Stanley Robert Smith: Free At Last!

Stanley must have been so relieved to be released from the Ohio State Reformatory that day, January 31, 1931.  He probably stepped out the doors and took a big, deep breath of the fresh air.  Maybe he ran a stretch,  just because he could.  It was likely he’d never appreciated his freedom quite so much as he did in that moment.

It’s just too bad it wasn’t to last.  Stanley being Stanley, it wasn’t long before he found himself back in hot water.

Despite the challenges of his time at the reformatory (or perhaps, indeed, as a result of them), Stanley made some lasting friendships.  So it was that on March 16, 1931, a month and a half after being paroled, he was out for a joyride with one such pal.  Charles Williams of Toledo and a lady friend were seated in the front of the car, Stanley in the back.  Suddenly, they realized they were nearly out of gas.

Route 68, north of Arlington

This area of Ohio is probably what most of you (unfortunate) non-natives picture when you think “Ohio”: long stretches of farmland, small towns well-spaced from one another.  If you break down outside a population center, you’re probably going to be walking a fair piece–maybe even a few miles–in order to find help.

Luckily, Stanley, having been raised in the countryside south of Findlay, knew where to find a gas station within range.  The filling station of Clyde C. Richard stood just one mile north of Arlington.

The proprietor himself stepped forward as Charles pulled the car into the filling station.  Just like today, it was illegal to leave the car running while topping up the tank.  As a result, Mr. Richard requested that the engine be turned off.  Charles Williams told him that he had had previous difficulty starting the vehicle and was concerned he wouldn’t be able to start it again.  (I KNOW!  Are the alarm bells sounding yet?)

Clyde topped up the tank–8 gallons–and moved to collect the $1.28 he was owed.  Charles Williams turned to Stanley and asked if he was going to pay; Stanley didn’t have any money.

Charles threw the car into drive.  Reacting quickly, the gas station owner leapt onto the running board of the car.

Clyde Richard was not a small man.  According to his WWII draft card, he was just short of 5′ 11″.  Undaunted, the girl sitting beside Charles in the front seat, reached over and began to shove at Clyde, trying to force him off the car.

By I, Lglswe, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Imagine this scene from the point of view of the gas station attendant.  You’re standing on the side board of a moving car, probably clinging onto the side for dear life, while someone is shoving at you.  Maybe working to pry your fingers loose.  You wouldn’t have to be going at tremendous speed to experience a great deal of fear.  What will happen when you fall to the dirt road below you?  Will you break a bone?  Will the car hit you on the way past?

This tussle must have lasted for at least a few seconds, as the girl was unable to force Clyde off the car.  Stanley stood up from the back seat and gave the man a final push.  Clyde fell to the ground as the car sped away.

How did the three occupants of the car react?  Were they frightened by this experience?  Did they drive away laughing, perhaps in a combination of shock and grim amusement?  Or were they just plain excited by what they’d done?  Unfortunately, the emotions that overtook them in those moments have been lost to history.

Only the consequences of their actions remain, documented in newspaper articles and court records.

Next Time:  Groundhog Day, Stanley-Style


The Family Photo Album: Lucia Arras at Lincoln School, Findlay, 1928-1929


This photo is of my grandmother, Lucia Marie Arras’s, class at Lincoln School in Findlay, Ohio.  It was taken in the spring of 1929.  Lucia is sitting just to the right (our right) of the teacher.

None of these children look particularly excited to be there.  There doesn’t appear to be any of the usual goofing off.  Not one child is looking elsewhere and laughing.  Perhaps the teacher was a stern one.

One of my favorite details is all the interesting patterned socks on the boys in the front row.  I wonder if they were purchased or if their mothers were such talented knitters.

It appears that a concrete block and a crate were used to prop up the first row bench.  A close-up of the crate reveals that it was from the Bourne-Fuller Company of Cleveland, Ohio.  Soon after this photo was taken, Bourne-Fuller would unite with two other companies, Central Alloy and Republic Iron and Steel, to become the third-largest steel company in the U.S.

bourne fuller and knee hole

Check out the boy on the left in the photo above.  Clearly, mothers in the 1920s also struggled to keep fabric over the knees of their sons!  My kids start back to school next week and this is what I expect to see at the end of most days.  The only thing missing is the grass stain.

