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Hanging the Peachtree Bandit, An Interview with Author Tom Hughes Part 1
On December 15, 1921, gunshots echoed across Atlanta's famous Peachtree Street moments before a handsome young man darted away from Kaiser's Jewelers. Frank DuPre left in his wake a dead Pinkerton guard and a missing ring. As Christmas shoppers looked on in panic, he raced through the Kimball House Hotel and shot another victim. The brazen events terrified a crime-filled city already on edge. A manhunt captured the nineteen-year-old, unemployed DuPre, who faced a quick conviction and a hanging sentence. Months of appeals pitted a prosecutor demanding some "good old-fashioned rope" against "maudlin sentimentalists" and "sob sisters." Author Tom Hughes recounts the true harrowing story behind the legend of one of the last men hanged in Atlanta.
Tom Hughes was a radio journalist and morning host in Atlanta for over thirty years and is a member of the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame. He has resided in in-town Atlanta since 1977. This is his second book exploring a true crime from Atlanta's past. The first was "Rich Georgian Strangely Shot: Eugene Grace, Daisy of the Leopard Spots, and the Great Atlanta Shooting of 1912" (McFarland 2012).
Let me ask you, how did you first get interested in the Frank Decree story?
[00:00:11.690] - Tom Hughes
Well, it's rather a long story, but originally had an interest in Victorian history, and I wrote a couple of articles for a London magazine, Little Local anecdotal history pieces. I got some positive feedback. And then I went into writing about Victorian clerical scandals and published a couple of books in England that didn't do very well. And I said to myself, Well, why not do something closer to home? They say right about what you know. And so I started digging into old newspapers. And I think the digitization of newspapers, although I started really before digitization.
But the digitization has really fed this whole surge in true crime, because that's where you find all the stuff. And I started looking into Atlanta scandals and sensations. And the first one I found was Daisy of the Leopard Spots, which I published a book, McFarland Press, back in 2012. And then I wanted to follow it up. And by then I was into digitization and you could just search like Atlanta murder. And by the number of hits you got, you could determine, well, this looks like pretty significant.
And I found this Peach Tree Bandit case and dug into it. And the result is this book Hanging the Peach Tree Banter.
[00:01:42.770] - Benjamin
So how well known is the Frank Decree story in and around Atlanta today?
[00:01:51.050] - Tom Hughes
It's known. But I wouldn't say it's celebrated by any means or memorable. The reaction I got to the book was very positive. And because we're in the Centennial year, December 15, 2021 was the 100th anniversary of the murder. And 100 years ago now, in January, the manhunt was on. Frank was at large and the police were being much criticized and saying this Desperado had killed someone and brought daylight during the height of the Christmas shopping season and then run through the heart of Atlanta's shopping district and got away.
And the police were all idiots. So it's known. But it's not terribly well known. Atlanta does not particularly celebrate its past. There's the Civil War, which everybody knows about the Sherman and all that. And then you jump more or less to the civil rights period, which Atlanta was one of the leading communities affected by that and leading in many ways. But in between that sort of 70 year period for a variety of reasons, people don't really like to bring up.
[00:03:14.810] - Benjamin
You know, it's funny because as I was reading your book, what struck me was the fact that when this murder took place in 1921, and this is something I want to come back to several times because it matters. The whole city was just engrossed by it. It was the event for a year in town. It was extraordinary what the civic reaction was. Atlanta wide.
[00:03:51.150] - Tom Hughes
20S were a difficult time across the country, but in the Southeast, especially you had the end of the war and the resulting unemployment, all the people who were soldiers or part of the infrastructure of the military. Then you had the flu, the Spanish flu, Russian flu, whichever. And then you had the Bol weevil in the south, which decimated the cotton industry beyond the men and women who picked the cotton in the field. You had this whole industry of getting the cotton to the railroads and shipping it to Atlanta, New Orleans and Port cities.
And hundreds, thousands of people lost their jobs in Atlanta. They would move to the city. And then you had Prohibition. And you had that moonshine and rum running thing going on. So it was unemployment, gambling bunker, a lot of bad people. And Frank Dupree was in that world and totally unprepared for it.
[00:05:05.110] - Benjamin
Yeah. You've got this amazing picture that you paint in your opening chapters where you give us a view of downtown shopping district Atlanta at the time. And it is chocolate. It is so full of people. This is an emergent city in the south. This is a city that is really trying to sort of prove itself. It has rebuilt after Sherman's putting it to the torch. The Depression has not yet hit. And so we are in a growth phase. And that sort of last major growth phase before 1929.
And you really get the sense of Atlanta as a city on the make right. And your portrait of that is so compelling. But you also make this counter argument. You say that given the wider national factors at play, the ones you just mentioned, you also have a crime wave going through town. You have robberies, you have stickups, you have murders everywhere, violent crime and sort of feeding into this. The question that I have for you is you have these national elements, right? The unemployment, the postwar war, one disaffection and illness.
And so. Okay. But then you also have these very specifically Atlanta elements. And you name the pool hall as this kind of scourge which is affecting Atlanta at the time. According to gentlemen, there were more floor walls.
