The Apartment

It was the summer of 1929. Lillian Douglas was partying with friends at a private apartment in Chicago when the police showed up, looking for Earl Reed and Winfield “Windy” Seeman. The cops claimed Reed, a career criminal wanted for murder in St. Louis, had been driven to Chicago by Seeman in his Nash automobile.

Reed wasn’t at the apartment, but Windy was there. Rather than simply arrest him, the police arrested everyone.

Lillian sighed and put her hands behind her back. Standing up a little straighter in her uncomfortable heels, she gazed off in the distance, hoping the ordeal would be over soon and she could go home. At 33, she was too old for this kind of stuff. To add insult to injury, Chicago in late July was like an oven. She wholly regretted her decision to wear a fur stole to the party.

The raid on the apartment did not lead to the capture of Earl Reed.

Reed was wanted for the murder of St. Louis police officer William McCormack, during the hold up of a cigar store. The crime—the cold-blooded murder of a fellow officer—was something the boys in blue took seriously, and solving it went into the “no stone left unturned” category. Three of Reed’s accomplices had already been arrested and charged with robbery and murder: Eugene Ware, William Maloney and Joseph Daher. Soon all three would be enjoying the hospitality of Missouri taxpayers at the state pen in Jefferson City.

The three men fingered Reed as the shooter.

Eugene Ware, Joseph Daher, and William Maloney in their Missouri State Penitentiary mugshots. Missouri Digital Heritage

The following year, a man named Carl Ross was arrested in Idaho after he and an accomplice robbed the Wendell National Bank in Minidoka County. Ross was sentenced to 10-20 years at the Idaho State Penitentiary in Boise.

At the time of the Idaho bank job, Ross was not associated with McCormack’s murder in St. Louis. In fact he might have served his time in Idaho and been released with no one the wiser, but he’d done something very stupid: he’d kept the officer’s revolver. Of course he filed off the serial number. But unbeknownst to him, there was a “secret serial number” on the weapon, put there by the manufacturer. When Idaho prison authorities found the gun in his possession, they checked this number and discovered it had belonged to the fallen officer. They suspected that Ross, who employed several aliases, was an escapee from the Indiana State Prison. Comparing mugshots and fingerprints from Indiana and Idaho, they confirmed that Reed and Ross were one and the same. Paroled for the lesser crime in Idaho, he was sent to St. Louis to face the murder charge.

By the time Reed was located in Idaho, Windy Seeman was dead—shot and killed during an argument. Reed admitted he’d taken a ride from Windy, but the car broke down in Indiana. Heading west on his own, he’d never set foot in Chicago.

At his court hearing in St. Louis, Reed insisted McCormack’s death was accidental. He said he’d found the officer in a back room of the store, reading a newspaper. He claimed he’d hit him twice over the head with his gun, which went off accidentally. But according to the autopsy, McCormack had no head wounds—he died from a fatal gunshot to his neck.

Towards the end of December 1931, Reed pleaded guilty to McCormack’s murder. He was given a life sentence at the state penitentiary. Unfortunately the online Missouri State Penitentiary Database stops in 1931, so his record isn’t there. According to federal censuses, he was incarcerated there in 1940, but was not listed as an inmate in 1950.

Lillian Douglas’s mugshot, clipped from a larger group photo, was pasted on the front of a police identification card, along with a typed description of why she’d been arrested. Other than noting her height, the police didn’t bother taking her measurements. They did take her fingerprints, which were placed on the back of the card. The fact that she had no prior police record was also stamped on the back. Her identification card remained in police files until someone decided it was dead weight and got rid of it. It was rescued and sold to me—a small piece of crime history, part of a much larger crime story.

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