Other photo posts from Lincoln School:
The Family Photo Album: Lucia Arras, 6th Grade Class Photo

Stanley Robert Smith: The Ohio State Reformatory

mansfield reformatory

Some of you are probably thinking that the Ohio State Reformatory sounds vaguely familiar.  That could be for a couple of reasons:

  1. The location is apparently considered to be extremely haunted.  The Travel Channel show, Ghost Adventures, filmed an episode there.  After the reformatory closed in 1990, the state planned to have the building torn down, but public outcry resulted in the formation of the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society.  The group has renovated portions of the building and now operates a regular tour schedule, including an overnight public ghost-hunt.
  2. The Ohio State Reformatory was used as a set for several movies, including Air Force One and The Shawshank Redemption.

Despite its current status as a tourist destination, it held far less attraction for Stanley Smith and his fellow inmates.

Cell Blocks at Ohio State Reformatory (

The reformatory opened in 1896 with the purpose of housing young offenders with no previous criminal record.  The boys would receive a high-school education, training in a trade, and religious instruction–essentially giving them all the tools that were, at the time, considered necessary to function normally in society.

Despite these good intentions, it wasn’t long before reality sank in.  By the time Stanley Smith arrived at the Ohio State Reformatory, the number of men incarcerated there was nearly double that that the facility had been designed for.  Similar concerns of overpopulation were experienced at other prisons around the state, including the nearby Ohio State Penitentiary.

By 1935, an Ohio government survey determined that the total excess population at correctional institutions around the state had reached 3,000.  The senate was panned for ” ‘short sighted economy’ in allowing ‘bad health conditions, overcrowding, idleness and unskilled mass treatment’.” 1

It was into this environment that Stanley stepped in April 1929.  No doubt he was considered a bit of a tough guy back in Findlay; at least that seems to have been what he was going for, with his rapid succession of criminal acts over the previous month.  However, it seems unlikely that any 19 year old boy could have been prepared for the experiences he would have over the next two years.

On the evening of April 21, 1930, a year after Stanley was sent to the reformatory, a fire broke out at the Ohio State Penitentiary.    Doors in two of the cell blocks, G and H, remained locked for twenty minutes after the discovery of the fire. 2   Over three hundred prisoners died, still locked in their cells.  Multiple investigations found that every victim could have been saved if guards hadn’t hesitated to release them.

In the aftermath of the disaster, many prisoners at the penitentiary refused to cooperate with guards, calling for the removal of the warden.  Extra guards were called into service.  Prior to this point, only 337 guards were on duty at a time, supervising 4,300 prisoners. 3    It was feared that a general escape attempt was looming.

Three hundred hardened criminals from the Penitentiary, including several of the ringleaders of the post-fire riots, were transferred to the Reformatory.  They were initially mixed in with the general population, but the spirit of unrest was contagious.  The men refused to work, yelling and jeering at guards and mocking a visiting penal reform committee sent by the governor.  At one point, a number of prisoners began to attack the doors and walls of their cells.  A riot was narrowly avoided.  The reformatory superintendent, T. C. Jenkins, clearly feared the general trend.  He requested a rush order of machine guns, tear gas bombs, and ammunition, as well as additional guards and machine gunners. 4

By mid-June 1930, the number of prisoners transferred from the state penitentiary had reached 430, but this point they were all housed in a separate portion of the reformatory.  Unfortunately, it seems that the damage had been done.  On the 12th of June, a situation arose as the two thousand young men entered the dining hall for their evening meal.  The shouting and throwing of chairs ended with several inmates being beaten into submission by guards.  Reports do not mention what proportion of the prison population was actively involved in the rioting. 5

The whole experience must have been terrifying.  How would Stanley react?  Would he be scared straight, or would the Ohio State Reformatory be his “crime school”? 6

Next Time:  Free At Last!

1 “Penal Units in Ohio Rapped as Crime Schools,” Lima News (Lima, Ohio), 3 Oct 1935, p 10, col 1.
2 Henry W. Sharpe, “Investigate Ohio Penitentiary Fire,” Olean Times (Olean, New York), 23 Apr 1930, p 1 col 8.
3 “Ohio Prison Fire Dead Set at 317; Start Investigation,” Bluefield Daily Telegraph (Bluefield, WV), 23 Apr 1930, p 1, col 1.
4 “Convict Revolt Threatens at Mansfield,” Elyria Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria, Ohio), 17 May 1930, p 1, col 2.
5 “Unruly Convicts Struck By Guards,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), p 1, col 4.
6 “Penal Units”, p 10, col 1.

