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The Hunt for the Last Public Enemy in Northeastern Ohio: Interview w/ Author Julie Thompson
The last Public Enemy No. 1 of the Depression era, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis reportedly compiled a record of fifty-four aliases, fifteen bank robberies, fourteen murders, three jailbreaks and two kidnappings. His criminal career came to an end when J. Edgar Hoover and his famed G-Men apprehended the man they wanted more than any other in New Orleans. From there, Karpis found himself confined on Alcatraz Island, where he spent nearly twenty-six years - more than any inmate in the prison’s history. Historian Julie Thompson tells the true story of Karpis’s life and career, a riveting tale taking readers from rural Kansas and Ohio to the bustling streets of the Big Easy and into the bleak innards of “the Rock.”
A lifelong native of Northeast Ohio, historian Julie Thompson completed her history degree at Hiram College, where she graduated with distinction. She has volunteered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and worked extensively with the Library of Congress Publishing Office on four of its substantial published works. Julie remains an active member of the Freedom Township Historical Society and has served on the board of trustees for the James A. Garfield Historical Society, where she engaged with Hiram College to develop the society’s first internship program and served as a member of her area’s Inter-Museum Council.
Julie, thank you so much for joining us on Crime Capsule. We are so delighted to have you.
[00:00:07.670] - Julie
Thank you so much, Ben. I'm really excited to be here, and I appreciate you including me in your podcast.
[00:00:14.870] - Ben
So you have been working in public history for many years, and you are a native of the region that you write about in your book. I have just one question for you, kind of right up front. Growing up in northeastern Ohio, did you know that your home state was a cesspool of sin and vice for over a century?
[00:00:43.370] - Julie
Actually, I did not. It wasn't until I started researching this topic about eight years ago that I realized Cleveland especially, was not really just the birth of rock and roll, but it was the birth of crime.
[00:01:01.550] - Ben
Yes. So tell us about that. How did you make this connection to Alvin Carpass and the Ohio legacy of organized crime?
[00:01:13.970] - Julie
Well, it's a very interesting story. At least I think, and it began many, many years ago. I won't say how many, but I was sitting in my social studies class in the 7th grade, james A. Garfield Middle School, and that was Ms. Walker's social studies class. And I distinctly remember even still today, her just mentioning about a Great train robbery that happened in Garrett's ville in 1935. And she didn't give much detail, but I thought at the time it was very interesting. And so fast forward many years I was at Highram College. I was in the last year where all the students were expected to complete their capstone. And so I was trying to come up with a very unique and interesting thesis for this paper and for this research. And, of course, a lot of the other students were researching, was our country actually founded on Christian principles? Abraham Lincoln's administration, how George Washington was the father of our country. And those are fantastic topics, but they've been widely researched. And so I was talking to my husband one evening, and he was ironically in the same class with Ms. Walker in the 7th grade and recalled this being mentioned about the Great Train robbery in Garrett'sville.
And he said, Why don't you check into that? And I said, no, she really didn't say a whole lot about it. I didn't think there was much to the story. And so in the meantime, one evening I was watching the movie Public Enemies starting Johnny Depp as John Dillinger. It was the 2009 mob drama. And there was a scene in that movie where George Machine Gun Kelly, who was a kidnapper and a gangster, he was arrested in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1933, and the government then, with the Bureau of Investigation, had just renewed his apartment. It was the middle of the night, and of course, Kelly was startled, and he jumped up out of bed and shouted, don't shoot GMen. Don't shoot GMen. And it hit me like lightning. And I thought, oh, my gosh. That is the athletic mascot of my high school alma mater, the Fighting G Men.
[00:04:14.730] - Ben
[00:04:16.350] - Julie
I thought, there has to be something to this. And so that's when I began researching the topic of the Great Train Robbery. And I started at my local historical society, the James A. Garfield Historical Society. And that's where I discovered, really, the story behind our athletic mascot, which was about the Great Train Robbery in 1935 and how the government Men, or GMen, flooded our quaint town looking for a gangster named Alvin Creepy Carpet. And at that time, the president of the society explained that the folklore behind the Fighting GMen was actually directly connected to this train robbery and to that gangster, Alvin Creepy Carpets. And so from there, I actually was connected to Richard Davis, who was the son of Earl Davis, who was held up in that train robbery in 1935. And I actually did an interview with The Sun.
[00:05:31.770] - Ben
That's great. What a connection. Yeah.
[00:05:33.670] - Julie
I was like, Holy Hoover. I was like, I found my capstone. And this was actually a riveting local story that had national implications today for law enforcement. So that's kind of the shortened version of how I came to this topic.
[00:05:52.770] - Ben
That's fantastic. So for our listeners who may not know this part of Ohio very well, can you just give us a quick orientation of, say, where Garrett's Village, where Cleveland is and where you were growing up so we can kind of get a bird's eye view of what we're talking about here?
[00:06:11.910] - Julie
Sure. Garrison is actually about 40 miles southeast of Cleveland. It is a quaint historic town, less than 2400 people to date. It was actually incorporated as a village in September of 1864. And at the beginning of the 20th century, garrisville was actually the largest center in the world for the processing of maple syrup.
[00:06:43.530] - Ben
Yum. Good place to grow up.
[00:06:46.780] - Julie
Absolutely. I had a dirt road at the time, of course, and largely due to the efforts of a man named Arthur Crane, he canned the maple tree product at a cannery in the area. Now, Crane's son, who was Clarence Arthur Crane, grew up in Garrisonville and he married a young lady in the area. They gave birth to a son known as Harold Hart Crane, and he's often referred to as just Heart Crane, who later became a renowned poet and a great influencer in modernist poetry. And you may have heard of the acclaimed work The Bridge, of course.
[00:07:36.060] - Ben
[00:07:37.290] - Julie
And so that family has been well known throughout our history and throughout Ohio history, that they continued their work in maple syrup. And Harold Crane went on become a renowned poet, primarily in New York. And in fact, Clarence the father continued to work in the maple sugar and candies industry. And eventually the Crane family became the Queen Victoria Chocolate Company, which essentially invented lifesavers candy.
[00:08:16.530] - Ben
Well, it sounds like the United States owes this part of Ohio, a debt which it may never be able to repay.
