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.
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.
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
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.
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. 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.”
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 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.
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 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.
This photo of my grandmother’s sixth grade class was taken at Lincoln school in Findlay, Hancock County, Ohio, in the spring of 1935. The original school building was located (and still stands!) at 200 W. Lincoln Street, a mere two or three blocks from the Arras family’s home at 519 W. Lincoln.
Grandma, Lucia (Arras) Benington, would probably not thank me for pointing her out in this particular photograph. She is, after all, the one person who blinked at the exact moment the picture was taken!
I would just skip posting this photo, out of all the class photos in her collection, but there is something special about this one. This is the only picture on the reverse of which she named every individual! Thanks to her thoughtfulness, I can now (hopefully) identify most of the people in all the rest of the photos, with a little detective work.
I imagine it might be a little difficult to read the writing from your computer screen, so here’s a transcription:
1st row–left to right: Jack Krout, Tommy Marshall, Glen Houes, Robert Brewer, Dick Cramar [Cramer]
2nd row–left to right: Betty Weitz, Dorthy [Dorothy] McCall, Marian Saller, Lucia Arras, Jean Taylor, Jane Bish, Virginia Rose, Maxine Sink, Ruth Cliner
3rd row–left to right: Donald Marvin, Betty Ex, Jeanne Anne Athey, Wayne Brewer, Tom Vosslor [Vossler], Mildred Saller, Arlene Strouse, Helena Oman, Rosalyn Rabkin
4th row–left to right: Robert Galnta, John Tabb, Mary Lou McFarland, Shirley Ann Quis, Mary Katherine Varner, Martha and Egen [Eugene] Cuningham [Cunningham], Bob Deyers, James Quinlan
If there’s anything that can be said for Stanley Smith, it’s that he didn’t do anything by halves. The first time he was sent to prison in 1929, he had been arrested three times in the course of a couple of weeks.
A Slippery Situation
Stanley’s first arrest was for the theft of butter from the Findlay Dairy Company.
The Findlay Dairy, founded in 1900 by Daniel E. Child, had a very interesting, open relationship with the community. At its large plant at 219 North Main Street, the usual operations went on with production of butter, cottage cheese, and other dairy products and large blocks of ice for use in customers’ iceboxes.
Rather than waiting for the iceman to deliver, people could pull their cars into the south driveway of the Findlay Dairy plant and purchase ice at a discounted rate of 40 cents per hundredweight.
Local farmers could sell their cream directly to the company by heading over to the Findlay Dairy Cash Cream station on Broadway. Interestingly, in 1927, this station was run by an Arras:
Besides selling their products in local groceries, the Findlay Dairy Company operated its own shop outside the plant at North Main.
It is no great surprise that butter was the commodity Stanley chose to pilfer for a profit. Based on local advertisements from the time, butter cost over twice as much per pound as sirloin steak. Additionally, it would not likely have spoiled before he could sell it on.
Whether the heist was planned or if Stanley just happened to walk past an unattended delivery truck remains a mystery. Once the butter was acquired, Stanley approached local grocers, attempting to pass on his stolen goods. Presumably, it was one or more of these more upright gentlemen who reported his ploy to the police.
Stanley was arrested, but the Findlay Dairy Company did not press charges after the butter was returned.
Considering how many people are actually in a family, encompassing all the generations back through recorded history, it seems fairly obvious that, in researching the lives of these thousands of people, eventually you’re going to encounter a little bit of everything.
However, somehow it still came as a bit of a surprise to me to hear that my grandmother’s uncle was in prison. This was the strict, straight-as-an-arrow part of our family. The part with the older folks of strong, silent, upright characters. Those who scared the grandchildren, even when they weren’t doing anything but copying down recipes from talk radio.
Several years ago, I did a little half-hearted research into our black sheep, Stanley Robert Smith, and learned about some of the tragic events that followed his arrest and imprisonment in 1938. It wasn’t until just recently, when I decided to really start fleshing out his story, that I was struck by how deep an impact his early choices had.
Stanley Robert Smith, also known as Bob (Yeah, I know. Bob Smith. Fun to find in records, right?), was born in Hancock County, Ohio, around 1910 to George Henry Smith and Mary Lucinda Rauch.
Later in life, he would list himself as 10th of 11 children. In truth, he was the 11th of 12. His oldest sister, Victoria Emelina “Dora” Smith, had died just before 3 months of age. Family stories hold that the Smiths displayed a photo of little Dora in their home for the rest of their lives, but maybe Bob never asked who the baby was, or maybe he preferred to speak only of his living siblings. Dora did, after all, die 21 years before his birth.
According to Stanley’s sister, Hulda, the family lived in Arlington, Ohio, from 1909 to 1921. George Henry Smith was a carpenter–alternately listed in censuses as a laborer–and no doubt money was tight, raising eleven children on his income. Regardless, by 1920, with seven children still at home, G. H. Smith and his wife owned their home outright.
A Fresh Start?
Ultimately, I am not sure why the Smiths moved to Findlay. All I can do is speculate. Maybe one of you out there will be able to provide me with some insight!
Perhaps 1921’s relocation was motivated by a desire to improve the family’s prospects. Following the end of WWI, the U.S. entered an eighteen month long recession. Large numbers of returning soldiers competed over very few available jobs. Findlay, with its higher population and larger economic base, would likely have offered a carpenter like G. H. Smith with more opportunities for steady work.
This theory appears to be supported by newspaper articles from the time, such as the one below, from the Findlay Morning Republican of 13 Oct 1921 (the print is a bit spotty, so I’ve transcribed the article in the caption for your convenience):
Certainly, for a time, things were looking up. By April 1928, G. H. Smith was able to hire other carpenters to work under him.
Little could he have imagined the challenge that lay around the corner, in the form of the Great Depression.
By the time the 1930 Census was taken, the Smith family consisted of G. H. Smith, an out-of work house carpenter, running his own business, his wife Mary, and their youngest daughter, Alma. Unfortunately, the unemployment schedules have been destroyed, so I can’t determine exactly how long George had been out of work.
While the Smith family and so many others like them struggled to make ends meet, another situation developed that may have had a significant impact on Stanley’s future.
An Unexpected Result
The 18th Amendment, which instituted a complete ban on the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the United States, came into effect in January 1920. Though the motives behind it were honorable, prohibition created far more problems than it solved. Now that citizens could no longer obtain alcohol by legal means, the criminal element was more than happy to step in to fill that need.
Organized crime syndicates in major cities across the country ran massive bootlegging operations. As time went on and prohibition became more and more unpopular, leaders of these groups were sometimes portrayed as a sort of folk hero, a trend that would continue and intensify through the years of the Great Depression. Many of these individuals are still recognizable to us today, including Al Capone, John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd and Bonnie and Clyde.
Perhaps Stanley was impressed by these stories and dreamed of the sort of lifestyle he thought he might lead as a gangster.
The impact of this glorification of the criminal world on the younger generation was such that, in 1934, a reformed criminal was brought in to Findlay High School to speak to the students about the perils of following such a path.
What’s Your Problem, Stanley?
The rest of the Smith offspring went on to be hardworking, productive members of society. Stanley, however, chose a vastly different life for himself. Did growing up with economic uncertainty lead him to decide he would do anything he deemed necessary to keep money flowing in? Did he get some kind of pleasure from breaking the law? Did he idolize Public-Enemy-era gangsters like Al Capone? His motivation remains a mystery. His actions, however, left a trail that has followed him beyond the grave.