4/17/1911 - Whether bad genes, bad early experiences, or both create criminal monsters, one is born on this day (the third of three boys) to a pair of deaf mute parents in the small town of Anaconda, in Deer Lodge County, Montana ... outlaw Joseph Paul "Dutch" Cretzer.
Cretzer In Custody - 1939
Whatever it is that goes wrong, it goes wrong early, and by his teenage years (15) he has started his climb up the rungs of criminal infamy, moving from burglary and petty theft, to stealing cars, on to armed robbery (by the time he is nabbed in 1939, Cretzer is at #4 on the FBI's list of dangerous public enemies), up to pulling bank heists, and finally becoming a murderer, and then a cold blooded, multiple murderer. In and out of jail and prison from 1927 on, Cretzer's big crime spree takes place up and down America's West Coast from 1935 to 1937. Of course, he doesn't do the jobs alone ... and the help comes from his best friend and family ... only a year younger than his partner, Cretzer teams with bank robber and brother-in-law, Arnold Thomas Kyle (aka Shorty McKay), on most of his robberies, sometimes assisted by his wife, Kyle's sister, Edna May "Teddy" Kyle Cretzer (aka Kay Wallace, a gun moll type who performs lookout and escape car duties at times, and when money is tight between jobs, keeps the men afloat with money from running a brothel in Pittsburgh, California).
FBI Wanted Poster For Mrs. Cretzer On Harboring Charges
Quick, in-and-out, two to four man jobs against small banks, the Cretzer-Kyle Gang makes its debut on 1/31/1935. Joined by Milton Hartmann (another alternating member of the band is John Oscar Hetzer), the gang successfully takes a bank in Portland, Oregon for $3,396 (a sum equivalent to $60,385.09 in 2017 dollars) and is off and running. On 11/29/1935, the same threesome hits a branch bank with the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel for $2,765. New year started, in January of 1936, the gang steals $6,000 from an Oakland bank, and the next day, returning to their southern California base, plunder $1,475 from another Los Angeles bank. Remaining in the region for the next six months, they put down scores of $6,100 (3/3) and $1,996 (7/1), before traveling to Seattle, Washington on 7/27 for a $14,581 take. In 1937, the gang, as solo robbers, a duo, and threesomes, take $8,000 out of Seattle bank, $2,870 from a Los Angeles, and on 3/29 of the year, in the gang's swan song (and Hetzer's first participation in a score) and most valuable effort, end where they started, leaving a Portland, Oregon financial establishment with loot totaling $18,195.
The Ambassador Hotel
Unfortunately for Cretzer and the gang, by 1937, with Bonnie & Clyde, Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, the Barker brothers and their mother, Alvin Karpis, and the Brady Gang all behind bars or dead, the FBI can concentrate their full power on bringing justice to the latest batch of 30's public menaces (eight of the banks the gang has hit are Federally insured, opening the door to FBI involvement). Looking, looking, looking, the FBI finally hits pay dirt when a car identified as being used in the Portland robbery is discovered in a Los Angeles parking garage. Staking out the car with a team of agents, Hetzer is arrested, then using information gained in that bust, Hartmann is cornered at the Stuart Hotel and commits suicide before he can be placed in custody. Los Angeles determined to be too hot, Cretzer and Kyle both flee southern California for the anonymity of the Midwest ... to little effect. Not using his noggin whatsoever, claiming to be a tipsy businessman named Raymond Palmer, Kyle is arrested in Minneapolis, Minnesota for drunk driving before a check of his fingerprints gets him turned over to the FBI, and Cretzer is put in cuffs in Chicago. Both men found guilty of multiple counts of bank robbery, the pair are sentenced to 25 years behind bars at the Federal penitentiary on McNeil Island in Washington. Criminal career seemingly over, instead, incredibly, Cretzer actually becomes more dangerous behind bars.
