The Burton Gang’s Last Job, Conclusion

Not long after the bloody shootout between the Burton gang and Sheriff’s deputies at the Union Ice Company, in which all of the bandits except J.W. Gilkye were killed, deputies found Edward Burton’s girlfriend. Investigators located the young woman in a room at the Superior Hotel. She was taken into custody under her alias, Mary Dayke, but quickly revealed her given name, Evelyn Smith.

burton gang_gilkye mug_crop

Smith, like Burton, was from Chicago. Questioned by Chief of Criminal Investigation, A.L. Manning and Deputy Sheriff Chester Allen, Smith said that she had no idea what Burton was up to or why he had left Chicago for Los Angeles. “I know nothing of Burton’s crimes. I did not realize he was leading a life of crime until he was arrested in the raid. Even then I did not believe he was the man who shot the motor officer.

Smith continued: “I came out from Chicago last May to join Burton. Be he soon lost interest in me. He told me I was not the kind of a girl to stick with him. Last Tuesday afternoon, only a few hours before he was killed, he accused me of being too inquisitive. He said I asked too many questions, told me to mind my own business. And then he beat me severely.”

Sheriff’s investigators asked Smith about the two one-way train tickets to Chicago that were found in Burton’s coat pocket, but again she claimed to know nothing. Evidently, Burton had a new woman in his life; a blonde with bobbed hair who had accompanied the bandit gang on a number of robberies. Smith said Burton planned to “ditch” her for his new squeeze and leave Smith in Los Angeles to fend for herself.

burton gang_evelyn smith_chester allen

Sheriff’s deputies conducted raids at several locations in an attempt to round up other members of the gang. The lawmen came up empty. The gunsels, aware that the deputies wielded sawed-off shotguns and were prepared to do battle, had fled the city for parts east.

Only J.W. Gilkye, the lone bandit to survive, was left to answer for the crimes he and his fellow thugs had perpetrated. Gilkye survived only because he had dropped his weapon and refused to fight when deputies drew down on him at the ice company.

During questioning, Gilkye said: “You got enough on me without me telling you more.” And then he proceeded to tell Chief Deputy Manning a lot more.  Like many crooks Gilkye loved the sound of his own voice and couldn’t resist crowing about his criminal accomplishments and playing the tough guy. “I may get hooked for a long time up the road, but I ain’t through yet. We were double-crossed, we were, by one of our own gang. But I’ll get him if it takes all my life. He double-crossed us and caused three of my best pals to get killed. But they were nervy–had the goods.”  The “goods” can’t do much for you when you’re dead.

Gilkye wasn’t as nervy as his pals had been, so he lived to tell the tale.  He was tried and convicted for his part in the ice company job, but before he left Los Angeles County Jail for San Quentin, he nearly made good on his promise to get even with the man who had dropped a dime on the gang.

The snitch was Roy Melendez. Melendez and Gilkye encountered each other in the County Jail where, according to witnesses, Gilkye “roared like an infuriated animal” when Melendez was placed in lock-up. Gilkye would have murdered Melendez with his bare hands if jail attendants hadn’t intervened.

Melendez may have met a bad end even though Gilkye wasn’t able to lay another finger on him. When Melendez failed to appear in court on a bum check charge an unnamed official opined: “Either Melendez has been killed or they have made it so hot for him he is afraid to show up.” A bench warrant was issued for Melendez, but he was nowhere to be found.

Members of the Sheriff’s Department breathed a sigh of relief. The Burton gang’s brief reign in Los Angeles was over.

* * *

Late in February 1923, two men from Chicago arrived in Los Angeles. The men weren’t tourists, they were on a mission to assassinate the deputies they held responsible for killing Edward Burton and two members of his gang during the shootout at Union Ice Company. The men made inquiries around town in an attempt to learn as much as they could about their targets. While the hitmen were compiling dossiers on their targets, the targets themselves were conducting their business as usual.  Deputies William Bright, Spike Modie, Chester Allen and Norris Stensland didn’t know they were being hunted.burton gang_gunmen headline

At about 1 a.m. on the morning of March 7, 1923,  William Bright and Spike Moody left Sheriff’s headquarters. They climbed into Moody’s Stutz and headed up Broadway. They turned west on Temple and continued down the dark, deserted street. After traveling a few blocks they eyeballed a sedan with the side curtains pulled down. They wouldn’t have paid the automobile much attention except that it was trailing them too closely for their comfort. Knowing that they had enemies in the underworld Moody and Bright readied their weapons. As they prepared themselves for a possible gunfight, Moody and Bright watched the sedan suddenly swing off into a side street and disappear.

A few blocks later the mysterious sedan lurched out of a side street onto Temple and passed the Stutz at a high rate of speed. Moody and Bright saw the side curtains part and a shotgun appear. A second shotgun appeared from the tonneau, the rear passenger compartment of the sedan, and both unleashed a volley fire at Modie and Bright. The deputies pulled out their revolvers and returned fire. Bright fired through the windshield of the Stutz. Fortunately for the deputies, the would-be assassins aim went high when their sedan hit a pothole.

Stutz c. 1923

Stutz c. 1923

Moody jammed his foot down on the accelerator and gave chase as the sedan drew away. Bright continued to return fire. Bright may have scored a hit. The sedan skidded across the street into a telephone pole. The sedan sagged with one broken wheel. Three men jumped from the car and fled, but not before firing again at the deputies.

Bright and Moody gave chase on foot but the men vanished into the darkness. Returning to the crippled sedan Bright found a hat with a jagged hole through the crown. The wearer had narrowly escaped death. The hat bore the name of a Chicago hatter.

Sheriff’s investigators located the gunmen’s hotel room. They also identified a few of the shooters acquaintances who, under orders from Sheriff Traeger, were kept under surveillance.

Deputies Bright, Moody, Stensland and Allen prepared themselves for the possibility of another attack–but it never came. The Burton gang seems to have departed Los Angeles forever.

This is such a great photo I decided to post it again!

This is such a great photo I decided to post it again!

NOTE:  Once again, I am indebted to Mike Fratantoni. His knowledge of L.A.’s law enforcement and criminal history is encyclopedic.

It can be frustrating to pin down accurate spellings of proper names in these historic tales. Often reporters phoned a story into a rewrite person at the newspaper who phonetically spelled a person’s name. Edward Burton was in some reports, Edwin. Another example, Spike Moody’s surname has appeared as Modie. Judging from the above photo it should be the former spelling.

The Burton Gang’s Last Job, Part 2

For two weeks Sheriff’s deputies surveilled the four key members of the Burton gang: Edward Burton; J.W. Gilkye, Louis Reese, aka “Big Dick” or “Lefty Louie”; and Kenneth Fleenor. The surveillance paid dividends. Deputies learned that the gang was planning one last job before leaving for Chicago. They were going to rob the cashier at the Union Ice Company at 650 South Alameda Street.

The Burton gang had pulled a number of jobs in Los Angeles and local law enforcement had had enough. Sheriff Traeger put Chief of Criminal Investigation A. L. Manning in charge of catching the bandits in the act.

deputies_burton gangAt 6 p.m. on August 10, 1922, deputies, armed with sawed-off shotguns, surrounded the ice company building. They stayed in the shadows waiting for the Burton gang to show up. It was a long wait. At 9:30 p.m. a car parked on the west side of Alameda. Several men exited the vehicle and climbed between the cars of a slow moving freight train. They approached the factory office.

Inside the office were E.R. Rathman, the night cashier and E.C. Bailey, one of the company’s drivers. Rathman was sitting at an adding machine and Bailey was asleep in a chair a few feet away. Also inside the office, in a side room, were more armed deputies.

