Silent Phil

Silent Phil

With a crisp straw boater sitting squarely on his head, the young man doesn’t look like a hardened criminal. His clothes are clean and neat. The American flag pin on his label showed off his support for the American troops fighting in the Spanish-American War when his mug shot photos were taken.

His unflinching gaze is perhaps not entirely honest but would you have guessed he’d end up devoting his entire life to crime?

He was baptized Pierre Phillipe Lambellé in 1878 in Quebec, Canada, the son of Philippe Lambellé and Philomène Bidegaré. His father, a stonecutter, was born in Belgium and his mother hailed from Canada. Philippe senior moved his family to Chicago around 1880. In America the family’s surname was Anglicized to Lambele. It’s not clear if Phillipe senior died or if he abandoned his family (no death record exists). Either way, by 1900 Philomène was living in the 18th ward of Chicago and taking in boarders to support herself and her five children.

Phil Lambele_back_low

The information (reverse) side of Philip Lambele’s rogues’ gallery card.

Philip’s mugshots were taken on July 28, 1898, after he was arrested as a shoplifter and sneak thief (a thief who shunned violence) in New York City when he was 21 years old. He told the police his surname was Ganset and said he made his living as an actor. In a way this was true, because occasions arose in the course of his work when he’d be caught in the act. A convincing story, combined with clean-cut looks and nice clothes (not to mention the pin), went a long way towards convincing bank officials that he’d made an honest mistake when he pocketed the cash lying on the counter as he walked by.

753px-Grand_Central_Station,_New_York_c._1902

Grand Central Station, c. 1902

Charges were not pressed against him in 1898, but his photo remained in the New York City Rogues’ Gallery. It came back to haunt him after he stole two large rolls of cash totaling $10,000 (over $300,000 current value) from a bank in Boston the following year. He got away, but witnesses had seen him. The Boston police phoned his description to police in other large cities.

In New York City an officer, Alphonse Rheaume, was dispatched to Grand Central to wait for the Boston train. When it arrived no one was allowed to get off until Rheaume had a chance to walk through each car and take a careful look at the passengers.

Rheaume thought he recognized one passenger, partly from the description, but also because he had a great memory for faces and was pretty sure he’d seen the young man in a recent line up at Police Headquarters. He later told a reporter for the New York Times that he wasn’t sure he had the Boston robber, but “when he tried to get away, I knew he’d been up to something, and I thought I would just take him in for luck.” Philip flashed the cash and offered it all to Rheaume if he’d let him go. Rheaume declined the offer, arrested him and took him to the Tombs.

The story of Philip’s arrest was published widely in the press. People were divided as to what was more amazing: that Rheaume located Philip based on a vague description or that he didn’t take the bribe. But Rheaume was an honest cop (something of a rarity in New York of that era). He commented that if Philip had played it smarter and gone someplace other than New York, he likely would never have been caught.

Drawing of Lambele - Newspapers.com

Drawing based on Philip’s mug shot that was published in the Boston Globe after his 1899 arrest in New York.

Philip’s record stretched back to 1894, when he was arrested in Chicago, his home base, for larceny. He was arrested there again for larceny in 1895. Neither of the early charges stuck, but his luck ran out when Rheaume spotted him on the train. He pleaded guilty to the Boston bank robbery under an alias, George Shea, and spent the next two years in the Massachusetts State Prison.

Free again in 1902, Philip stole a tray of diamond jewelry valued at $3,300 from a store in Brooklyn. Believing he was a paying customer, the store’s owner had offered him assistance and got a good look at him. Five weeks later the owner identified him from his rogues’ gallery photos. By then Philip was in Chicago, where, under name Philip Bailey, he was under arrest for a theft of $8000 of unset diamonds from a firm in Jeweler’s Row. Neither of the charges held up in court and he was soon on the loose again.

In March 1903 Philip was one of several men involved in a brawl in a Chicago saloon that led to the death of a man named William Tracey. The police showed up at his apartment, but he managed to escape by jumping out of a third floor window. The police gave chase and caught him. There wasn’t much evidence in the case, and in the end no one was charged with Tracey’s death.

