Wednesday, May 23, 2012

COLORADO BLOOD BATH

After weeks of planning and scouting, on 5/23/1928, at roughly 1:00 in the afternoon, the Fleagle Gang consisting of brothers Ralph and Jake Fleagle, George Abshier, and Howard Royston, hits the First National Bank of Lamar, Colorado.  

                            
                                   Jake (L) & Ralph (R) Fleagle

A chaos of violence takes place almost immediately when 77-year-old Bank President A.N. Parrish ducks into his office, grabs a single-action Colt .45 out of his desk that he calls "Old Betsy" and opens fire on the robbers.  In the melee that ensues, Royston is hit in the jaw by a slug from Parrish's gun, screaming customers and clerks are wrestled to the ground by the bandits, the establishment's clanging alarm is triggered, and with the outlaws returning fire, the bank president is killed, along Jaddo Parrish, the son of the president and an employee of the bank who is shot when he goes to the aid of his father.  The ammo blasting over for the moment, the gang gathers up a booty of loot in pillow cases they have brought for the caper that includes $10,664 in cash, $12,400 in Liberty Bonds, and almost $200,000 in commercial paper (checks, promissory notes, and certificates of deposit).  The murders and robbery take all of six bloody minutes.  

The desperadoes then flee in a 1927 four-door blue Buick Master Six with two hostages, one-armed teller E.A. Lundgren (noting he is a cripple and deciding to show a modicum of mercy, he will be pushed out of the car as it leaves town) and bank clerk Everett Kesinger ... and almost immediately find themselves in another gun battle, this time a car chase shootout involving Sheriff L.B. Alderman and his deputy.  Rifle fire trumping the lawmen's pistols, the exchange of hot lead ends when a bullet pierces the radiator of the sheriff's pursuit car and the robbers safely reach the Kansas farm of Jake Fleagle, where to cover their tracks, they shoot Kesinger in the back of the head (despite the teller's pleas that he is married and a father of two children) and in a nice thank you for your services, also execute Dr. W.W. Weinenger, a medical practioneer the gang kidnaps to tend to the facial wounds of Royster.

Site in Kansas where Dr. Weinenger's body and car are discovered

The murder of the good doctor however proves to be the gang's undoing, because upon locating the death car of the physician (it will be spotted from the air by a Colorado National Guard plane searching the border area between Colorado and Kansas), despite attempts by the Fleagle brothers to wipe away all incriminating evidence, a single fingerprint missed on a window of the vehicle is found ... just enough for law enforcement to eventually identify the miscreants and take action (crime historians consider the case the first in which a murder is solved through analysis of fingerprint evidence).  Ralph Fleagle, George Abshier, and Howard Royston are captured, found guilty, and have their necks stretched at the Canon City Prison in Colorado, while Jake Fleagle chooses to go for his gun when the law finally find him in 1930 (over a million wanted posters of the killer are distributed across the United States that offer a $25,000 reward for information leading to his capture) on a train in Branson, Missouri, a mistake that results in bullet holes in his stomach and neck that send him to the city morgue.

     
                                   Jake Fleagle after being shot
            
                                    Fleagle posse members

Crime solved and gang destroyed, beyond their murderous escapade in Colorado and its aftermath, the Fleagle boys are still remembered for two reasons; treasure hunters to this day seek the never recovered loot from the robbery, and because liking the sound of the name, Al Capp will christen one of his villains in the Li'l Abner comic strip, Evil-Eye Fleegle!  

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