McNeil Island Prison
Two months at McNeil and the first Cretzer explosion comes when he and Kyle, threatening the driver of a prison dump truck with an awl, take control of the vehicle, and under a hail of bullets, drive the truck through the prison's rear inspection gate. Out of prison, but not off the island, three days later a twelve man posse of prison guards finds Kyle and Cretzer hiding in some bushes near the McNeil Island schoolhouse. Attempt a failure, Crezter plays the attempted escape as a means to accomplish a real one, looking for his next opportunity each time his lawyer is able to delay his trial on the additional charges (both men will eventually be found guilty and have another five years each added to their existing sentences) and the outlaw is "forced" to leave prison to appear in court (frisked during one court visit, authorities will find a hand cuff key on Cretzer that the bandit has fashioned from a spoon). Watching for his chance, when the armed bailiff leaves the Tacoma courtroom where Kyle and Cretzer (handcuffed together) are on trial for their attempted escape, and 53-year-old U.S. Marshal Artis J. Citty is moving the men to a holding cell for their lunch, Cretzer throws the lawman against a wall and batters him in the head with his handcuffs. Grabbing Citty's weapon, Cretzer is about to take the judge hostage as a bargaining chip for his freedom, but is stopped when the baliff returns just in time and places his cocked pistol at the back of the outlaw's head. Escape thwarted, Citty returns to his office, tells his clerk, Lillian Holtz, what happened and that he is okay ... then falls over dead, ten minutes after being struck by Cretzer (leaving behind a widow, and 15-year-old daughter ... over 250 people will attend the well-liked lawman's funeral), victim of a blood clot created in his fight with Cretzer and Kyle).
Authorities Examine Cretzer's Spoon Key
Death sentences barely dodged with defense lawyers using the spontaneity of the attack and Chitty's health to achieve "reasonable doubt," both men are found guilty of second-degree murder and have life sentences added to the 30 years they already owe the state ... and since they have established themselves as troublemakers with their two break attempts, they will be put at the place the government has specially created for bad apples ... Alcatraz Island. Knowing what is coming, Cretzer tells anyone that will listen not to send him to Alcatraz, stating his proximity to a city he has spent a good portion of his life in will drive him crazy to the point he will do anything to get off the island or die in the attempt. Big talk for just another busted tough guy, no one takes Cretzer's talk seriously ... except Cretzer.
Cretzer's Alcatraz Photo
Arriving on Alcatraz in August of 1940, it takes Cretzer less than a year to make his first attempt to escape "The Rock." Working again with Kyle, the pair are joined by a 31-year-old robber and kidnapper from Oklahoma with an IQ of 54 who does anything Cretzer requests, Sam Shockley (serving life), and 37-year-old Oregon bank robber, Lloyd Barkdoll. On 5/21/1941, working in the mat shop making hemp, with a motorboat offshore containing Cretzer friends pretending to be fishing, the group takes four men hostage (that include Superintendent of Industries, C. J. Manning, and Captain of Guards, Paul Madigan) and set about getting through a barred window and down to the shore ... but prying at the window bars and attempting to cut through them with an electric grinder both fail, and after two hours of sweat and muscle gain nothing, the men release their prisoners and surrender Madigan. No trial for additional time and excuse to leave the prison, Alcatraz authorities decide the men's penalties for the escape attempt, and Cretzer is put in a D-Block isolation cell for the next five years.
Shockley & Barkdoll
Finally put back into the regular cell block in 1946, for providing another speedboat, new identification, food, clothes, and a hiding place in San Francisco, Cretzer is invited to participate in a six-man escape put together by 46-year-old Kentucky bank robber, Bernie Coy, in which the convict has discovered a weak spot in the gun gallery bars overlooking the cell block that will allow the bars to be spread (Coy takes over a year to build the bar spreader and then sneak it past metal detectors and back into the cell area), weapons procured (no guns allowed inside the cell block, the gun gallery guard carries a .45 automatic and a rifle), and keys gained that will allow the felons to escape the prison's walls (still in his own isolation cell, Shockley is also recruited to create a distraction that will draw gun gallery guard, Bert Burch, to D-Block, and away from where Coy penetrates the bars).