[00:06:34.070] - Tom Hughes
You couldn't have a bar. But you have these soft drink parlors. And if you knew the right soft drink parlor, you could get something stronger. And so there was an underworld of these pool halls and bars that was the gathering place of people, mostly young men who always were trying to Cook up a scheme. How can we get rich? And there was a certain attraction to being known as a tough guy. And Frank Dupree sort of coveted that standing as a tough guy. And he was hardly made out for that role.
[00:07:23.330] - Benjamin
Well, let me ask you, before we get to the heist itself, let's set the stage with some of our characters here. I have to say, as I was reading this. If this book had been repackaged and sold as fiction, it would be every bit as credible and believable. I don't often say this because I'm a fiction writer myself, but your characters really do read like something out of a novel. I mean, they really are just that vivid and unique and specific and kind of they have these quirks to them and these twists and these turns I would love if we could just kind of run through some of the main cast members in this particular drama because they are really something else.
Can we start with Frank?
[00:08:14.240] - Tom Hughes
Yeah. Frank was 18 years old. He was born in Abbeyville, South Carolina, which is in the upstate of South Carolina, and his father was a welder blacksmith. His mother, on her third try, managed to kill herself. He had an older brother, and Frank's father came to Atlanta bringing his family with him. And he worked in the many rail yards in the Atlanta area, which was a rail center for the Southeast. And then Frank dropped out of school. He was not very bright and he had a few jobs.
Then the war came and he was out of work for a long time. And after the war, he tried to join the Navy, and President Harding was shutting down or trying to close down for economic reasons. And so he was forced out of the Navy back to Atlanta. He has no money. He's walking around Atlanta and he sees his uncle gentleman from Abbeville, and he was what they used to call a drummer, a salesman. And he had a lot of money on him. He was flush at the time, and he and Frank had a fun evening.
And he let Frank share his hotel room. Now, what went on in the room? We don't really know. But we do know that Frank, in the middle of the night, got up, took his uncle's watch and $140.
[00:09:47.190] - Benjamin
Yeah. I think it's probably safe to assume that there might have been a little whiskey drinking.
[00:09:51.400] - Tom Hughes
And maybe women are easy, maybe. So maybe. So who knows?
And so he has this money. He lives on that for a while. He wasn't a frugal man. If he had the money, he spent it, he bought flashy clothes. He bought a suit. And when that money started to run out by then, he was starting to hang around with a bad crowd. And as I said, they're always talking about their get rich, quick schemes. And he had a friend named Jack Worth, an acquaintance. Jack Worth was a Fagan like character in this set of people that hung out in these pool halls.
And whatnot? And they talked about stealing jewelry, just shoplift jewelry. And Frank, several weeks before the fateful day, went into another jewelry store on Peach Street, grabbed a couple of rings and got away with it. And Jackworth put him in touch with a pawn broker named Abelson. They were able to pond those rings, but not really a whole lot of money. But it was enough money for Frank to continue living this lifestyle. And he was living at the Child's Hotel, which was kind of a dodgy little place downtown.
And it was there that he met Betty Andrews, who's the other character in this drama.
[00:11:48.280] - Tom Hughes
Yeah. She's playing the piano in the mezzanine, and Frank is in transpire music. He walks up and says, I really love the way you play the piano. And they get to chatting, and they go out and have coffee and a pie. And then they go to a movie and things start to move very, very quickly. And she tells him that she's a Showgirl. There had been a musical that had just come through Atlanta called Chu Chin Chao, which was at the time of a very popular body musical review.
And Betty said she was in Chu Chin Chowa but quit and was staying in Atlanta. She liked it so much. So Frank has got this showgirl and they're sort of dating. And they were I'm pretty sure, intimate at Child's Hotel, although they had separate rooms and they talk of marriage. And that's where Betty tells him, Look, I've been used to the finest things. And if you want to go with me, I'm going to need nice things. And he says, like what? And Betty told Dupre I'd like a diamond ring.
And Dupree told Betty, I'll get you anything, as the songwriters eventually put it on paper. And that led Frank to Kaiser's Jewelry Store.
[00:13:19.110] - Benjamin
So Betty must have known. Or maybe she didn't. Right. Let's sit with this for a quick second, because Betty must have known that Jack did not have a steady job, that he was a smooth talker. He was a bit of a swindler. I am charmed by your repeated use of the word loafer, because I had an old roommate in College who's from Marietta, we spent a good amount of time in the Atlanta area. And one of my favorite things to read, of course, was Creative Loafing, the great alt weekly of Inside 285.
But she must have known that this guy, he's kind of living fast, right? He's not pulling a nine to five at the insurance agency, if you know what I mean.
[00:14:14.050] - Tom Hughes
[00:14:14.400] - Benjamin
But Conversely, Frank must have known that maybe not every part of Betty's story necessarily lined up with what she would have wanted to portray herself as. But how do you understand their relationship at this time? I mean, for them to have just known each other a few weeks before a day before?
[00:14:57.970] - Tom Hughes
Yes, it was a matter of about a week. And I think it was entirely on Frank's side. I think Betty was Betty was, as we learned later, she was married and separated from her husband. And she was an experienced young lady. And it was all Frank, Frank was saying, Well, how do I get Betty? I need to get her a diamond ring. And Jack Worth again reappears. And according to the police, he and Frank go window shopping. And Jack Worth idea is why go in the store, why not take a hammer or a rock and at night, just smash the jewelry store window, grab what you can.
