world now.”
In his book, Jim wrote quite eloquently of his feelings on that last day, “Emotions of prison personnel were very strong and it was hard to accept that all the convicts were gone…I boarded the boat for the last time as a guard on Alcatraz. I though to myself, what an experience I had just completed, and how fast the time went by. I felt tears grow in my eyes as the boat went across the water to Fort Mason.” I asked the couple individually, if they could make one statement about the Rock, what would it be? Cathy answered, “Well, I really liked the place. I did not want to leave. It was one big family… It was something special. It was home.” Jim reflected for a few moments, titled his head back as if looking through the mist of time, and replied, “A very enjoyable life living on the island and a very safe place to raise our children.”

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The Rock.

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary has been closed for over 57 years now. During that time it has become more myth than reality. Alcatraz Island encompasses a total of 22 acres in the center of San Francisco Bay. It opened to the public in fall 1973 and since that time has hosted millions of people from every corner of the world. The flood of people who once lived on the island during the time it was the world’s most famous prison has trickled to a slow drip. However, there remains one couple living on the western edge of the Hoosier state who know that sometimes, even if they don’t consider themselves as such, legends are real and history is the foundation of all that is worthy in life.

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Criminals, Museums, National Park Service, Pop Culture, Travel

A Hoosier Guard on Alcatraz PART III

Albright Part III
The author and Jim Albright-Indiana National Road Meeting at Brazil Lodge in 2010.

Original publish date:  July 23, 2020

Jim Albright was on duty the night the most famous escape from Alcatraz took place. On June 11, 1962, Frank Morris, Clarence Anglin and his brother John escaped through a hole in the back of their cells, the details of which were chronicled in Clint Eastwood’s 1979 film, “Escape From Alcatraz.” Albright recalled the escape in his 2008 book, “Last Guard Out. A Riveting Account By The Last Guard To Leave Alcatraz” (available at Amazon), “The movie showed them escaping off Broadway and that is not correct. In real life they escaped off Seedy Avenue (outside of B Block).” Jim also points out that the movie showed Eastwood stealing a pair of fingernail clippers off the Warden’s desk, “This would not have been necessary as each inmate was issued a pair when they first arrive at the prison.”

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The Anglin Brothers, Morris & a dummy head.

On the night of the escape, Jim recalled, “I had been over in town playing ball and I stepped in a gopher hole and twisted my knee, so they give me some crutches. The next morning (after the escape was discovered), I’m crutching up the hill when I run into the Lieutenant and he says ‘we got some missing’ and orders me to watch the back of the cell house.” Later, Jim went inside the cellhouse to “see what was going on.” He looked in Anglin’s cell and saw the false head. “They got dummy heads up there now that look like I made them. The dummy head I saw that morning looked very real. They did a good job, in fact, when I saw it I thought I had the wrong cell, it looked that real.”
Also in his book, Jim vividly remembers the events leading up to the bustout (“I told them those blankets should not be there”), the escape (“After the escape I was placed on roof detail after night fell, with a pistol and flashlight. I couldn’t flash very often because of limited mobility with crutches.”) and the aftermath (“The inmates had a field day teasing, laughing, comments, etc., toward the guards in the immediate time after the escape.”). “John Anglin was the older brother and John worked for me in the clothing room, so I knew John real well,” Jim believes, “I strongly feel the Anglin brothers probably killed (Frank) Morris to lesson the weight of the raft, and they in turn drowned and washed out to sea…I think about it even after all these years and realize that I too was a part of all of this.” The after effects are still visible. Several times during the story, Jim would stop, shake his head, and say “Them damn blankets.”
Likewise, Cathy recalls the escape from her unique perspective. “I was downstairs with the kids visiting with Betty Miller and we heard this alarm go off. Well, that means you don’t leave where you’re at and I’m down there and I’ve got two kids in diapers and didn’t have any extra diapers so we used towels for diapers until I could go. They searched Betty’s place and then they searched my apartment. But as far as being afraid, I never was, I really felt safer there than I did some other places.”

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Tom Reeves, Jr.’s reconstructed water tower on Alcatraz.

When I asked Jim about the current trend of tearing down monuments, he recalled the Native American Indian occupation of Alcatraz that took place from 1969 to 1971, years after the Albrights’ left the island. “When the original water tower was replaced after it was rusting away and pieces were falling off of it, they hired a guy, a former kid named Tom Reeves, Jr. who was teenager living on the island when I was there, his dad worked in the hospital as an MTA, his stepmom worked in town as a nurse.” the old guard chuckles as a memory bubbles up, “Tom had a little scheme going when he was in high school, everybody wanted to go to Alcatraz. All of his buddies, everybody in the school wanted to go to Alcatraz. Tom would say ‘I will take you to Alcatraz for two bucks’ so he’d get 3 or 4 guys, get two bucks a piece, bring ’em over and show ’em the island and take ’em back. The Warden found out about it and he wasn’t happy.”