[00:08:23.770] - Julie
Julian, I think there's a lot of hidden history in Gertzville, and Ohio has a lot of nook and crannies.
[00:08:35.070] - Ben
I love it. So let's talk about another local denizen. Denizen for a very brief period of time. Who is the instigator behind the madness we're discussing today? Alvin Carpet. What a guy. As you know, this is the very end of our series on Great Escapes and fugitives from the Law. And in honor of Summertime and Carpet, it is no exaggeration to say, was one of Criminal History's Great Escape artists. I mean, he really had an enormous amount of skill and talent and ingenuity when it came to evading the law. And every time I read sort of the next escape that he went on in your book, I kept thinking, this guy was just among the best of the best. So could you give us just a brief sense of his upbringing?
[00:09:55.350] - Julie
I have to say that when I was researching this story, eventually the book became entitled a Hunt for the Last Public Enemy in Northeastern Ohio. And so, really, this story ends up being the thief versus the justice. The thief, of course, being Alvin Carpass as the proclaimed protagonist or antagonist, and then J. Edgar Hoover as the protagonist. And so it's really a struggle between good and bad and law enforcement and the back road bandits. And so Carpass, as early as ten years old, he had written to Autobiographies, was saying that by ten he was on his way to becoming US public Enemy number one. Essentially, as an adult, he was about five nine, three quarters tall. He weighed only about £130. And he really, at a young age, honed the practice of robbing stores and warehouses. And more than once, Carpus really was described as resembling that dark haired Boris Carlos. He was a long faced Frankenstein monster that was portrayed in the 1930s horror film. And so, yes, his parents were Lithuanian immigrants. His parents did immigrate to Topeka, Kansas, when Carpass is only two years old, and the family did remain there until 1923.
Carpass had three sisters. He was the second oldest, and he was very close to his sisters. He often described them as honest and hard working girls. And so when he would retell his story years later, he explained that it was his elementary school teacher who changed his name to Alban Carpets. And that was because alban carpowitz was hard to keep pronouncing, and so she simplified it into Alvin Carpets. He actually grew up in Topeka in a run down, two story farmhouse on Second Street, and it was a very dilapidated childhood home. It was located at the edge of town where the pimps, petty thieves, and prostitutes hung out. And so, naturally, he would run errands for these less than illustrious individuals. And he always arrogantly described that he liked the action. So by the time Alvin was 13 years old, he had left the public school system for good, and he only completed his education until the 8th grade. And so then, from there on out, since his home was SmackDown up against a railroad right away, the Santa Fe Railroad. It's no great mystery why.
Carpets, of course, would have loved trains. And so, as a non paying passenger, carpus would travel the United States, and he eventually knew the railroads better than anyone, and he developed all the little details that one would need to know to take advantage of the system. And so, as fate would have it, garrett'sville was not his first train robbery.
[00:13:57.110] - Ben
You're right that by the mid 1920s, he has already been in and out of jail and has escaped from the penitentiary in Kansas with one of his accomplices. He goes on another crime spree, he gets re arrested, and he goes back to prison, and he's already planning his next moves. It really is kind of remarkable that Karpis viewed prison, the state penitentiaries, as his academies, didn't he? The prison was his crime school. He went there not to be rehabilitated, but to learn better techniques.
[00:14:33.370] - Julie
Absolutely. And that was First Honed, of course, when he was caught riding the rails. He was caught riding the roof of the train there, and that's when he first developed a criminal record. Originally, the judge gave him, because he was only 17 at the time, the judge gave him 30 days of hard labor, and then he diminished that with just $25 in court costs. And so you would have thought Karpus was thinking, well, wow, I got away with it. Thank God the sentence was reduced. But instead, by February of 1926, when he was still 17 years old, he decided to steal some tires from a warehouse. And because he had developed a record by writing the roof of the rails, he was sentenced to five to ten years, and he was received at the Kansas Reformatory in Hutchinson. And that's where he met his first criminal cohort, a gentleman by the name of Larry Deval, who was a burglar and safe cracker.
And so that's where it really began. And so then they had spent three years together there at Hutchinson, and after three years of talking back and forth because they were a neighboring cells. The guy thought, we really need to break out of this place because they were given a sentence of five to ten years. And so it was the March 9 of 1929 with Carpass and Larry Deval finally escaped from the reformatory. And so once they escaped, carpass actually rejoined his parents in Chicago because his parents had moved in 1923 from Topeka to Chicago, and his dad took a janitor job there. And that's where Carpet during that time had actually kept up the straight life, working two years first as a shipping clerk and then for a drug company. And quite frankly, he got bored with it. He was rejoined by Larry Deval there in Chicago, and that's where they connected with a lot of the criminal cronies they would have in the years to come in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
[00:17:44.210] - Ben
Yeah, you're right. That through a series of connections with the criminal underworld of the day, they eventually do link up with the infamous Barker Gang, forming what we now know as the Barker Carpus Gang, which is one of the most feared in the country. I don't want to spend too much time on this because I want our listeners who are interested in the Barker Carpet Gang to be able to read your account in your book. It is an incredibly detailed account of their activities bank robbery, bank robbing, kidnappings, the whole sort of gamut of it. But what really put Alvin Carpets and the Barkers on the map was when they killed a local sheriff in West Plains, Missouri, a guy named Sheriff Roy Kelly, and that put them on the map of the FBI, the former Bureau of Investigation, as you call it. So what happened at that moment?
[00:18:46.430] - Julie
Yes, I mentioned that after Carpass and Freddie Barker were released from the Kansas State Penitentiary, they went back to Tolson, because that's where Freddie Barker and his brothers were from. That's. Also, where Freddie Barker's mother Kate Barker, and they called her Ma Barker. That's where she lived. And so they connected back in Tulsa. Then they decided they wanted to head into Missouri. And while Freddie Barker was imprisoned at Kansas State, along with Carpet, ma Barker, who had long been divorced from the Barker father, had taken up with a significant other, or a paramour, as they often describe them, because she was lonely. And so this paramore, his name was Arthur Donlop. He was a neatly dressed, gray haired, older gentleman, and he always wanted to live in a farmhouse in Missouri. And so in December 1931, they rented a farmhouse in their Missouri, and they had only been there several weeks. And one day, Freddie Barker and one of their Midwest cohorts by the name of Bill Weaver decided they wanted to ride around and try and find some scores. And so they decided to borrow Carpet's car, which was and they went out and they found his clothing store in west Plains, which wasn't too far from there.
And so they robbed that clothing store on the evening of December 16, which was a hot and kind of sticky atmosphere. A lot of people were outside. And so the next day, people reported that they saw this 1931 blue DeSoto in that area of the clothing store the night it was robbed, that Thursday evening. And so by Saturday morning, day and a half later, the same 1931 DeSoto pulled into a local garage not too far from the clothing store. And the garage owner, Mr. Davidson, contacted sheriff Roy Kelly, who they knew one another quite well, and he said, hey, this vehicle that a number of folks spotted in the area when the clothing store was robbed has just pulled into my garage with two flat tires. So the sheriff said, okay, I'll be right down. So he came into the garage, and he saw Freddie Barker and Bill Weaver, and he approached them and was asking them quite a few questions. Where were you Thursday night? Are you from the area? So on and so forth. And he didn't like the answers. And so we asked Barker and Weaver to stand up. You're going to be frisked.
And being that Freddie and Bill Weaver were packing guns and they knew that Roy Kelly was a sharpshooter, they immediately pulled out their pistols and blasted the sheriff multiple times. The sheriff hit the ground, and they kept shooting at him. And of course, he was fatally wounded. And so in haste, of course, bill Weaver and Freddie Barker took Corpus's car and just screamed out of the garage. And in their case, they wrecked the vehicle in a ditch and had run back to Bill Weaver's house, which wasn't too far from where carpet was staying with Freddie Barker. And they got Bill Weaver's, old Jalapi. They headed to the farmhouse that carpet and Freddie Barker were renting and told carpass ma and Arthur, we got to get out of here. We just shot the sheriff. I shot the sheriff. So they got out of there, and they headed to another criminal crony's house. The gentleman's name was Herbert Farmer. He was actually originally part of the Dillinger gang, and he lived in Joplin, Missouri. And he told them, you need to go and take you need to hide out in St. Paul. And St. Paul is really a crooks haven where all the political folks, the cops basically gave protection to the criminals and all the gangs.
And so they immediately took off towards St. Paul.
[00:24:24.710] - Ben
Now, it's not too long after that with the whole gang on the run, that this is a very well known end to the story. I mean, numerous historians have covered this, that in 1935, after Sheriff War Kelly is killed and after the FBI really steps up its pursuit of the Barker gang, that they meet their end down in a shootout in Florida. And I love your phrase for this. You say that the Barker gang went extinct in that moment, which is a lovely biological metaphor there. But at that point, Carpet is not actually in the shootout, and he is on the run. And this flight from justice, they're aware of his involvement. The FBI is aware of Carpet's connections to the gang, but they haven't been able to slip the net around him. He ends up back in the Cleveland area. He's getting as far away as he can from Florida and getting up in Cleveland. And you're right. It's very interesting. Julie, you know, you said that there's something in Carpet, which is that he had enough cash on hand from a couple of previous scores, that he doesn't really need to work. He doesn't need to knock over a mail truck, but he does it for fun, right?
He does it because he wants to work. He's got this itch that he has to scratch, and this itch leads us he has some cash on hand. He's got enough guys around, kind of a new assembly of associates that are kind of slowly replacing the fellow criminals that he'd been working with further south and so forth. Well, this itch that he has I love the way that you describe this, is that his childhood obsession with trains comes back, and he starts to dream really big. So tell us about this moment where he's still in flight, he's still a refugee. He still wanted, but he also has this thing he's got to do, and he's got to knock over a train. So bring us to that moment.
[00:26:45.530] - Julie
Yes, I'll try to take you the shortest path possible to this moment.
[00:26:52.130] - Ben
Sure. It's a lot. It's a lot. There's so much history here, and that's what makes it so rich and so interesting, is the level of detail that you have in your book. But we're on for great escapes here, so we've got to get to this escape, and I'm so excited to hear about Julie. I love a heist. I just love a heist, and I have to confess that to you. And so your account of this was just like catnip to me. So anyway, please bring us to the heist.
[00:27:21.140] - Julie
Okay, great. Well, the reason that Carpass went back to Cleveland originally was because a lot of Ohio cities, like Warren Youngstown in Cleveland in the Northeast, were known as good cities for criminals because of the protection that they received from law enforcement and politicians. And Karpus often said that Cleveland was a great spot for criminals. And so he had been working for some club owners at the Harvard Club, which was just outside the city of Cleveland. And that's really where he gained a lot of support, both financially and finding connections of folks that would hide him out while he was there. And so right before the train robbery, an indictment had come down from the grand jury in St. Paul for both the highprofile kidnappings of Edward Grimmer and of the Brewer tycoon, William Ham. They were really trying to slide under the radar from the FBI during that time. And so they were spending a lot of time in Cleveland. And that's where Carpass had made a lot of connections with new members that came into the carpet gang at that time. And one such gentleman, one of his last cohorts by the name of Freddie Hunter was from Warren, Ohio.
He was an ex convict, and he worked at Harvard Club and was a gambler also. And he met Carpas there. And he gave Carpass the idea of robbing a mail truck that was going to be receiving money, payroll money from the Warren Depot and going to be transferred by the mail truck to the post office. And so by the end of April 1935, they had robbed this mail truck that had just left the Warren Depot. It was carpet a guy by the name of Joe Rich, who was a narcotics addict recommended by Freddie Hunter, and then Harry Campbell, who was originally a Barker boy. He was part of their gang back in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And once the last Barkers, ma Parker and Freddie Barker were killed in that shootout in January of 1935 in Florida. Carpus was trying to find new recruits for kind of revitalizing the Carpus Barker gang. And so they knocked over this mail truck on its way to the post office in Warren, and they actually secured $124,000 in cash and bonds, 72,000 of that actually in cash. And so they were coming off that high right at the end of April 1935.
And so they were so successful and got so much money from that heist. That carpet was kind of riding that high and contemplating, like, the James brothers of robbing this train, something that was not being done in the 30s. That's really what gave him kind of that fervor to take on this monumental train heist. It was going to be the last train heist in American history, and it was going to be a getaway not only by car from Garrettsville, but an escape from Ohio by plane, which had never been done before. Air flight was really in its infancy.
[00:31:42.770] - Ben
That's what I wanted to ask you. This is a remarkable claim that you make in the book, that there had never been an escape quite like this. This was the first escape of its kind in American history, and I was so struck by that claim. I'm not here to challenge you on it, to say that that's not the case. I'm curious, but, Julie, how do you arrive at that determination as a historian?
[00:32:11.630] - Julie
Yes, that's a great question, and it's going to be a loaded answer. And again, I'll try to keep it as simple as possible. When I did my research, I think I mentioned I started at the local historical society, and from there I went to many other different places. I did one on one interviews with folks that actually were affiliated with persons held up in the train robbery itself in 1935. From there I went to Kent State University, university of Akron, university of Toledo, ohio State University. Then I went to the Michael Schwartz library at Cleveland State University, where they had all the records on all the gangsters from Babyface Nelson and John Dillinger to Alvin Carpet and all their crimes. Then from there, I went to the Library of Congress, the National Archives, located in Kansas City, in Maryland, San Bruno, Seattle and Washington, DC. I went to the Bureau of Prisons and they also went and scavenged the records throughout the Department of justice. And I was able to indeed verify by looking at not only local records, all the local libraries, the government agencies speaking to archivists everywhere. I found that speaking to archivists because they speak to other folks that may be also researching a similar topic.
They have all that knowledge, and they can guide you on where to look, places that you may have not thought about. And I know that the Bureau of Prisons was one agency that I really hadn't thought about. And so from there, the archivists speaking with the archivists at San Bruno, actually visiting Alcatraz Island, doing interviews with so many people that had experience in researching similar topics, I was able to come to that conclusion that it isn't indeed the last successful train heist in American history. Now, other train heists were attempted, but they were not successful.
[00:34:53.570] - Ben
Well, that's a useful distinction. So let's take a look at Carpass between April of 1935 and November of 1935 when the heist actually takes place. He might have only had an 8th grade education, but he was extremely intelligent and he knew how to do his research in advance of a job. How does he case the joint? How does he look at the arrival and the timing and the landscape of this train in Garrett's, Ohio to know exactly what he's going to knock off, what he's going to get, and how he's going to get away?
[00:35:32.820] - Julie
Well, he had a lot of help. He took as I mentioned, he took into his plan for other cronies, and those included Harry Campbell, who again had been with him for the duration since about 1931. Up until this point in November 1935, harry had basically been part of the Barker gang and was well acquainted with Freddie and Doc Barker. And so Harry had a lot of connections in Ohio, a lot of connections in the south. And Harry Campbell had done this before, so he utilized his support and help. He also was able to use Freddie Hunter, who was the older gentleman I mentioned that was from Warren, who helped him hatch the plan for the mail truck robbery in Warren. Then he took in a gentleman who had spent time in prison with Doc Barker in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This gentleman's name was john Brock. He was a younger gentleman, but had an extensive criminal record. And then another gentleman from Tulsa, Oklahoma, his name was Joe Roscoe and he was part of the plan. And then the final gentleman was Benson Groves, who was a connection through Harry Campbell. He was from West Virginia, an older gentleman in his mid fifty, s, and he had an extensive wrap sheet as well.
And so Carpet had always been a very good planner. He always thought things through. And this is something that even Jay Edgar Hoover would admit, that he was really the brains of the outfit. And so he would chase the area, he would talk to his connections, people that lived in the area, to know really what he was working with. And I think I mentioned in the book that he ran the roads numerous times from Garrett'sville from the Depot to Port Clinton, which was about 110 miles, and he knew every bump along the way, and particularly from running from Garrett'sville to Port Clinton. It was an inconspicuous route because there were a lot of back roads that the cops never traveled. So that's one reason that he chose the Garrett'sville Depot in addition to the fact that it was a stopover from Cleveland to Garrettsville and then finally on to Pittsburgh. And so, yes, he was a very good planner. He read the newspapers. He read True Detective, he read Red Book, which was another magazine in which a lot of the government men or special agents like Melvin Purvis would put articles in about what their next move is going to be, or where they were looking for particular bandits or gangster.
And so he read a lot. And that's the mistake that the FBI made was that they would consistently report what they were doing, like justifying how funds were being used, that they were really active in this war on crime. And so really, he kept up on his connections in the underworld. He had close ties with corrupt politicians, with corrupt law enforcement. He read the newspapers every day, and he really tested things like with traveling these roads when he was going to make a getaway.
[00:39:46.230] - Ben
So what was the plan after all of this research? What plan did he and the gang eventually decide on?
[00:39:53.340] - Julie
Well, he had been casing the money that was going to be money left every week. The money was the payroll that went to big Ohio towns like Youngstown and Warren, because that's where the giant mills were, like the steel mills. And so every certain day of each week, this money would leave the Cleveland Depot from the Federal Reserve and it would travel to these Ohio towns like Youngstown and Warren. And Berksville was always the stop. And so he thought Garrett's Ville is a quaint little historic town. Very few people live there. Really, the only thing he had to worry about was Hiram College, which was only 2 miles removed from Garrett'sville. And usually at the Garrettville Depot. They had a lot of hiring students there. And so he thought, well, that's not really a big deal. So he said, I'm going to put one of my guys, one of my four guys that's supposed to be part of this plan out at the Cleveland Depot to stand on the platform to watch and make sure that the payroll money actually goes on the train and to make sure that there are no FBI agents out there watching.
And so that was originally supposed to be the job of Sam Coker, who I mentioned was from the Tulsa, Oklahoma area. And so, unfortunately, at the last minute, sam Coker got deathly ill. And as Carpet described it, he came down with gonorrhea and got even more sick because he tried to inject Iodine to flush it out, and he ended up at a Toledo hospital. And so two days, November 5, yeah, not Spark was in an emergency room in Toledo, and so Carpet didn't have someone to basically service the lookout at the Cleveland Depot. So he kind of scratched that part of the plan. So the rest of the plan was they put all of this together and finalized it at Madam's Grooming house. Madam's name was Edith Berry. She was a middle aged woman who was really kind of sweet on carpets, and Carpets actually spent a lot of time there. And so on November 5, the gang got together at her rooming house in Toledo, and they went through the fine details of how the plan was going to unfold. And the plan included that they were going to have Freddie Hunter again from Warren.