That's a real job. But Frank, knowing that he had had no problem if Davis and Freeman stealing the rings, thinks, well, I'll do that again and again. According to the police and the district attorney, he and Betty went window shopping, and she pointed to the ring in question, a $2,500 ring. You can roughly multiply things by twelve. So that's a very expensive ring today. And she said that's the kind of ring I want. And Frank had that obviously in mind when on December 15, in the middle of the Christmas shopping season, in the middle of the afternoon, went into Kaiser's jewelry to steal it.
[00:16:34.740] - Benjamin
can you explain what security at a jewelry store in the 1920s would have looked like, because it is not going to be the same as we have today. There are no cameras, there are no recorded feeds. You do not have these kind of silent alarms with these sort of protective cases. It's just a very different scenario.
And of course, electric lighting was comparatively 2030 year recent invention. And so getting good looks at perpetrators and so forth, depending on the time of day would not necessarily be guaranteed the way that it is today. So help us to understand kind of just what Kaiser's would have looked like, say, the day before Frank gets there.
[00:17:41.450] - Tom Hughes
Interestingly, because of the crime situation, which was not peculiar to Atlanta. It was something of a national concern. The Pinkerton Agency and the jewelry trade group had gotten together, and Pinkerton would assign one of their apps, as they call them, operatives, to provide security at your jewelry store if you were concerned. And Kaisers had in fact, taken advantage of that and had Pinkerton guards in the store. But generally as you said they didn't have a whole lot of security. I think their greatest fear was safe crackers coming in at night.
Organized gangs of I believe they called them Yegs in the Ye GG. That was the criminal slang for safe crackers, and they would break in at night and Rob the safe rather than walk in with a gun. Although that certainly did happen.
[00:18:50.930] - Benjamin
So Thursday, December 15, 1921 a day that changed Atlanta's history.
[00:19:00.350] - Tom Hughes
Well, Frank goes in and he goes up to a young lady who is at the counter and says to her, I'd like a wedding ring. And she smiles and looks at him. He's a young man. He's got a suit on, but he has one of those sort of NEWSBOY caps pull down and his eyes were described as squinties, and she looked at him and said, Well, I'll show him some cheap rings because that's probably all he can afford. She takes them down to the section with the affordable rings, and he says, no, ma'am, I'd like that ring in the window.
And she says, Well, that's a very expensive ring, young man. And he said, Well, basically, he says, I'm the customer, and I'd like to see that ring. She excuses herself and goes back and brings out Nat Oleman, who is the manager of the store, and on his way out, Nat stops and speaks with a young man who then positions himself by the door. And then that comes out and they go through the same conversation about the ring, and Frank says, I'm a customer. I want to buy that ring.
You have to show it to me and Mr. Alman, to his regret. I'm sure brings the ring from the window, puts it down on a velvet cloth as Jewelers do, and he describes it and says, how wonderful it is, three and a half carats and all that, and Frank stares at it and puts out his left hand and grabs it and says, I'll take it and runs towards the door, which is blocked by Erby Walker, who is the Pinkerton Detective. First day he had been at Kaiser's.
He blocks the door. There's a struggle. The two men are grappling with one another. They fall back into the store, knocking over one of the glass freestanding glass display cases. There's chaos and then shots ring out. Two shots and the Detective falls to the floor begging for a doctor. Frank runs out into the street and turns to the right and runs north on Peachtree Street, which is clogged with traffic and choppers with his pistol in his right hand and the ring in his left.
[00:23:24.570] - Benjamin
Frank? Hightails it. He cuts out of the store. And where does he go?
[00:23:29.870] - Tom Hughes
He turns to the right, running north on Peach Tree, through all these shoppers and traffic. And he's got his gun still in his right hand, the ring and is in his left pocket. And he gets about five or six doorways up there to the motor entrance to the Kimball House, which is Atlanta's finest hotel, maybe the finest hotel in the Southeast. It's the motor entrance. He runs in. There are two men coming out the other way from the lobby, and people follow Frank in from the street, yelling.
There he is. And one of the men who is coming out of the hotel where he has had lunch, turns to Frank, looks at him, and Frank pulls his gun and shoots the man in the face. He falls to the ground, badly wounded. Frank runs into the hotel lobby. The gunshot has been heard. The lobby is in tumult, all the Christmas decorations and whatnot he runs through there into the hotel pool hall. Hotels all had a pool hall at the time, and there's nobody in there.
It's the middle of the day, but a few of the regulars, I guess, and they say, Get out of here. And Frank runs out of the pool hall, and everyone, Meanwhile, is dealing with the wounded man. Back in the hallway. Frank is not seen. He goes into a haberdasher store located in the lobby, buys a new tie, which he changes from the tie he had been wearing and then runs out into the street and disappears.
[00:25:12.730] - Benjamin
It's a really remarkable account because he's as public as it gets. This is the middle of the day, right?
[00:25:21.920] - Tom Hughes
Hundreds of people see him.
[00:25:23.750] - Benjamin
Hundreds of people see him in one of the busiest cities in America, in one of the busiest seasons, in one of the busiest times of the day. It's just you could not have been more visible if you had tried. It's incredible.
