Stanley Robert Smith: Who Knew?

As much as I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt, it seems unlikely that certain portions of the family were oblivious of Stanley’s actions leading up to his arrest for violations of the Dyer Act.

The barn on Park Street that Stanley and his cohorts used to store and work on their stolen vehicles was most likely on the property of his wife’s parents, the Foremans.  How else would the police have known to look there first?  The lot was not a particularly large one as the Foremans lived in town.

I’ve never removed and replaced a car’s engine before, but I would guess it is neither a quiet nor a clean job.  It is hard to imagine that no one in the family ever heard metallic clanging from the barn or saw people move cars and car parts in and out.

My own great-grandparents, Oliver Arras and Clara Viola Smith, also likely suspected that something was going on.  Suddenly, during the Great Depression, two of their college-aged sons had cars of their own.  From the stories told within the family, money was tight enough that meat was not often on the table during this time period.  A lot of our favorite family recipes–noodles and mashed potatoes, potato soup with rivels–have their source in the Arrases’ lean times.  My grandma would not eat milk gravy as an adult because her family had had to rely on it so many times when she was a child.

Even today, when these financial considerations don’t apply, I cannot imagine my children suddenly appearing with cars of their own.  I’d probably worry that they were selling drugs.

Perhaps, then, the question is not, “Did the family know?”, but “Why did they stay quiet?”

Maybe the money that Stanley and his nephew brought in was helping to support their families.  Both families had young children at home.

Perhaps they just couldn’t bring themselves to report their own relatives to the police.

What do you think?

 

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Stanley Robert Smith: “Horse Laugh”

It seems that Stanley was lucky the county prosecutor, Marcus C. Downing, had such an interesting sense of humor:

HORSE LAUGH
Former Prosecutor Admits One on Him

Even an astute prosecuting attorney gets it “hung over” on him occasionally as Former Prosecuting Attorney Downing will tell you–if you ask him.

Some months ago Stanley Smith Findlay young man who pleaded guilty in Toledo Thursday to automobile thefts, told this one on the former prosecutor:

Smith returned from Ft. Wayne, Ind., with a stolen car.  In order to get in touch with his companion in crime, George Foster who pleaded guilty yesterday also, Smith drove onto Beech avenue and parked in front of a lighted home to use the phone.  When he rapped at the door the then prosecutor came to the door.  (Downing had twice sent Smith to jail on offenses and recognized him.)

“Hello Mr. Downing,” Smith said when he recognized his adversary in court.  “Ah, er — can I use your phone?”

“Sure, come in,” said Downing.  Whereupon Smith said he called up Foster, though the prosecutor knew nothing of the conversation.

“How are you getting along?” asked the prosecutor, when Smith was about to leave.

“Oh, just fine,” Smith replied.

“That’s good, keep it up,” was Downing’s God-speed to him.

Whereupon Smith drove away in his stolen car.

“Yep, that’s right.  He did,” was Downing’s good-natured comment when the reporter asked his corroboration of the story.1


1 “Horse Laugh,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 17 Mar 1933, p 9 col 2.

Stanley Robert Smith: The Tipping Point?

Stanley had certainly made plenty of bad decisions in his first twenty-two years of life.  We’ve seen a number of documented instances of this over the last few weeks here on the blog.

This time, however, might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for parts of the Smith family.  Others might have been more closely tied to the situation than they would have liked to let on.

Though he apparently tried to cover for his co-conspirators during initial questioning, Stanley did not act alone.  Two younger men were arrested shortly after him, one of whom was his sister’s teenage son.1

Call in the Specialists

Stanley’s two young cohorts were probably quite necessary to the business.  Though Stanley had learned the ins and outs of selling on stolen cars from his cellmate at the penitentiary2, he was, in fact, a plumber by trade.3

Stanley’s nephew had grown up in his paternal grandfather’s garage in Jenera, 12 miles southwest of Findlay.  His father was also a mechanic for the National Refining Company4 and likely expected his sons to assist in repairs to the family’s car over the years.

The third young man, George C. Foster, had worked as a machinist in a garage.5

Without the specialist knowledge of these two, Stanley might not have been able to disassemble and rebuild the 15 cars they were ultimately accused of stealing.

The Chop Shop

It was initially suspected that Stanley was a fence in an auto theft ring operating out of Toledo.6 However, the newspaper articles about the subsequent investigation and trial never again mention these suspected ties.  Instead, Stanley is referred to as the “brains” of the operation.7

The three men stole most of the cars in Detroit8 and drove them home to a barn on Park Street in Findlay.  There, they dismantled the vehicles, removing identification numbers and replacing the engines with new ones they purchased.9

At this point in time, vehicle identification numbers (VIN) did not exist.  Instead, cars were identified by their engine number.

