With John Dillinger folklore given WAY too much attention, Balladeer’s Blog takes a look at some of the legends versus the ugly reality regarding some of his contemporary gangsters.
Real Name: Francis Crowley
Birth – Death: October 31st, 1912 – January 21st, 1932
Lore: Crowley was supposedly born out of wedlock to a German-American woman and a New York police officer who refused to marry Crowley’s mother. This supposedly accounts for his intense hatred of the police.
Reality: Such shallow, Pulp Magazine thinking doesn’t seem likely. The young man was adopted by a family in which Francis grew up alongside a cop-killing older brother named John Crowley. John himself would be killed in a battle with police.
This background seems a more likely explanation for Francis’ issues than some mythical hatred of an unknown father who abandoned him and his mother.
Criminal Career: By age 19, Crowley had a reputation as a competent holdup man and hit & run armed robber who never slipped up enough for a conviction. He might have escaped suspicion entirely if not for his excessively belligerent attitude when questioned by authorities.
On February 21st, 1931 Crowley, packing the omnipresent pair of hand-guns that earned him his nickname, crashed an American Legion dance in the Bronx. Two-Gun was accompanied by a pair of male accomplices, one of whom was believed to be frequent associate Rudolph “Fats” Durringer.
When the Legionnaires attempted to expel the uninvited trio Crowley whipped out his pair of firearms and opened fire, wounding at least two innocent men before fleeing. With charges of attempted murder now hanging over his head, Two-Gun was about to enter the busiest period of his career.
Crowley went into hiding after the Bronx affair but foolishly emerged by March 13th when he was spotted and approached by law enforcement on Lexington Avenue in New York City. Two-Gun shot and wounded Detective Ferdinand Schaedel before losing his pursuers in a nearby office building.
On March 15th Crowley, Fats and three others pulled off a bank robbery in New Rochelle, NY. (“Oh, RAW-AW-AW-AWB!” Had to be said, Laura Petrie style.) By mid-April Two-Gun had blown through the bank robbery proceeds, so he, Durringer and another man broke into the apartment of Rudolph Adler, a real estate man.
This misbegotten affair redefined Dog Day Afternoon as Adler’s dog Trixie attacked the thugs and drove them away but not before Two-Gun shot Adler five times.
On April 27th Crowley shot dead Virginia Brannen, a dance hall hostess, for resisting Fats Durringer’s advances. Not long after, Two-Gun was involved in a high-speed chase and gunfight with police in which the bullets fired were matched with Brannen’s murder.
After a few more violent encounters with law enforcement he, Fats and Helen Walsh (Crowley’s girlfriend) were besieged in a five-floor rooming house in New York. The trio were turned in to the cops by a jealous ex-girlfriend of Two-Gun.
The legendary two-hour standoff between Crowley and hundreds of New York police officers is credited with inspiring many themes and scenes from James Cagney and Edward G Robinson gangster films. Fats and Helen reloaded handguns for Two-Gun who raced from window to window exchanging fire with the cops below.
Crowley added to his legend by swiftly grabbing and throwing back tear-gas grenades that the police fired into the building. Eventually, bleeding excessively from four bullet wounds, Two-Gun surrendered. His plan to kill even more police was thwarted when a routine patdown revealed that the thug had concealed two more loaded guns by strapping them to his legs.
The newsreel interview with Crowley’s rejected girlfriend who turned him in has become dark comedy gold over the decades as she casually implicates him in crimes that he hadn’t even been suspected of yet.
Two-Gun whiled away the months leading to his execution by starting prison fires, sabotaging the toilets and wielding weapons made out of every available (seemingly) innocent object. The animal died in the electric chair at Sing Sing on January 21st, 1932.
THE TRI-STATE TERROR
Real Name: Wilbur Underhill, Jr
Birth – Death: March 16th, 1901 – January 6th, 1934
Lore: Underhill is so overlooked today there are times when it seems like there IS no lore about him. That is good, actually, since rabid criminals like this don’t deserve the romanticized treatment they usually get.
Criminal Career: In 1918 Underhill was convicted of burgling the home of his family’s next-door neighbor in Joplin, MO and was sent to prison. He was released in 1922 and began robbing necking couples who were parked in cars, making him one of many “Lover’s Lane Bandits” across the country.
Underhill, still just a One State Terror at this point, was convicted of armed robbery after police decoys caught him one night in 1923 pulling off a Lover’s Lane holdup. Wilbur was sentenced to five years but was released on parole in 1926. He celebrated Christmas of 1926 by robbing an Oklahoma drug store with “Skeet” Akins and killing a 19 year old customer in the process.
