Tomorrow historian Selden Richardson will speak at the Library of Virginia on his new book, The Tri-State Gang in Richmond: Murder and Robbery in the Great Depression. Here is a brief description of the book from the publisher:
“The 1930s was a tough decade, one made even tougher by Prohibition. During this lawless time in American history, a group of criminals called the Tri-State Gang emerged from Philadelphia and spread their operations south, through Baltimore to Richmond, wreaking bloody havoc and brutally eliminating those who knew too much about their heists. Once termed the “Dillingers of the East,” Robert Mais and Walter Legenza led their men and molls on a violent journey of robberies, murders, and escapes up and down the East Coast.”
Richardson, a former archivist at the Library of Virginia, will recount the story of this whirlwind of crime and how it finally reached its climax in Richmond. The talk, part of the “Books on Broad” series, is free. Light refreshments (wine and cheese) will be served (5:30–6:15 pm), followed by author talk (6:15–7:15 pm), and book signing (7:15–7:30 pm). His book can be purchased through The Virginia Shop at the Library of Virginia.
Selden made extensive use of the records at the Library of Virginia. The gallery accompanying this post consists of some examples from our local, state, and … read more »
On the afternoon of 18 April 1924, an Imperial Ice Cream Company truck got stuck in the mud on the road between Winchester and Front Royal. The driver left the truck to telephone the company’s Winchester plant for help to get the truck out of the mud. When the driver returned ten minutes later, he saw that a “gang of convicts, in charge of a guard, had climbed on the truck and stolen from it five quarts of brick ice cream and ten dozen Chocolate Coated Ice Cream bars” worth $6.50. The guard told the driver that “he couldn’t do anything with the convicts, as they were in for stealing at the time.” Or so A.W. Warne, Manager of the Virginia Division, claimed in two letters to Major R.M. Youell, Virginia Penitentiary Superintendent. Outraged, Warne demanded an investigation and financial restitution. He added that “it seems to me a deplorable state of affairs when a guard in charge of a gang of convicts does not have enough control over the convicts, or himself, to prevent the stealing” of ice cream. A subsequent investigation by Penitentiary officials tells a completely different story.
A week after the alleged incident, Superintendent Youell ordered J.W. Johnson, the officer in charge of State Convict Road Force Camp 29, to investigate. Johnson’s reply on 29 April 1924 reported that the driver … read more »
On 5 October 1942, the United States District Court in Norfolk, at the request of the Navy, condemned 50,000 acres of land in Fauquier, Prince William and Stafford counties in order to enlarge the Marine base at Quantico. Two days later 650 families learned that they would have to vacate their property within 20 to 60 days! I learned of this story when I processed the records of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Development, Division of History.
In September 1942, the Virginia Conservation Commission’s Division of History and Archaeology, under the direction of Dr. Hamilton J. Eckenrode, began a war records collection program. Unable to continue the Division of History’s historical marker program because of wartime rationing, Eckenrode sought to “record the history of the Old Dominion’s war effort while the history is still fresh in the making, rather than wait until after the war when the events and details would be more obscured.” The Conservation Commission began a correspondence program in which a non-salaried correspondent from each locality sent reports about local war activities and local effects of and reactions to the war.
In March 1943, Mrs. Mary B. Thompson of Stafford County submitted to the Commission the “Story of Stafford Evacuation” by Elizabeth Russell Powers. Approximately 350 families lived in the 30,000 acres of condemned land in Stafford County. Powers described … read more »
Five years ago, Seung Hui Cho killed 32 people and injured at least 17 others before turning the gun on himself. The 16 April 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech is the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in United States history. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, I created a web archive collection, Tragedy at Virginia Tech, in order to capture the Commonwealth’s “on-line” response. Included in the collection are the websites of Virginia Tech, the Office of the Governor, and the Virginia Tech Review Panel. I remember creating the collection because of the “historic” nature of the shooting. I confess that I initially viewed that day’s events with the emotional detachment of an archivist/historian. But what made it “historic?” The number of people killed? The 32 people who died that day are not numbers – they had names, families, hopes and dreams – a future. The biographies captured in the Tragedy at Virginia Tech collection quickly shattered my impassiveness. What I saw as “historic” in 2007 is an ever present tragedy for the families who lost their loved ones. It is a wound that time cannot heal.
I was reminded of this when I began processing the e-mail records of Governor Tim Kaine’s administration. The Kaine administration transferred to the Library of Virginia approximately 1.3 million e-mail messages from 215 … read more »
In March 1913, Floyd Allen and his son Claude were executed for the 14 March 1912 murder of Commonwealth’s Attorney William Foster. The Allens’ case had gone through many twists and turns since the shootout in the Carroll County courthouse the previous March. The trials of Floyd Allen, Claude Allen, Friel Allen, Sidna Allen, Wesley Edwards, and Sidna Edwards took place in Wytheville from April to December 1912. The prosecution’s strategy was to prove the courthouse shooting was a premeditated conspiracy in order to make each defendant equally liable for the murders. On 18 May 1912, Floyd Allen was found guilty of the first degree murder of Commonwealth’s Attorney Foster. The prosecution’s strategy failed in the trial of Claude Allen. He was convicted of the second degree murder of Judge Thornton Massie because the prosecution failed to prove a conspiracy. Claude Allen then was tried twice for the murder of Foster. The first trial resulted in a hung jury. In the second trial, Allen was convicted of first degree murder. Floyd and Claude Allen were sentenced to die in the electric chair at the Virginia Penitentiary on 22 November 1912.
