the daring acts of a smiling bandit

Roy G. Gardner (1884 – 1940) was once America’s most infamous prison escapee.

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He was the most dangerous inmate in the history of Atlanta Prison and was dubbed by newsmen the “Smiling Bandit”, the “Mail Train Bandit”, and the “King of the Escape Artists”. He was said to be attractive and charming, standing just under six feet tall, with short, curly auburn hair and blue eyes.

red haired David Wenham found here

Gardner began his criminal profession as a gunrunner around the time of the Mexican Revolution. He smuggled and traded arms to the Venustiano Carranza forces until he was captured by soldiers from Huerta’s army and was sentenced to death by firing squad, but, on March 29, 1909, he broke out of the Mexico City jail along with three other American prisoners after attacking the guards.

Mexican revolutionaries found here

Eventually, Gardner ended up in San Francisco, where he robbed a jewelry store. He was arrested, and spent some time in San Quentin, but was paroled after saving a prison guard’s life during a violent riot. Gardner landed a job as an acetylene welder at the Mare Island Navy Yard, married, fathered a daughter, and began his own welding company. 

San Quentin prisoners found here

Gardner then gambled all of his money away on a business trip in Tijuana at the racetracks. On the night of April 16, 1920, Gardner robbed a U. S. Mail truck of about $80,000 in cash and securities. The job went smoothly, but the outlaw was arrested three days later burying his loot.  He was sentenced to 25 years at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary but vowed he would never serve the sentence. As he was transported on a train with Deputy U. S. Marshals Cavanaugh and Haig, Gardner peered out of the window and yelled, “Look at that deer!”. The lawmen looked, and Gardner grabbed Marshal Haig’s gun from his holster. He then disarmed Marshal Cavanaugh at gunpoint. The outlaw handcuffed the two humiliated lawmen together and stole $200. He jumped off the train, and made his way to Canada.

Muntjac deer found here

He slipped back into the United States the next year, and started robbing banks and mail trains across the country. Gardner tied up the mail clerk to Train No. 10 eastbound from Sacramento and robbed the express car of $187,000 on May 19, 1921. The next morning, Gardner told the mail clerk of Train No. 20 to throw up his hands or he would blow his head off. When the train reached the Overland Limited, the elusive bandit darted down the tracks with an armful of mail. 

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Gardner was recognized at the Porter House Hotel and a convoy of police arrived in Roseville . Three federal agents captured him while he was playing a game of cards in a pool hall and he was sentenced to another 25 years at McNeil Island for armed robbery.

Trying to reduce his sentence he told Southern Pacific Railroad detectives that he would lead them to the spot where he buried his loot. The officers found nothing, and Gardner announced, “I guess I have forgotten where I buried it”. He was heavily shackled, with the addition of an “Oregon Boot”, and was once again transported on a train to McNeil Island, this time by U. S. Marshals Mulhall and Rinkell, both fast shooting veterans. During the journey, Gardner asked to use the bathroom, in which an associate had earlier hidden a .32 caliber pistol. Gardner came out of the bathroom, pointed the gun at Mulhall’s protruding pouch, and ordered another prisoner to handcuff the two humiliated lawmen to the seat. He relieved the officers of their weapons and cash before hopping onto another moving train.

Oregon boot found here

He arrived in Centralia, Washington, where he plastered his face with bandages to hide his identity, leaving one eye slit. Gardner told the Oxford Hotel staff that he had been severely burned in an industrial accident near Tacoma. Officer Louis Sonney became suspicious of the bandaged man, and when he saw a firearm in Gardner’s hotel room, he accused him of being the “Smiling Bandit”. Gardner fought back, but was arrested and a doctor removed the bandages to show that he was indeed the notorious train robber. This time Gardner, who was sentenced to another 25 years, was heavily ironed, and finally brought to McNeil Island.

Bandaged Berlusconi found here

After six weeks at the penitentiary, Gardner had convinced two other prisoners, Lawardus Bogart and Everett Impyn, that he had “paid off” the guards in the towers. On Labor Day, 1921, at a prison baseball game, they ran 300 yards to the high barbed wire fence where Gardner cut a hole, and the three men made it to the pasture as bullets whirled about their heads. Gardner was wounded in his left leg, but hid behind a herd of cattle. About the same time, he saw Bogart fall, badly wounded. Impyn was shot dead; his dying words were, “Gardner told us those fellows in the towers couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn“.

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Guards scoured the beaches and confiscated every boat on the shoreline, but no trace of the dangerous outlaw could be found. Gardner lived in the prison barn, getting nutrition from cow’s milk, and then swam the choppy waters to Fox Island where he lived off fruit in the orchards. Roy Gardner was now the “Most Wanted” criminal, and committed several crimes in Arizona before he was captured by a mail clerk during a train robbery in Phoenix in 1921. He was sentenced to an additional 25 years, this time at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Headlines screamed, “Gangster Gardner brags, ‘Leavenworth will never hold me'”.