Simply installing a new engine provided Stanley with the ability to furnish a bill of sale.

Moving the Merchandise

The majority of the cars stolen were sold on to unsuspecting individuals in the area.10  The map below shows the location where each of these cars was found:

Findlay: Frank Barger, Glen A. Smith, Leo Friend, C. O. Smith, Theron Arras
Bairdstown: Ray Bell
Bluffton: Carson Marshall
Arcadia: T. J. Eisenhauer
North Baltimore: H. H. Pore

In addition, each of the three men kept one of the cars for himself.

Two of the vehicles had to be dumped.  While transporting a Ford coach from Detroit, Stanley began to suspect that he was being shadowed by police.  He abandoned the vehicle on state route 106 west of Findlay.11

The now-defunct state route 106 existed only from 1923 to 1937.  Its eastern terminus lay in Findlay and it ran roughly southwest to end near Gomer.  Route 106 was replaced by an extension to State Route 12.12

state route 12

The other abandoned car was not located until March 17th.  Stanley had confessed during questioning that it could be found in a quarry at the Turley farm south of Findlay.  The submerged vehicle was towed out by a local wrecking service. 13


1 “3 Turned Over to Federal Officers,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 16 Mar 1933, p 3 col 7.
2 “Youth Held Here is Seen ‘Fence’ in Car Theft Ring,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 11 Mar 1933, p 8 col 1.
3 Inmate Case Files, compiled 07/03/1895–06/06/1952. ARC ID: 571125. Records of the Bureau of Prisons, 1870–2009, Record Group 129. The National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.A.,  Record for Stanley Robert Smith.
4 R. L. Polk (comp.), R.L. Polk and Co.’s Findlay City Directory, 1933-34 (Columbus, Ohio: R. L. Polk & Co., 1933), p. 49, Oliver M Arras; digitized in “U.S. City Directories, 1821–1899,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 Sep 2017), path Ohio > Findlay > 1933.
5 1930 U.S. Census, Findlay, Hancock County, Ohio, population schedule, ED 32-14, sheet 6B, dwelling 157, family 159, George C Foster, digital image, Ancestry.com, (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 September 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 1820.
6 “Youth Held Here”
7  “Stolen Auto is Got From Quarry,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 18 Mar 1933, p 14 col 3.
8  Ibid.
9 “Youth Held Here”
10 “Stolen Auto is Got From Quarry”.
11 “3 Turned Over to Federal Officers”.
12  “List of former state routes in Ohio (50–130),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_former_state_routes_in_Ohio_(50%E2%80%93130)&oldid=799792962 (accessed September 18, 2017).
13 “Stolen Auto is Got From Quarry”.

Stanley Robert Smith: No Regrets

YOUTH HELD HERE IS SEEN ‘FENCE’ IN CAR THEFT RING

Suspect Taken by Police Believed Connected With Group From Toledo

The “fence” for a ring of automobile thieves operating in this section of the country is believed to have been uncovered here by police in the arrest of Stanley Smith, 23, who on March 16, 1932, was paroled from Ohio penitentiary after serving time for forgery.

Charges of receiving, concealing and selling stolen automobiles have been placed against Smith, who used a barn on Park street in which to conceal and dismantle his machines.  Numerous accessories for automobiles have also been found there.

Smith, it is believed, has been connected with a theft ring operating out of Toledo.  None of nine automobiles recovered following Smith’s arrest was stolen in Findlay.  It is presumed that any cars stolen by the ring of thieves here were taken to some other “fence” and disposed of.

Learned at Pen, He Says

It was indicated by Chief Larkins yesterday that Smith would be returned to the penitentiary as a parole violator.

Smith, according to his statement to police, said that during his incarceration in the “big house” he got the low-down on the automobile stealing and dismantling racket from a “lifer” who was his cell mate.  When paroled, he told police he had planned to take up bank robbing as an occupation but later decided to go in for a “more legitimate” business such as stealing and dismantling and selling cars.

J. P. Rockenfield, special agent for the Automobile Protective and Information bureau of Chicago, stopped here yesterday to make an investigation of the case.  Chief Larkins said Rockenfield commended his department on its effective work.  He suspected Smith of being connected with a big mid-west ring.  The automobiles recovered here are thought to have been stolen in neighboring states.