[00:25:40.850] - Tom Hughes
And we get back to the wounded Detective at Kaiser's. His name was Erby Walker. He was a very young man, married with a daughter child. Very young. He dies in the arms of one of the Jewelers at Kaiser's. The other man that Frank shoots in the hotel hallway is a man named Graham West, who is the city controller. Back then, the Mayor ran the city. But the controller was the chief business officer. So he was a fairly prominent guy. Graham west. And there was probably more attention paid to the fact that Mr.
West had been shot than this unknown, unfortunate security guard, as we would call them today, was slain.
[00:26:29.050] - Benjamin
Even though, of course, Pinkerton Ops were the best of the best. They were highly trained, and their agency had been around since the Civil Wars slightly before the Civil War.
[00:26:40.250] - Tom Hughes
They had a dubious reputation in many areas for their Union busting. But in terms of private security, they were pretty good. But Atlanta also had a lot of police officers and the shopping street because of the crime situation. Supposedly, there were like a dozen officers in the vicinity of Kaiser's jewelry, and yet they were not able to confront this man. None of the police officers had to look at him or had any more information about him other than he had this NEWSBOY cap and a Gray overcoat over a suit and tie.
[00:27:23.890] - Benjamin
And that really is remarkable. I was going to ask you how it was that he managed to escape the authorities. If there were hundreds of people who had seen this take place and saw his frantic flight through the city on foot. I mean, that's just something you don't see.
[00:27:39.730] - Tom Hughes
Well, I guess to some degree, here's a man running down the street with a gun and you're not going to stop and say, Let me get a better look at them. You're going to turn and run away. And the sidewalk crowds parted because of the trailing crowd yelling and stop him. And I guess human nature is saved myself. You might think someone would tackle him, and you would hope someone would tackle him. But no one did. And after he bought his tie, he gets out onto Broad Street.
And that's the last he has seen. The haberdasher man says, oh, yeah, a guy came through here and bought a tie. He went out that door and that was the last site of him.
[00:28:32.830] - Benjamin
What we do know is that he does somehow get back to the Child's Hotel and he finds Betty. But the stakes are very different than he had thought they would be when he left her earlier that day, aren't they?
[00:28:52.130] - Tom Hughes
Yes. He gets back to the Child's hotel and he had drunk a lot of moonshine to get up the nerve to go into Kaiser's in the first place. He gets back, he finds Betty, tells her he has the ring. He's crying. He can't believe what he's done, and we have to get out of here. We can't stay here anymore. And Betty is not interested in leaving. In fact, she says, Frank, I can't go with you without my sister. She has a sister named Hazel, and I can't leave without my sister.
And Frank. And she cry, and he decides that he will go away. And when he gets money, he will send for her and they will be together. So he leaves Betty at the Child's hotel and manages to find his old buddy Jack Worth again. And Frank tells him, Look, I did the Kaiser job. And of course, the whole city is abuzz with this sensational crime. And Jack says, that took guts. Frank and Frank treasured that remark from Jackworth. That was a sign that he had done something daring.
And Jack said, Well, I took guts. So they go to the pawn broker Jack Worth had referred Frank to after that first nonviolent snatch job. And this guy, Mr. Ableson says, I want nothing to do with that ring. Somebody got killed for that ring. I am that police are going to be everywhere. But I have an uncle in Chattanooga who you might be able to see. So they get the information about the uncle in Chattanooga. And Jackworth tells Frank, go to a movie, sit in that movie, come out at 04:00.
I'll have something for you.
[00:31:02.690] - Benjamin
Yeah. There's this kind of interesting moment you describe right in the middle of their decision making. I mean, Jack is pretty well drunk in a skunk, and so he has to sober up. But there's this very unusual moment where he goes out for a bite to eat and gets a baked Apple and a glass of milk. And I just couldn't help but think, Tom, how wholesome was that for this drunken murderer who just knocked over a jewelry store and gunned a man down? I mean, who goes out for a glass of milk, right?
[00:31:36.370] - Tom Hughes
Yeah. Well, again, we're dealing with an 18 year old. And it is an unusual detail that this is what he had already had, whiskey. And as you said, I'm sure if what he had done didn't sober him up, the milk and pie or baked Apple would have been what the doctor ordered.
[00:32:02.330] - Benjamin
So he's got to fence the ring. But he can't do it in Atlanta, because everybody's going to know this ring and every pawn broker in the city is going to be on high alert. And all the cops are going to be saying, I mean, this is the most public crime that's been committed. And who knows when. And so there's just no chance that that item is too hot. So he gets up to Chattanooga. But it's not exactly the kind of night flight that had the romance he might have been hoping for with Betty.
It's a very different kind of night flight to Chattanooga, isn't it?
[00:32:38.080] - Tom Hughes
It is. When Frank emerges from the movie theater about 04:00 in the afternoon, Jack Worth approaches him with a man named Clifford Buckley. And Clifford is another 2025 year old guy who drives for a local cab company, and he has a Packard Super Six, which was a hot car at the time. Big engine. And Jack says, Clifford will take you up to Chattanooga. And Clifford says, I want $100. And Frank says, I don't have $100, but I'll get it once I Hock this ring, Frank says, I'll give you 70, and they settle on 90.
