Wanted Again

This is the third and final installment in our series on Wanted Posters featuring couples. As you may recall, we came across the Wanted Posters in the County Attorney’s correspondence. Harold Wallace, the Salt Lake County Attorney in the 1930s and 1940s, was on the FBI’s mailing list during the Public Enemy Era. The last couple has what I think is the most surprising ending.

This poster, released February 8, 1938, features Maurice Denning and Evelyn Bert. The poster lists multiple aliases for both. According to the poster, Denning was wanted for “the robbery of the following National banks: First National Bank, Hawarden, Iowa, October 15, 1934; First National Bank, Dell Rapids, South Dakota, November 7, 1934; Security National Bank, Superior, Nebraska, November 22, 1934; First National Bank, Smith Center, Kansas, February 1, 1935; First National Bank, Hudson, South Dakota, January 5, 1935. He is likewise wanted for participation in the robbery of seven State banks.” Adding those up- that’s 12 bank robberies!

Evelyn Burt does not appear to have directly aided in the robberies; she was only wanted for harboring Denning.

Denning was an Iowa farmer by trade, but he ran afoul of the law when he got caught using stolen license plates. His next offense was more serious: he got involved in bootlegging. While serving his bootlegging sentence he became friends with hardened criminals William “Billy” Pabst and his partner in crime Earl Keeling, both convicted bank robbers. Once they were all out of prison they formed a gang including a box-car bandit, Thomas Limerick, and Pabst’s nephew, Francis Harper, an escaped convict. They became known as the Denning-Limerick Gang.

They began their crime spree in August 1934 and by November were recognized as the top public enemies in the Midwest.  Unlike earlier blog subjects Ben and Stella Mae, the Denning-Limerick gang treated their hostages more harshly, including when they were accused of torturing a farmer so he’d reveal where he had money hidden. However, they used the same technique as Ben when fleeing, they too took hostages and made them stand on the get-away car’s running boards as human shields until they got out of town. This practice had also been used by the Dillinger gang, which likely gave both Ben and Denning the idea.

The Denning-Limerick Gang realized they needed a hide-out/base of operations and choose a house in Kinney, Nebraska. Kinney was a boom/bust railroad town that was on its way to becoming a ghost town, so it served their purposes well. However, it wasn’t long before law enforcement figured out where they were and a task force of several agencies surrounded the house. Unfortunately for the task force, only two members of the gang were actually there at the time. The two fugitives pretended to surrender, but then made a break for it, fleeing on foot. The officers opened fire. Earl Keeling, one of Denning’s prison companions, was hit almost immediately. A sheriff’s deputy shot him in the back, the bullet exited through his abdomen. He managed to keep running another half mile before collapsing. He survived until the next morning when he passed away at the hospital. Frances Harper, the other man in the house when law enforcement showed up, fared a little better. He had some minor wounds, but managed to steal a car and made it all the way to Kentucky before his capture. He ended up in Alcatraz and was listed as an escape risk.

Meanwhile back in Nebraska, Denning and Limerick returned to the Kinney hide-out in a stolen car the night of the raid. Police had arrested the four women in the house, including Denning and Limerick’s wives, Alice Denning and Catherine Limerick. All of the women were charged with harboring fugitives. You’ll notice that Evelyn Bert was not there; it’s unclear when she became involved with Denning. At least one newspaper blamed her for Denning’s entry into serious crime because he was trying to impress her. When Denning and Limerick arrived at the house they realized that something was wrong so they kept driving. Police fired on them, but they were able to get away and soon after ditched the bullet-ridden car.

Law enforcement finally caught up with Limerick in a nightclub in Missouri in May of 1935. He was arrested because of his involvement in a fight. He confessed to the bank robberies and was given a life sentence, first going to Leavenworth then to Alcatraz. On May 23, 1938, Limerick attempted escape, but was killed by a guard.

Denning disappeared. In July 1936 the FBI upgraded him to Public Enemy Number One. He was “the most successful Public Enemy” and was never captured.

Salt Lake County Attorney’s Correspondence, series AD-006. Salt Lake County Archives.

Entry contributed by Dr. Michaele Smith,  Archivist,  Salt Lake County Archives.

Sources:

Chris Dunker, Beatrice Daily Sun, July 22, 2009

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Happy Birthday, Government Center!

Artist’s rendering of the planned Salt Lake County Government Center. Shown in light tan are the planned North and South buildings and parking garage. The already existing senior housing buildings are in dark brown.