Suspicions Aroused

Smith’s automobile dealing aroused the suspicions of certain individuals who notified police and they in turned launched an investigation.  Going to the barn on Park street, Chief Larkins and Sergeant Homer Johnston found the body and chassis of a machine, and automobile parts strewn all over the inside of the building.  It was while they were looking the ground over that Smith appeared nearby and observing the officers he made a hasty retreat.

The police proceeded in hot pursuit and finally corralled Smith in an alley between East Lima and East Lincoln streets.  This was last Monday.  Smith explained that he was running because he “thought it was somebody else chasing him.”

Reticent at first, Smith later admitted his part in the automobile racket, but he refused to implicate any others, although he admitted to disposing of the cars to men he claimed he didn’t know after lifting the motors and installing new engines.

“Didn’t Know Men”

According to Smith’s story to authorities, these men he didn’t know would bring an automobile to his barn at night.  He, then, would dismantle it, lifting the motor and removing identification numbers.

Later the men would return and take away with them the engine.  Smith said he would in turn purchase another motor and install it.  This, he felt, eliminated any possibility of the original owner tracing his stolen machine, and enabled him to furnish a bill of sale.

Five of the nine stolen machines were recovered in Findlay, one in Bluffton, one in Arcadia, one in Bairdstown and one in Toledo.  Seven are Ford coaches, one is a Ford coupe and one is a Chevrolet coach.  Three or four additional cars are expected by police to turn up shortly.

One of the machines, a Ford coach, has been identified and returned to its owner, Lester Nelson, of Toledo.

Smith told Chief Larkins that he had been in this racket for four or five months.


“Youth Held Here is Seen ‘Fence’ In Car Theft Ring,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 11 Mar 1933, p 8 col 1.

Stanley Robert Smith: A Question of Justice

Shock might have been the reaction in the courtroom that afternoon.  Ten to 25 years in prison for stealing $1.28 worth of gas.

To put this into perspective, let’s look at several other convictions from the same time period:

Clayton Flora, a car thief in Hamilton, Ohio, was sent to the state penitentiary for one year.1

In nearby West Virginia, married couple Ora and Martha Bailey, received five years in prison–the maximum sentence for their crime–after their three young children (Homer, 8; William, 5; and Lacy, 2) were discovered held in a dark, unventilated room of their home.  The five year old had been beaten to a criminal degree after it was said he refused to collect “his share of the coal and kindling wood”.2

Fred Green, a 35 year old WWI veteran from Akron, stabbed his wife to death after she told him that he didn’t have the nerve to do it.  On March 11, 1931,  he was sentenced to seven to 20 years in the state penitentiary. 3

Stanley Smith and Charles Williams surely would have at least attempted a defense if they thought that the consequences of their actions would be so severe.  Instead, neither had even testified at the trial. 4   The two were returned to their cells in the Hancock County Jail to await transfer to the Ohio State Penitentiary.

In the days that followed, Charles Williams’ lawyer filed a petition in error.5 The point of contention was not whether Stanley and Charles had stolen the gasoline or even whether they had pushed the gas station’s proprietor from the running board of their vehicle.  Instead, they questioned whether these actions indeed constituted the serious crime of highway robbery.

Why didn’t Stanley appeal as well?

Perhaps his lawyer, W. S. Snook, felt that there was no point in doing so.  It is possible that, upon conferring, it was decided that it made sense to file only one appeal–to test the waters, as it were.

Financial concerns may have been another motive.  It was unlikely to have been an inexpensive proposition, hiring a lawyer for such a duration, and by this point, it was in the midst of the Great Depression.

Whatever the reasons, Stanley’s actions came with consequences.  On May 26, 1931, he was transferred to the Ohio State Penitentiary.  Charles Williams was retained at the county jail to await the outcome of his appeal.

Next Time:  The Ohio State Penitentiary


1 “Jech Begins Life Term,” Hamilton Journal (Hamilton, Ohio), 26 Jan 1931, p 14 col 3.
“Parents Sentenced to Five Years in Pen,” The Star (Marion, Ohio), 9 May 1931, p 7 col 3.
3 “War Hero, Killer, Gets Prison Term,” Sandusky Register (Sandusky, Ohio), 12 Mar 1931, p 1 col 3.
4 “Found Guilty of Robbery Charge,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 19 May 1931, p 3 col 1.
5 “Taken To Pen,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 27 May 1931, p 7 col 4.

Stanley Robert Smith: The Ohio State Reformatory

mansfield reformatory
http://www.ohiomemory.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p267401coll36/id/13882/rec/5

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.

historic_ohio_state_reformatory_cell_blocks
Cell Blocks at Ohio State Reformatory (http://www.destinationmansfield.com/what-to-do/attractions/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 (www.ancestry.com)> 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.”