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.
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.
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