And so about 06:00 at night. By the time these arrangements are hammered out, Frank gets in the back seat of this Packard Super Six, driven by Clifford Buckley. They leave Atlanta and head north on what was impartial completion, the Dixie Highway, which was being built to funnel traffic from the Midwest from Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati. People wishing to get to Florida, Florida, in the 1920s, was that's a whole nother story? They boom in Florida and the land swindles and all of that. But people wanted to get to Florida.
And one of the bottlenecks of that journey with the Georgia Mountains, the Georgia Mountains are not the Rockies or even the Appalachians. They're not very high. They're about 4000 Max, but there are many of them. They're very knobby. And so the road winds through the Georgia Mountains, and it was in a partial state of completion. Chain gangs were being used to build the road through the mountains. What Clifford Buckley driving very carefully so as not to attract any attention from the revenue agents who are out looking for moonshiners who were running the other direction towards Atlanta with their moonshine.
[00:34:45.530] - Benjamin
They managed to imagine he probably also didn't want to damage his beautiful Packard.
[00:34:53.090] - Tom Hughes
Annie has a guy in the backseat with a gun who has killed somebody, although he would later tell the police he had no idea what he was doing, but obviously he had a sense this could be a dangerous man. But Frank was asleep, he says for much of the trip, they get to Czechamauga, the Federate battlefield. The landmark was the Iowa Monument, and they take a left turn there, and it's a straight shot downhill into Chattanooga, where they arrive about 04:00 in the morning. Mr. Silverman's pawn shop is on 9th street, which is the center of the black community in Chattanoog.
At the time, it's a historic street, the Big Nine, but it's about 400 in the morning. And there's these two white kids in a very posh car looking around and they say, Well, we're going to just sit in the car until 07:00 when the shop was supposed to open. And they do. And at 07:00 they go in and see Mr. Max Silverman, who is the pawn broker. And that's a whole nother story.
[00:36:01.220] - Benjamin
Yeah, well, I have two questions for you about that. I mean, first it strikes me that for 1921 to have a motorized car taxi service, we have to remember that motorized cars were not widely available, especially not to sort of the everyday American in the way that they are now, right? I mean, it's like taxis. You could not necessarily expect a taxi to be an automobile in those days. And so for the purposes of the investigation, you write that it was unusual to have such, first of all, a car for a taxi and a car for a long distance taxi.
And then Thirdly, a very nice and distinguishable car for a long distance taxi. I mean, that would be like you and me knocking over a jewelry store and then going and finding some guy with a private jet nowadays. It just was that kind of out of the ordinary. Right. And so I am curious. I'll talk about what's going on with the investigation in a second. But just that fact alone, how hard would it have been to obtain that kind of passage out of the city on such short notice in 1921?
It could have been easy.
[00:37:22.970] - Tom Hughes
Well, there are trains. And Atlanta was, as mentioned, a train center, and he could have hopped a train to Chattanooga. There are probably three or four trains a day to Chattanooga. But the police were watching the trains and they were looking for a guy in a Gray overcoat. That was the only real description they had of him, of a Gray overcoat. And so that would have been unwise. There are freight trains. He could have jumped a freight train and just gotten out of Atlanta and then regrouped somewhere else.
There were other cab companies in Atlanta, but they were like short hop little model A Model TS, whatever they were at the time. But they would never have made it across the mountain. He had to get this kind of an engine Super Six. I'm not a car guy necessarily. But Packard was the car to have in. And Buckley had one, and he got him to Chattanooga.
[00:38:21.330] - Benjamin
So he gets there and he meets Max Silverman and Max Silverman runs this sort of pawn outfit. And it's interesting because even though the ring is not hot in Chattanooga, Max is an experienced salesman business owner. He knows when he's dealing with something which is maybe less than legal.
[00:38:43.270] - Tom Hughes
Especially when the customer comes in and gives the name of John Dull.
[00:38:47.850] - Benjamin
Yeah, there's that it doesn't really help your case as a negotiator, does it? But there's a fairly interesting moment where they do arrive at a deal. But I'm going to ask you, Tom, can you explain? Because it is actually very interesting. Can you explain how in those days, a sale like that work? It was not simple. There was this thing called a pawn ticket, which I don't think we use anymore. No, I've never seen one. So how did it actually work that Frank comes in with this hot property and then has to come to really messy terms with Max?
[00:39:32.650] - Tom Hughes
Well, I think generally the pawn shops, such as Mr. Silverman, they dealt with people who were short of cash. And so they'd bring in a candlestick or something like that. And the guys say, I'll give you $2 for that candlestick and the pawn ticket. Then you come back when you want. If you need the candlestick back, you present the ticket. And he says, okay, you have to pay me $4 to get it back. And that's where the pawn broker makes his money. I have to give credit to Wendy WallaceOn, who wrote a book in America from Independence through the Great Depression.
She walked me through this whole what likely would have happened when Frank Dupree walks in a kid and he calls himself John Doe.
