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Full text of "Complete history of southern Illinois' gang war : the true story of southern Illinois gang warfare"

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UNIVERSITY OF 

ILLINOIS LIBRARY 

AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN 

ICLfNOlS HISTORICAL SURVEY 



3(^^,1 .'op. Uk^-^^z ^' 

! 

Complete History of Southern 
Illinois' Gang War. 

The True Story of Southern Illinois Gang War- 
fare. Written Entirely by E. Bishop Hill 

*WE DARE YOU TO READ 
THE FIRST FIVE PAGES.' 

All that is written herein is actual facts that hap- 
pened during the Ku Klux Klan and Anti-Klan War in 
: ..Little Egypt and during the time of S. Glenn Young 
}> to the trial of Charles Birger in the year 1927 A. D. 

This material is carefully compiled and is given 
in print so the public in general may know in full the 
details surrounding that terrible period of bloodshed 
in "Bloody Williamson" from the Herrin Massacre to 
the end of the reign of "Machine Gun Charlie" Birger. 

E. BISHOP HILL, 

Eldorado, Illinois. 



' CHAPTER 1. 

S. GLENN YOUNG, