Stanley Robert Smith: Groundhog Day, Stanley-Style

Stanley and his accomplice, Charles Williams, were probably starting to think they’d really gotten away with it this time.  It had been nearly two weeks since they had sped away from the filling station outside Arlington, Ohio, shoving its proprietor off the running board of their moving vehicle.

Then, suddenly, the prospect of a Sunday meal with the family dwindled to a far-distant dream.  Stanley would be spending his afternoon at the police station.  By this point, the people there might have been just as familiar as family (and had roughly the same amount of control over their connection to him).

Clyde Richard, the owner of the filling station in question, was unlikely to forget the faces of the men who had so recently robbed him.  On March 29, 1931, he picked Stanley out of a lineup of ten young men; the next day, he accompanied Hancock County deputy sheriff Lyle Harvitt to Lima, where he pointed out Charles Williams in the street. 1

The two were taken to Stanley’s old haunt, the Hancock County Jail.

hancock county jail
The Hancock County jail and sheriff’s residence. (Source: Findlay-Hancock County Public Library Digital Collection, http://cdm15005.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15005coll21)

For the next month, the two bided their time in different sections of the jail. The weekend before their trial, Sheriff O. E. Willford and Deputy Sheriff Lyle Harvitt transported several other prisoners to the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus, leaving Deputies Paul Solt and Justin Stone in charge.

Married to the Law

Once again, it’s proven that you can’t throw a stone in Hancock County without hitting a relative.  We’re related to yet another player in Stanley’s saga.  Deputy Paul Solt was married to Frona Arras, the second cousin of Oliver Arras, Stanley’s brother-in-law.

paul solt relationship

Just a year and a half after this episode, Paul Solt died at 40 years of age.  His kidneys had failed due to chronic interstitial nephritis caused by an infection of the right knee joint.  Frona was left alone to care for their 14 year old daughter, Marjorie.

marjorie solt
Marjorie Solt, taken from the 1937 Findlay High School yearbook

Not Quite Houdini

Stanley Smith and Charles Williams attempted to take full advantage of the sheriff’s absence.  Apparently they caused quite the ruckus.  Would you expect any less?

“…Deputies Paul Solt and Justin Stone found that Williams had one bar almost sawed off. He had used the teeth of a pair of pliers. Beneath the bunk the officials discovered concealed an improvised dagger made from a brace off the cot. A necktie had been wrapped around the one end to be used as a handle.

Bolts had been taken out of the hinges of Williams’ cell door. He had also torn an old hot air register from the wall, apparently seeking a means of escape in that manner.

Smith’s efforts to escape had not advanced as far as that of his companion. He tried to pick the lock with wire from a clothes hanger. Part of the wire became stuck in the lock. He also tore some plaster from a wall between his cell and an adjacent one….” 3

Admittedly, Stanley’s attempt plays a bit “Three Stooges” to Charles’s “Escape From Alcatraz”.

No Laughing Matter

The following Monday, the two appeared in the court of common pleas, where they offered no defense. Their lawyers, William Snook of Findlay and Dudley Henderson of Lima, asked the jury to have mercy. Within half an hour of retiring, the jury returned with a verdict.

Stanley Smith and Charles Williams were found guilty of highway robbery, a crime which carried a sentence of ten to 25 years in the state penitentiary. 4

Next Time:  A Question of Justice


1 “Hold 2 In Gas Theft,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 31 Mar 1931, p 2 col 7.
2 “Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” FamilySearch , (www.familysearch.org, accessed 25 Aug 2017), death certificate image, Paul Solt, 13 Nov 1933, digital image from FHL microfilm 1,992,982.
3 “Frustrate Jail Break Attempt,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 18 May 1931, p 5 col 6.
4 “Found Guilty of Robbery Charge,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 19 May 1931, p 3 col 1.

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Chance Finds: And You Smell Like One, Too!

This time, my “chance find” is a little less random, as it actually involves a player in Stanley Smith’s saga, prosecutor Marcus C. Downing.  Courtesy of the Findlay Morning Republican, 21 May 1931:

“ENGLISHMAN” SPEAKS
Members of Kiwanis Club Hear Toledoan Who Poses As Briton

Indignation almost reached the point of open hostility among members of the Kiwanis club yesterday as they listened to neatly worded criticisms of Americans in the address of a speaker introduced by Marcus C. Downing as an English author and educator from Oxford.  Progressing from mild innuendo to pointed affronts to national pride, the speaker reached a climax in an open comparison of Kiwanians to monkeys.

The remark was challenged by Mr. Downing, chairman of the meeting.  In the ensuing confusion and embarrassment it was revealed that the speaker was Arthur Bries, of Toledo, whose impersonation of an egotistical Englishman aroused the antagonism of Findlay Legionnaires Monday night. 1

Mr. Downing seems to have had an interesting sense of humor.  Following is the pertinent portion of the article about the Legionnaires’ dinner, which included Civil War veterans among its guests:

Program Enlivened.

The treat of the evening came as a surprise to all.  An Englishman was introduced by Prosecutor Marcus Downing who gave a lengthy speech in which he ridiculed the American soldiers until the Legionnaires could stand it no longer and began leaving the hall, one by one.  After a riot was almost inevitable, chairman Lloyd Light announced that he was not an Englishman at all, and was put on the program as a joke, which proved a complete deception.  The speaker was Arthur Bries of Chicago. 2


1 “‘Englishman’ Speaks,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 21 May 1931, p 2 col 7.
2 “Guests Feted By Legion Veterans,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 19 May 1931, p 12 col 4.

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.

mile-north-of-arlington.png
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.

1925_Ford_Model_T_Touring
By I, Lglswe, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2298387

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

1928-29.JPG

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
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.”

The Family Photo Album: Dorothy Marple and the Armstrong Family

SCAN0326

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.

SCAN0327

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.