In May he tried to rob a jewelry store in Newark, New Jersey but was caught after a sharp-eyed office boy saw him surreptitiously entering the store’s vault and alerted his boss. Since nothing was stolen, no charges were filed against him.

A serious setback came in September 1903, when he tried to rake up a pile of bills, using a bent wire from an umbrella, at the Germania National Bank in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was discovered in flagrante delicto and captured after a hot chase. Even though the robbery was unsuccessful, the Milwaukee authorities were not as inclined to be lenient as their brethren in bigger cities. Under the alias George P. Johnson, he was sentenced to 15-years in the state pen. In 1908, while he was serving his sentence, his mother died.

Barnum & Bailey circus ad. Lambele was strong man - Newspapers.c

Newspaper ad for the circus in which Philip performed as a “strongman.”

He was released in 1912. Now 34 years old, Philip had spent more than half of his adult life in prison. He joined the Barnum & Bailey circus as a strongman. The circus went to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he met a beautiful 18-year-old named Mary May Van Wormer.

Mary grew up in a law-abiding family with two parents, two sisters and a brother. Her father, Arba, was a machinist and pattern maker. He was also an inventor who had filed patents for several devices, including a shutter for movie projectors.

In July 1912, after a very brief courtship, the couple tied the knot. On the marriage license Philip claimed his name was Stavors B. Erieg. He immediately tried to skip out on his hotel bill.

The following year he unsuccessfully attempted his umbrella wire trick at a bank in Toledo, Ohio. He was arrested under the name James Donovan Evans, but he avoided a conviction. A couple of years later he did a short stint in the Detroit House of Correction for Grand Larceny.

In 1916 he and Mary were both arrested in St. Louis, Missouri after he tried to shoplift a silk coat from a department store. They told the police their names were Thomas and Mary Stewart. Mary later changed her story, claiming her name was Ruth Strong. Mary’s family found out about their arrests and her mother, Jessie, went to St. Louis to plead with authorities to release her daughter. She also tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Mary to divorce Philip.

The couple returned to Indiana and bought a 20-acre farm northwest of Goshen, but they had no intention of farming. They chose the residence for its remote location, one that allowed them to come and go as they pleased. Ironically Philip began using his real name locally because he’d never been convicted of a crime under that name.

Tommy O'Connor - Newspapers.com

“Terrible” Tommy O’Connor’s mugshots, c. 1921

In December 1921 Tommy O’Connor, an old pal from Chicago, escaped from the Cook County jail while awaiting execution by hanging for the murder of police officer Patrick O’Neill. O’Connor headed to Philip’s farm, where his friend took him in and let him to hide out. Under an assumed name Philip introduced O’Connor to the locals as a business associate. When the Lambeles were away from the farm for a few weeks, O’Connor hunkered down in the cellar with only Philip’s pet crow for company. Meanwhile police continued the manhunt for him all over America.

Philip was arrested and charged with the theft of cancelled postage stamps from a Cincinnati, Ohio business in May 1922. He told police his name was Dr. Philip Kolb. He claimed to be a graduate of the University of Chicago and an inventor, taking credit for his father-in-law’s motion picture shutter. Hoping for a light sentence, he insisted he’d never been in trouble with the law before. The police didn’t believe him. They dubbed him “Silent Phil” and showed him some of his old mugshots, but he still he denied it. When they announced their intention to fingerprint him, he broke down. He admitted he’d been arrested 15 times, served jail and penitentiary sentences around the country, used countless aliases and had a criminal record that stretched back almost 30 years.

At her husband’s arraignment Mary sobbed and refused to talk about her family, but the press figured out their names and reported that they lived in Fort Wayne. It was also reported that the couple had one child, however no record of this child’s existence could be found.

Philip put up the farm as bail. He and Mary fled the state as soon as he was released.

