this day in crime history: november 1, 1950


On this date in 1950, two assassins made an attempt on the life of President Harry Truman. The attempt was made when Truman was staying in Blair House while structural repairs were being made to the White House.

Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, members of the pro-independence Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, approached Blair House from opposite directions. They planned to mount simultaneous assaults and shoot their way inside the house, where they would kill Truman. The men engaged White House police officers and Secret Service agents in a gun battle that resulted in the wounding off two officers and the death of Officer Leslie Coffelt.

Neither assassin gained entry to Blair House. Torresola was killed by Officer Coffelt before he collapsed and died from his own wounds. Collazo (pictured above) was wounded in the gun battle and arrested. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life by President Truman. He was pardoned by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. He returned to Puerto Rico, where he died in 1994 at the age of 80.

Further reading:

Truman Library – Assassination Attempt on President Truman’s Life

Wikipedia – Truman assassination attempt  

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this day in crime history: october 20, 1981

brinks

On this date in 1981, members of the Black Liberation Army and several former members of the Weather Underground robbed a Brinks armored car in Nanuet, NY. The robbery resulted in the deaths of a Brink’s guard and two police officers.

The incident began when the Brinks truck was making a pick-up at the Nanuet Mall. The robbers ambushed the guards, killing guard Peter Paige and wounding his partner, Joe Trombino. Trombino managed to get off one shot before he was hit, but failed to hit any of the robbers.

After the attack on the guards, the robbers took $1.6 million and fled the scene in a van. The went to a nearby parking lot where they ditched the van and made their getaway in a car and a U-haul truck that were waiting for them. A college student who lived across the street saw the robbers making the switch and called the police.

Police spotted the getaway vehicles at an on-ramp to the New York State Thruway. As they approached the U-Haul, they suspected they may have had the wrong vehicle. The two people in the cab of the truck were white, but all of the robbers were described as black. The driver of the U-Haul, former Weather Underground member Kathy Boudin managed to convince the police that she was innocent. As they lowered their guard, several armed men emerged from the back of the truck and opened fire. Nyack Police Officers Edward O’Grady and Waverly Brown were killed. Officer Brian Lennon was injured. Lennon managed to return fire but wasn’t able to hit any of his attackers.

Boudin fled the scene on foot, but was apprehended by an off-duty corrections officer. Former Weather Underground members Samuel Brown, Judith Clark and Chris Dobbs were arrested after they crashed their getaway car while fleeing the shootout scene.

Police traced the license plates of the getaway car to an apartment in New Jersey. A search of the apartment yielded weapons, bomb-making materials, and blueprints for NYPD stations in Manhattan. They also found an address in Mt. Vernon, NY, not far from the robbery scene. When they searched that location, they found weapons and some bloody clothes.

After running the license plates of cars seen near the Mt. Vernon address, they managed to track down two of the robbers, BLA members Samuel Smith and Sekou Odinga. When NYPD detectives tried to pull the two men over, they crashed while trying to flee. After a shootout with police, Smith was killed, while Odinga was taken into custody.

The investigation continued with several more arrests following over the next few years. The last suspect arrested was former Weather Underground member Marilyn Buck, who had rented one of the apartments that the gang had used. It was Buck’s blood that was found on the clothes at the Mt. Vernon apartment. She had apparently shot herself by accident when she tried to draw her gun during the shootout with the Nyack police officers after the robbery.

The participants were all tried and convicted. All received lengthy prison sentences. Kathy Boudin was paroled in 2003. Marilyn Buck was released in 2010 and died of cancer shortly afterword.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Brink’s Robbery (1981)

ODMP pages – Waverly Brown and Edward O’Grady

this day in crime history: june 17, 1933

On this date in 1933, three men — believed to be outlaw, and former lawman, Verne Miller, along with bank robbers Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd and Adam Richetti — attempted to free Frank “Jelly” Nash from Federal custody in Kansas City. A gunfight ensued, leaving three police officers, an FBI Agent, and Frank Nash dead.

FBI History: Famous Cases Kansas City Massacre – Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd

Wikipedia: Kansas City Massacre

Movie: The Kansas City Massacre (1975)

this day in crime history: may 15, 1981


On this date in 1981, Donna Payant became the first female corrections officer in New York State to be killed in the line of duty. Payant, 31, was assigned to the Green Haven Correctional Facility in Dutchess County, NY.

At the end of her scheduled shift, Payant had turned up missing. An exhaustive search was conducted of the prison and the surrounding grounds, but there was no sign of her. Officials expanded their search to a local landfill where trash from the prison had been dumped earlier in the day. They found her mutilated body buried in the trash.