He was going to basically be the watchman out in the parking lot to make sure nobody left. And then Benson Groves, who was the gentleman in his mid 50s, was going to just kind of overtake the train engineer and the fireman because he was a seasoned criminal. Then Carpet and Harry Campbell were going to be in the feature roles of overtaking the mail train or the mail cab with all the money. And so the night before November 6, corpus was meeting with John's Zetzer, who was a rum runner during Prohibition. They met John at Port Clinton at the airport, and they finalized the details that they were going to take off early morning, November 8, after train heist and head south.
[00:44:10.970] - Ben
That's just the pilot, right? Is that the one who's actually going to be flying them?
[00:44:14.660] - Julie
Yes. And they were connected through Joe Roscoe. And there's a lot of names in here. There's just so many people that they were affiliated with, and they connected to make all this happen. And so Joe Roscoe connected Carpass and Harry Campbell with John Zetzer at the Port Clinton airport, and they gave him $1,500 for stinson aircraft, and also that included trips that were going to take place down south after they were trying to get away. And so then the night of the 6th, November 6, freddie Hunter went back to Youngstown to get the carpet also stayed in that area. And then the evening of November 6, carpet took John Brock, who again was part of the plan, but at the last minute, because he had to fill in for Sam Coker, because Sam came down with the gonorrhea and then tried to use iodine to flush his system. So at the last minute, John Brock from Tulsa, Oklahoma, came in to basically stand at the Garrett's Village station platform to guard it and make sure nobody tried to get away. So the plan was Sam Brock was going to come in to take Sam Coker's.
John Brock was going to come in to take Sam Cooker's place on the station's platform. And again. Karpus and Harry Campbell were going to actually secure the money from the mail cab. Freddie Hunter was going to guard the parking lot and Ben Grayson was going to overtake the train engineer and the firemen.
[00:46:21.050] - Ben
It's funny, Julie, you say that there are a lot of names involved, there are a lot of people involved, and I couldn't help but thinking that it takes a village to rob a train in a village, doesn't it?
[00:46:33.100] - Julie
It absolutely did. And I still cannot tell have a hard time remembering all these different folks, because this story, I think, even though it's a regional publication through the History press, carpet went from Texas to Oklahoma to Florida, throughout the northeast part of the country.
[00:47:00.530] - Ben
[00:47:01.470] - Julie
Yeah, sure, everywhere. And that was really his benefit. He made so many connections in so many different states that even with doing the research and spending five years looking at this topic, it is hard to remember really what got him to be the successful gangster that he became.
[00:47:30.270] - Ben
What happens on November 7? Does it all go according to plan?
[00:47:36.310] - Julie
It absolutely does go according to plan. And so really, it was carried out in American Wild West fashion. And so these robbers, these five men, some masked with handkerchiefs, they swung into position on the station's platform and under the terrified gaze of nearly a dozen men and women. So Carpass and his cronies, they systematically lined up a dozen of these terrified bystanders, including Earl Davis, who I mentioned. I interviewed his son, and actually Earl Davis had been holding his hands up in the air along with eleven others on the station's platform in Garrett's. And suddenly Carpet ordered him to carry four heavy mail pouches from the platform to the bandits Plymouth sedan. And notably, it was Davis who, when he was loading these pouches into the car, that there were weapons on the seat. But when I interviewed the son, he indicated that his father told him that not once did he contemplate playing the hero by seizing those guns. It was the 1930s Great Depression. People were suffering. He just wanted to load those pouches and get out of there. Alive. Yes, go ahead. And so I mentioned that in my book that there was also a Garrisville area resident whose house sat right up against the depot.
[00:49:30.430] - Julie
And that gentleman mentioned that he witnessed the whole train robbery unraveled. He was only five or six years old at the time. He was standing at his bedroom window with his mother and heard a shot. I'd like to read to you, if I could, this explanation of what he saw. I think it's very interesting.
[00:49:58.070] - Julie
This gentleman who eventually became a doctor in Garrett's Ville, he stated, quote, I remember the engineer and fireman being pulled out of the engine compartment and a lot of commotion in the area. My mother called my father at his office, which was over a local drugstore, and at that time, the only law enforcement in town was a night watchman. My mother had telephoned the operators who connected her with the sheriff's department in Verbena, and they indicated they were really too far away to do much. They suggested that you shoot at the escape car to market so that it could not be so that it could be identified later. But since there were Tommy guns sticking out of every window of the getaway car as it drove away, I think that she wisely declined their suggestion. I was five or six years old at the time, was hiding behind a cast iron radiator, and that would be a little value if the Tommy guns opened up. So that was his synopsis of what he saw at just five or six years old.
[00:51:10.090] - Ben
Yeah. One of the things that struck me was that because it was so well planned and well executed, minus one or two minor little scuffles just involving the doors of the train and sort of the startled employees and so forth, I mean, you write that it was over really fast. It was just kind of a seamless. They got on, they got the bags, they threw the bags in the car through themselves and the rest of the car, and then they were off, weren't they?
[00:51:38.480] - Julie
Absolutely. It's literally only, I believe when I research it, six minutes or less that they did this. It was, as you said, seamless. And the remarkable part that was really to the benefit of the gang was that nobody got off the train at that stop.
[00:52:00.710] - Ben
That's interesting. Yeah, right. That would have complicated things, for sure.
[00:52:03.400] - Julie
[00:52:06.870] - Ben
Now. One detail which was kind of curious was that you write that they got the right train and that it was. In fact. The train coming from the Federal Reserve Building. But they did not get exactly the right loot that they expected that there was some discrepancy between how much they thought would be on the train in terms of the cash hall or the cash and bonds hall and how much was actually on the train. What was that discrepancy?
[00:52:39.300] - Julie
The Carpet didn't handle all that well once the train stopped and they were trying to heist the money from the mail cab when the doors opened. The train had stopped at the depot. The doors opened. Carpet was standing with his Tommy gun pointed at two mail clerks, who immediately, when they saw Carpass with his Tommy gun, slammed the door shut and hid in the mail cap. And that's when Karp is threatened to throw in a stick of dynamite. And so he threatened that, and the mail cab doors didn't open. So then he said, I'm going to count to five, and those doors better be open. And by the time he got the floor, those doors were back open. And this time, there were three male clerks. And as Carpet described, he said the third clerk was a, quote, big, heavy, sat Negro. And he hadn't even noticed this guy the first time. But that third clerk was really a nervy guy. And he told Karba, saying, man, you can't do this. Get off of that gun. And not one of the three clerks would raise their hands in submission until Carpet tried to fire off a warning shot over their head.