In February he was arrested at his hotel in Louisville, Kentucky for forging and cashing stolen express money orders worth $350. With his hair now prematurely white and sporting a Vandyke-style beard, he didn’t resemble the mugshots from his youth. The Louisville police checked his fingerprints and discovered there was a warrant out for his arrest (under the name William Bailey) for robbing a Chicago bank of $12,000 worth of traveler’s checks the previous June. Mary was also taken into custody and charged with disorderly conduct. The Lambeles were carrying hypodermic needles when they were arrested and morphine was later discovered in their hotel room. Apparently they were morphine addicts and had been using the drug for some time.

As an officer escorted him to the cells, Philip grabbed the policeman’s gun and shot himself in the head. He died early the next morning at the Louisville City Hospital.

Mary’s family arrived in Louisville. They paid her fine and she was released from jail. They took her and Philip’s body back to Fort Wayne. Her brother Albert told the press that Philip was a salesman of “unimpeachable character.” However after his death, the police announced that he was wanted for forgery in cities as far away as Boston and Atlanta.

A few months after Philip’s death, Mary opened a letter mailed to him from Buenos Aires. The anonymous writer stated that Tommy O’Connor was alive and well and operating a roadhouse in that city. O’Connor’s gallows sentence stayed on the books until the 1950s, but he was never recaptured.

The Van Wormer family experienced an enormous amount of tragedy in the years after Philip’s suicide. Mary’s younger sister Eula died of kidney disease in November 1923, leaving three young daughters behind. Albert was shot and killed by his wife in 1933 when he attacked her in a drunken rage. Her sister Ruthie died of complications stemming from morphine addiction in 1936, shortly after divorcing her drug addicted, petty-criminal husband.

Finally life became too much for Mary. In 1944 she committed suicide by consuming bichloride of mercury.

New Dillinger Molls

New Dillinger Molls

Brady gave me a diamond. I always considered we were married. He didn’t kill a policeman. He was sweet and kind. He was good to me. He slept like a baby at night. I love him. I’ll marry him, even if I go to jail, to the electric chair or to hell.

— Margaret Barry, quoted in The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana), June 12, 1937

Margaret Barry Larson met gangster Al Brady during “the whirl of Mardi Gras” in February 1936. The pair took a shine to each other, so 24-year-old Margaret dumped her husband and small son and headed north with Al.

brady_fbi_photo

Al Brady

Alfred James “Al” Brady got his start in crookery in 1930 at the age of 20 when he stole a car, was caught and sent to the Indiana Reformatory in Pendleton. Prisons are good places to learn how to commit crime and Al was an excellent student. After his release he recruited a group of like-minded young men, including Clarence Lee Shaffer and James Dalhover, to join his gang of thieves and killers. Al’s goal was to fill John Dillinger’s shoes. (Dillinger, a fellow Hoosier, had been killed by G-men in 1934.) Often driving stolen cars, the Brady gang pulled off more than 200 armed robberies, killed four lawmen and a civilian and wounded many others between 1935 and 1937.

Margaret Barker newsWith Margaret in tow the gang went to Ohio in March 1936. There they held up jewelry and grocery stores. In the course of robbing one grocery store, Al killed a young store clerk in cold blood. The gang escaped to Indianapolis but was traced there by police. During an attempt to arrest them, Sergeant Richard Rivers of the Indianapolis Police Department was shot and killed by one of the gang. They fled to Chicago with their loot, valued at $68,000.

Al and Margaret spent the next few days together at a Chicago hotel. Police located them and took the lovebirds into custody on April 30, 1936. James was also arrested in Chicago and Clarence was captured in Indianapolis.

Some of the loot was found in the gang’s safe deposit box in Chicago, however James revealed to police that a group of armed Chicago gangsters had stolen a portion of the takings from gang’s various holdups. About $6000 of the booty was discovered in the home of jewelry salesman Jack Becker, who rented the deposit box for the gang and acted as their fence. Becker and his wife Laura, who were considered to be part of the Brady gang, were arrested.

Margaret and Laura were described in the news as being the “new Dillinger molls.”

