Monday, January 18, 2016

Nameless Et Al


 
            It was about 11:00 pm on November 19, 1919, a little over a week after the Great War ended, that a black, or dark gray Hupmobile crossed the Interstate Bridge from Vancouver, WA to Portland.  The large convertible with the top up and side curtains buttoned pulled off the road just south of the bridge and a tall man with dark hair got out and walked back up the bridge approach to the toll booth.  C.G. Herrman, 54 year-old long-time Portland resident, was on duty as bridge tender.  As the man approached the tollbooth he thrust two handguns through the window and forced Herrman to hand over about $123 in change.  There was more money in the booth’s cash register, but the robber found the bag of change heavy and unwieldy and left the rest.  The robber forced Herrman to accompany him as he walked back down the bridge approach.
The Portland Police Bureau's first motorcycle "speed squad" was organized in 1915. Two years later the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department added motorcycle "speed cops" to enforce the traffic laws on the Interstate Bridge between Portland and Vancouver, WA. Portland Police Historical Society.
            Traffic around the bridge was pretty heavy for so late at night.  A group of soldiers returning from a night on the town were walking toward the bridge on their way back to Vancouver Barracks and the headlights of cars could be seen approaching from both directions. “I’d kill you anyway if it wasn’t for that other automobile approaching,” the robber snarled, motioning toward the car coming from Portland.  He cautioned Herrman to keep his mouth shut and quickly returned to the idling Hupmobile.  The walking soldiers spotted a woman waiting in the car at the base of the bridge, but couldn’t get a good look at her.  The Hupmobile drove back onto the road and speeded south toward Portland.
            The speed limit on the bridge approach was 20 mph and the Hupmobile was going significantly faster than that as it passed the Standard Oil filling station at the corner of Darby St. and Vancouver Rd.  Behind a large billboard at the filling station, Frank Twombley, a young father and six month veteran of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department, and his partner Jack La Mont, sat on motorcycles as “speed cops.”  Twombley laughed as he saw the dark sedan speed past. “There’s a good one,” he said. La Mont was having some trouble with his motorcycle.  “You chase him, Frank,” La Mont said, “I’ll have my machine fixed by the time you get back.”  Twombley took off in pursuit of the speeding car, knowing nothing about the robbery that had just occurred.
            Twombley overtook the Hupmobile near the corner of Union Ave. (now Martin Luther King Jr. Ave) and Portland Blvd. (now Rosa Parks Blvd.).  Still on a wartime schedule of round the clock-work, there were several people on the street who witnessed what happened next.  The motorcycle drew up alongside the sedan and Officer Twombley motioned for the driver to pull over.  One witness saw the driver’s hand, holding a revolver, as he fired three shots at the pursuing speed cop.  One bullet struck Twombley in the side and passed through his heart and both lungs.  The motorcycle wobbled and hit the curb, spilling the mortally wounded officer onto the roadway.
            The Hupmobile didn’t even slow down as it sped south into the city.  Two passersby rushed Twombley to the Emergency Hospital, but he was dead by the time they arrived.  A Military Police car, alerted by the walking soldiers, crossed the bridge in pursuit and was soon joined by Officer La Mont on his repaired motorcycle.  Radio, as a tool of police, was still in its infancy, so it was not possible for officers to radio in reports yet.  The pursuing officers found no trace of the Hupmobile and soon gave up, but it was the beginning of one of the biggest manhunts in Portland up to that time.  Multnomah County and the Interstate Bridge Commission jointly offered a reward of $2000 for the capture of Twombley’s killer; an all-points bulletin went out with descriptions of both the car and the man; and, detectives obtained a list of all Hupmobiles registered in the area and began an intensive search for the car.
            The Great War had brought huge changes to Portland.  The economy was booming as shipyards and lumber mills worked twenty-four hour shifts to supply the war machine that had finally defeated the Germans.  Two years of Prohibition, and the innovative crime policies of Mayor George Baker, had made the city a safe haven for criminals of all kinds and crime rates were rising.  This meant that there were plenty of “usual suspects” for the police to round up in their dragnet, but Twombley’s killer laid low at the Dennison Apartments on SE Belmont until he felt safe and then drove north out of town on a leisurely trip to Seattle. 
Jack Laird as he looked when he entered the Oregon State Penitentiary in 1919 to serve a life term for murder. Oregon State Archive.
            At the wheel was Jack Laird (real name John Knight Giles), recently released from Washington State Penitentiary, and nearly out of money after a successful train robbery at Mukilteo just weeks before.  Laird was accompanied by a pretty young woman named Augusta Carlson.  The two of them would stay away from Portland for about a week, before foolishly returning to the city where their car was quickly recognized.  By that time Portland Police had already identified Laird from a laundry mark found on an overcoat he had discarded on the night of the murder. The laundry mark took them to the Dennison Apartments where they found a trunk that led them into the strange and twisted mind of Jack Laird. Laird was an intelligent young high school dropout who saw himself as a brilliant criminal mastermind, but his career had been extremely disappointing so far.
