friday movie quote

Ben Johnson JD Morales

“I plan on catchin’ him… or killin’ him. Excuse me gentlemen, I wanna get a cee-gar.”

-Captain J.D. Morales (Ben Johnson), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

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this day in crime history: october 6, 1866


On this date in 1866, the Reno brothers committed the first peacetime train robbery. The Renos, a family of ne’er do wells, started their criminal careers as bounty jumpers (Army enlistees who collected the sign on bonus, then took off, only to enlist again elsewhere under another name and repeat the process) during the Civil War.

After the war, they searched for new ways to make money. On October 6, 1866, brothers John and Simeon Reno, and associate Frank Sparkes, boarded the east-bound Ohio & Mississippi train at the Seymour, IN depot. While the train was in motion, they stormed the express car and held the messenger at gunpoint. They broke open one of the safes and stole a large sum of cash from it. They pushed a larger safe off the moving train for other gang members to retrieve. Then they pulled the emergency stop cord and fled the train. The gang wound up abandoning the second safe when they were unable to get it open.

The Renos went on to commit several more robberies before most were captured by the law (and the Pinkerton Detective Agency). Most of the gang, including Simeon Reno and Frank Sparkes, died at the hands of vigilantes in three separate lynchings in Indiana. John Reno was tried and convicted. He was sent to prison in 1868, and was paroled in 1878.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Reno Gang

Legends of America – The Notorious Reno Gang

this day in crime history: october 5, 1892

On this date in 1892, members of the Dalton gang — Bob, Emmet and Grat Dalton, Dick Broadwell, and Bill Power — rode into the town of Coffeyville, KS. Their mission: a spectacular double bank robbery. It was a great plan, but for two serious miscalculations. The first being that Coffeyville was the hometown of the Dalton boys. In spite of attempts to disguise themselves, they were recognized when they entered the banks. The second miscalculation involved the tolerance of the local population for bank robbery (they had none), and the lengths they would go to in thwarting would-be bank robbers. Said lengths involved guns, lots of guns.

The townsfolk armed themselves and confronted the Daltons as the gang emerged from the banks. After a fierce gun battle, four of the townspeople lay dead. As for the gang, four of the five were killed, leaving a wounded Emmet as the lone survivor. After being tried and convicted, Emmet Dalton was sentenced to life in prison. His sentence was commuted in 1907. He moved to California, where he wrote a book and even acted in a few Hollywood movies. He died in 1937 at the age of 66.

Further reading:

Historynet – Dalton Gang’s Raid on Coffeyville

EyeWitness to History.com – The Dalton Gang’s Last Raid, 1892

Emmett Dalton – His Life After the Coffeyville Raid

this day in crime history: october 4, 1997

Masterminds

On this date in 1997, $17.3 million was stolen from the Loomis Fargo armored car company office in Charlotte, NC. At the time, it was the third largest cash robbery in US history.

The heist began just after 6 PM. After sending home a new employee he was supposed to be training, driver and vault supervisor David Ghantt loaded the cash into a company van and left the facility. He met up with former Loomis employee Kelly Campbell, her friend Steve Chambers, and several other accomplices. The money was transferred to other vehicles and the van was left behind.

The plan was for Ghantt to take $50 thousand in cash, then head to Mexico. Chambers would eventually wire him more money. But Chambers had other plans.

Kelly Campbell, at Chambers’s urging, manipulated Ghantt into carrying out the robbery. She had convinced Ghantt that she was in love with him. As the plan for the heist developed, she introduced him to Chambers, who she said could help in the heist. Once the theft was complete and Ghantt was in Mexico, Chambers planned to hire someone to kill him.

The morning after the theft, Loomis Fargo employees were unable to gain entry to the vault. It soon became apparent that they had been the victim of a theft. They called the police, who called the FBI. The van was soon found

Ghantt, who was the only employee who was not accounted for after the theft, emerged as an early suspect. The FBI quickly made the connection between Ghantt and Campbell and began surveillance of Campbell.

Two days later, the van was found with $3.3 million inside. The thieves had underestimated how much room the money would require (about $11 million was in $20 bills).

The FBI received a tip about Chambers, but could not connect him to Campbell or Ghantt. Their suspicions were confirmed when Chambers and his wife went on a spending spree. Mrs. Chambers even asked a local bank teller how large a deposit she could make before the bank was required to report it to the government.

The FBI eventually built cases on their suspects, but were missing one piece of the puzzle: the location of David Ghantt. That piece eventually fell into place when they traced a phone call Gantt made to Chambers asking for more money. Agent traveled to Mexico where, with the help of Mexican police, they arrested Ghantt.

