The Front Page

The Dastardly Past:  The Front Page.

Front Page DJ

On August 14, 1928, a new kind of play debuted at the Time Square Theatre in Manhattan.  Called The Front Page, it was a raucous comedy about unscrupulous pressmen and crooked politicians, set against the impending execution of a wrongly convicted criminal.  The playwrights, Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht, drew from their own days as journalists in the Chicago of the 1910s and 1920s.  While some critics complained of the play’s coarseness and cynicism, it was nevertheless a smash hit.  It has been revived successfully on Broadway numerous times and made into successful films, including Howard Hawks’ deft adaptation entitled His Girl Friday (1940), with Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in the lead roles.

The Tangled Web of “Keggy” Jones

The Dastardly Past:  the Tangled Web of “Keggy” Jones.

On Monday, August 31, 1931, in Houston, shots rang out in an upscale apartment building in Montrose, one of the prosperous new developments southwest of downtown.  An alarmed tenant reported the noise to C. C. Bell, the building’s owner.  He called the police.  When Bell let the officers into the apartment, they found the “Anvil Chorus” blaring on the radio and the apartment’s occupants dead from multiple bullet wounds.

pc Houston skyline 1920s

The victims were Mr. and Mrs. A. C. Jones, a young couple who had been married about five years.  Chester Jones, 35, was a rising oil executive with the firm of Martin, Drake, & Jones.  Jane Stackhouse Martin Jones, 25, was the daughter of Chester’s business partner, a respected oil and cattleman named W. F. Martin.  Chester was slumped in a chair in his pajamas, with a shot to the head, four to the chest, and one in the hip.  Jane, daringly dressed in pajamas as well, had been shot four times and had also been beaten.  Under her sprawled body they found a floor scarred by several more bullet holes.

The police concluded that there was more than one intruder:  they found two sets of footprints outside the apartment’s back door and two different kinds of bullets in the apartment.  As to suspects, they were baffled.  But not for long.  As detectives dug deeper into the case, they latched onto the end of a thread that at their touch, began to unravel a convoluted web of criminal activity.

Chester Jones, nicknamed “Keggy,” was not the promising businessman he appeared to be—news that stunned his senior partners W. F. Martin and Ed J. Drake.  Whether Jane Jones knew of her husband’s hidden life is a matter of conjecture; she certainly found out about it.  Through his fingerprints, police determined that Jones was actually a career felon with a number of aliases, who had served three terms in the state penitentiary and still moved in a wide circle of unsavory characters.  As the police rounded up some of Jones’ associates and persuaded them to talk, more of the story of the “Bayou Gangsters” as one journalist called them came out.

Jones headline

Chester “Keggy” Jones, along with his brother, Jack, had been involved in the armed robbery of the Union Planters National Bank in Memphis in May.  Those actually arrested for the crime were Herbert Scales, “a socially prominent young Dallas sportsman and clubman,” Ralph Arnold, and John “The Greek” Cherris.  Cherris was released from jail on a $7500 bail posted by Keggy, but Keggy and Cherris argued over the division of the Memphis loot.  Violently as it turned out, because Keggy, Jack Jones, and another crook named Barney McGanagel killed Cherris and dumped him in the Brazos River near East Columbia, Texas.

Within hours of the murder of her husband, Lola Cherris enlisted the aid of seasoned gangsters Del McCabe and Shiloh Scrivnor to do away with Keggy Jones.  At the end of September McCabe’s wife in St. Louis gave police the whole story from a hospital bed.  She was laid up with a broken leg that she sustained in a car accident that had killed Lola Cherris.  McCabe and Scrivnor entered the apartment to kill Jones, making him sit in a chair and firing point blank, as the powder burns on his clothing proved.  Jane had tried to fight off the killers but they beat her back, shot her, and fled.  Lola Cherris drove the getaway car.  McCabe and Scrivnor were now on the run.