Wilbur and Skeet (NOT a wacky Morning Zoo deejay team) were arrested January 7th, 1927 but escaped jail before they could be brought to trial. Sympathetic parties had smuggled hacksaws into the jail for Underhill and Akins, enabling that escape.
Skeet was soon recaptured then shot to death attempting to escape custody. Underhill remained on the loose, robbing an Oklahoma movie theater and killing a Deputy before being caught on March 20th. He began serving a life sentence for his latest crimes on June 3rd, 1927.
In 1931 Underhill celebrated Bastille Day by escaping from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Okay, I’m kidding, but his escape WAS on July 14th. Before the end of the month Wilbur officially became a Tri-State Terror by robbing a Kansas theater of $300 and stealing (some sources say buying) a new car.
A month-long spree of gas station holdups ended when Underhill crashed his new wheels during his getaway from one of the holdups. That led to an encounter with a local patrolman who got shot to death by the Tri-State Terror. Wilbur fled on foot and in a running (literally) gunfight with the cops a 12 year old boy was killed in the crossfire. Police fire wounded Underhill, bringing about his recapture.
On May 30th of 1933 the Tri-State Terror used smuggled weapons to escape Lansing State Prison. Escaping with him were many of the criminals who would form a gang led by Underhill and co-escapee Harvey Bailey.
By mid-June the Underhill/ Bailey gang robbed a bank in Black Rock, AR and were falsely implicated in the so-called Kansas City Massacre, often cited as one of the FBI’s many deceitful concoctions meant to cover up their own incompetence and/ or corruption.
(It was not until recent decades that additional evidence – reluctantly pried from the FBI itself – indicated that law enforcement may have accidentally shot their own men at the “Kansas City Massacre” but the FBI conveniently blamed the deaths on assorted criminals known to be at large, Underhill among them. Then as now, FBI apparently stood for “Fuggedda Bout Integrity.”)
Meanwhile, the Tri-State Terror and his gang spent over 6 months robbing banks in Kansas and Oklahoma, with time out for a Kentucky bank robbery as a “wedding gift” to Underhill’s new bride, Hazel Jarrett, sister of the infamous Jarrett Brothers.
On December 26th, 1933, a team of 24 police and federal agents surrounded the Shawnee, Oklahoma cottage where Underhill, Hazel, Ralph Roe and his girlfriend were hiding out. After a brutal exchange of gunfire in which the Tri-State Terror was wounded 5 times, he fled the vicinity and collapsed on a bed in a furniture store several blocks away, where he was soon arrested.
Hazel Underhill and Ralph Roe were also arrested, but Roe’s girlfriend was killed. Wilbur Underhill lingered, handcuffed to a hospital bed, until perishing from his wounds on January 6th, 1934.
Real Name: Frank Nash
Birth – Death: February 6th, 1887 – June 17th, 1933
Lore: Frank Nash got his nickname “Jelly” from the chemical jelly explosives he used to crack safes.
Reality: Supposedly the nickname was actually short for “Jellybean,” which Nash was called in his youth because it was a slang term for a sharp dresser. As ZZ Topp said “Every girl’s crazy ’bout a Jell-eee-beeeeeaan.”
Criminal Career: After serving in the U.S. Army from 1904 to 1907, Jelly Nash began applying some of the skills he picked up in the military to committing criminal acts. Tradition holds that Nash robbed close to 200 banks during his career.
Frank was so successful that his first conviction didn’t happen until 1913, and then only because he showed some uncharacteristic greed and treachery. He and “Humpy” Wortman stole around $1,000 from an Oklahoma store and while Wortman was digging a hole to hide the loot, Jelly shot him in the back and made off with all the money.
(Lore: Humpy Wortman got his nickname from his tendency to hump the legs of his fellow criminals. Reality: I just made that up.)
Nash was soon arrested and sentenced to life in prison. In late March of 1918 Jelly convinced the Warden of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary that he wanted to enlist in World War One. Strings were pulled and the criminal’s sentence was altered to 10 years. He was paroled and returned to the U.S. Army as he had promised.
In late August or September Nash was discharged from the service and resumed his life of crime. Jelly went on a two-year spree of safe-cracking and after being caught was sentenced to 25 years back at the Oklahoma State Pen.
Nash behaved like a model prisoner, became a Trustee and got his sentence reduced to 5 years. On December 29th, 1922, Frank was paroled and joined up with Al Spencer’s gang of bank robbers.
August 20th of 1923 saw the gang expand their horizons a little by robbing the Katy Limited Mail Train in Oklahoma. Jelly took his share of the proceeds and bolted for Mexico, where he married a Mexican woman, back-dating the marriage license in order to pretend he was marrying the young woman on the day the Katy Limited was robbed.