The total number arrests came to eight: Ghantt, Steve Chambers and his wife, Kelly Campbell, and four friends and relatives (including Chambers’s lawyer). Steve Chambers was the only member of the gang not to plead guilty. He was convicted at trial and was sentenced to eleven years in prison, longer than any of his accomplices. He was released from prison on November 2006. According to the FBI, over 95% of the money was recovered.

The robbery inspired the 2016 movie Masterminds, starring Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig and Owen Wilson.

Further reading:

Creative Loafing Charlotte – The Imperfect Crime

Wikipedia – 1997 Loomis Fargo Robbery in North Carolina

this day in crime history: october 1, 1910

On this date in 1910, a bomb was detonated in an alley next to the Los Angeles Times building in Los Angeles, CA.  The bomb, which was planted by labor union activists who were angry at the paper’s anti-union editorial policies, was set to go off when the building was empty.  A faulty timer resulted in an early detonation.  A faulty placement of the device–right over a gas line–resulted in a fire that ultimately destroyed the entire building, and the building next door.  In all, 21 people were killed.

The police investigation of the bombing quickly hit a dead, leading city officials to hire private investigator William J. Burns to track down the guilty parties.  Burns, who was already investigating other bombings believed to be union-related, incorporated the case into his ongoing investigation.  Based on information from spies that Burns had planted in the unions, as well as eyewitness testimony, Burns identified the guilty parties as brothers J.B. and J.J. McNamara, and Ortie McManigal, who were all labor union officials.  In April 1911, McManigal and J.B. McNamara were arrested in a hotel in Detroit.  They were found in possession of suitcases that contained blasting caps, dynamite, and alarm clocks.  After a grueling (and probably unconstitutional) interrogation, Burns got McManigal to agree to turn state’s evidence.  A warrant was obtained for the arrest of J.J. McNamara.  He was arrested several days later at an executive board meeting of the Iron Workers Union.

National labor leaders condemned the arrests as a frame job.  The union tried to hire famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow to defend the men.  Darrow initially declined due to his failing health, but was eventually convinced to take the case by labor organizer Samuel Gompers.

Darrow quickly realized that the police had a fair amount of evidence against the McNamaras, including the testimony of McManigal, who was not being charged in the case.  He eventually convinced the brothers to plead guilty in order to avoid death sentences.  J.B. McNamara was sentenced to life in prison.  J.J. McNamara got 15 years.  J.B. died in prison in March 1941.  Upon his release, J.J. went back to work for the Iron Workers Union as an organizer.  He died in Butte, MT, two months after his brother’s death.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Los Angeles Times bombing

Wikipedia – William J. Burns

this day in crime history: september 29, 1982

On this date in 1982, 12 year old Mary Kellerman of Elk Grove Village, IL took an Extra-Strength Tylenol capsule for a sore throat and runny nose.  Shortly after taking the capsule, she was found unconscious on the bathroom floor.  She was rushed to the hospital where she was pronounced dead.

That same day, 27 year old Adam Janus was rushed to the hospital after losing consciousness in his Chicago-area home.  Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.  He died shortly after arriving at the hospital.  A heart attack was suspected as the cause of death.  That evening, Janus’s family gathered at his home to mourn.  His brother and sister-in-law, both suffering from headaches, each took Extra-Strength Tylenol from a bottle they had found on the kitchen counter.  Both soon collapsed on the floor.  An ambulance was called and they were rushed to the hospital where they both died.

The sudden deaths of three family members led investigators to focus on poisoning as the cause of death.  Toxicology tests eventually showed that all three, as well as Mary Kellerman, had ingested large amounts of cyanide.  The Extra-Strength Tylenol was eventually identified as the source of the poison.  The public was alerted to the danger and a massive recall was instated by Johnson & Johnson (Tylenol’s manufacturer), but three more people in the Chicago-area had died by this time.  The other victims were Mary Reiner, Paula Prince, and Mary McFarland.

As the investigation continued, it became apparent that the five bottles that had caused the deaths (as well as three others that were discovered during the recall) were tampered with in stores, as all had not been manufactured in the same plant.  All of the poisoned capsules were found in the Chicago area.  Several suspects emerged, including a man who attempted to extort $1 million from Johnson & Johnson, but there was insufficient evidence to link them to the crime.

In recent years the FBI has shown renewed interest in James Lewis, the man who was convicted in the $1 million extortion attempt.  In January 2009, they searched his home in Massachusetts and took DNA samples from him and his wife.

In May 2011, the investigation began to focus on Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. Kaczynski’s early crimes took place in the Chicago area, and his parents owned a home there at the time. The investigation remains open.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Chicago Tylenol Murders

The Eighties Club – The Tylenol Murders

Wikipedia – Chicago Tylenol murders