By October 10th, authorities caught up with McCabe and Scrivnor in Des Moines, Iowa.  They had booked into a downtown hotel posing as machine-gun salesmen (seriously?).  As police approached his hotel room McCabe engaged them in a gun fight and was killed.  Scrivnor turned up at the hotel a few hours later, was arrested, and brought back to Texas to stand trial along with Jack Jones and Barry McGanegal.  And so the mystery of who killed the affluent young oilman and his wife was resolved.

Keggy Jones grave

As a postscript to the story, the apartment building where the bloodbath occurred was torn down.  According to the city of Houston web site, Mr. C. C. Bell eventually donated the land on which it stood to the city to be made into a park.  Bell Park, with its statue of Christopher Columbus, still exists on Montrose Blvd., just a few blocks away from Houston’s Museum District.

Bell Park 1Bell Park 2.jpg

Mata Hari

The Dastardly Past:  Mata Hari.

hqdefault

On August 7, 1876, a baby girl called Margaretha Geertruida Zelle entered the world in the Netherlands.  Forty years later she would be executed as a German spy in France under the name of Mata Hari.  The details of her life read like something from the tabloids including, as they did, an affluent childhood, a bankrupt father, a wicked step-mother, a mail-order husband who turned alcoholic and abusive, a sojurn in the Dutch East Indies, bouts with syphilis that would claim the lives of her two children, work with a dance troupe, a circus, and as an artist’s model, and much more.  Openly promiscuous, she wound up an exotic dancer and “courtesan,” who mingled in high society and slept with Europe’s important politicians and high-ranking military officers.  The ease and frequency with which she crossed national borders made her an ideal candidate for espionage in World War I.  Whether Mata Hari actually passed along information or was merely set up by those wanting to rid themselves of her, her name has become synonymous with femmes fatale since her death by firing squad in 1917.

Button Gwinnett

The Dastardly Past:  Button Gwinnett:

Button-Gwinnett-Duel-Sketch

On May 15, 1777, signer of the Declaration of Independence Button Gwinnett engaged in a duel with General Lachlan McIntosh, who had publicly referred to Gwinnett as a “Scoundrell and lying Rascal.”  (Gwinnett’s signature is at the top of the left-most column of the Declaration–see below.) The duel, which took place in Savannah, Georgia, resulted in both men getting shot in the leg.  McIntosh’s was a flesh wound, but Gwinnett’s thigh bone had been broken.  Gangrene set in quickly and Gwinnett died in a matter of days.  He is buried in Savannah’s Colonial Park Cemetery, although the exact location of his grave remains a mystery.

stone.tif

 

Eddie Cicotte and the Chicago Black Sox

The Dastardly Past:  Eddie Cicotte and the Chicago Black Sox.

Cicotte

May 5 marks the anniversary of the death, in 1969, of Eddie Cicotte.  Cicotte was one of eight Chicago White Sox baseball players alleged to have thrown the 1919 World Series.  Cicotte was a right-handed knuckle-baller who, according to legend, was promised a $10,000 by team owner Charles Comiskey if he won 30 games that season.  When Cicotte won game 29, Comiskey is said to have had him benched for fear of having to part with the bonus money.  The embittered Cicotte was therefore willing to listen when approached by a gambling syndicate proposing to throw the Series.

While Cicotte was acquitted of criminal conspiracy charges in the aftermath of the Black Sox Scandal, he was banned from baseball for life.  He returned to his home state of Michigan where he worked for Ford Motor Company, then retired to a strawberry farm.

New York Doctor’s Riot

The Dastardly Past:  the New York Doctor’s Riot.

dripps-1852

In April of 1788, a young boy peeps through a window into a dissecting room.  The medical student waves a dismembered arm at him and tells him it belonged to the boy’s recently deceased mother.  Upon investigation in Trinity Churchyard, the family discovers that the mother’s grave is indeed empty, and public sentiment boils over.  In the absence of regulated sources for cadavers, students of “physic,” as it was called then, had necessarily turned to robbing graves for bodies to dissect.  As long as the bodies belonged to the poor or to minorities, New Yorkers turned a blind eye.  This time an angry mob reacts against the desecration of their loved ones.  They march on the hospital and destroy the anatomy room.  The incident becomes so heated that it results in a two-day riot.  The militia and cavalry finally quell the mob, but not before almost 20 people die.