Police and prison officials began an investigation into the murder of Officer Payant. Bite marks had been left, and the medical examiner thought that the pattern looked familiar. As it turns out, he had seen the same pattern on a previous case he had worked: one of the victims of rapist and serial killer Lemuel Smith. Smith was an inmate at Green Haven CF when Officer Payant was murdered.

Once the case was built, Smith was tried for murdering Officer Payant. He was represented by C. Vernon Mason (of Tawana Brawley fame/infamy) and William “Black Rage” Kuntsler. In spite of such big-name legal representation , Smith was convicted of 1st degree murder and given the mandatory death sentence. In 1984, his death sentence was overturned as unconstitutional.

Lemuel Smith is currently incarcerated at Five Points Correctional Facility in central New York. He is eligible for parole in 2029, when he is 87 years old.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Lemuel Smith

The Officer Down Memorial Page – Corrections Officer Donna A. Payant

Find-a-Grave – Donna Payant

this day in crime history: may 9, 1980


On this date in 1980, the Security Pacific Bank branch in Norco, CA was robbed by five heavily armed men. The robbers were confronted outside the bank by Riverside County Sheriff Deputies. In the ensuing shootout, one of the robbers was killed. The remaining four stole a car from the bank’s parking lot and fled the scene.

The pursuit went on for 25 miles and extended into neighboring San Bernadino County. Units from the CHP and San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department, including a helicopter, joined in the pursuit. The robbers fired at officers and civilian vehicles during the pursuit. At one point, they stopped and set up an ambush for police. RCSD Deputy Jim Evans was killed. Officers in the helicopter had tried to warn him of the ambush, but an incompatibility between the RCSD and SBCSD radios prevented him from receiving the warning.

The robbers fled into a wooded area near Lytle Creek, CA with police in pursuit. One of the robbers was killed in a shootout with police. The remaining three surrendered.

The three survivors were tried and convicted of multiple felonies. They’re all serving life sentences without possibility of parole.

Further reading:

RCDSA – Norco Bank Robbery (This site includes a link to a video documentary about the robbery)

RCDSA – A list of the suspects and their weapons

Wikipedia – Norco shootout

this day in crime history: april 22, 1934

On this date in 1934, the FBI went toe to toe with John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and their gang in a shootout that left an FBI agent and a bystander dead.

The gang decided to hide out at the Little Bohemia Lodge in northern Wisconsin. The owner of the lodge managed to get word to the authorities. FBI agents were dispatched to the scene.

As the agents approached the lodge, the owner’s dogs began to bark. Since the dogs barked incessantly, their warning was ignored by the gang. A few minutes later, a car approached the agents. Thinking that the gangsters were inside, they opened fire in an attempt to shoot out the tires. Shooting high, which often happens when firing on full auto, they hit all of the occupants of the car, and killed one of them. To make matters worse, they had the wrong guys. Dillinger and his crew were still inside the lodge.

Barking dogs you can ignore, but submachinegun fire will get your attention every time. Dillinger and the boys heard the shots and knew that the heat was on. They opened fire on the agents from the lodge. After throwing some hot lead at the G-men, the gang bolted for the door. Dillinger and two of his guys turned one way and made a clean getaway. Nelson turned the other way, and wound up at a nearby house in a car with the owner of the lodge and a neighbor.

A car containing two of the FBI agents and a local constable approached Nelson. Nelson pointed his gun at them, and ordered them out of the car. When they complied, Nelson shot all three of them. Agent W. Carter Baum was killed; Agent J. C. Newman and local constable Carl Christensen were injured.

The final tally: two dead (one lawman and one innocent bystander), four injured (two lawmen and two bystanders), no gangsters in custody.

Further reading:

Crime Museum — John Dillinger

FBI History–Famous Cases: John Dillinger

FBI History–Famous Cases: “Baby Face” Nelson

FBI History–Hall of Honor: W. Carter Baum

Website for the Little Bohemia Lodge

this day in crime history: march 16, 1934


On this date in 1934, Herbert Youngblood, an accused murderer who escaped from the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, IN with John Dillinger, was killed in a shootout with police in Port Huron, MI. Undersheriff Charles Cavanaugh was also killed in the shootout, which left two lawmen and a civilian injured.

Further reading:

Time“Bad Man at Large”

Dillinger: The Untold Story, by G. Russell Girardin, William J. Helmer, and Rick Mattix

YOUNGBLOOD IS SLAIN IN BATTLE