            Laird was born in Georgia, but moved with his family to Everett, WA at a young age.  The intelligent young man with a soft southern accent did well in school, skipping a couple of grades and dropping out at the age of fifteen.  His parents divorced that year and the troubled young man “left home for good” heading north into British Columbia where he quickly found work on a surveying crew.  Laird, who’s IQ was measured well-above average at 116, learned skills easily and soon was a master with surveying equipment.  Along the way he was introduced to the writing of Frederich Nietzsche, the German philosopher who was just gaining popularity in the United States.  Nietzsche’s writing convinced the young man that he was superior to average people and that he was not subject to ideas of morality and law.  He decided that working for a living was boring and that he was really cut out to be a criminal mastermind.
            After four years as a surveyor Laird headed south and shortly after his twentieth birthday pulled his first job in Centralia, WA.  It was a disaster.  Robbing a saloon the young hoodlum had trouble getting away.  He took a local doctor hostage and forced the man to drive him out of town.  After a couple of blocks the doctor tried to get the gun away from the nervous criminal and Laird fired several shots before running from the car.  The doctor was unharmed, but Laird was picked up less than an hour later and began his education at the state prison in Walla Walla.
            Drawing a five to ten year sentence for armed robbery, the young crook was pardoned on August 14, 1918. Three years in the state prison were not a waste for young Jack Laird.  On his release he was a confident criminal with newly learned skills and the ambition to be the leader of a gang of desperadoes who could make a mark on the Pacific Northwest.  On September 23rd Laird pulled the most successful job of his career, single-handedly robbing the Great Northern railroad near Mukilteo, WA.  The young train robber made what at first seemed like a huge haul, over $76,000 in liberty bonds and certificates.  On further examination it turned out that more than $70,000 of the haul was non-negotiable, so Laird only had about $6,000 to advance his nefarious plans.  He decided it was enough and headed for Portland.
            Laird rented an apartment on SE Belmont near 34th, carefully choosing rooms located close to the fire escape in case he had to make a quick get-away. He began collecting outdoor and camping equipment, firearms and other equipment, like surveying gear and a portable machinist’s kit.  Evidently he was equipping himself to live self-sufficiently away from a city.  He recruited two brothers from Southeast Portland for his “bootlegging” scheme.  Using Liberty Bonds from the Great Northern robbery he purchased two Hupmobile sedans and dispatched Jerry and George Noltner to California where liquor was still legal.  With a major chunk of his money tied up in the bootlegging scheme and equipment, Laird turned to his search for a “moll.”
Augusta "Amy" Carlson was a milliner and shopgirl when she caught Jack Laird's eye.  She didn't seem to mind that he was a train robber and she liked the shopping sprees he funded. Oregonian Historical Archive, Multnomah County Library.
            Augusta Carlson, a pretty young shop girl at Olds, Wortman and King Department Store, caught his eye immediately.  He began to hang around the Department Store and one evening managed to follow her home to the Hillcrest Hotel. Amy, as Augusta preferred to be called, had a bit of a hard look to her face, but her soft brown eyes and long dark hair went with an olive complexion to give her an exotic look.  Her affected French accent, elegant dress and romantic lies about her past were very alluring. Jack took a room at the Hillcrest Hotel and began to court Amy, who was already “engaged” to a Portland doctor and widow of a young husband who killed himself three days after their divorce was final.  She didn’t seem to mind that Jack was a train robber and she liked how generous he was as she furnished his Belmont apartment with everything she could think of at his expense.  Three days after they met Amy and Jack were engaged and two days later she moved into the Dennison Apartments with him on the promise they would be “married very soon.”
            When the Noltner brothers finally returned to Portland in November, 1919 they brought bad news with them.  Their Hupmobile, loaded with a valuable and expensive stash of high quality liquor, was stuck in mud and snow in the McKenzie Pass in the Cascades far south of Portland.  Desperate for cash after a shopping spree with Amy and with the majority of his assets stuck in the snow, Laird went to Plan B.  Amy had gained a good reputation as a lady’s milliner while working in the downtown Department Stores and in an age of fashionable hats she had entrée into some of the wealthiest homes in Portland. The wives of William M. Ladd, banker and scion of the Ladd fortune, Frank J. Cobb, “millionaire-lumberman,” Arthur C. Spencer, chief attorney of the O.W. R & N railroad/shipline, and J. D. Farrell, president of the O.W.R. & N., invited her into their fashionable homes to help them have the most stylish hats.  Amy’s knowledge of the homes of such important men gave Laird the idea.
