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History

June 3, 2012

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: Terre Haute man suspect in the Kansas City Massacre

TERRE HAUTE — On June 17, 1933, four law enforcement officers, including Bureau of Investigation agent Raymond J. Caffrey, and prisoner Frank Nash, a convicted felon, were killed in front of the Union Railway Station in Kansas City, Mo.

The mass genocide seemed to be designed to free convict Frank Nash, who had been captured after escaping from the U.S. penitentiary at Leavenworth on Oct. 19, 1930.

Nash was apprehended by McAlester, Okla., police chief Otto Reed and Bureau of Investigation agents Frank Smith and Joseph Lackey on June 16 in Hot Springs, Ark., known as a haven for the underworld during Prohibition.

Nash had plenty of friends there, but determining who was responsible for the five homicides was the issue. Director J. Edgar Hoover assumed a major role in the case.

Smith, Reed and Lackey accompanied Nash on the train to Kansas City. Caffrey,  Special Agent Reed E. Vetterli, and Kansas City police officers W.J. Grooms and Frank Hermanson met them at the Kansas City depot.

Between two and four men with machine guns emerged from behind a green Plymouth parked near Agent Caffrey’s Chevrolet outside Union Station. Grooms, Hermanson, Reed, Nash and Caffrey were killed. Vetterli and Lackey were severely injured.

A chief suspect was Roy D. Sherrill, a convicted felon whose father was a Baptist minister in “a town just outside Terre Haute, Indiana.”

Sherrill's long criminal record was triggered July 10, 1918, when he robbed a mail train at Paola, Kan. Before he was arrested near Denver in September 1918 he drove through two posses and was involved in a gunfight resulting in the death of Colorado Springs chief of detectives John Roman. During his apprehension, Sherrill was shot in the leg.

Sherrill was convicted of robbery on Nov. 12, 1918, and sentenced to 25 years at Leavenworth. He escaped June 21, 1921, and associated with the Al Spencer gang, which operated in Kansas and the Osage Hills of Oklahoma.

Later he joined a gang headed by Dale Jones and Frank Lewis, whose real name was Charlie Forbes. It included Jones’ wife, Margie Dean (who drove the getaway car), Roscoe Lancaster and Earl King. On May 28, 1923, Sherrill and two companions were captured by a posse near McAlester.

When asked what he had been doing since his escape, Sherrill explained that he played “pro baseball in the East Central League” during the summer of 1922 and worked in the off-season as a rumrunner out of Blue Island, Ill. Sherrill’s name apparently was not mentioned in connection with the homicides until June 26 when “an informant named Ingraham” contacted the St. Louis FBI office to report that Sherrill, “who was traveling with Harvey Bailey and Clement Braley, alias Barnes,” told him he had killed Nash and Special Agent Caffrey.

H. C. Ingraham, who gave a lengthy written statement on July 1, referred federal agents to Jesse Donaldson, Deputy Second Assistant Postmaster General, as a reliable person who knew Sherrill from the 1918 mail train robbery.

Though he said he did not know Ingraham, Donaldson was a wealth of information. He said that Roy Sherrill, also known as “Gabe Sherrill,” had a younger brother named Ray, who helped Roy with several store robberies.

He described the older Sherrill as a “vicious outlaw who was an expert shot with any kind of firearm.” In Donaldson’s opinion, Sherrill “would not hesitate to shoot on the slightest provocation.”

Donaldson also was acquainted with Harvey Bailey, “a well-known gangster who had robbed a bank at Fort Scott, Kan. and was serving time in prison at Lansing, Kan., when Sherrill and companions robbed the mail train at Paola.”

Ingraham said he exchanged letters with Sherrill during October 1932, when Roy was living “in a small town in Indiana, near Terre Haute, where his uncle lives.”

Then, Ingraham said, the men had an unexpected reunion in Henderson, Ky., June 24, 1933. Sherrill, in the front seat of a “practically new 16-cylinder black Cadillac, four-door” with five men in it, saw him and told Bailey, the driver, to stop.

During two extended conversations with Sherrill more than 40 minutes, Ingraham reported that his old friend said he was “in a terrible jam.” He quickly admitted that he and some companions killed five men in Kansas City, saying that they had intended to kill only Frank Nash “for double-crossing Bill Creekmore,” a fence who lived in Jay, Okla.

 Ingraham reported that Sherrill told others in the Cadillac that “I would not have one of my legs if it weren’t for this man,” referring to the alleged care given when the two shared a cell at Leavenworth Penitentiary after the mail train robbery. He gave considerable detail about some matters in his written statement. The floor in the back seat of the Cadillac was full of guns, machine guns and rifles. The men seemed to have considerable money and offered to pay Ingraham to find secure places for them to hide, particularly in Nashville and Memphis.

Ingraham refused to take the money but told Sherrill and Bailey he was contemplating a visit to Nashville soon and contact information was exchanged.

While the St. Louis office pursued leads provided by Ingraham’s statements, the Department of Justice Bureau of Investigation, soon to become the FBI, was developing evidence that the Kansas City Massacre, as the June 17, 1933, murders were labeled, was carried out by Vernon C. Miller, Adam C. Richetti and Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd.

Miller, the leader, was a World War I veteran and an ex-policeman from Huron, S..D. He avoided capture but, on Nov. 29, 1933, his mutilated body was found in a ditch near Detroit, the victim of a dispute with powerful New Jersey mobster Longie Zwillman.

At the time of the Kansas City murders, Floyd was a fugitive, having been convicted of bank robbery in Toledo and sentenced to 12 to 15 years on Nov. 24, 1930. He escaped en route to the Ohio State Penitentiary.

Richetti began his criminal career in Hammond, Ind., in 1928. He had served time at the Indiana State Reformatory in Pendleton and the state penitentiary at McAlester.  Floyd and Richetti, with their girlfriends, hid for 16 months after the murders in Buffalo, N.Y.  Floyd was killed Oct. 22, 1934, in a gun battle near Clarkson, Ohio.

Richettti was convicted of the murder of police officer Frank Hermanson and executed at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City on Oct. 7, 1938.

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