Stanley Robert Smith: The Verdict Is In

On Monday, April 15, 1929, Stanley Smith, having failed to escape from the Hancock County jail, had his day in court 1 .  He would have been escorted from the jail, which was located on the northwest corner of the intersection of West Main Cross and Broadway 2 , situated diagonally across from the courthouse.

courthouse from prison location
view of Hancock County Courthouse from the former location of the county jail (source: Google maps)

That day, Stanley was represented by attorney William S. Snook.   The summer before, Snook had announced himself a candidate for the office of probate judge. 3   Unfortunately for him, he failed to gain the nomination, losing the primary election by a margin of only 17 votes. 4

Snook had previously served as city solicitor.

W. S. Snook’s office was located at 320 1/2 South Main Street, Findlay.  The drug store at which Stanley had passed his bad check was just across the street.

320 South Main Findlay
A view of 320 South Main, Findlay, with the red awning, the location of W. S. Snook’s office in 1929. Note placement of courthouse, visible in immediate background.

At this point in time, all of the solicitors in Findlay had offices located within about a block each way on this stretch of South Main, creating an easy walk to the Hancock County courthouse and jail.  Thirty lawyers were headquartered in ten buildings.  Mr. Snook shared his space with Charles E. Jordan and the offices of Capel & Hover. 5

The county prosecutor, Marcus C. Downing, was based out of a building at the other end of the block (337 South Main).  Six other lawyers worked here in 1929 (C. V. Bish, Walter H. Kinder, Aubrey R. Moul, George H Phelps, John E. Priddy and Ross J. Wetherald). 6

337 South Main relative location
Marcus Downing’s office was located in the Fifth Third building at right (337 South Main). The building with the green awning at left was the S&S Drugstore, where Stanley passed a bad check days prior to his arrest for forgery.

Judge William F. Duncan presided over the court that day.  His father, Thomas E. Duncan, had been a judge as well, serving the court of common pleas for Morrow, Richland and Ashland Counties. 7   He had also been elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. 8

Stanley’s case lasted only half the day.  His fate was decided by a jury.  There was likely not much deliberation.  A fellow inmate, Jessie H. Yates, who had already been convicted for his crime, was brought into court to testify against Stanley, but his testimony was not deemed necessary. 9   The case had been made.

Stanley was found guilty of forgery.  Based on his age (19) and the fact that he had not been previously convicted of a crime, he was sentenced to a term at the Ohio State Reformatory at Mansfield.

Next Time:  The Ohio State Reformatory

1 “Sentences Given Three By Court,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 16 Apr 1929, p. 3, col. 2.
2 R. L. Heminger, “Historical Highlights of Bygone Days,” Republican-Courier (Findlay, Ohio), 6 Sep 1969, p. 14, col. 3.
Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 14 Aug 1928, p. 5, col. 3.
4 “Board to Count Vote Here Today,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 16 Aug 1928, p. 10, col. 1.
5 R.L. Polk & Co., Findlay, Ohio, City Directory, 1929 (R.L. Polk and Co. Publishers, 1929), p. 454; imaged in “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,” database with images, Ancestry (> Ohio > Findlay > 1929 Findlay, Ohio, City Directory 1929, image 230.
6 Ibid., p. 455.
7 Joseph P. Smith, ed., History of the Republican Party in Ohio , Vol. II. (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1898), p. 443-444.
8 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 320.
9 “Sentences Given Three By Court.”

The Family Photo Album: Dorothy Marple and the Armstrong Family


The photo seen above is of my paternal grandmother, Dorothy Claire Marple, taken near her 7th birthday.

It’s the front of a postcard that she sent to a family friend, Ella Armstrong.


Ella Armstrong, born Ella Phoebe Craft on 14 Sep 1855, lived near the Marples in Monessen.  Her daughter, Rhoda, was about the same age as Dorothy’s mother, Eula.  The two families seem to have spent a lot of time together.

The “Nari and Francis” referenced in the postcard are Ella’s sister, Sarah Frances Craft, and her husband, Neri Armstrong.  Neri was also the brother of Ella’s deceased husband, Alfred Barclay Armstrong.  The couple lived in Carmichaels, where this postcard was addressed.

What I wonder is how Grandma got the card back when she had clearly mailed it to Ella.  Perhaps when Ella returned from her trip, she let Dorothy have the picture of herself back.  It sounds like something a child that age might like.

If anyone out there knows more about the Armstrong family, I would love to hear about it!  I have a single photograph of Rhoda, but have never seen the rest of the family.  It would be nice to know more about these people who meant so much to my grandmother and great-grandparents.


Stanley Robert Smith: A Time for Reflection/The Shiny Snitch

Stanley had plenty of opportunity to cool his heels.  More than a month passed from the time he was arrested until the day he was brought before the grand jury for indictment.