Murder on the Santa Fe No. 7

The Dastardly Past:  Murder on the Santa Fe No. 7.

On a routine Thursday evening in July 1898, thirty-five years old engineer Joe Williams and thirty-year- old fireman Will Whitaker were in the cab of the locomotive for the No. 7 of the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe passenger train, bringing it south to Fort Worth.  At 9:00 o’clock at night, they had little to think about other than completing their run to Galveston and maybe getting something to eat.

train pass

Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe train railroad pass.  Found at San Jacinto Museum of History online Trains to Texas exhibiti, http://sanjacinto-museum.smugmug.com/OnlineExhibits/Trains-to-Texas/

The train was pulling out of the station at Saginaw, a tiny town eight miles north of Fort Worth, when two men, part of a gang of five, climbed onto the locomotive, scrambled over the top, and fired guns into the cab.  Whitaker took a shot in the head and died instantly.  Williams was shot in the leg.  The killers climbed down into the cab, pitched the two victims out into the darkness, and attempted to drive the train themselves.  They did it poorly.  Witnesses, both on and off the train, reported that it began to run strangely, with many jerks, jolts, and unusual noises.  It eventually stopped at a cut in a hillside several hundred yards from the station.

saginaw station

Old tracks leading south from Saginaw station, 2016

Almost as soon as the villains brought the train to a stop, members of the sheriff’s department set upon them.  A gun-fight ensued, and all the gang member except one, a streetcar motorman name W. R. Petty, fled into the night with their lives but no loot.

A search party eventually found Whitaker’s body close to the tracks.  They found Williams alive some yards away.  He was in considerable pain but managed to relate what had happened.  Every hope existed for his recovery, but he died a several days later due to complications from his injuries.

The railroad’s general manager, C. F. Resseguie, expressed his outrage to the press at the profligate killing, and he offered a $500 reward on behalf of the railroad to augment the $50-per-head reward the state of Texas offered for the capture of the murderers.  Petty informed on the other members of the gang, and other witnesses were quick to come forward with critical information.

As lawmen pieced together the story, it became apparent that the gang completely lacked discretion in planning the job.  They discussed the details of their scheme several times in the open on the corner of 2nd and Main Streets in Fort Worth.  They dressed conspicuously and walked around as a group when they reconnoitered the station in the farming community of Saginaw and the route’s next stop at the stockyards in Fort Worth.  They even discussed their intentions with friends and co-workers, and at least one of them was thoughtful enough to tell his boss he was quitting his job as a hotel dishwasher the night before the robbery.

will whitaker

Grave of Will Whitaker, Goldthwaite Cemetery, Mills County,TX
Image from FindaGrave.com http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=whitaker&GSfn=will&GSbyrel=all&GSdy=1898&GSdyrel=in&GSst=46&GScnty=2686&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=135326850&df=all&

With such a wealth of information to work with, law enforcement in Texas and the Indian Territory managed to apprehend all but one of the gang.  Petty, the informer, remained in jail for almost a year while giving testimony in the trials of his partners in crime.  He was later released and returned to civilian life in Fort Worth.

Two of the gang were convicted of conspiracy to rob.  One died within a few months of going to prison, the other was sentenced to two 99-year terms.  One of the men who shot into the cab of the train engine, twenty-five-year-old Jim Darlington, was convicted and sentenced to death.  He was hanged in front of 50 witnesses on the second floor of the Tarrant County Jail on July 28, 1899.

tarrant co courthouse

Later view of the Tarrant Co. Courthouse