[00:40:22.190] - Tom Hughes
Now, Silverman told the police he had no idea that this was the ring from Atlanta. And that may very well have been true. The crime had occurred less than 24 hours before. There was no 24 hours news cycle. The Chattanooga evening paper the night of the 15th had nothing in it about the Atlanta murder. Nor did the morning paper, which he may not even have seen. But he has to realize this kid doesn't have a $2,500 diamond rink. The story doesn't add. Yeah, it doesn't add up.
So he begins the negotiation process by Frank thinks Frank probably thinks he's going to get $2,000 for this $2,500 ring. It's $2,500 ring, the guy says, I'll give you $400 for it. And the pawn brokers have a system. And as Wallace explained it to me, they have to figure out what they're going to do with this ring. If Frank doesn't come back and get it to have a $2,500 ring in the window on 9th street in Chattanooga, nobody's going to come in there to buy it.
But Silverman certainly would know how to deal with that. He probably knew that while I can sell that ring downtown to somebody and get his money back. But that's trouble. And there's a certain amount of danger dealing with this. Obviously a ring acquired in some probably nefarious way. So he says it's, I'll give you 400. Frank wants $700. He realizes he's not going to get the 2000 of his dreams. He wants 700. They go back and forth and they agree on 600. But Frank will get I'm rounding a few numbers off here.
You'll get 400 now and a pawn ticket. And if in the future, you realize you're not going to be able to come back and redeem this ring, send me the pawn ticket, and I'll send you 200 more dollars. And Frank is in no situation really to argue what's he going to do, take the ring and go somewhere else. Buckley's got to get back to Atlanta. And so Frank Grudgingly accepts this deal. And while they're sitting around waiting for the money to be put together, Mr. Silberman's nephew, I believe a young man says to Frank, so you're the guy who did the Atlanta job.
So they did know by the late stages of the transaction, that this was someone who had killed a man in Atlanta for this diamond ring. But Frank ends up with $400 in cash, 90 of which he has to give to Buckley, who drove him up there. They had agreed on he wanted 100. He gave him 90. Buckley takes him to the Chattanooga train station. Frank, he doesn't know where Frank goes. Buckley turns the Packard back across the mountains, back to Atlanta.
[00:43:50.450] - Benjamin
It's interesting because you really see the picture here of a man, Frank, whose options are dwindling the longer he spends away from Atlanta. He just doesn't have the kind of purchasing power and negotiating power that he thought he was going to have. And one of the things that really struck me as I was reading your book, Tom, is that you have an extraordinary amount of detail of what it is like to be a man in flight. I mean, we really see his decision making evolve at every step of his being on the Lamb, and we're not even halfway done with that yet.
We haven't even gotten to the next stages. But this is just one of those sort of pivot points where you see his field of options or kind of his field of action diminishing much faster than he thought it would.
[00:45:02.450] - Tom Hughes
He had the $300 plus from Silverman, and he decided he would take a train from Chattanooga to Norfolk. During his brief stint in the Navy. He had been in Norfolk, so he had some familiarity with that city. And that's where he headed. And Buckley goes back to Atlanta. And he stops in Rome, Georgia, which is just where you start to come out of the mountains in northwest Georgia. And he calls his employer. Buckley does to explain where he's been all night. And he said, Well, I had to take a guy to Chattanooga.
He was in a hurry. And his boss, Alvin Bellile, is sort of a celebrity in Atlanta because he owns all these fancy cars. And he's like the city's unofficial chauffeur. When presidential candidates came, he would drive them around. Bellile had reported the car missing to the Atlanta police. And then he calls them back and says, Well, the car is turned up. He said he had to take some guy to Chattanooga. So the police say, Whoa, and this could be vital. And they meet Buckley when he returns to Atlanta and arrest him.
And he says, I took a guy. He tells him I took a guy to Chattanooga, to a pawn shop. And Buckley, a representative from Kaiser Jewelry and two detectives get on a train and head to Chattanooga to see Mr. Silverman. It was the first really big break in the case. They still don't even know Frank's name.
[00:46:44.850] - Benjamin
Where is Betty during all of this?
[00:46:47.040] - Tom Hughes
Betty is a child's hotel. She's still there. She's still living there. Betty doesn't really emerge into the public consciousness for a week or more after the crime, she comes into the picture. When Frank reaches Norfolk, Virginia, and he's living at a hotel up there. And after he gets settled, he sends a letter or Telegram to Buckley, the chauffeur, the driver care of Mr. Bellyles Cab Company. And he says he includes a money order for $40 for Betty Andrews. She's at the Child's Hotel. Will you take this $40 to Betty Andrews?
Tell her to come to Norfolk with that money? Well, Mr. Bellile, Buckley is in jail at this point. He's being held as a witness, and Bellile takes it to the police. And the police now know that Frank and it signed Frank Dupree. So that is their break, that this is who we're looking for. Frank Dupree. They go to Child's Hotel. The desk clerk says, yeah, Frank Dupree stayed here and he had a girlfriend who also lives here. Betty Andrews and the police find Betty Andrews and talk with her.
And she admits knowing Frank, she admits having seen him on the day of the crime and he was crying and upset. He wanted me to go away with them, but I had nothing to do with it. I don't want to go away with them. She basically abandons him, and the police get her to work for them. She sends a wire back to Frank and they're going to wait. And Western Union office in Norfolk. The police up there have it staked out that Frank is going to come back.
