Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Trudging Along

Well I found George Chase in the Missouri Penitentiary in 1920. Whether or not he is Vivian's George Chase is the question. I wrote the archives to see if I could get some information. Hopefully they have intake papers and a mugshot. It will take them 8 weeks to get back to me. It would be great if it turned out to be Mr. George M. Chase.

I also think I have found the right Vivian Davis. 18 years old in 1920 living in Kansas City working as a waitress. Rooming in a household of older men. Yes that sounds like Vivian. The marriage certificate states that she is from KC and 19 years old. The date of the certificate is April 1921.

When she was arrested in 1923 Vivian gave her place of birth as Springfield, MO.; I don't know. Births prior to 1910 in Missouri are harder to trace. Not impossible though.

I guess the only thing for certain is that Vivian is a product of Missouri and Kansas during Prohibition. It would have been so much easier if she had been from Chicago. There's loads of information on Chicago. It's so funny so much happened all over the country but historians typically focused on New York and Chicago so if you go looking for information on who, what & where for some other area you have to cross your fingers and hope.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

William Radkay

I really enjoyed this book because it written very informally. When I was reading it, it was easy to imagine that Willie Radkay was telling me all of these stories himself.

First hand accounts are great because the stories that people tell explain what it means when someone says a "town was wide open" and it explains more than a researched book what the culture and attitudes were during the time discussed.

The book really shines in two places. The first is Willie's account of growing up in the Strawberry Hill Section of Kansas City, KS and the second is his description of doing time in Alcatraz and Leavenworth. It's not that the rest of the book lacks anything. It's just hard to keep reading about an obviously bright man making the bad decision to follow a life of crime. It's a value's thing.

Oh yeah, and the book is good because for once another criminal has something decent to say about Machine Gun Kelly (George Barnes). Radkay and Kelly were friends. While I don't think Kelly as a bank robber was in Alvin Karpis' or Harvey Bailey's league as a bank robber. He's not the blow hard doofus that Karpis makes him sound like in his book.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Oh S#!#

A years work down the toilet. Evidently, I have been completely and utterly wrong. There's no way that the Vivian Davis who married George M. Chase in 1921 is Vivian G. Davis of Springfield, MO. That Vivian died a year and a month before the wedding!

Time to take another look at the sources or perhaps I could interest one of those mediums, who are always bothering dead people, to visit the graves and find out the truth from the source.

I have learned a valuable lesson. I will never trust someone else's research at face value. I will always do my own or verify as if it were my own. Truthfully, piecing together someone's information from old census records when they have a common name is not easy. It is easy to trip up when you can't find everything at once i.e. birth, marriage, and death data scattered everyplace. I just have to look at this as part of the process and not give up.

George C. Robertson

G.C. Robertson, was one of the inside guys on the Montgomery County National Bank robbery. I was a little surprised to find out that he was 35 at the time of the robbery. Because I read that he was the bank Vice President, I was expecting an older man with a paunch like Lionel Barrymore.

There's more to this story than is commonly known. Mr. Robertson, who served 1 year and a day in Leavenworth for his role, is originally from Springfield, MO. The address he gave for his father's home is on the same street, Kimbrough, that Vivian Chase's family occupied. Hmmm.

So where is my fertile mind going with all of this? Did Vivian actually know Robertson prior to the robbery? Did she set him up? Or was he in on the double cross from the beginning?

There is something odd in Robertson's Leavenworth file. Supposedly he had no prior arrests to the Cherryvale robbery, yet there's an FBI arrest record for in his file for a Clarence Griffin dating back to 1918. Maybe it's a mistake someone else's information in his file. Maybe not.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dead or Alive

This book has merits for a lot of reasons; chief among them (for me) is that since I'm unacquainted with the details of Harry Tracy's tale I was surprised at the ending. Gulick doesn't give anything away in earlier chapters; he lets the reader know what happens only at the point of the narrative when it happens. No value judgements about not being surprised at what awaits Tracy.

It's interesting I think this is one of the better prison escape tales that I've read. Mainly because there isn't an attempt to explain the why. There no exhausting analysis about who could have provided the guns for the escape. No onerous details about Tracy and Merril's associates outside of the Oregon pen or the conditions inside the penitentiary. A good tale. I think what makes the story surprising is that the crimes that Tracy was convicted for gave no indication that he would be capable of eluding a posse for months. He seems more like a bully than a professional thief. Definitely, not a yegg. He stole yes, but with a senseless brutality that if he hadn't been able to escape from the pen and actively dodge capture for so long he could have been dismissed as unintelligent.

Another thing that makes this story interesting is that this occurs during a time when the American West is moving into the modern age but it's not quite there. It's 1902, men are traveling by horse and buggy. But there are electric cars and telephones. This is the twilight for the old fashioned badman and the civilian posse. It's also great to see how intrusive the media could be even in 1902 to a criminal investigation and how even then people could have a dreadful awe for a man who kills 7 people in the pursuit of his freedom and escapes one trap after another. Sometimes it's not clear who's the fox or whose the hound. It's not a tale that is going to end well.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hunting Vivian

Well for the second time I was directed to Startling Detective's June 1936 article on Vivian Chase so I decided to read it. No small job since the magazine I have is so fragile that it crumbles with the slightest touch.

I got a copy of the obituary for Vivian's father Alfred W. Davis. The obit listed surviving siblings. It might be possible that there are descendants living. I could end up knowing more about Vivian's genealogy than I do about my own.

I've requested the FBI Cherryvale Bank robbery file and the Leavenworth file for the inside guys convicted. I'll never understand why the FBI is so stingy with documents that are over 70 years old. They have an index of files but they won't make it available. They are the keepers. I understand about stuff that's current. Hell I understand about stuff that's 40 years old (MLK & Kennedy files) but honestly making information concerning prohibition and the 30's accessible to the public is not going to harm anyone now!

Off the soapbox...if the FBI does give me the file location I'll be able to go to the archives again..ooooh!

BTW, I don't think Luther Jordan and Vivian ever had anything going. At the time of the KC bank job Vivian had been using Earl McDowell's last name as an alias. She tended to do that when she was living with a man. McDowell ended up eating lead on a lonely road. I guess it is possible that she and Jordon hooked up afterwards but he denied it.