Another type of man might have whiled away the hours reading the newspapers that passed from hand to hand inside the jail or perhaps pausing for a bit of self-reflection.  Stanley, however, was a man of action.

Days after his appearance before the grand jury, the following article appeared in the Findlay Morning Republican 1 :

Jail Delivery Is Frustrated As Sheriff Discovers Plot

File Used to Sever Chain After Which Window Bars Were Attacked–Prisoners Admit Move to Obtain Freedom

An attempted county jail delivery was frustrated late yesterday by Sheriff O. E. Willford. Six of the 17 prisoners in the jail were involved and two, the sheriff said, confessed to being ring leaders in the plan which might have resulted in a successful break had their efforts not been thwarted for three or four more days.

Frank Wells, alias Frank Miller, who in October 1924 escaped from the city jail here, and Stanley Smith, alias Lester Smith, admitted leading roles in the plan to gain their freedom.

Others in Plot.

Those who watched the efforts of Wells and Smith and stood ready to escape when the job was completed were L. W. McClellan, Jess Yates, Clarence Woodruff and Charles Hall, alias Charles Heath.

A nail file, disinfectant spray can, pair of pinchers and a mirror were the implements employed in the attempt to sever chains and iron bars. The file and pinchers are believed to have been smuggled into the jail by Woodruff, who, as a trusty, had been engaged in work outside the jail Saturday.

Sheriff Willford yesterday discovered a mirror in a window opening off the east corridor of the jail. His investigation led to the discovery of a broken chain on a door which separated the prisoners from the bull pen and the corridor leading along by the outside windows. Three or four iron bars in the door had been partially melted.

Grilling of the prisoners was begun immediately and Wells and Smith are understood to have divulged their plans without hesitancy.

Watched Sheriff.

They admitted, Sheriff Willford said, melting the links of a chain by the use of the disinfectant spray can which was employed in the manner of a blow torch. To conceal the break from detection, the prisoners had bridged the break with chewing gum. The torch was also used to melt the bars.

By placing the mirror in the window at a certain angle, the prisoners could see the sheriff when he walked from the jail yard. As soon as he would leave the jail each day the prisoners said they would start their bar and chain melting process.

The nail file had also been used to weaken the bars and chain links and make the work easier for the blow torch.

The six prisoners, following their confessions, were placed in solitary confinement by the sheriff.

Had Broken Out Before.

Wells is in jail charged with forgery, Woodruff with burglary, Smith with forgery, Yates with forgery and McClellan with child stealing. Hall, alias Heath, is now under sentence to two and a half years in the penitentiary for automobile theft. He is to be taken to the state prison today. Judge Duncan had deferred sentence on Woodruff following a plea of guilty to robbing a gasoline filling station. The others had pleaded not guilty to indictments returned against them by the grand jury.

Wells only recently was brought to Findlay from the Michigan state penitentiary to answer to the charge of forgery for which he was being held in 1924 when he broke out of the city prison.

After breaking jail here he went to Michigan and was arrested and convicted on a forgery charge. He was given four to 14 years in the penitentiary. He was turned over to local authorities following the expiration of his term at Marquette.

Surely this did not bode well for his upcoming trial.

Next Time:  The Verdict Is In

1 “Jail Delivery Is Frustrated As Sheriff Discovers Plot,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 9 Apr 1929, p. 7, col. 4.

Chance Finds: You’re Gonna Need a Permit For That

Chance Finds is a new series.  Frequently, when I’m researching my family, I happen across other (completely unrelated) little tidbits that are just too interesting not to share.  Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes shocking, but I just can’t resist collecting them!

From the Dorset County Chronicle and Somersetshire Gazette, 22 Aug 1833, p. 3, col. 3:

In the Market-place, Bath, on Wednesday, a man named Stradling offered his wife for sale to the highest bidder. The lady, it appeared, had been sold for half-a-crown on Monday at Lansdown fair, but the bargain was not considered legal–first because the sale was not held in a public market-place, and secondly because the purchaser had a wife already. The lady was dashingly attired and had a halter, covered with silk, round her neck. The biddings amounted at last to five shillings, at which sum it was understood she was bought in. It happened, however, very unluckily for the husband of the fair one, that the police had an eye to this little transaction, for just as the affair had concluded he was apprehended for having created a public disturbance, and was politely handed to a temporary lodging in the Bath Gaol. The above disgraceful exhibition collected, as may be easily imagined, an immense concourse of spectators.