2017 marks the 30th birthday of the Salt Lake County Government Center. Located on State Street at 2001 South, the Government Center consists of the North and South buildings and houses most of the agencies within the County.  In December 1986, the North building was officially opened, and later in 1987 the South building was finished and opened for business, completing the construction of the new Government Center.

Salt Lake County had previously jointly occupied the Salt Lake City and County Building at 451 South State Street with the Salt Lake City government.  Many Salt Lake County agencies (including Human Resources, Facilities, and Real Estate) were also housed in the old County Hospital complex buildings, and other programs were scattered throughout the valley.  The property at 2001 South State Street had been owned by Salt Lake County since 1885, with a poor farm, infirmary, hospital, nurses school, and other medical and indigent services buildings occupying this site through the years.  When the University of Utah took over the hospital services from Salt Lake County, many county agencies moved in to the empty building spaces, even making office space within the room previously used as the hospital morgue.

As the old hospital buildings continued to deteriorate, a new Government Center was planned.  This center would gather most county agencies and services within one location, and provide safe and healthy spaces for county employees and Salt Lake County citizens to conduct business.  Commissioners Bart Barker, Tom Shimizu, and Michael Stewart were instrumental in the realization of the Government Center.

Demolition of Salt Lake County Hospital building in preparation for building the new Government Center.

Salt Lake County Hospital building (on right) prior to demolition, with the North Building of the new Government Center completed (on left).

Official groundbreaking ceremony for the new Government Center. Photograph courtesy of Bart Barker.

To mark this 30th birthday, the Archives created a small exhibit of images and records highlighting the history of the Government Center, and Mayor Ben McAdams interviewed Records Management and Archives Director Maren Slaugh about this exhibit and the archives program.

The exhibit of County Government Center history on view in the South Building. July 18, 2017.

For additional information about Salt Lake County history or the Government Center, also check out these pages on our website.

Left to right: former Commissioner Shimizu, Mayor McAdams, former Commissioner Barker at the opening of the history exhibit. July 18, 2017.

 

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West Valley City, 1969

Some interesting photographs were discovered while processing records received from Salt Lake County Planning and Development.  They show a few roads in West Valley City as they used to look 48 years ago.

Below, the photographer is facing west along 4700 South from approximately 5400 West in 1969.  For those familiar with this area, you will notice the red and white water tower in the distance that still stands today.

And in the image below, we are standing in 4700 South and looking north along 5400 West in 1969.  No dog would be safe standing in the middle of 5400 West today (let alone a person even trying to cross an extremely busy 4700 South).  

Images from Salt Lake County Planning and Development Photographs, series PD-330. Salt Lake County Archives.

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Lost House: Empey Cottage

180 East South Temple. Image taken in 1940. Salt Lake County Tax Appraisal Photographs, serial 01-2692.

Many of you may already be familiar with this truly “lost house.”  Formerly located at 180 East South Temple in Salt Lake City, this house was supposedly designed by Truman O. Angell, the architect of the LDS Church’s Salt Lake City Temple.  Brigham Young had this house built for one of his wives, Ann Eliza Webb.  When she later divorced him, Brigham Young’s daughter Ella and her husband Nelson A. Empey moved in to this house.  After Ella Young Empey died in 1890, Nelson A. Empey married Emma Adams.  Emma and family lived in this house until the late 1940s.

The house was dismantled in 1953.  The book Brigham Young’s Homes (edited by Colleen Whitley) notes that the house had been given to the Sons of Utah Pioneers. They wished to move it to the new Pioneer Village that had been planned to take over the site of the old Utah State Prison.  The pieces of the building were moved to storage on Horace Sorenson’s property. However, when the prison site did not work out, this house was left behind when the buildings were sold to Lagoon to form what is now known as the Pioneer Village.

Among many of the unique architectural details in this house, the diamond-shaped window contained a stained glass representation of a beehive.  This window had been used in the Utah building at the Chicago World’s Fair.  The chimneys were also built in an octagonal shape to imitate a cell in a beehive.

Salt Lake County Tax Appraisal Card, 1940. Serial 01-2692.

Plot plan drawing of the house showing the unique angles and porches. Salt Lake County Tax Appraisal Card, 1940. Serial 01-2692.

In 1965, a ZCMI tires and auto accessories store was built on the location formerly occupied by the Empey Cottage. This building still exists today as an auto service center.

ZCMI Tires, image taken in 1966. Salt Lake County Tax Appraisal Photographs, serial 01-2692.

Check out an earlier image of this house, and an image from another angle, both in the custody of the Utah State Historical Society.