The execution did not happen in November. In order to … read more »
In December 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Wesley Edwards, nephew of Floyd Allen, was sentenced to 27 years in the Virginia Penitentiary for two counts of first degree murder and one count of second degree murder for his involvement in the Carroll County shootout. Edwards was admitted to the penitentiary on 14 December 1912. An anonymous fellow prisoner, writing in the 27 April 1922 issue of the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, The Beacon, shared his observations of Wesley Edwards:
“The first day I was in prison I ran into Wesley Edwards on the steps of the Industrial Department and started a conversation with him. As soon as I told him where I was from, he at once extended his hand, with a smile, and said he was glad to see someone from near his old home, though he was sorry to see me in trouble. I in turn extended my sympathy to him. My thoughts of him were many, the chief one being how strange it seemed that this tall, blue-eyed, young fellow could be so jovial and so interested in his work. He was even then in a hurry, had saw-dust in his hair and on
In December 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Sidna Allen, brother of Floyd Allen, was sentenced to 35 years in the Virginia Penitentiary for the crimes of first, second and third degree murder. Allen was admitted to the penitentiary on 14 December 1912. An anonymous fellow prisoner, writing in the 27 April 1922 issue of the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, The Beacon, shared his observations of Sidna Allen:
“I at last had an opportunity to go through the carpenter shop where I saw Sidna Allen…I stopped and watched him for a while at his work, before I went over and talked with him. He was working with as much zeal as any man who owned and operated a manufacturing plant. His hair was a silvery gray, though tinted with the yellow saw-dust, and his face pale, though it had the illuminated appearance of a pure Christian man….After talking with him a little while I found that the expression on his face was only revealing the man as he was; a true Christian man. Sunday morning and any time he had a spare, you could see him sitting around reading the Bible and enjoying the words he was daily
In August 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Sidna Edwards, nephew of Floyd Allen, plead guilty to second-degree murder for his involvement in the Carroll County shootout. He was sentenced to 15 years in the Virginia Penitentiary and admitted on 18 September 1912. By all accounts Edwards was a model prisoner. The 27 April 1922 issue of The Beacon, the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, contained this observation of Sidna Edwards by a fellow prisoner:
“[I] noticed a stalwart looking man standing on the prison hospital steps. He had a young, though sad looking face, his hair was beginning to silver and his general expression showed much pain and worry for a young man of his seeming age. I remarked to another prisoner that the big, young fellow seemed rather under the weather. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘that is Sidna Edwards. He has rheumatism and has been in the hospital a long time, although not confined to bed. He has the duty of nursing the other patients.’ To describe him takes only a few words, he has one of the most gentle, accommodating, kind and truthful dispositions that I have ever met in any man. He is generally liked and
In August 1912 in the Wythe County Circuit Court, Friel Allen, son of Jasper “Jack” Allen and nephew of Floyd Allen, was convicted of second degree murder in the death of William McDonald Foster, Carroll County Commonwealth’s Attorney. Allen was sentenced to 18 years in the Virginia Penitentiary and admitted to the penitentiary on 18 September 1912. By all accounts Allen was a model prisoner. An anonymous fellow prisoner, writing in the 27 April 1922 issue of the inmate-run penitentiary newspaper, The Beacon, shared his observations of Friel Allen:
“I had noticed a well-dressed young man passing through the yard of the prison, and on asking who he was I got this reply: ‘that is the Superintendent’s Chauffeur, Friel Allen.’ I immediately remarked that he was only a boy, that if he had been here ten years and looked that now, he must have been only a kid when he was sent here. I ventured up for a talk with him, expecting a sad answer, but not so, he sprang a friendly joke on me right away and began to kid me, showing his youth and good spirits. Our association from then on became more intimate, especially evenings.
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday Special Edition. Next Wednesday, 14 March marks the 100th anniversary of the infamous “Hillsville Massacre,” where five people were killed in a gunfight in the Carroll County courthouse. For the next week, Out of the Box will spotlight records at the Library of Virginia related to the individuals convicted for their role in the shooting.
On 13 March 1912, in the Carroll County Circuit Court, Floyd Allen was tried for attacking two deputies who had arrested two of his nephews for fighting and disturbing a religious meeting. The jury found Allen guilty of assault on 14 March and sentenced him to one year in the penitentiary. Allen stood up and stated, “Gentlemen, I ain’t going” and shots erupted in the courthouse leaving several county officials and a spectator dead. The Allen family claimed that several court officials opened fire on Floyd Allen, while other witnesses contended that Claude Swanson Allen, the defendant’s son, began the shooting. Nevertheless, Floyd Allen, Claude Swanson Allen, and other members of the Allen family were tried for murder in the Wythe County Circuit Court from April-December 1912. Floyd Allen was convicted of first degree murder on 16 May 1912. Claude S. Allen was also found guilty of first degree murder. Father and son were executed on 28 March 1913.
Sidna Allen, Floyd’s brother, was sentenced … read more »