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In 1926, he tried to tunnel under the wall and saw through the bars in the shoe shop. The following year, he led a prison break and attempted an armed escape with two revolvers holding the Captain and two guards hostage, but the escape failed. In 1934 he was transferred to Alcatraz. While at Alcatraz, his wife divorced him. Gardner was paroled and released in 1938 after his appeal for clemency was approved.

On the evening of January 10, 1940, Garder wrote four notes at his hotel room in San Francisco, one of which was attached to the door warning: “Do not open door. Poison gas. Call police.” He sealed the door from the inside, then killed himself by dropping cyanide gas into a glass of acid and inhaling the poison fumes. 

“Please let me down as light as possible, boys,” Gardner wrote in a letter to newsmen. “I have played ball with you all the way, and now you should pitch me a slow one and let me hit it.”

Published in: on February 11, 2012 at 8:48 am  Comments (49)  
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An acrobatic Raffles

Robert Fabian, in his book Fabian of the Yard, wrote about a new type of burglar.

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Robert Augustus Delaney will be remembered at Scotland Yard as the man who started a new fashion in crime that was to become known as cat burglary.

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Delaney trod the crags and precipices of Park Lane’s roofs with nonchalant skill. Wearing faultless evening clothes, he could apparently climb the sheer side of a house. I think he imagined himself as a kind of acrobatic Raffles.

Raffles found here

He certainly made the great criminals of the past, like Charles Peace, who carried a collapsible ladder disguised as firewood, look clumsy. In his pocket was a slender tool like a putty-knife for slipping window catches. Around his trimly tailored waist coiled four yards of black silk rope. 

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In 1924, when the rich and noble residents of Park Lane were trooping splendidly into dinner, Delaney would crouch beneath their windows, unwinding his gossamer rope. It was not really my case, nor was my pal Tommy Sykes assigned to it. But we kept an eye on the area hoping for a lead.

One night in October we saw a shadowy intruder flit across one of the white balconies. Tommy raced into the house and through bedrooms and corridors, with the alarmed householders behind him. The thief reappeared on the balcony, made no attempt to descend, but ran light footed and leapt a nine foot gap to the next balcony then vanished. The last thing I saw was the glint of a diamond stud in a dress shirt front.

world’s most expensive dress shirt found here

The next morning we went to the scene of the previous night’s burglary. By daylight that leap from one balcony to another seemed no less remarkable. I noticed a footprint on the ledge, so small and so exquisitely pointed that it might have been made by a woman’s dancing shoe. We found another imprint clearly showing the porous tread of crepe soles. “Rubber soled evening shoes” exclaimed Tommy. “He’d need to get those made specially.”

Louis Vuitton evening shoes found here

I spent the day visiting the exclusive shoe emporiums of Jermyn Street and Shepherd’s Market, where craftsmen took pride in handmade shoes to suit clients’ whims. In Albemarle Street I was lucky. The proprietor gave me an address in Half Moon Street which proved to be false but I thought it worth investigating the bars and lounges nearby.

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A man wearing good evening clothes passed me. A diamond sparkled in his laundered shirt bosom, his tiny pointed shoes moved soundlessly on the tile floor. I followed him back to a house in Vine Street…..

On his first conviction he received three years penal servitude at the Old Bailey. That was in 1924. Would you like to know what this daring, well educated and quick witted young man did with the rest of his life and that superb acrobat’s body that fate had given him?

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By the time he died in Parkhurst Prison in 1948, he had spent twenty years in various gaols. In his brief intervals of freedom, his pointed immaculate shoes had scarcely time to become worn down at the heels…..”

Published in: on December 28, 2011 at 11:01 am  Comments (44)  
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pinko solves another case

Allan Pinkerton published several accounts of the many real robberies and murders solved by Pinkerton Agencies. This is one of them.

Pinkerton and Lincoln found here

The circumstances of the case were, in brief, that George Gordon, the teller, had been brutally murdered in the bank, and over one hundred and thirty thousand dollars had been stolen. 

George was in the habit of remaining behind after office hours to write up his books. Occasionally customers would come to the bank after the regular hours, and George would accommodate them. 

His body was found lying near the vault door. A one hundred dollar bill of the Planter’s Bank of Georgia was found in his hand. It was clutched tightly, and he had fallen on his side so the murderer had not noticed it. The fireplace showed that clothing had recently been burned in it and several buttons were found in the ashes.

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A piece of paper twisted up and charred at one end indicated that it had been used to light the fire in the grate. On unrolling it carefully, it proved to be a fragment of a note for $927.78; part of the date, and the amount of the note were left uncharred. The signature was that of Alexander P. Drysdale, the esteemed county clerk.