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Ben and Stella Mae, Part Two

Since Ben and Stella had a head start they were able to get away, but the authorities had more to go on after the second robbery than the first. This time they also got a bigger take – over $47,000. Law enforcement was eventually able to track them to a campground in Topeka, Kansas and closed in on them, resulting in their separation and a shootout. Ben was able to get away, steal a new car, and return to pick up Stella who he left behind at the campground.

They then continued to allude capture by crisscrossing the country and stealing cars. In one close call with the law they took three men hostage in an attempt to get away (resulting in kidnapping charges). The couple also got in a shootout with a patrol car as it gave chase. Stella was the one doing the shooting this time and, even though she was given the name “Sure Shot Stella” as a result, it’s unlikely she was even really aiming or trying to kill the officers – she just wanted them to stop following. It was also during this gunfight that a bullet grazed Stella’s forehead leaving a scar.

The couple also managed to set up house in an apartment in New Orleans, but the FBI was turning up the heat so it must have been a stressful time for the couple even though they tried to find some semblance of normalcy. After the two bank robberies and the kidnapping, the FBI named them Public Enemies No.1 and No. 2. Less than 5 months later, the couple was lured into a meeting with an informant in St. Louis. Ben went alone to a hamburger stand for the meeting and realized too late that it was a set up. He tried to walk away, but several FBI agents were closing in. As he turned to run a young FBI agent shot him in the back – at least four times.

Stella was in the couple’s car down the street and may have witnessed the shooting, or at least saw the aftermath as she drove by. The FBI agents weren’t paying close enough attention so she was able to just keep driving. Stella must have been devastated by the loss of her husband. She started driving to her mother’s house. She ended up having to take rides from strangers who got her closer and closer home. But at least one of them found the petite blonde’s behavior suspicious. He realized she might be the woman the FBI was looking for and arranged to turn her in. The book “Outlaw Tales” notes that when agents took her into custody “she was unarmed, carried $70, and was wearing three rings, including the wedding set with seven diamonds… she also possessed a key to a New Orleans apartment and a poem Ben had penned. It read, ‘In the eyes of men I am not just/ But in your eyes, O life, I see justification/ You have taught me that my path is right if I am true to you’” (96).

Stella was sent to South Dakota to stand trial for bank robbery, holding a doll throughout the proceedings. This may have been a ploy to try to make her more sympathetic to the jury, or she was holding it for comfort (she was only 16 and a widow after all).  Many of those involved in the prosecution of the case felt sorry for the young woman and some even suggested that coverture be applied to the case (coverture laws, according to dictionary.com, meant that a married women was “considered as under the protection and authority of her husband,” meaning that a woman couldn’t really make decisions for herself, that her husband’s authority was supreme. So a women might not be culpable for a crime if she was committing it at her husband’s direction – women weren’t supposed to defy their husbands. However, by the 1930s coverture laws held less sway). J. Edgar Hoover seems to have had a big influence on the outcome of the trial. While some wanted to show mercy to Stella because of her youth and gender, Hoover wanted to make an example of her and demonstrate the power and usefulness of the FBI. He put pressure on the judge and others involved in the case to do just that. Judge Lee A. Wyman determined Stella’s guilt and sentenced her to two concurrent ten-year sentences. On her seventeenth birthday she entered a federal prison for women in West Virginia.

“Crime Fighter,” Salt Lake Telegram, August 22, 1934, 12.

Stella Mae was paroled in 1946. She was twenty-four years old. For a short time she was a flight attendant, but eventually settled into a career as a clerk at Kmart. She also took care of her disabled brother and made a quiet life for herself in Kansas. She did marry two more times, but both marriages were fairly short; neither men lived up to the memory of her first husband. Over time, she became more and more reclusive and President Nixon eventually pardoned her in recognition of the quiet life she had led since prison. She died September 10, 1995.

In his book, “The Ballad of Ben and Stella Mae: Great Plains Outlaws Who Became FBI Public Enemies Nos. 1 and 2,” Matthew Cecil argues that the FBI was having such a hard time fighting organized crime that they sought out cases with flashy criminals like Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger, who were much easier to capture. In this way the FBI could make a name for themselves. Once they had caught those notorious criminals they needed new and similar targets. So they turned the relatively small time criminals, Ben and Stella Dickson, into media sensations and blew their crimes out of proportion to make them seem much more dangerous than they actually were. Their manhunt also pushed Ben and Stella into a corner where they made increasingly desperate moves and eventually led to Ben’s death. And while the two most certainly were criminals who deserved to pay for their crimes, they were hardly enough of a threat to justify the outcome.