According to James, the gang was captured because Margaret insisted Al stay one more night with her at their Chicago hotel. When a man makes a serious error in judgement it makes sense to blame a woman, right?

Margaret, who’d been held on a vagrancy charge, was released from custody and reportedly went to work at a Chicago tavern. Despite her proclamations of eternal devotion and her professed willingness to follow Al to hell, the two never saw each other again.

Brady shootout

Bodies of Al Brady (closer to camera) and Clarence Lee Shaffer after the Bangor shoot out. Bangor Daily News.

Al, Clarence and James were sent back to Indiana to face a murder charge for the death of Officer Rivers. On October 11, 1936, all three men escaped from the jail where they were held. They spent the next 12 months committing a spree of robberies, primarily on the east coast, culminating in a shoot out with the FBI in Bangor, Maine, on October 12, 1937. Al and Clarence were killed in the gun battle — the bloodiest in Maine’s history. James was returned to prison in Indiana, where he was electrocuted the following year.

Featured photo: Margaret Barry (in hat), Laura Becker (seated) and policewoman Mary Henneberry, April 30, 1936. Collection of the author.

Gangster Undressed

Gangster Undressed

We still didn’t think we had anything but a crazy drunk and both of us took him out to the car. He was dressed in his underwear and shoes only, with an expensive fur coat over them. I made the crack about being a drugstore cowboy when we were taking him out.

 

Kast went in to call headquarters and I stayed with DeVol. I figured I would have no trouble in handling him. But just as Kast stepped out, DeVol dove for me in the back seat and got both hands around my throat. I grappled with him and he sank his teeth into my left wrist and hand. I kicked the door open and dragged him out onto the pavement.

 

We rolled there for a second and then DeVol broke away and started to run across the street. I caught up to him and hit him over the head with the butt of my gun. Kast had heard the commotion and came running out and also hit DeVol.

 

He didn’t attempt to escape again and in a few minutes several other squads arrived and they found the bank loot and guns in the apartment. It was not until then we realized what sort of criminal we had been fighting with.

— Patrolman George Hammergren, The Minneapolis Star, December 19, 1932

St. Paul Policeman George Hammergren and his partner, Officer Kast, had arrested one of the most wanted criminals of their day. Lawrence DeVol was the look out man during a holdup of the Third Northwestern National Bank in Minneapolis by the Barker-Karpis gang on December 16, 1932. The gang escaped with $22,000 in cash and $92,000 in bonds. Lawrence shot and killed two police officers during the getaway.

Holed up in a rented St. Paul apartment with a bandit pal after the heist, Lawrence went out on the evening of December 18, 1932, dressed only in underpants and a coat. (In search of cigs, booze, drugs or all three?) When he returned he got confused and banged on the wrong apartment door, demanding to be let in. The man who lived in the apartment had no idea who he was and told him to “get going.” Lawrence wandered down the hall and returned to the apartment, waving his revolver. Peeking through the safety chain and seeing the gun, the man became alarmed, slammed the door and called police. Meanwhile Lawrence wandered off, found the correct apartment and entered, leaving the door ajar.

Officers Hammergren and Kast arrived at the apartment building for what they thought would be a straightforward nuisance call. They located the open apartment door, went in and found a man getting dressed. They asked him where the man with the “rod” was. He pointed to the bedroom, stating, “He’s been drinking and got a little boisterous, but he hasn’t got a rod of any kind.” Hammergren went into the bedroom and found Lawrence, clad only in his underpants, pointing a gun at him. Hammergren grabbed both Lawrence’s hands but was unable to get the gun from him. He yelled for Kast and the three scuffled, eventually extracting the gun from Lawrence. Figuring him to be “just a crazy drunk” they didn’t bother to handcuff him before taking him outside and putting him in the squad car. Meanwhile the other man escaped.