            Laird, who never seems to have understood that his real talent was as a writer, made elaborate plans.  Typing detailed instructions and self-justifications while wearing rubber gloves so as to not leave fingerprints on the keyboard, he concocted a plan to kidnap one or more of the men on his list and hold them for $50,000 ransom each.  The letters stated that the kidnappings were being executed by a large gang that had kidnapping experience all over the country.  Laird signed his epic instruction letter “nameless et al.”  Not trusting his incompetent henchmen, Laird hired a young jitney driver, a sort of gypsy cab, named “Kid” Maples to drive him around on November 19, 1919 and put his plan into action. Telling the driver that he had important information that had to be rushed to Salem as soon as he made several calls, Laird went to the home of each man on his list, starting with William M. Ladd.  Like all of Laird’s criminal capers, the Kidnap Plot was meticulously planned but had a fatal flaw.  He had forgotten to learn the routines of his victims so he could catch them.  At each house he found the occupants out and his Kidnap Plot was foiled before it began.  Returning to the Dennison Apartments late in the evening Laird must have been in a foul mood and very short of cash.
            Around 8:30pm Jack and Amy jumped into their dark Humpmobile sedan and drove north toward Vancouver, WA.  Desperate for money Jack hoped to pull off another train robbery and bring in a good haul.  In November, 1918 Vancouver was a military town and the train depot was heavily guarded by armed soldiers.  Amy said that they spent quite a while in the parking lot looking for a weakness to exploit, but finally headed back to Portland in disappointment.  She said that the tollbooth robbery must have been a spur of the moment decision, because he pulled off the road suddenly and was gone for only ten minutes.  She said by that point he seemed wild and she was afraid of him.  He was carrying two guns on his body and had a third under the driver’s seat of the car.  After the shooting Jack, said, “What have I done?” and seemed to panic when she told him he had killed a speed cop.
            Jack was charming on the witness stand and had the jury laughing along with him more than once as he told the crazy story of how he had been “framed up” for the tollbooth job, but the evidence was solid.  Amy testified against him and soon after the trial married again. She remained in hiding from Laird and over the years ran two successful clothing businesses in small southwest Washington towns.  Jack was sentenced to life in prison and soon moved into his new home, a tiny cell in Salem.   
     Prison was a good place for Jack. He started working in the print shop and soon became editor of the prison magazine.  As a writer Laird was a bit pedantic and preferred dense subject matter that the State Prison guards found incomprehensible, but soon he hooked up with Elliot “Mickie” Michener, another inmate serving a sentence for armed robbery.  Mickie and Jack, who both had discipline problems in their first days at the penitentiary, soon became model prisoners.  Between 1928 and 1931 they co-wrote more than two dozen action/adventure stories, some with a humorous bent, featuring their western hero Black Bill.  The stories were very popular and ran in Short Stories and West pulp magazines.  Their editor, Roy de S. Horn, of Doubleday & Doran estimated that the stories were read by more than a million readers and he believed the two men, who wrote under the name Jack Laird, could make good livings as writers and be rehabilitated into law abiding citizens.  Jack and Mickie had other plans though.
Jack Laird in 1935. Oregon State Archive.
For more on Portland during prohibition see my new book with Theresa GriffinKennedy Murder & Scandal in Prohibition Portland available February 1st from The History Press.  More on the adventures of Jack Laird is coming soon at Weird Portland.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Murder & Scandal in Prohibition Portland Preview



      My new book with Theresa Griffin Kennedy, Murder & Scandal in Prohibition Portland, is all about the enforcement of Prohibition in Portland between 1916 and 1933.  We also look very closely at the anti-radical politics and the financial and sex scandals that riddled the administration of long-time Mayor George L. Baker. I tell you all about it in the preview posted on Weird Portland. The book is also about murder and that is what I am going to tell you about tonight.
            Claremont Roadhouse Robbery
            Walter Banaster, aka Little Dutch Herman, who ran The Wigwam resort in Olympia, Washington in the 1930s was one of the most violent and powerful northwest organized crime figures of his time.  Running a murder-for-hire ring out of his gambling and bootlegging joint, Banaster was behind several gang-land style killings in both Portland and Seattle.  He got his start in Portland. The first big splash of his career was the robbery of the Claremont Roadhouse in 1919.
            The Claremont Roadhouse was located on the Highway between Portland and the then separate town of Linnton on the Columbia River.  Roadhouses, where people would drive outside city limits for dining, drinking and dancing, had been popular since 1906 when Fred T. Merrill, Bicycle King of the Northwest and long-time city council member, opened 12-mile House on the Baseline Rd. in southeast Portland.  They gained in popularity when Prohibition came in in 1916.  Larry Sullivan, ex-professional boxer, ex-crimp and one of Portland’s earliest organized crime bosses, controlled several roadhouses in the early days of prohibition, including the Friar’s Club in Milwaukie and the Claremont Roadhouse on the way to Linnton.  By 1919 the Claremont was rivaled only by Birdlegs’ Roadhouse on the eastside.
            On November 21, 1919, just days after Leon Jenkins became Police Chief, Jasper N, Burgess, a member of the state highway commission, and George Perringer, a prominent rancher, both from Pendleton, were staying at the Benson Hotel in downtown Portland on a business trip.  Portland, a wide open town, was always good for a junket, so Burgess and Perringer picked up two switchboard girls at the hotel and took them on an afternoon drive. Stopping at the Claremont Roadhouse for lunch, the party was already tipsy from drinking when three men, masked with handkerchiefs, forced their way into the roadhouse, herding the customers together in the large central room.  One of the robbers, most-likely Banaster although he blamed his companions, went into the private room where Burgess and Perringer were drinking with the women.  The robber killed Burgess and Perringer with two shots each before herding their companions into the central room with the rest of the guests.