If you are interested in this story you can read it in much greater detail in Matthew Cecil’s new book.

Entry contributed by Dr. Michaele Smith,  Archivist,  Salt Lake County Archives.

Sources:

Tom Griffith, Outlaw Tales of South Dakota: True Stories of the Mount Rushmore State’s Most Infamous Crooks, Culprits, and Cutthroats, (TwoDot, 2008).

Matthew Cecil, The Ballad of Ben and Stella Mae: Great Plains Outlaws Who Became FBI Public Enemies Nos. 1 and 2, (University Press of Kansas, 2016).

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Wanted: Bennie and Stella Mae

As we mentioned in an earlier post, we came across a folder of FBI wanted posters in the correspondence of the County Attorney and were especially interested in the posters featuring wanted couples. We wrote about the Birds; now we turn to Bennie and Stella Mae Dickson.

Salt Lake County Attorney’s Correspondence, series AD-006. Salt Lake County Archives.

According to their poster they were wanted for “the kidnapping of Henry Metty and Claude Minnis” and for transporting them across state lines from Michigan to Indiana in November 1938. They were also wanted for the “robbery of the Northwest security National Bank” in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in August 1938. And lastly “for violations of the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act” in November 1938.

Bennie and Stella had promising beginnings, but seemed ill-fated by their teenage years. Bennie committed a teenage prank and the Judge decided to make a statement with a very harsh sentence. While he did commit a crime he always felt this conviction was unfair which fueled his future criminal endeavors. His time in prison also contributed to the escalation of his crimes as he became friends with much more hardened criminals.

Stella’s story is much sadder and more out of her control. At 15 years old she was brutally raped by a stranger, acquiring gonorrhea from this attack which required painful medical treatment.  The social workers also did not maintain confidentiality, and news of her STD spread through their small town. With unfair rumors of her promiscuity swirling around her, unsympathetic social workers, and only painful medical procedures to look forward to, Stella fled to California. That is where she had the further misfortune of meeting and falling for a man from her home town, Bennie Dickson.

Shortly after meeting, the couple married and traveled to his family’s cabin in Lake Preston, South Dakota to honeymoon. Stella’s 16th birthday approached and the couple was very cash poor (this was during the Great Depression, after all). Benny had a solution: rob a bank. The couple’s criminal career started with a heist in Elkton, South Dakota.

As Outlaw Tales of South Dakota notes, “For her sixteenth birthday Stella Dickson robbed a bank. For her seventeenth birthday she was sent to federal prison” (92).

On August 25, 1938, Bennie walked into the Elkton Corn Exchange Bank, approached the two employees, pulled out a revolver and said, “This is a holdup. Do exactly as I say and there will be no trouble and nobody hurt” (92).   He then spent the next 35 minutes waiting for the bank’s time lock safe to open. While he waited around 20 people came into the bank, including L. C. Foreman, the president of the bank. Bennie checked out each person, going as far as having the cashier look up the balances of their accounts. If they seemed able to afford the loss he would take their money, otherwise he did not take money from individuals, just the bank. He even went as far as returning a $20 bill one of the patrons had dropped.

After the time lock finally allowed him access to the vault, Bennie took the money and locked all 20-something people in the vault and left the bank. The captives flipped an emergency switch in the vault which set off a warning light in the nearby Dressel Store and they were soon released.

Bennie had enough money to buy his new wife a birthday gift and to get out of town. They were able to live on the proceeds of the robbery for 2 months before they felt the need to hit another bank.

This time their target was the Northwestern Security National Bank in Brookings, South Dakota. Brookings was a small college town which was recovering from its annual Hobo Day Celebration when Bennie and Stella strolled into the bank at 8:30am Monday October 31st. The “handsome young couple” carried a machine gun and a sawed-off shotgun.

Again they waited patiently for the time lock safe to open – this time they had to wait two and a half hours!

More than 100 people entered the bank while they were there, thanks to the busy weekend. This time instead of holding the customers hostage they tried to blend in while keeping the two bank employees compliant. At 11 o’clock, the time lock finally opened and they retrieved the money and went out to their car with the two bank employees. They made the two men stand on the running boards of the car and then drove several blocks. They ordered the men to jump off and then continued out of town. The bank employees quickly raised the alarm and a chase ensued.

Come back next week for the conclusion….

Entry contributed by Dr. Michaele Smith,  Archivist,  Salt Lake County Archives.

Sources:

Tom Griffith, Outlaw Tales of South Dakota: True Stories of the Mount Rushmore State’s Most Infamous Crooks, Culprits, and Cutthroats, (TwoDot, 2008).