The letter had said, Betty send him a wire to let him know her arrangements, and he would pick her up in Norfolk. So they send a wire back there and they expect Frank to show up to pick it up. But Frank reports that one of the Western Union girls was sweet on him, and she gave him a warning that the cops were staking out the Western Union office there. So he didn't go to pick up the Telegram from Betty Andrews.
[00:49:30.790] - Benjamin
It really is remarkable, because this story as a whole is really unfolding in about three or four different cities, kind of at the same time. I mean, it's progressing very, very quickly. And you have the cops kind of going from Atlanta to Chattanooga to Norfolk to finally you write that he ends up in Detroit for a minute. But this whole I mean, it's like the snowball rolling downhill, it's gaining speed, it's gaining momentum and it's going to crash into something.
[00:50:01.180] - Tom Hughes
Yeah. Well, Frank now knows that Norfolk is hot. He can't stay in Norfolk either. The police are looking for him. So the Norfolk and Western. One of the things you are amazed by is the railroads and how they were such a great way. People moved around the country in the Norfolk and Western Railroad. He goes west to Detroit, which is at the end of the line. Now they said he was going to go to Canada, but that was probably not his plan. He just went there because he felt safe in Detroit.
So he goes and he's living in Detroit and running out of money. And that's when he makes the decision to send a taunting letter to the Atlanta police, which probably led to his eventual execution.
[00:50:53.810] - Benjamin
Well, yeah, it struck me. There's two letters that he sends overall, there's the first letter, which is I'll get you to tell us about this sort of the boneheads letter, which was not smart. I mean, he sends a letter about Boneheads, but it's a pretty boneheaded thing to do himself. But then there's a second letter which he sends to Max Silverman. Let's do the boneheads letter first.
[00:51:20.620] - Tom Hughes
[00:51:21.200] - Benjamin
What did he say then? Who was he sending it to? And what did he say then?
[00:51:25.310] - Tom Hughes
Well, Frank read the papers when they broke into his room in Detroit in a very cheap hotel. It was filled with newspapers. He was following the news accounts, which were in the Detroit papers about how this Desperado was on the Lamb and the Atlanta police were being much criticized. So he sends a letter on January 12 to the Atlanta Constitution, which had been the newspaper most critical of the Atlanta police. And this whole crime wave that had the city terrified. And he says, I wrote you a letter some time ago.
I don't think he got it. I would like to say that I think Atlanta has a bunch of boneheads for detectives. They don't seem to be able to catch anybody. I gave them several chances to get me, and they have failed so far. And then he suggests that Mr. Bellyle, who had given his original letter, the Betty Andrews letter to the police. He says, thanks to Mr. Bellyle, I will try to repay him later for this favor. So he's basically threatening Bellile. Then he goes on to talk about the other man.
He shot Mr. West, Graham West. And he talks about the whole day. And he says basically that Buckley had nothing to do with it. And Betty Andrews had nothing to do with it. I almost forgot. Mr. West. Sorry, I had to shoot him, but he insisted on stopping me, and there was no other way out of it. I think he will mind his own business hereafter. And then he signs it. The Peach Tree Bandit. Ps. My age is 19. So it was a taunting letter. And there's a tradition of taunting letters.
I guess most famously was Jack the Ripper, who wrote several letters to Scotland Yard and in Atlanta at the previous to Frank's crime, there was a local banker who managed a pension fund for teachers and just fleece the fund and disappeared. He sent a letter back saying, Look, I made a mistake. If you let me come back, I'll work hard and earn the money back. He was arrested. And there was another guy, Mr. Woodward, Floyd Woodward, who was sort of the head of the mob in Atlanta at the time.
And he disappeared and wrote a letter back, also taunting the police. So there was a little tradition, and I think Frank was aware of that. But it was an ill advised move to send what became known as the Bonehead letter.
[00:54:12.850] - Benjamin
Well, it comes back to haunt him during his trial, which we'll talk about.
[00:54:15.970] - Tom Hughes
Yeah, very much sometime.
[00:54:18.270] - Benjamin
But for now, he sends that one. It more or less pisses off most of the Atlanta police force as it would. It doesn't make many friends. But then I really want to ask you about this because he sends this other letter to Max Silverman. And you write that this is one of the strangest parts of the whole narrative that Frank, more or less caught himself with the evidence in that letter. It was either evidence that he didn't know was there because he was a moron. But he wasn't that much of a moron.
He just sort of made himself out to be. He's actually very savvy. Or it was evidence that he did know was there, and he was just getting too Caucher. He was getting a little too smarmy or smug. So what happened?
[00:55:16.770] - Tom Hughes
Well, he was out of money in Detroit, and he realized that the only way I can get any money was I've still got this pawn ticket. It's worth $200 to me. I can send it to Mr. Silverman. Well, if Frank had been reading the newspapers as closely as I think he was, he missed the whole thing about how the Atlanta police, when they went to Chattanooga and interviewed Silverman the first time, took the ring with them back to Atlanta. They brought a jeweler from Kaisers. He said, yes, that is the ring.