            The three robbers, Banaster, James Ogle and Dave Smith, made off with over $3000 worth of cash and jewelry and used a safe-house, provided by a Japanese criminal gang to hideout.  Police Chief Jenkins was joined in the investigation of the crime by legendary central Oregon lawman Til Taylor, who had been friends with both of the victims.  Taylor and Jenkins made a point that the deaths of Burgess and Perringer had been the result of a robbery gone wrong, but rumors abounded that the real purpose of the “robbery” had been killing the two men.  Later developments gave credence to the rumors. The next year Til Taylor was killed in a Pendleton jailbreak and soon after Hyman Weinstein, a junk dealer from South Portland moved to Baker, OR and became the “vicelord” of Central Oregon.  Weinstein, whose brother Abe was involved in bootlegging, gambling and fencing in Portland, was an associate of Bobby Evans criminal organization.  The extension of power from Portland into the rest of the state is a strong possible motive for the killings at the Claremont Roadhouse.
The Murder of Frank Akin
            One of Portland’s oldest and most controversial “unsolved” murders is that of Frank Akin, a special investigator sent by Governor Julius Meier to investigate corruption in Portland’s Port Commission.  Akin was shot to death in his southwest Portland apartment in November, 1933, just days after releasing the findings of his Port investigation and before he had released a preliminary report on an investigation of the city’s Water Bureau, which he had just begun.  The Oregonian, which was heavily involved with the Republican establishment, scotched rumors that Akin’s investigative activity was the motive for his death, instead spreading false rumors of his womanizing and financial scams.  Although one man, Leo Hall -- believed to be the gunman, was executed in Washington state for another crime, and another man, Portlander Jack Justice, was convicted of murder for hiring him, the true motive for the crime was never discovered.
 
Leo Hall was executed for murdering six people at Erland's Point, WA. He was believed to be the trigger man in the Frank Akin murder.
            In the new book Theresa and I examine all the available evidence in the Akin case and present it in a clear manner.  While it is not likely that a solution to the case can be found after nearly eighty years, we are able to shed new light on the case and suggest a motive for the killing that has been long overlooked.  Historian E. Kimbark MacColl in his book Growth of a City, presents an abbreviated version of the case and speculates that the killing was prompted by Akin’s investigation of the Port of Portland.  In the new book we suggest that the Port Investigation was a red herring, designed to hide the real motive for the killing. We present evidence that suggests that his investigation of the Water Bureau, which had been run for more than a decade by corrupt city councilman John Mann, was the real motive for the killing.  In addition we connect both Jack Justice and Leo Hall to the murder-for-hire ring operated by Walter Banaster in Olympia, Washington.
The Torso Murder
            The gruesome Torso Murder case, which saw several packages of human body parts in the Willamette River over several months of 1946, has captured the imagination of murder mystery fans for nearly seventy years.  The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Department and the Oregon State Police never got anywhere in trying to solve the case, mainly because they were never able to identify the victim.  Seventy years later new evidence has been unearthed that points at the possible identity of the victim and a possible solution of the case, along with an explanation of why the police never identified the victim.
Anna Schrader came to Portland in 1910 and became a thorn in the side of Mayor Baker and Chief Jenkins near the end of Baker's administration.  Her mysterious disappearance in 1946 coincided with the unidentified body parts found in the river.
            If you’ve been following the podcast Murder By Experts, then you already know about Anna Schrader, secret-police private detective, lover of Police Lt. William Breuning and outspoken opponent of Mayor George Baker’s administration and Police Chief Leon Jenkins.  Theresa and I have been researching Schrader’s life and career for more than a year and in the book we present all the evidence we have found.  The book makes a compelling case that Schrader is the victim in the Torso Murder and that the motive for her death lies in the secret bootlegging operations carried out by the Police Bureau in the 1920s.  The hatred and anger that fueled the brutal murder were most likely created during the so-called Schrader-Bruening scandal of 1929, which rocked the city and forced major changes in the Police Bureau.  If Schrader is the victim it is very likely that Bill Breuning was the killer.
            With all of the suspects long dead and all of the physical evidence missing, we can only speculate on a solution for the case, but we present compelling evidence not only for who the victim and killer could be, but of the machinations of Police Chief Leon Jenkins and Police Captain James Purcell that covered up Breuning’s involvement in the murder and derailed the murder investigation.
            All of that and more will be available when the new book Murder & Scandal in Prohibition Portland is released by the History Press in February, 2016.  See you there.
Welcome to George Baker's Portland.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Honor Among Thieves

  I am very close to being finished with my new book about Portland during Prohibition. Here is a little more on the career of Roy Moore -- King of the Northwest Bootleggers -- just one of the characters you will be able to read about when it is released by History Press in February, 2016.