And he did. But the gun didn't go off. Instead, the sound of Carpet's hammer falling startled them in and ceased with fear. Their hands all reached for the sky. So at that point, Carpass went into the cab, and he looked at all the bags stacked from floor to ceiling, and he took the bag first the payroll bag for Warren, and then he demanded the one for Youngstown. And the one clerk stated, what is on here? And so Carpet was getting angry, and he said, Where is it? And the clerk said, Youngstown's payroll went out yesterday, and Carpet was angry, and he decried to Harry Campbell. He said, look out here. I'm going to shoot this guy. And he was going to pull the trigger. A single discharge from a gun produced a flash. But it wasn't Karpus who fired up the shot. It was Harry Campbell, who was so nervous that he fired a shot into the mail car. And the bullet ricocheted and struck one of the male custodians, though not gravely so, they missed out. They received $34,000 in cash and $11,650 in bonds. And it was supposed to be a $300,000 score.
[00:55:47.250] - Ben
Yeah, there's a little bit of a gap there. Just a little bit.
[00:55:50.520] - Julie
Quite a bit. But even so, and today's money, that's still $715,000.
[00:56:01.750] - Ben
Not bad for a day's work, if you can call it work. As far as the getaway goes, they jump in the car. It's not the cleanest of getaways. You write that someone gets a hold of their license plate number, and then they even have some local guy who tries to tail them for a minute. But that doesn't last very long. But regardless of that, they do actually make it to Port Clinton, where John Zetzer is waiting. They cut the bread, as all the jazz musicians down here in New Orleans say, they cut the bread. And I love the detail that you include where the night before they actually get ready to get on the plane with Zetzer and go back down to Hot Springs, Arkansas. They're actually sleeping with the loot in their beds, right? I mean, they've got these duffel bags filled with cash and guns and they're sort of cradling them like they would like a baby or a pillow or something as they're asleep. That's adorable and kind of terrifying in a way.
[00:57:08.200] - Julie
Absolutely. Well, I think it's important to mention that individually, the Carpet Barker gang did quite well on all of their robberies. And heist and with this one, with the train robbery, they each took away about $5,100 apiece. And so, yes, they decided about 11:00 p.m.. They left Fort Clinton Airport. They followed John Setzer home to his place, which was only a few miles away, and they slipped in the front bedroom with her loot and their guns with one eye open. So then the next morning at 10:00 A.m., they took off from the airport and headed south.
[00:57:59.450] - Ben
It really is incredibly cinematic. Swooping onto the platform, unloading the train, driving off in a flurry, gun sticking out the window, off to the airport. It's a hell of a story, Julie, and there's just so much there. And it's interesting because at this moment when Carpus and his gang are literally in the wind, right? Not just a metaphor. They flew from central Ohio down to Hot Springs with their hall. And as that is happening, the FBI are finally catching up to the fact that something has happened on this platform, that something is afoot in Central Ohio, and they're swarming the area. The whole story is remarkable from start to finish. But when you get into the nitty gritty of the law enforcement of the Bureau's involvement in trying to locate Carpass, not just during this time when the train was robbed, in fact, immediately after the train was robbed in Garrettsville, Hoover himself admitted they had no idea where Carpass was, and they didn't even connect Carpass with this train robbery. Do you know who did? It was the US postal inspectors in Youngstown. And the reason being because the $11,650 that was confiscated in bonds belong to the postal service. And so information was secured by Youngstown postal inspectors who were able to ID through photographs, carpets first, and they identified Carpass as the leader of the gang through those twelve individuals that were basically held at gunpoint on the station's platform. And then Carpet, when he was in the mail cab accidentally left his thumb fingerprint on the window sill when trying to go through the mail. Sax.
[01:00:32.470] - Ben
Well, that'll do it.
[01:00:33.420] - Julie
Yeah, it was supposed to. Inspectors that became immediately engaged and responsible because of those $11,650 in bonds. And they actually did all the investigative work. And agent in charge Conley actually wanted really nothing to do with the investigation because, again, they do not think that carpet was involved. It really was the work of the youngstown postal inspectors who identified basically every one of the five bandits involved in the actual heist. And then they secured the fingerprint on the windows still in the mail tab. And additionally, they were able to locate Sam Coker, who was released by then from the hospital and had returned to Tulsa, Oklahoma. And they also tracked John Brock there. As you know, John Brock took the helm and the responsibility that Sam Coker was supposed to have in the train heist. And so they tracked down both John Brock and Sam Coker and essentially a criminal comrade of John Brock. And Tulsa was actually holding dilute for John while he was back in Tolso for safekeeping. And the postal inspectors got wind of this Burhead Kitty, who was the comrade of John Brock who was holding his money. They rated the casino, the gambling casino that Burhead Kitty operated, and the serial numbers matched up.
And so once they got Burhead Kitty and they got the serial numbers for the money, they located John Brock and then Sam Coker and they became informants that spilled the beans about everything.
[01:02:56.450] - Ben
It did strike me as I was reading your account that when Carpus, knowingly or not, I think he probably must have known to a certain degree that he had stolen marked bills, traceable money, and that traceability was what led to those first few arrests. Those actually happened quite fast. And you write in your account of the aftermath of the heist that you had sort of an initial flurry of arrests, and then you actually had about six months of stagnation in the investigation. That due to, I think, a charitable way of saying it is issues among the leadership of the FBI and maybe some internal battles over control and prestige. It was quite some time. It really was not until the spring that a full scale manhunt took shape, wasn't it?