Police took it from Mr. Silberman and said, and Silverman explained the transaction he had worked out with the guy. Of course, I had no idea. But here is the deal I made with Mr. Doe. And they said, Well, if he gets back in touch with you, you will let us know. And so this letter arrives to Mr. Silverman, saying, here's the pawn ticket, send the $200 general delivery, Detroit post office. And Silverman tells the Chattanooga detectives who have been on his case day after day after day, waiting to see if there's any word from Frank Dupre.
They notify Atlanta police. They're back on the trains heading for Detroit, and the Detroit cops have staked out the post office in Detroit. It's a grand, huge building. Someone described it as a hell of a place to buy a two cent stamp. It was magnificent architecture. The post office and Federal building in Detroit. They've got plain closed cops everywhere. Frank, I forgot the term. They used ambled or something strolled up and all these cops jump out with their guns. Don't move or I'll blow you back to Atlanta, one of the detectives shouted, and the run of the Peach Tree Bandit ended there in the Motor City.
[00:57:21.790] - Benjamin
If I was on the Lamb and I was staying in a little rental property or somewhere like that. I'm not going to send a letter with my return address on there, right? I mean, it's
[00:57:44.910] - Tom Hughes
In Detroit. In his room, they found newspapers where in the society columns. Then they would say that Mr. And Mrs. Hughes are going to Miami. It was winter in Detroit. Mr. And Mrs. Hughes are going to Miami, and so he would be able to look up. Well, Mr. And Mrs. Hughes live on Main Street in Gross Point. And so they were suggesting that he was going to break into these abandoned, unoccupied winter homes of Detroit residents who had gone to Florida for the winter. And that was how he was going to make some money.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. But they tested Frank and determined he was a high grade moron. So he was not particularly capable of dealing with the situation he found himself in.
[00:58:39.190] - Benjamin
That's fair. It does make one wonder whether high grade moron could have been another title for your book.
[00:58:47.790] - Tom Hughes
The terminology of 1920 mental health professionals was pretty cruel.
[00:58:56.790] - Benjamin
I have two questions for you as we conclude this part of the story. We started with the city, and I want to wrap up. I want to end with a view of the city. By this point, nearly the whole of Atlanta is just in an uproar. Following this case, the Peach Tree bandit has been at large for days and days on end.
Alluding police in four different cities in America. It's finally been apprehended. Everyone is taking aside. Everybody is reading the stories. Obsessively reporters are covering this like white on rice. It is consuming Atlanta. It is eating Atlanta alive. Why is there so much drama about this one murder at this time?
[01:00:05.130] - Tom Hughes
Well, it is the city and the grip of crime, the manhunt, the criticism of the police for failing to capture this guy and then his arrest, the taunting letter and his arrest. And he's bundled onto this train, which travels all night from Detroit to Cincinnati. They have to change trains. He arrives in Atlanta, and the police are waiting to greet their fellow detectives. And there was a huge crowd. There was 1000 people were at the well, some of them went to the wrong station because the news two train stations at the time in Atlanta, some of the people went to the wrong station because they were misdirected.
But at the station, he arrived and Frank was a little man. And these cops were big guys. And they almost had physically had his feet off the ground as they walked him off the train. And it wasn't like a bloodthirsty mob. But it was just people. We want to see this guy. We want to see this Desperado who had boasted that he would never be caught. And yet here he was. He's brought from the railroad station directly to police headquarters where his father has come to town.
And Betty Andrews is there. Betty is wailing. That word is used. Betty wailing. And Betty Andrews became synonymous over the next several months. She's always wailing and she's wailing. Frank comes in. He smiles at Betty, and he's booked for murder and put in latter jail tower. The Fulton County tower, as it was known, it had an actual tower on top of it.
[01:01:52.250] - Benjamin
I've seen the photos of the tower, and they are chilling.
[01:01:57.880] - Tom Hughes
Yeah. When you think of it, if you think of a place called the tower, it's six stories of red brick. And on top, it looks like almost an Italian tower, which the police could go up there. And it was located in an area of town where the police could be up there and survey the malifactors at work in that part of the city.
[01:02:25.750] - Benjamin
Well, and for the purposes of your story, that building was an ideal place to hang somebody.
[01:02:34.890] - Tom Hughes
Yeah. Each county in Georgia was allowed to do its own hangings. There was no state facility where executions would be handed out. Each county, and there were gallows constructed for that purpose in the Fulton County Jail. Quite frequently, there was an amazing number of people were hanged annually in Atlanta, and these are legal, state or county authorized hangings, not the lynchings that were an entirely different subject.
[01:03:11.070] - Benjamin
It's a bloody history there.
[01:03:37.510] - Benjamin
Last question for you in all of your research. Did you ever see the ring?
[01:03:44.950] - Tom Hughes
No. And I have to say it's a regret because the ring is at the center of all this. There were not even a whole lot of discussions of what the ring looked like. One or two mentions that it was three and a half carats, which is a pretty sizable ring still today. And it had a greenish gold band and was set in this green gold band, but no pictures of it. There were pictures in the newspaper of all the principles, lots of photos of the setting and Kaisers, but no picture of the ring.
[01:04:23.350] - Tom Hughes
So I don't know where it is. We would be worthy of inclusion in the Atlanta History Center. I would think, because of the status of this crime, the book is in the Atlanta History Center, but not the Ring.