An auto camp like this one was used as headquarters by Roy Moore and his gang when they pulled off the Brownsville Triple Robbery in December, 1945. Photographer unknown. Portland City Archive.
          In 1846 a group of pioneers crossed the Oregon Trail and filed land claims in the lush valley of the Callapooia River, southeast of Corvallis.  Most of the year the river was low enough to cross easily, but at the end of the summer the river rose and the settlers opened a ferry that could be hauled across.  Soon the new settlement of Kirk’s Ferry evolved into Brownsville and by 1860 the new town had a grist mill, a woolen mill, a lumber mill and a furniture factory.  The 300-preson town became the center of business and banking for a large agricultural community in eastern Linn County.  In December 1945 business was booming and the vaults in the Pharmacy and Hardware store were stuffed with cash and War Savings Bonds.
            Before dawn on Saturday December 22 a group of highly experienced robbers hit Brownsville.  They dynamited the safe at the Carlson Hardware Store, peeled the safe at Graham’s Pharmacy and rifled the cash register at Chambers Grocery. Peeling a safe is a specialized technique that removes the outer skin of a safe in order to get at its contents. It worked best on safes of a specific shape, often older models used in small towns.  The robbers got over $8000 in cash and more than $20,000 in War Savings Bonds.  The papers didn’t say anything about stolen drugs, but it would have been out of character for the gang to leave opiates behind; especially with the high prices available in narcotics-hungry Portland.  It was the biggest robbery in Linn County’s history up to that time, and one of the largest to ever occur in the state.  The Brownsville triple robbery was the most memorable job pulled by the armed gang run by Roy Moore, King of the Northwest Bootleggers, who had first gained notoriety after the robbery of the Sells-Floto Circus in Vancouver, WA in 1921.
             Roy Moore and his partner, S.D. McLain (aka Douglas O’Day) drove from Brownville to Portland that night, checking into an “auto camp” at SE 82nd Avenue and Powell.  For the last twenty years, Moore and his gang had been committing robberies all over the northwest and using Portland as its home base.   Moore was well-known in Portland for his arrogant court appearances in 1926 when he testified in the trial of two Oregon State Prohibition Enforcement officers who were charged with accepting bribes.  Moore testified in Federal court that he was “Portland’s leading bootlegger” and described how he had personally been involved with bribing the two officers.  Two years later, when indicted for conspiracy to violate federal Prohibition laws, Moore testified that the liquor “racket” had been good to him and he had earned enough to retire.  The so-called “King of Bootleggers” claimed that he had been involved in the racket from November, 1924 until late in 1926.  He said he earned more than $20,000 ($250,000 in 2015) during that time and since then had “been doing nothing.” Moore dismissed the testimony of Ernest K. Specht and George Mays, government witnesses who claimed to be his partners in the liquor business, saying he “didn’t need any partners.”
In 1928 Roy Moore faced charges of conspiracy to violate the liquor laws. He claimed that he had been a "big time" bootlegger but had made a lot of money and retired more than two years before.  The jury didn't buy it and he went to McNeil Island Penitentiary for two years.
            Moore certainly felt that his partners were dispensable.  D. Rasor, the never captured “third man” in the Sells-Floto Circus robbery was allegedly shot during an argument in the getaway car and seen by witnesses limping away on what appeared to be a wounded leg.  Police speculated that Moore probably shot him in order to increase his cut from the nearly $30,000 haul.  After his release from McNeil Island Penitentiary on the liquor conspiracy charge, Moore returned to Portland in 1930. Unpopular with the police-run liquor racket in Portland because of his violent record, Moore returned to his roots with a series of armed burglaries in remote Oregon towns.  He followed the same modus operendi as the Sells-Floto robbery, two veteran armed robbers/safecrackers, known as yeggs, who recruited local accomplices as combination muscle/fall guys.  The local accomplices were expendable and not infrequently killed.  That is most likely what happened to Ernest Bowman on the Brownsville job.
            Bowman, an unemployed logger from Kelso, WA, had been making frequent trips by bus from his daughter’s home in Longview to Portland.  His daughter said that she thought he was looking for work.  He may have been looking for work and he may not have been choosy about its legality.  His search for a job took him to the auto camp in southeast Portland that was headquarters to Roy Moore’s gang of cut throats.  In fifteen years Moore had turned himself back into a Portland big shot, with a gang of hired muscle that kept up a brisk business in protection and safecracking.  Like most professionals Moore usually didn’t pull jobs in town and used Portland as a place to lay low while the heat died.  Vending machine man, Jim Elkins, and gambling attorney Al Winter were getting the town back under control after the underworld free-for-all of the late 1930s.  The cooperative city government led by Mayor Earl Riley and the newly re-emergent Police Chief Leon Jenkins, who had been demoted to Chief Inspector in 1933, made Portland a safe place for professional criminals, as long as they didn’t get violent in town and kept their professional activities outside city limits.