[01:03:56.550] - Julie
That is correct. Absolutely. In fact, what probably precipitated the hunt for Carpass where the Bureau was concerned was the fact that they were disregarding all of the great evidence the informants, the fingerprint, all the other leads that the postal inspectors were gathering and presenting it to Earl J. Conley, who was the agent in charge out of the Cleveland field office. He was disregarding all of this. And really, it wasn't until Jay Edgar Hoover was requesting additional appropriations in the amount of $5 million for the funding on the war on crime that things really moved along quickly. So I believe it was April 11 1936, Hoover arrived on Capitol Hill, and he was basically justifying, this is why I need $5 million more for this war on crime. He showed the evidence that, yes, robberies, bank robberies were down, and we made all these inroads into the war of crime. But he still need to have more agents. They needed to have more money invested in traveling to these different areas to try and meet with informants, gather evidence. And so on April 11, when Jay Edgar Hoover arrived on Capitol Hill, he was actually receiving a lot of criticism from Senator Kenneth McKeller, who was a Democrat from Tennessee.
And ironically, McKeller was chairman of the subcommittee that oversaw the appropriations for the Department of justice. Now, McKeller was not a man you wanted to offend, and Hoover had already offended him. And so sometime back in 1933, hoover had refused to appoint several of McKeller's constituents as special agents within the Bureau. So when McKeller brought this to the attention of US. Attorney General Homer Cummings, who was Hoover's boss, hoover then he fired three agents from McKeller's district. And so this left a bad taste in Senator McKeller's mouth, and he remembered this. So then during that hearing, McKeller asked Hoover point blank, how many arrests have you personally made? And Hoover kind of went back and forth and eventually said, well, personally, I've never arrested anyone, my agent, my government, in half. And he said, well, then how can you justify asking for these appropriations when you're not even credible as the top GMen, as the premier law enforcement man in the land? And so after that hearing, Hoover went back to his office, and he made a personal goal to go after Carpass personally to make that his first arrest.
[01:07:41.770] - Ben
Well, that brings us, naturally, to the point where we get to land this plane. Now, the plane that John Zetzer has piloted from Port Clinton, Ohio, to Hot Springs has dropped off its cargo, and the gang go their separate ways. And one by one, they're kind of picked up at various points along those few months. But carpass is still on the lamb. He is still moving around. And he's moved a bit between Hot Springs and New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which brought a little flicker of joy to my native Mississippi and heart. But he's still on the Lamb, and he does not seem all that concerned that he is being pursued. He has bought off at least one chief of police in Hot Springs who sort of tipped him off to the fact that the Feds were going to swarm his cabin and they miss him by a few days. And he's sort of in the wind again. And yet, despite Carpass's nonchalance to a degree about his fortune, he's going fishing. He's sort of spending his time just having fun, spending the money that he's stolen. The net is, in fact, tightening around him, and it is tightening faster than he is fully aware of.
So describe his actual capture for us, because it is this too, just like the heist and the getaway and the escape, this too is actually very cinematic, isn't it, Julie?
[01:09:26.750] - Julie
It absolutely is. I'm trying to find the best way to describe it. Uncertainties that the Bureau did not anticipate carpet has always stated, especially after the shooting deaths of Ma and Pretty Barker there in Florida in January of 1935, Karpis always swore that he would never be taken alive. So, of course, when the Bureau caught up with Carpets, they believed that it always would be a bloody shootout and they would never take them alive. But I think before we get to that cinematic scene there in New Orleans, I think it's important to mention that during the years that Hoover, whether actively or kind of indirectly, he was trying to capture all the public enemies of the Depression era, he realized that it wasn't just wrapped up in forensics in the crime lab that was developed and created by the Bureau in 1932. Increasingly, especially after the postal inspectors in Youngstown got involved in trying to locate the culprits of this last great train heist, they realized that it was really around informance. It was around human source intelligence and connecting with the right people, whether it be the girlfriends or the so called moles of these gangsters or whether it was corrupt cops or corrupt politicians or former gang members, it was critical that they had gained evidence through this human source intelligence, through informants.
And that's really how his days, carpet's days, became numbered. It was through these informants. And so, like I indicated, hoover didn't get really hastened to find Carpets until after this appropriations hearing on April 11. And then after that, it became very crucial that he made Carpasses first arrest. The end of March is really when the postal inspectors began to connect with a lot of the gang members that started giving up a lot of information. They confirmed that Carpet Freddie Hunter, who are now in New Orleans, were part of that train heist, and that Carpet himself basically was the mastermind behind that plan. It wasn't until the postal inspectors were able to gain evidence through these informants that essentially the FBI, and in particular Agent in Charge Earl J. Conley, caught up with a madam that Carpus was connected to in Hot Springs. Her name was Grace Goldstein, and she had pretty much been Carpass's partner over the last year. She had all the connections in Hot Springs. And so that's how he was able to kind of linger for so long. And so inevitably what happened was one of the informants that was part of Carpass's circle, criminal circle, made the Bureau where of Grace Goldstein.
And so mid to may april, they caught up with grace in Hot Springs. That's her brother, and they pretty much kind of coerced her and her family members that if you don't tell us where carpet is. This is what you're looking at as far as aiding a fugitive and you're going to have a long prison sentence. And so she actually did not know where Carpasses apartment was in New Orleans because at the time she was in Hot Springs, he was in New Orleans. He was checking out scores there. And Freddie Hunter was in a different location in New Orleans. They were in separate apartments, just kind of safeguard themselves that if one was caught, the other would not be. So grace Goldstein knew where Freddie Hunter's apartment was in New Orleans because that's where they had their meals together. But she did not know where Carpass's apartment was and she could only tell Earl J. Conley this is where Hunter's apartment is. I can't help you with where Carpass is located. So that's where the downfall started.
[01:15:04.370] - Ben
And what a downfall it was. I mean, that claim that he would never be taken alive you write that there are any number of dozens of FBI agents who are preparing to bring him in once they finally get a fix on his location. Some people say 18, some people say 28. We're still looking at they were expecting an all out gun battle in streets in New Orleans. There was just no other scenario in sight for them, was there?
[01:15:37.070] - Julie
No. I'm just trying to visualize this in my own mind, how this probably unfolded. And, in fact, if you want to get a kind of a glimpse of how this unfolded through images, probably the best one and one of the very fewest is the movie J. Edgar starring Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover. They actually show that scene in the movie. It isn't completely factual, but they do show ace it's the evening. It's about 87 Deg in New Orleans, may 1, 1936 in a busy suburb of the area. Freddie Hunter's car was parked just very inconspicuously on Canal Street there outside his apartment. And agents. Hertin earl, J conley were across the street from Freddie's apartment. And so they were there a couple of hours kind of casing the apartment to see if there was any movement. And so what happened was that Conley and Hertz were across the street on Canal and they saw Freddie come out of his apartment. He was on his way to get in the car and just a few seconds appeared on Carpass following him. And they were just about ready to enter the car with Hunter in the driver's seat.