That inspired attempt at an alibi did not hold up and on a trip to the U.S. Nash was arrested and – in March of 1924 – sentenced to 25 years in Leavenworth for armed postal theft. Three members of the Al Spencer Gang joined him.
By the year 1930 Frank’s usual good behavior behind bars had earned him the position of Chef and Janitor to Leavenworth’s Deputy Warden. On October 19th of that same year the Deputy Warden sent Nash on an errand outside the prison walls, so the career criminal seized the opportunity to escape.
(Forget the Shadow – apparently Jelly Nash really had “the strange ability to cloud men’s minds.”)
Frank went Big Time now, hiring out his various skills to organized crime factions in Chicago and other major Midwest cities. In December of 1931, Jelly’s familiarity with Leavenworth earned him a high-paying gig abetting the escape of 7 or 8 inmates from that federal pen.
Spring of 1932 found Nash partying in Hot Springs, Arkansas with his Chicago girlfriend Frances Luce. For devotees of 1930s gangsters this meant Jelly was serious about Frances since Hot Springs was where the Big-Timers gathered for wild blowouts and major networking.
Frances was once again Nash’s female companion for the Spring of 1933 parties in Hot Springs. In late May the two married under the aliases Frank and Frances Moore, despite Jelly still being married to at least two other women.
On June 16th (Bloom’s Day!) of 1933 FBI agents and police officers arrested Frank outside Hot Springs’ White Front Cigar Store. That evening Nash and his captors boarded a Fort Smith train bound for Kansas City.
The next day was the controversial Kansas City Massacre. Underworld figures sent thugs to spring Nash from FBI and police custody (or sent thugs to kill him to make sure Jelly could not talk about his highly-placed employers of recent years).
Originally the FBI blamed everybody but ME for being among the gunmen who attacked the authorities at the Kansas City Union Station. Nash and assorted law enforcement personnel were killed and injured.
J Edgar Hoover and the FBI spun the story as a “bad guys ambushing the good guys” tale. However, over the decades more and more evidence has come out supporting the contention that Nash and the lawmen were accidentally killed by the misfiring weapons of the lawmen themselves.
(Pretty Boy Floyd always denied having anything to do with the K.C. Massacre despite what was claimed by Hoover’s P.R. minstrels.) +++
Real Name: Fred Goetz
Birth – Death: February 14th, 1897 – March 21st, 1934
Lore: Before his bank-robbing, bootlegging and kidnapping career, Shotgun Ziegler was supposedly one of the gunmen involved in the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 Chicago.
Reality: This has been disputed by many sources since many more men have been hailed as Valentine’s Day Massacre gunmen than were actually involved in the event. My personal bet is that Ziegler’s day of birth being Valentine’s Day led to his claims being taken more seriously than assorted others, simply because that’s how legends and traditions seem to take their deceptive hold over the public’s imagination – through meaningless coincidences and poetic license.
At any rate, since I’m a World War One geek I find it more interesting that in 1918 this figure really, DEFINITELY did serve as a U.S. Army pilot during that conflict.
Criminal Career: From June to October of 1925, Goetz was accused of assaulting 7 year old Jean Lanbert and of involvement in an armed robbery of a physician. The former was never proven, as Goetz skipped bail and the latter cemented his fugitive status and change of name.
“Shotgun Ziegler” associated with professional criminals from this point on, especially the Chicago Outfit. Our “hero” and his wife Irene settled into married life and were described by their landlord as ideal tenants.
If legend is to be believed, Shotgun fled his former associates at some point after taking part in the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. Later that year Ziegler along with 5 others robbed Farmers & Merchants Bank in Jefferson, WI of $352,000 IN 1929 MONEY. (Obviously it would be worth a much higher amount now.)
Resettling in Kansas City, MO, Shotgun began running a fair-sized bootlegging operation and was renowned for his vicious efficiency in eliminating rival outfits.
Eventually Ziegler hooked up with the Barker Gang and participated in several bank robberies as a member. Shotgun Ziegler also participated in the 1934 kidnapping, successful ransoming and release of Edward G Bremer, a Minnesota millionaire.
By March 21st of 1934 Shotgun’s travels found him back in Cicero, Illinois, where he was killed in a drive-by shooting outside the former gangland hangout The Minerva Restaurant. Ziegler’s wife Irene fled and her ultimate fate is unknown.
The identity of Ziegler’s killers has never been established. Some people insist Al Capone’s successor Frank Nitti had Shotgun whacked, but others claim it was former members of the Barker Gang who felt shorted by the distribution of loot following one of the jobs Ziegler took part in with them. +++
MORE NON-DILLINGERS COMING SOON.
FOR MORE OF THE TOP LISTS FROM BALLADEER’S BLOG CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/top-lists/
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