            Bowman met up with Moore-associate Douglas O’Day (real name S.D. McLain) and “local talent” Jack Orville Mann.  Mann was an unlucky burglar from Sweet Home, OR who had managed to be arrested seven times before he was 28 years old.  Mann would be the “third man” in the Brownsville job and all the details of Bowman’s murder would come out at the trial.  Bowman had been interested in earning money from robberies and McLain had been eager to recruit him for a “third man” spot.  Mann didn’t trust the ex-logger, though and warned McLain that he could be “dangerous.”  It is unclear whether McLain believed that Bowman might have been working with law enforcement, but it is clear that he lured him into a car driven by Mann on the evening of December 18, 1945 with the offer of a job in Corvallis that would net the three of them at least $1800.  Mann was at the wheel with Bowman in the shotgun position; McLain sat in the back seat as the three men headed out of Portland.  According to Mann they hadn’t even gotten out of the city before McLain shot Bowman in the back of the head.
            The two criminals drove to a spot just south of Camp Adair, a wartime Army base near Corvallis, where they slit Bowman’s belly open so he would sink easily and dumped the body from a bridge into a large creek.  They drove on to Brownsville and cased the businesses in town before returning to southeast Portland.  Two days later Mann, McLain and Bowman drove back to Brownsville and pulled off the triple robbery.  The day after the Brownsville job Linn County Sheriff Mike Southard spotted Jack Mann walking down the street in Brownsville. Recognizing the ex-con and knowing there was a warrant for him in Albany for a motel robbery; Southard arrested him to see what he might know about the triple robbery.  McLain and Moore probably wished that Mann had joined Bowman in the rushing creek, because Mann told it all.  Not only did he tell the police all about McLain and Moore and where they were hiding, he told all about the shooting he had witnessed.
            Multnomah County Sheriff’s Deputies swooped down on the auto camp on SE Powell and caught McLain and Moore with almost all of the money from the robberies.  McLain argued that $110 of the cash found in his pocket was his own from before the robbery. McLain was charged with murder and tried to show the police where he had dumped Bowman’s body, but he got lost in the unfamiliar rural surroundings and never found the right place.  Bowman was finally discovered in January 1946 when his body washed up near Philomath.  McLain plead guilty to Bowman’s murder and he and Mann both received stiff sentences for the burglaries.  Moore was convicted on robbery charges as well, but the veteran criminal managed to stay out of jail until 1947; plenty of time for Jim Elkins and the boys to throw him a proper going-away party.  Showing up for his third stay in the Oregon State Penitentiary in November of that year; Moore was released in January 1949 when outgoing governor John Hall pardoned the hardened criminal for “health reasons.”
In 1953 Moore was brought back to Oregon to serve a life sentence as a habitual criminal.  He retired to the Oregon State Penitentiary where he taught safe-cracking and extortion to the next generation of young criminals. Historical Oregonian Archive.

            Roy Moore had sense enough to get out of Oregon, because the Linn County district attorney wasn’t done with him.  A habitual criminal case was filed against Moore, who was convicted in absentia in 1951.  Moore didn’t stay out of jail long.  He was arrested in North Carolina in late 1949 and convicted of another safe burglary; this time with his brother as an accomplice.  Moore was released from prison in Raleigh, NC in January, 1953 and delivered into the arms of Ellsworth Herder, guard captain of the Oregon State Prison.  He was brought back to Salem where he served out the rest of his life.  The veteran armed robber, safe cracker, still operator, protection racketeer and professional killer would have been a valuable professor in the Oregon State Crime College.
 Thanks to all the sponsors and patrons at www.patreon.com  for their support.  Thanks also Fred Stewart -- super sponsor and future Portland City Commissioner. Vote for Fred! Most of them make just a small contribution per month, but if everyone who reads this does that I will be doing very well. These articles and books take hours of research and writing and very little of that time is paid for. History isn't free. Support your local historian.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Murder and the Wobblies

Wobblies (members of the IWW) used street speaking as an effective tool of persuasion.  The corner of SW 6th and Stark was often crowded with transient workers during the "rainy season" who made up large, rowdy audiences for street speakers. University of Washington Library Special Collection.
            The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) were a new kind of labor organization for the twentieth century.  After the harsh bloody fighting between labor and management in the 1880s and 1890s, it was time for a militant, confrontational group to take on the issues of the most oppressed workers in the country, women, children, transient workers and the unemployed. The racist, exclusionary policies of American labor unions of the nineteenth century had limited the power of labor and provided a divided front that could be easily sidetracked and defeated by management.  The IWW scrapped those old ideas and was an inclusionary group that organized across the lines of race and gender; anyone who identified as working class could become a Wobbly, as IWW members were known.
            The IWW represented only a small part of the working class, but their militant tactics of “cultural resistance,” use of popular music and slogans to get across their simple message of class consciousness and solidarity and their commitment to direct action made them highly visible.  Because of these tactics they became the most visible targets of anti-union feeling.   The IWW represented an important trend in the labor movement in Portland; pulling the lower levels of the working class to the left they helped labor leaders like Will Daly and Mayor Allen Rushlight to build power closer to the center of the political spectrum.  It was the alliance of the labor movement and the Progressive Party, symbolized by Daly’s career, which allowed them to create a highly organized labor movement in Portland.  Labor support helped William U’Ren, and other progressive leaders, push through the Oregon System and expand democracy to the working class.