A fragment of paper, about three by six inches in size, stained a brownish red by Gordon’s blood, was also found beneath the body. Under the stain were visible the pen marks of the murdered man. A number of figures on one side were arranged like examples in addition. The numbers were $927.78, and $324.22. One of them was the amount of the half burned note of Drysdale; the other was the amount of his current bank balance.

learn how to make blood spatters here

Pinkerton immediately suspected Drysdale of committing the murder and set about proving it thus:

I sent for Timothy Webster, one of my most expert detectives, to whom I gave full charge of the case and instructed him in the plan I had arranged. Mrs. Kate Warne and a young man named Green were assigned to assist Webster, and all the necessary disguises and clothing were prepared at short notice.

Detective Kate Warne found here

Timothy Webster, as John Andrews, and Kate Warne, as Mrs Potter, then arrived in town several days apart, booking into a local hotel. “John Andrews” struck up a business relationship with Drysdale while “Mrs Potter” wangled an introduction to Drysdale’s wife. In the meantime, young Mr Green also came to town and found work with a local cabinet maker.

kitchen cabinets found here

Over a period of several days, “John Andrews” and Drysdale spent much time together, inspecting plantations and hunting.

“It was early dusk when they reached the banks of Rocky Creek, about a mile from Drysdale’s house. Having paused an instant, Andrews spurred his horse forward just as Drysdale uttered an exclamation of horror. As he came up, he saw that Drysdale had stopped and was holding his reins in a convulsive grasp; all color was gone from his face, and he was trembling violently.

Rocky Creek Bridge, Big Sur, found here

At a distance of about fifty yards the figure of a young man was moving down the slope. He walked slowly on, with a measured pace, turning his eyes neither to the right nor left. His course was parallel to the direction of the road, and only his profile could be seen. He wore a business suit of light gray clothes and his curly hair was tossed lightly by the evening breeze. As he moved further away, the back of his head was directly exposed, presenting a most ghastly sight. The thick brown locks were matted together in a mass of gore, and large drops of blood slowly trickled down upon his coat; the whole back of the skull seemed to be crushed in, while the deadly pallor of his face gave him the appearance of a corpse.

walking corpse makeup found here

Drysdale seemed to rally his faculties a moment and shouted in hoarse tones: “Say! you, sir! Who are you, and where are you going?” The figure continued its course without indicating that he had heard the hail. “What in the devil has got into you, Drysdale?” asked Andrews. “God help me,” muttered Drysdale, as the figure disappeared in the woods, “it must have been a ghost.”

ghost girl by Mark Ryden found here

The following week, Mrs. Potter set out for a horseback ride. She faked a fall near Drysdale’s house and was taken there to recuperate for a few days. During this time, large amounts of blood were seen on the stairs to the house and around the front door. Then Drysdale and Andrews went out riding again….

On reaching the spot where Drysdale had seen the ghost before, he kept close to Andrews’ side, and endeavored to appear unconcerned. Suddenly, he grasped Andrews by the arm and with a faint groan said:

“Look! look! for God’s sake, tell me, don’t you see it?” As he spoke, he pointed toward the same ghastly object which he had seen before. There passed the image of the murdered George Gordon. “I tell you, my dear fellow,” replied Andrews earnestly, “that you are laboring under a most unpleasant hallucination. There is absolutely no person, or any moving object in sight, except you and me.”

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That evening Mrs Potter again managed to surreptitiously scatter blood up the front walk, in the hall, and even, by slipping into Drysdale’s room, leave crimson drops on his pillow.

Drysdale was now confined to his bed, and he would see no one except his wife and Andrews. He insisted that he was not sick, but only run down by overwork, and refused to have a doctor. Andrews’ influence over him was greater than that of any one else, and it was plain that the latter had completely secured his confidence. Pinkerton felt convinced that Drysdale would surely confess in a short time.

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A few nights later Mrs. Potter heard footsteps and saw Drysdale pass her window on the veranda. He was dressed in slippers and night-dress, and his actions were so strange that she determined to follow him. He walked rapidly to the creek then he paused a few minutes, as if reflecting. This enabled Mrs. Potter to hide herself nearby so she could watch him more carefully. She saw him walk into the creek at a shallow spot, where he stopped and leaned over with his hands in the water, as if he were feeling for something. A few minutes later he walked out of the stream and crossed a footbridge leading toward his house.

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Neither Mrs. Potter, nor Mr. Andrews could imagine what Drysdale’s object was in making his pilgrimage to the creek at that time of night. Pinkerton was equally puzzled and instructed Green to watch the house every night, dressed in his apparition suit.