Matthew Cecil, The Ballad of Ben and Stella Mae: Great Plains Outlaws Who Became FBI Public Enemies Nos. 1 and 2, (University Press of Kansas, 2016)

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Days Gone By: Salt Lake Pioneer Village

Recently, we have been researching some original Sugar House businesses and found the Salt Lake County Tax Appraisal records for the Salt Lake Pioneer Village, which was originally located in Salt Lake City on 3000 South 2150 East (2998 Connor Street).

If you don’t know the story of the Salt Lake Pioneer Village, here is a little recap.

It all started with an industrious Salt Lake City business man named Horace Sorensen who was born at the turn of the century (1899). He and his father had a very successful furniture shop called “South East Furniture,” which was located at 2144 South 1100 East. Horace enjoyed not only the family furniture business; he also enjoyed his horse business. He bred, sold, and showed horses on his east side property.

Horace and his wife Ethel also had a deep passion to preserve historical items. They spent about 50 years purchasing and collecting priceless heirlooms from the late 19th and early 20th century. But they didn’t stop at just furniture and dishes. They also collected buildings. In the 1930s they remodeled one of his horse barns into a pioneer museum.

Plot plan drawing of some of the buildings in the Pioneer Village, 1973.

Horace and Ethel had collected many pioneer homes and buildings, including the historic Brigham Young home and grist mill.  They had furniture, wagons, carts, farm machinery, railroad equipment, statues, and all types of pioneer vehicles.  1948 was a pivotal year for Mr. Sorensen’s collection, as Horace expanded and dedicated the building as a Pioneer Museum.  Much of the 3 acres on Connor Street housed part of his collection. He knew it would only be a “temporary home” for this item, until he found a property that was more suited for the job.

Buildings in Pioneer Village, image taken in 1973.

Pioneer Village, image taken in 1973.

Children surrounding ox and wagon in Pioneer Village, 1973.

More buildings in Pioneer Village, 1973.

The Salt Lake Pioneer Village had stage coaches, white top buggies, covered wagons, handcarts, pioneer guns, pioneer furniture, much of Susana Emery’s (known as the Silver Queen) furniture and antiques. It portrayed all aspects of pioneer life.  Sometimes there was an old time barber giving a shave and a haircut. In the drugstore you could buy sarsaparillas from old soda fountains, enjoy a pioneer craft, browse through the old country store, sit in turn-of-the-century school desks or pews from the old meeting house, admire Horace’s gun collection, or watch the print maker painstakingly produce a newspaper.

In 1956 he deeded the entire collection and property to the National Society Sons of the Utah Pioneers. This included the museum building, all of the houses, thousands of antiques, historical objects, and 3 acres.  It was called the “Pioneer Village’s temporary home.”

In the late 1940s, it was decided that the Utah State Penitentiary, known as the  Sugar House Federal Prison, needed to be moved.  Upon hearing the news Horace Sorensen knew exactly what he wanted to do with the large acreages of land at 2100 South.  He rallied the community and leaders and they all planned the “Pioneer Memorial State Park,” also called “Pioneer Memorial Center,”  to be placed on the land.

Mr. Sorensen spent almost 15 years drawing plans, attending community meetings and meeting with city leaders to plan. The plans included his entire collection of homes, schools, churches, railroads, as well as a large house to hold community meetings, an amphitheater for concerts, seagull sanctuary, and scenic wonders building, and a garden wonderland. He planned the landscape to include native shrubs, flowers, plants and trees. He also envisioned a veterans memorial and tourist information building containing furniture, pioneer papers, books, currency,  books, clothing, guns and household items. All would be on display at the new location of Sugar House Park.

After 15 years of attending meetings and rallying the community, it was decided that Sugar House Park would not house the Pioneer Village. It would be a strictly recreational place for the community.

Due to ill health in 1975, Horace Sorensen withdrew from his civic activities. Pioneer Village was moved from Connor Street to the Lagoon Amusement Park.  Horace Sorensen died May 3, 1977.  We owe much to Horace and Ethel Sorensen. Because of their willingness to dedicate the majority of their lives to preserving the past, we can walk from our modern world into a Pioneer Village filled with yesterday.

And because of the Salt Lake County Archives, we can fill in the gaps of where and what a building in the Salt Lake County was used for.  It helps us piece together yesterday.

See you at the Archives!

Guest blog written and contributed by Sheri Kimball Biesinger.  

All images from Salt Lake County Tax Appraisal Cards and Photographs, serial 17-2110.

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