[01:17:26.770] - Julie
And so Conley and his car rushed and blocked in the front of Hunter's car and out jumped Hurt and Conley and they covered both carpets and Hunter with their guns. Carpet, of course, as I mentioned, was seated in the front and Agent Hurt wasted no time. He leveled his Winchester rifle and carpet's face through the car's window. And as Hert and Conley covered Carpass from the front the automobile containing J. Edgar Hoover himself and the associate director, Clyde Tolson came barreling across Canal Street to block the rear of Hunter's Plymouth, and they provided additional gunpowder. So it was really what made Carpet c's. When he wrote his autobiographies, he wrote two of them. He mentioned that. Hoover later recounted that out of the second car, Hoover jumped, and he and Tolson led Agents Franley and Buchanan to Carpeson, Hunter. And the disadvance by Hoover was recorded in a report by agent in charge Earl J. Conley, but it became highly contested in Carpass's autobiography, and it was widely reported that the streets were in chaos. There were a few dozen G men that vaulted from every direction. And the analysis FBI agents later reported there were 18 GMen on the scene.
Not 28 has had been reported. And after being forced from the car, a demanding voice shouted, alvin Carpet, you're under arrest. And Carpet admitted that he could feel the rifle in his back with a barrel shaking against his backbone. And Carpet described a particular agent as the cool guy with the machine gun. That was Agent WL. Buck Buchanan, who took off his tie and used it to secure Carpet's wrists. And shockingly, not one agent had brought handcuffs that day, because, as we kind of discussed, carpet had often boasted that he would never be taken alive.
[01:20:14.030] - Ben
I just think that is the most amazing detail. And I love it so much. There's just so much charm. And that I have to say, Julie, you have actually given me a little bit of homework to do here in New Orleans. The intersection where Carpets was arrested, I believe you're right, was close to the 3300 block of Canal Street. If anybody knows the area, I lived in an apartment on the 3200 block of Domain Street for almost eight years, and Domain Street is about two or three streets over from Canal. And so I have a feeling that in the next couple of days when I'm driving around town, I'm going to have to slow down near my old apartment on Canal and really sort of find the spot. Now, I never knew, I never knew. I read your book. That such an amazing moment in American criminal history and law enforcement history took place right there.
[01:21:04.810] - Julie
Yeah, it's remarkable. I have not visited that area or anywhere near that area, but it is that scene that is depicted in the movie J. Edgar that starred Leonardo DiCaprio. And it isn't completely factual, but it gives you a hint of how remarkable this arrest was, because he was the fifth gangster on a list of five, with Alkabone being the first of this public enemies. And so he was the last public enemy of the Depression era to be arrested. And not only that, to be the first arrest of Jay Edgar Hoover.
[01:21:51.510] - Ben
It really is an amazing story. It is just so full of drama and excitement and that great tense struggle between the forces of good. And evil, the forces of order and chaos just sort of locked in combat there. And you do such an amazing job of telling. I have one more question for you before we wrap up, which is what happens to him after his arrest? You write that he is taken into custody in New Orleans. He's putting a holding cell before he's flown back up to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he is formally charged. And I counted something like 14 murders, kidnappings, robberies and other crimes. I mean, I'm sure there's much more to it, but what is the outcome of his trial and what does the next chapter in his life consist of? Because it is pretty remarkable.
[01:22:50.520] - Julie
Yes, as you mentioned, on May 2, carpass was brought back to St. Paul to face trial, and that being for the Bremer kidnapping. That was the second kidnapping where the gang had secured $200,000. And so he was escorted personally by Hoover and Hoover's hand picked squad of agents, carpet landed in St. Paul. He was there only about 12 hours under heavy guard. Yeah. In fact, I have to mention, this is kind of funny. It was reported that during the plane flight that Carpass was manackled and harassed. And then Carpets himself believed that when the plane got a good distance into the area, that Hoovers and his agents would just thrust him out of the plane's door. So that's how fearful Karpus kind of was on Hoover because he knew how desperately Hoover wanted to capture him. But essentially.
[01:24:01.990] - Ben
Yeah, it would be hard to explain that, but at the same time, maybe they just had to lighten the load that the cargo was a little heavy and the plane wasn't going to stay alive.
[01:24:10.430] - Julie
Absolutely. So Carpet actually pled guilty eventually to the Bremer kidnapping and his part in that. And then Harry Campbell, who was later captured as basically public enemy number two, because I don't think I mentioned, when they left Fort Clinton, harry Campbell, Benson Groves and Joe Roscoe stayed behind. They lived in Toledo, so they stayed behind. So really, after the capture of Carpass in New Orleans, it was really hot and heavy to try and capture Harry Campbell in Toledo, and they inevitably did that within the next couple of days. So Carpus pled guilty to the Bremmer kidnapping, which gave him a life sentence. If he would have been indicted and pled guilty to the train robbery, he would only received 40 years. So that's why they sought to get him on the Primmer kidnapping. And where did they send him?
[01:25:32.250] - Julie
Well, initially he went to Leavenworth. That's where they usually all go. But then Leavenworth was a prison where there were a lot of scabies. And so essentially a lot of those so called hardened criminals, because they usually escaped from Leavenworth, were sent to Alcatraz. And so he set another record serving nearly 26 years on Alcatraz. Island leaving in right before the prison closed. So, yes, he was a trendsetter for sure.
[01:26:15.750] - Ben
Well, Julie, I cannot I have racked my brains and I cannot think of a more fitting place to leave things here today. With Alvin Carpet being sent to the one place from which nobody is ever known or proven to have escaped, there is no better place to end our summer series on great escapes than Alcatraz Island. And listeners who would like to learn more about carpass's years on the rock, they can pick up a copy of your book. There is some wonderful detail in there and a very long account of what happened in those decades and then after he got out. But for our purposes today, I just want to thank you so very much for taking us on this journey, providing us our own great escape and for being a guest here on Crime Capsule. It has been such a pleasure.