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Cathy and Jim Albright.

After the laughter died down, Jim continued, “Tom grew up and became an engineer. He has an office in San Francisco, Seattle and somewhere in Hawaii, he was that big. So he engineered the repair of that water tower to make it look just as it did when we were there so that it would hold up. And it looked like new. And then they went and put Indian Graffiti back on it. And I asked (National Park Service Ranger) John Cantwell why they did that and Cantwell’s answer was, ‘Jim, love it or hate it, that is part of our history.'” Jim points out that Reeves, Jr. and his company restored the water tower and helped preserve several of the decaying buildings, including the steel tie-rods used to shore up the Warden’s House that was burnt during the Indian occupation, “at no charge, he did all that for free, he didn’t charge ’em a dime.” Jim and the Alcatraz alumni association wanted to place a plaque near the water tower thanking Reeves, Jr., as a former resident and benefactor, but the Park Service wouldn’t let them.
z Ghiradeli_54_990x660Jim’s recollections about his time on the island are limitless, he can affirm or deny legends about the island with ease. He relates details as if they happened yesterday. “The best cell placement on the island was the second tier because you could look out to see and hear San Francisco. On New Years especially, you could hear the parties and watch the party boats go past. When I was there, Ghiardelli Chocolate factory was still operational and you could smell that chocolate cooking when the breeze was just right.” He continues, “Al, you’ll like this, when I was in the tower, if one of those boats got too close to the island, I’d warn them with a bullhorn and if they didn’t listen, I could fire a shot across their bow. They moved then,” says the veteran guard. The prisoners were aware of the rumor that the island was patrolled by sharks, “Well the prisoners heard the rumor that the guards went down and caught all the sharks and cut the left fin off to make them swim in a circle around the island and we guards didn’t do anything to change their mind.”
z shutterstock_743324311.0Jim recalls patrolling the perimeter of the island and occasionally finding relics left over by military personnel during the time Alcatraz was in operation as a military fort guarding the bay from the Civil War up into World War II. Jim would see the old tokens gleaming in the moonlite at water’s edge, “I found script, I guess you’d call it. I think I’ve still got a dime, a fifty cent piece and a quarter around here somewhere.” He continues, “the guys would fish, there was a bout a half a dozen of them, down below the industries building. When you were dock and patrolman, there was a list, when you walked into the dock office, and when you saw the stripe bass running, you looked on that list and you’d call those guys who wanted to fish, anytime day or night, and you could make another round and when yo came back there could be anywhere from ten to thirty guys down there fishing. They made a Formica chute where they’d filet them right there on the spot and give the scraps to the seagulls. Quite often, you could help yourself to as many filets as you wanted. The head chef loved it cause they’d catch enough to feed the whole main line of prisoners.” I asked Jim if he ate the same meals the convicts ate. “When I first started there, I went thru the line and took my food back to a table in the kitchen. then they built us an officer’s dining room upstairs. The food was good.” Jim says the Alcatraz convicts, “had the best food in the prison service. Good food keeps trouble down.”

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Alcatraz “script” tokens.

Cathy chuckles as she recalls Blackie Audett (a longtime convict who worked in the kitchen). “Whenever I baked cookies, I’d lay them out on the window sill to cool. Every time I baked cookies, there would be 3 or 4 officers, I counted 10 one time, that would knock on the door and say, ‘Hey you’re making cookies, I want a few.’ And I asked Jim how did they know? Well, come to find out, that Blackie Audett could look out of that dining room window into my kitchen and see my cookies. Well, that scared the heck out of me. I wondered if he can see in the kitchen window, can he see into the living room window or the bedroom window.” Jim, forever on guard, says, “Yeah, Blackie was there (incarcerated) three times.” Jim also confirms another bit of trivia from Clint Eastwood’s movie, “We had a guy named Ianelli. He was a weightlifter and he had muscles on top of his muscles. I always shook him down extra special and teased him that he was getting lax. They called him Wolf.” Albright confirms that Wolf was a sexual predator as portrayed in the movie and recalled that Wolf was after a young inmate named Robbins who worked back in the “dishtray room”. Jim recalls Wolf was after “Robbie”. “One day Robbie got a pipe and came up behind Wolf hit in the back of the head and damn near killed him. If he (Wolf) had not been in such good shape he would have died. He was sent to our hospital upstairs and brought him about a third of the way back before they shipped him to our medical hospital in Springfield, Missouri. I don’t know if he’s still alive or not but he sure was never the same.”

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