One of the crooks stayed outside the building as a lookout. The other three men, all of them wearing white handkerchiefs over their faces, entered the office and pointed revolvers at Rathman. One of the gunmen said: “Stick up your hands.” Rathman did as he was told. With a pistol shoved up against the back of Rathman’s neck, he was commanded to “Get into that corner!” With his hands up, Rathman moved toward the corner. Another of the masked men looked at Rathman and said: “We don’t want to hurt you.” Was the gunman telling the truth? Rathman didn’t want to find out. When he was told to lie on his face on the floor he did so without complaint.

One of the armed men began to rifle the cash drawer and pulled out about $2,000 (approximately $30k in today’s dollars) in cash. It was then that four deputies, wielding sawed-off shotguns, rushed into the office and shouted for the bandits to put up their hands.

Burton, firing as he ran, made a beeline toward the exit He didn’t make it. One shot took out an eye and one side of his face was ripped away. He fell to the floor. He was alive–but just barely.

Louis Reese went out in a hail of gun fire. He ran toward the deputies who continued to fire. Hit multiple times, Louis reeled out of the door and onto the sidewalk where he collapsed and died.

Burton was transported to the County Hospital. Surgeons who examined the wounded bandit said that he was so grievously wounded that he could not live.hold up headline

Detectives examined the contents of Burton’s pockets for information that might lead them to other gang members. Burton had two one-way tickets to Chicago where he planned to resume his place in the city’s criminal underworld.  The cops were also interested in learning if Burton was in contact with any of his fellow gangsters. In particular, they hoped to find out if he knew anything about “Terrible” Tommy O’Connor.

terrible tommy crop

Terrible Tommy O’Connor

Rumor had it that Burton was tight with O’Connor, and O’Connor recently escaped from Chicago’s jail just days before he was scheduled to hang for the murder of a policeman. If Burton knew anything about O’Connor’s whereabouts the information accompanied him into the afterlife. Curiously, O’Connor was never recaptured and his date with the hangman remained on the books until the gallows were dismantled in the 1970s.

burton gang_gilkye mug_cropJ.C. Gilkye, the surviving member of the gang, gave Chief Investigator Manning an earful about the activities of the group. Gilkye said that not all of the gang’s attempted crimes were successful. Far from it. But even with the failures, they had done pretty well in Los Angeles — until their final job. Had the Burton gang been completely wiped out as law enforcement hoped? If they could locate Burton’s sweetheart maybe they’d know for sure.

NEXT TIME: The end of the Burton gang?

Cops Behaving Badly: The Jokers

00037046_cryer

Mayor George Cryer [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

The 1920s were a time of rapid growth in Los Angeles.  During the tenure of the 32nd Mayor of Los Angeles, George E. Cryer (1921-1929), the population of Los Angeles surpassed 1,000,000 and several important civic development projects were undertaken such as the construction of Central Library; City Hall; Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum; Hall of Justice; Mulholland Highway; and the Olympic Auditorium.

The Olympic Auditorium was originally supposed to cost $350,000 to build, $4.8 million in today’s dollars, but overruns pushed it above $500,000.  Land for the project was acquired at Grand Avenue and West Eighteenth Street in a twenty-five year lease deal with the Los Angeles Athletic Club.  The building was designed to be a combination convention hall, exposition building, and boxing arena and when completed it would be the largest venue of its kind with seating for 15,300 people.

Olympic Auditorium [Photo courtesy LAPL]

Olympic Auditorium [Photo courtesy LAPL]

The Olympic wasn’t just for mugs and pugs.  In May 1925 the Los Angeles Times reported that a “…colossal presentation of ‘Aida’ with elephants and camels, a chorus of more than ninety voices and a ballet of twenty-four dancers…” would be on stage at the auditorium.  I love opera and it would have been a treat to see live elephants and camels at the Olympic—it must have been a remarkable night.

Of course now you’re asking “what has civic pride and operatic spectacle got to do with cops behaving badly? “  Alas, not much except to point out that where there is big money there is an opportunity for misbehavior.