            As the most visible and radical elements of the labor movement the IWW drew the attention and the anger of employers like a lightning rod.  Because of the power and organization of Portland’s Central Labor Council, even the most intransigent employers in Portland found it expedient to appear to be pro-union.  The radical IWW, who were even seen by average union members as too far to the left, made an easy target that the employers could hit repeatedly in an effort to drive a wedge between the upper levels of the working class and the lower levels.  The main tactic that employers used against labor was “divide and conquer.”  The employers were constantly pointing out the differences between the various elements of the working class and giving advantages to select groups, such as men with white skin as a way to keep the working people distrustful and competitive with each other.  It was a common practice for employers to use race as a wedge, often hiring Japanese, Hindu or Black workers as strikebreakers to keep the working class divided along racial lines.  A very clear example of this tactic is the 1910 strike at the St Johns Lumber Mill.  In February 1910 the lumber mill imported 200 Hindu workers as strike breakers, leading to several violent confrontations, the forcible expulsion of the Hindus from St Johns and an even more racially divided working class.
            Between 1910 and 1914 the labor movement in Portland reached the height of its power. With Oregon Federation of Labor president Will Daly as the city’s most popular commissioner and likely next mayor, it seemed as if the coalition of union members and small business owners that dominated the east side of Portland was on the verge of taking power.  The radical IWW saw that hope as a chance to pull things even further to the left and they capitalized on the opportunity by supporting a series of strikes and instituting a “free speech movement” in Portland.  Free Speech Movements were militant fights over public speaking laws in an effort to build IWW power and reduce the power of the city in which the fight was held.  Street speaking was the standard method that political activists and candidates had to get their message in front of voters in these days before TV and radio.  Most cities had limits on where and when such speaking was allowed.  IWW free speech fights were campaigns of civil disobedience against such restrictive laws.  Their usual tactic was to break the law openly and get their activists arrested in an effort to “fill the jails” and overwhelm the city.  Such fights had taken place all over the west by the time Portland’s turn came in 1913.
            Allen Rushlight, an eastside plumber, union supporter and progressive politician, was elected mayor in 1910 to replace Joseph Simon, the longtime leader of Oregon’s Republican Party Machine.  Simon, although he did a lot for the development of Portland as a city, had become the symbol of corrupt “ward politics” government and as such was as responsible as anyone for the adoption of the commission government that took over the city at the end of Rushlight’s term of office.  Rushlight, elected with high hopes by union members, proved a disappointment.  His progressive plans for the city were not achieved and he spent most of his time reacting to criticism and trying to suppress vice and the radicals of the IWW.  Rushlight like most of Portland’s mayors used the police force for political purposes: one of their most effective political uses was as a weapon of propaganda.  It was standard practice to use police raids for various crimes to divert public attention or to direct it into a specific channel.
Enoch Slover, Portland Police Chief was accused of being on the payroll of North End brothel owners.  He was always happy to use police raids to divert public attention.  In 1913 he tried to frame IWW organizer Gordon Napier for the murder of John A. Brown. Portland Police Historical Society.
            Enoch Slover, who served as chief of police for Rushlight’s entire term of office, became a symbol of the corrupt institution that the Portland Police Bureau had become.  Slover joined the Police Bureau in 1903 and distinguished himself as an officer during the Lewis & Clark Exposition, where his first beat was located.  He rose through the ranks quickly, promoted to sergeant before the end of 1903 and becoming Captain in 1905. Slover was accused of corruption and bribery many times in his career, the earliest recorded accusations against him came in 1904.  After serving as chief between 1911 and 1913, Slover intended to continue as a Police Captain, but he was fired from the Police Bureau for “conduct unbecoming a police officer.” Slover had been identified as the leader of a ring of corrupt cops who were on the payroll of brothel owners in the North End.  More than a dozen officers were fired at the beginning of Mayor H. Russell Albee’s term of office.  The mass firing was used as evidence that the Police Bureau had been cleaned up; once again Slover served a theatrical roll in a propaganda performance.
            All through the spring of 1913 the Wobblies were building power and agitating among the women workers who dominated the canning industry on the east side.  Mayor Rushlight and Chief Slover, responding to pressure from downtown merchants and eastside factory and mill owners, went after the IWW. The first propaganda police attack came when the wobblies were accused of killing John A. Brown, teamster foreman for the C.J. Cook Co.  The Cook Co. was one of the biggest excavation and demolition companies in the city and had been capitalizing on Portland’s growth as the crumbling old buildings downtown were replaced by new buildings.  The second propaganda attack against the wobblies came a few months later with the raids on the Monte Carlo Poolroom and the Fairmont Hotel, meeting places for homosexual men, and the resulting Greek Scandal.  The homosexual scandal, in the aftermath of the 1912 YMCA Scandal which created a strong anti-gay feeling in Portland, was used to harass and breed mistrust of immigrants and migrant workers, who made up a large percentage of IWW membership.