Born on November 17, 1903 in Belpre, Ohio, Lawrence was the middle of three sons of Helem and Emma (Shanks) DeVol. On his father’s side the family traced their ancestry back to Plymouth Colony and the Mayflower. Helem moved his family to Tulsa, Oklahoma when Lawrence was six. He found work in the oil fields and he died there in 1917.

Criminal history file: Barton, Leonard.

Mugshot, age 24

Lawrence got his start in crime at a tender age and by the time he turned 11, he was labeled “incorrigible” and was sent to reform school in Oklahoma. His brothers, Albert and Clarence, also joined  the criminal ranks, but it was Lawrence who evolved into a big-time gangster and garnered most of the headlines. By the time he reached his late twenties, Lawrence had a rap sheet that included numerous convictions for grand larceny and burglary. He’d served multiple prison terms, accumulated 17 aliases and was wanted by police in ten states.

He became acquainted with gangster Alvin “Creepy” Karpis at the State Industrial Reformatory in Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1928. Together the pair escaped in 1929 and pulled off several robberies. They were later arrested in Kansas City, where Lawrence was able to post bail and skip town, leaving Creepy behind. He carried out another string of heists that culminated in the fatal shooting a police officer in Kirksville, Missouri. He also managed to escape custody there, but in addition to robbery he was now wanted for murder, and not just any murder, but the murder of a cop.

Lawrence headed to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he hooked up with his old pal, Creepy (who apparently had forgiven him for the earlier ditch), and Creepy’s friends Fred and Arthur “Doc” Barker, along with members of their gang. The men pulled off bank robberies in Minnesota, Kansas and North Dakota before going to Minneapolis for the December 16th robbery.

Hammergen and his partner, Kast, were lucky that when they captured Lawrence that cold December night, he was out of his head with drink. In full control of his senses there’s no doubt he wouldn’t have hesitated to shoot them.

DeVol_ducks_photoBleary-eyed, with his face scuffed and still wearing only his fur coat and (presumably) underpants and shoes, his mugshots were taken at the St. Paul police station. Two days later the Minneapolis police photographed a cleaned up and far-from-contrite-looking Lawrence after he’d been charged with bank robbery and murder. He’s still wearing his beloved fur coat, but this time he’s also sporting a suit, tie and hat. On his way into Minneapolis city hall, a news photographer got a double exposure photo of DeVol, who was apparently still edgy after his capture in St. Paul, causing him to jump when the photographer’s flashbulb went off.

Criminal history file: Barton, Leonard.

Mugshots taken on December 20, 1932 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

He pleaded guilty to the murder of policemen Ira Evans and Leo Gorsky and was given a life sentence. First sent to the Stillwater penitentiary, he was moved to the St. Peter Hospital for the Criminally Insane on December 27, 1935 — it turned out to be a late Christmas gift of sorts for Lawrence.

Psychiatrists at St. Peter’s described him as suffering from a mania called “Dementia Praecox Catatonia.” The condition was characterized, they claimed, by “unbalanced judgment, delusions, hallucinations, alternating apathy and indifference, and tremendous and often violent excitement. The victim’s memory remains good, however, he does not lose the capacity to understand situations and act.” That should have been a warning to anyone familiar with Lawrence and his criminal history.

Unlike his psychiatrists, Lawrence understood perfectly the opportunity that was presented to him and he wasted no time in taking advantage of it. He organized a successful escape from the hospital, along with fifteen other dangerous criminals, the following July.

Criminal history file: Barton, Leonard.

A nationwide search wound up in Enid, Oklahoma, when police officers located him in a tavern on July 7, 1936. Asked to accompany them back to the station for questioning, he said, “Let me finish drinking my beer.” While draining the mug with one hand, he pulled out his gun with the other and opened fire, wounding one officer and killing the other. Though he fled the scene, this time there would be no getaway. With more Enid officers in hot pursuit, Lawrence James DeVol was shot nine times and killed a few blocks from the tavern where he enjoyed his final beer.

Featured photo: mugshots of Lawrence DeVol taken December 18, 1932. Collection of the author.

Additional mugshots and news photo of St. Peter’s Hospital escaped men from the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.