The auditorium opened to much fanfare and sold-out crowds, but there was a problem.  It was reported that at least sixty contractors had not been compensated for their work.  Liens totaling $400,000 had to be paid. It was never made clear in the newspaper accounts exactly why the contractors had been stiffed.  It sounds to me as if there was some creative bookkeeping going on, but then I’m a naturally suspicious person.

In any case the way the payments worked was simple enough—Sheriff’s deputies collected the gross box office receipts from the various events held at the auditorium and locked them up in a vault at the Sheriff’s office.  Once taxes and overhead had been deducted from the gross the deputies took the balance and applied it to the outstanding claims.jokers olympic

For several months everything went like clockwork.  But on April 16, 1926 Mrs. M.Q. Adams, a bookkeeper in the Sheriff’s civil department, noticed that the vault door was partly opened. She immediately called to Chief Civil Deputy Arthur Jewell who discovered that the previous night’s deposit of $1182 was missing. Sheriff Traeger decided not to publicize the burglary—it should be on a need-to-know basis only.  Theft of money from his office vault was damned embarrassing.

Undersheriff Biscailuz and Chief Criminal Deputy Wright were assigned to the case.  They were certain that whoever had taken the money must have known the combination to the outer door and possessed duplicate keys to the inner door.  In other words, it was an inside job.

Deputy Karl Wallich (38), one of the few people who had access to the vault, was immediately a suspect. During questioning Wallich said that after he had left the Hall of Justice in the early morning he had turned back at the Plaza to buy a pack of cigarettes. He couldn’t find a store that was open so he  ended up driving to a small market at Fifth and Spring. Wallich’s story didn’t hold up.  Deputy Wright found seven stores between the Plaza and Fifth and Spring Streets that were open early in the morning.

jokers wallichDeputy Sheriffs Heller and Johnson dropped in on Karl Wallich at his home to take his statement. They confronted him with his lie about the stores and he caved in on the spot. He wasn’t cut out for a life of crime. He produced half of the missing funds and ratted out his friend and accomplice Harry Adler (19), a civilian clerk, who quickly relinquished the other half.

Adler confessed that he had hidden himself in the vault about 10 o’clock Wednesday night waiting for the auditorium’s receipts to be deposited. Deputy Sheriffs Wallich and Barton came to the vault door about 11:30, locked up, and left the building.  Once he figured that everyone had gone Adler took a screw driver and removed the plate from the combination lock and exited the vault.  Nobody saw him leave.  He then met Karl in front of the Hall of Records where they divvied up the cash.

jokers robbery

The most surprising thing about their confessions was that both men insisted that they hadn’t stolen the money to enrich themselves—the theft was meant to be a joke!  The pair of merry pranksters said they had only wanted to get even with Deputy George Barton, a co-worker they said had teased and played jokes on them. The theft was their way of getting even.  They figured since Barton was the only person who had keys to the inner vault it would be his ass in a sling when the money disappeared. The plan was to let Barton twist in the wind for a bit then return the cash to the vault, but then” things got so hot” they couldn’t see their way out of the mess.jokers adler

Sheriff Traeger wasn’t amused by Wallich and Adler’s little stunt—he’d covered the full $1182 loss out of his own pocket until the money was returned.

Adler pleaded guilty at his arraignment. He spent ninety days in a Sheriff’s detention center and upon his release he was granted three years probation. Wallich first entered a not guilty but then he changed his mind and entered a guilty plea and requested probation.  There was no follow-up story in the newspaper so I don’t know how Wallich fared.  My guess is that he got probation.

Of course both Wallich and Adler lost their Sheriff’s Department jobs.  I wonder if the men stayed friends or if their criminal misadventure ended it.   I like to think that with their penchant for pranks the guys opened a brick and mortar joke shop—the kind that sold whoopee cushions, rubber vomit, joy buzzers, and fake dog poop.

Doesn’t everyone appreciate a good joke?

 poopoo

 NOTE:  Many thanks to my fellow crime historian, Mike Fratantoni for introducing me to this tale.