Rolls Royce Apparition “concept car” found here

Green kept up his vigil for over a week, and he began to think there was no use in it. One night, however, as he lay behind a bush, he became aware of a white figure gliding noiselessly by him. He immediately followed and noted its every movement. In the same way as he had done at first, Drysdale now proceeded, and after walking up the stream a short distance, he reached down, felt for something at the bottom, and then waded out. As he slowly walked home, he passed within a few feet of Green, who made a considerable noise to attract his attention; but, Drysdale passed straight on, looking neither to the right nor left, and Green was unable to play ghost for the lack of an audience.

A similar extraordinary scene occurred a few nights later and the Pinkerton team realised that Drysdale was sleepwalking.

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So great was the man’s anxiety and nervous dread of discovery, that he could not rest in quiet, and he was forced to visit the spot where his blood-stained treasure was concealed, even in his hours of repose. Pinkerton and his men investigated the spot for themselves.

“In a few minutes, we struck a piece of wood which gave back a hollow sound. This encouraged us and we were richly rewarded by unearthing a large cheese-box, whose weight gave ample proof of the value of its contents. We put the box on a barrow, and wheeled it to the bank, where we broke it open and discovered that it was full of gold coin in rouleaux.

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Pinkerton sent instructions to Mrs. Potter to again make use of the blood about Drysdale’s house, and ordered Green to keep watch during the night. The next morning Andrews reported that Drysdale’s terror on discovering the blood had been greater than he had ever shown before, and that he was fast breaking down.

Pinkerton then obtained a warrant for Drysdale’s arrest:

“I have the unpleasant duty, Mr. Drysdale, of charging you with the murder of George Gordon; have you any denial to make?”

This was the signal to Green, and as I finished speaking, he passed from behind the desk, where he had been seated, across the spot where Gordon’s body had fallen. He was made up exactly like Gordon, as on previous occasions, and though he was in sight only a second, it was enough. Drysdale gave a shriek, and fell down, as the apparent ghost disappeared in the vault.

When he recovered, he admitted his guilt. He asked for a private word with John Andrews and begged him to break the news of his arrest to his wife. The  latter stepped to the door, but before he had reached us, we heard the report of a pistol shot. We made a rush for the little room, but were too late. There, quivering on the floor, with a bullet in his brain, lay the murderer of George Gordon. The somnambulist had walked on earth for the last time.”

it started with a bicycle theft

Forrest Silva Tucker is best remembered for one of the most innovative escapes in San Quentin’s history. But twenty years later in 1999 he wasn’t so lucky…

San Quentin weightlifters found here

A 78-year-old career bank robber, who once tweaked San Quentin guards by escaping with two colleagues in a prison- made kayak named “Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Marin Yacht Club,” is in trouble again.

DIY kayak found here

Forrest Silva Tucker, a reputed member of the real “Over The Hill Gang” in Boston, is in custody on suspicion of robbing a Florida bank and leading sheriff’s deputies on a car chase.

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In trying to avoid arrest Thursday, Tucker allegedly blundered into an enclosed schoolyard and was captured after he lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a palm tree.

Deputies said the chase ensued after Tucker, wanted for a bank robbery earlier that day in the town of Jupiter, was spotted visiting his girlfriend in Pompano Beach.

real life girlfriend from “Dog Day Afternoon” found here

You don’t normally think of a 78-year- old man having a girlfriend, but apparently he had quite a way with the ladies,” said a spokesman for the Broward County Sheriff’s Department.

Back in August 1979, Tucker and fellow inmates William McGirk and John Waller had daringly launched a home made kayak from a partially hidden beach on prison grounds.

Their flimsy craft, made of pieces of plastic sheeting, wood, duct tape and Formica, lasted just long enough for them to paddle several hundred yards to freedom right under the noses of the tower guards.

Toothpick ferris wheel made by San Quentin inmates found here

Within a matter of months, McGirk and Waller were back at San Quentin. They were tried twice for escape, but both times amused jurors refused to convict them. Tucker, meanwhile, remained free.

The next time he surfaced was a few years later in a Boston credit scam. The judge hearing the case freed him on his own recognizance after Marin County prosecutors said they did not want to try him for the San Quentin escape. Lost in the official correspondence between the two states was the fact that Tucker still had years to serve on his original San Quentin sentence. Tucker walked out of the Boston court and never went back.

At the time of his arrest for the Bay Area robberies, Tucker already had a rap sheet going back to a 1936 bicycle theft. There were also two other convictions, including a Florida bust in which he had escaped from a South Dade County hospital by picking the lock on his leg irons.

Shop for your human restraints here

Over the next few years, Tucker was identified by law enforcement agencies as a member of a group of elderly criminals in Massachusetts called the “Over the Hill Gang,” which robbed supermarkets in Boston and its suburbs. He was suspected in 17 armed robberies over the years, most recently in southeastern Florida.

Tucker’s 20 years as a California fugitive came to an ignominious end against a palm tree last week.

Cell tower disguised as palm tree found here