Where Coy Climbs Through The Bars
A bust on 5/2/1946, when the key leading outside is hidden in a cell toilet by a hostage guard, it is Cretzer that turns the escape attempt into a blood bath. Negating any negotiations with the warden, armed with Burch's .45 automatic, pissed at being ordered about by Coy and the failure of Coy's plan, Cretzer kills 49-year-old Guard Harold Stites with a slug through his kidney as the officer is part of a team trying to retake control of the gun gallery. Then, after an upset Coy bashes Cretzer in the face with the butt of the Springfield rifle he has taken possession of over the killing Stites, when the convict goes to the kitchen for some food and to think about what the group should do next, anger overflowing at everything, and egged on by Shockley telling Cretzer to kill the guard hostages being kept in cells 402 and 403 (for which he will be executed in December of 1948), so there will be no witnesses to the escape attempt, at almost point blank range, through the bars of the cells, Cretzer cold bloodily shoots the guards (hearing Shockley and figuring what Cretzer might do, Officer Ernest Lageson secretly writes the names of the escape attempting convicts on the wall of the cell he is being held in, circling the names of the ringleaders). After stomping, punching, and pistol whipping Officer Bill Miller, the guard who hid key #107 to the outside, and the guard the bank robber believes is personally responsible for the break going kaput, Cretzer mortally wounds the man ... and he doesn't stop there. Mayhem instead of murder, barely, Captain Henry Weinhold is shot in the chest with a slug that should have killed him, but doesn't when the bullet slightly deflects off a cell bar and just misses the officer's heart. Officer Ernest Lageson survives being shot in the face, as does Guard Cecil Corwin, shot below the left eye by a bullet that blows out the right side of the man's jaw. Lt. Joe Simpson is shot in the stomach, and when he groans, shot a second time by Cretzer (the officer will spend three months in the hospital recovering from his injuries), and Officer Bob Baker is wounded in the arm and leg (and in a miracle of sorts, Cretzer completely misses hitting three other officers in the cells).
The Warden Looks Into The Hostage Death Cell
Not done yet, later that night when guards come into the cell block to rescue their comrades, hiding atop C-Block, Cretzer hits the rescue party's leader, Lt. Fred Roberts in the right shoulder ... twice.
Corwin Is Evacuated
Diagram Of The Attempted Escape
Hiding place identified when Cretzer fires on Lt. Roberts, the next day the killer tries just to stay alive, when on loan 12-year-Marine veteran, Warrant Officer Charles Lafayette Bucker, drills a hole in the roof of the cell block, and starts dropping grenades down on the convict. Body torn up over twelve times during the day and night due to grenade shrapnel, Cretzer temporarily escapes more explosions by climbing down in utility corridor separating the cell rows. Closing out the violence, on the third day of the break, crazed with pain from his injuries, finding Coy, and Coy's friend and member of the escape effort, robber Marvin Hubbard, Cretzer opens fire on Coy and hits the convict in the neck, shoulder, and face, killing the man he considered his nemesis (Hubbard is barely missed by the gunfire and is taken out later by guard bullets) ... only moments before the heavy metal door leading into the corridor is pulled open and the guards send a blast of slugs into the darkness before slamming the door shut and locking it (they will do this for several hours) ... saving the state the cost of a trial and execution, one round hits Cretzer in the left temple, killing the mad dog instantly ... the outlaw is 35 years old.
Press Boat Offshore . Notice Smoke From Marine Rocket Fire
Utility Corridor Where Death Finds Coy, Cretzer, And Hubbard
Corpses removed when the so-called Battle of Alcatraz is declared over by Warden James A. Johnston on 5/4, Cretzer begins his final journey with Coy and Hubbard, wrapped in blankets and tied in twine to canvas stretchers for a 12-minute boat ride across San Francisco Bay to Dock Four at nearby Fort Mason, where the bodies begin being prepped for disposal. Per Cretzer's wishes (given to his now ex-wife when he is sentenced to life on Alcatraz), his corpse is turned over to Edna May (she has turned over a new leaf, going straight, divorcing Cretzer, and marrying a truck driver), cremated, and placed in an urn at San Francisco's Cypress Lawn Memorial Park ... only Edna May and her lawyer are present when his internment takes place (Kyle not included in the escape attempt with Coy choosing who gets to go, the Cretzer buddy finally is paroled in 1963, and dies at the age of 71 in 1980).
Left To Right - Hubbard, Coy, And Cretzer
4/17/1911 ... the ugly, brief life of Joseph Paul Cretzer begins in Minnesota ... later, during a break in the killing during the 1946 escape attempt from Alcatraz, Cretzer will write a poem (he secret passion he tells no convicts about) that is found in the pocket of the coat on his corpse:
There has been death this day,
And there will be more.
Many men will come
Across the prison floor.
They will kill me;
Of that there is no doubt.
There are many ways in,
But no way out.
My life has reached its final span.
There is nothing left but to do what I can.
They won't kill a convict, they'll kill a man.
Public Enemy #4, Joseph Paul "Dutch" Cretzer