            The murder investigation, although unsuccessful, was used to discredit the wobblies and to try and discover the names of its members.  Murder was a typical weapon that was used against the IWW in two ways: some IWW organizers and members were murdered outright; others were framed for murder; either way effectively destroyed the leadership of the IWW. From the attempted frame up of IWW leadership for the murder of Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg in 1905 to the execution of Joe Hill for a murder he didn’t commit in 1914, frame ups were an effective weapon against the IWW.  In 1913 Chief Slover tried to frame Gordon Napier for murder.
            It started with an argument in the Elkhorn Café on NW 6th & Davis.  The café was next door to Wobblie Hall, the IWW headquarters and was frequented by IWW members as well as Teamsters and other union members.  Over the previous decade, as Portland unions fought employers on the issue of the “open shop” – a work place that allowed union members and non-union members as part of the workforce, conservative AFL unions such as the Teamsters and the International Longshore Association had grown more radical in their demands and methods and built solidarity with the IWW.  The “open shop” is a method that employers use to dilute the strength of unions and pit workers against each other – Portland unions and employers have still never settled this issue conclusively.  The Elkhorn was a place that you could always find support for the “Revolution.”  It is curious that John A. Brown, foreman for the C.J. Cook Co. and an outspoken opponent of unions would stop there for a drink.
            He did just that on the evening of March 24, 1913.  His companion on that occasion was Alfred Carter, a man who claimed to be a close friend of Brown’s.  Carter, who also worked for C.J. Cook on the excavation for the new Pittock Building, claimed that he and Brown stopped in at the Elkhorn for a couple of drinks after work and that he got into an argument with wobbly Gordon Napier.  According to Carter, Napier left the café and when Carter and Brown came out he led a group of wobblies who attacked them on the sidewalk.  During the fight Brown received a blow, possibly from a heavy salt cellar, which fractured his skull and killed him the next day.  Napier and Carter both got away after the fight, most likely with help from the wobblies, but several IWW members were arrested.  None of them would admit anything and stayed in jail rather than talk.  Carter was quickly found and although he was the original murder suspect, he accused the wobblies and the police went along with it.  Napier was picked up in The Dalles a couple of days later and returned to Portland to face a murder charge.
IWW demonstrations were often met by violent oppression, as seen in this photograph from San Diego.  During the Portland Free Speech Fight Dr. Marie Equi became enraged at the brutal methods the police used to clear the streets.  She often credited that experience for her commitment to political radicalism. University of Washington Special Collection.
            It seemed like an open and shut case, Napier confessed to the argument with Carter and the fight on the sidewalk, but he said that he had been after Carter and hadn’t fought with Brown at all. One of the witnesses, Ernest Lindsay, a Teamsters’ union member, was identified as the man who hit Brown, but he denied that he had been involved with the fight.  Lindsay’s testimony was so unbelievable that he was charged with perjury.  Napier was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, but police couldn’t get enough evidence to charge him with murder. The Grand Jury didn’t buy any of it and they returned “not true” bills on both Lindsay and Napier’s charges.  With no other suspects, the police dropped the investigation.  Solving the murder was less important than discrediting the IWW.
            A quick check of the history of Alfred Carter, the main witness against the wobblies, points to a different theory of the crime.  Carter, who sometimes was a union member and sometimes scabbed, was part of a burglary ring that stole building supplies and tools from construction sites. When Carter was arrested in 1910 for stealing tools police thought they had finally captured the ring that had been operating in Portland for a couple of years.  Carter and his nephew, Fred Haynes admitted that they were working for prominent contractor Edward M. Neylor.  Suddenly the investigation was dropped and no charges were brought against Carter, Haynes or Neylor.  The abrupt end of the case suggests that protection was involved, as it often kicked in before criminal cases could go to trial.  Haynes’ involvement with local burglary and bootlegging rings for the next two decades also provides a clue that the family had connections in the underworld.  Carter claimed to have been close friends with John Brown, but no one ever backed him up on that fact and there is no evidence that the two men were close.

            The basic question of the John Brown murder is: what were Brown and Carter doing at the Elkhorn Café?  Carter was not a union supporter and was a “known scab,” Brown was the foreman of a construction company that had been fighting with the Teamsters’ Union for at least the last two years.  Why would these two men choose a bar frequented by radical union members, right next door to Wobbly Hall, for a couple of drinks after work?  It is not surprising at all that Carter got into a loud argument with Napier.  Napier, who had a long record for radical activity in both Oregon and British Columbia, would have been a natural enemy of both Carter and Brown.  Carter would have been certain of finding a fight at the Elkhorn and he could easily have provoked a wobbly enough to get him to go for reinforcements, as Napier seems to have done.  Is it possible that Carter chose the Elkhorn because of the possibility of a fight and he used the fight as cover to kill Brown? Brown could have discovered Carter’s illegal activities, or he could have been involved in a deal with him, either situation could have provided a motive for murder.
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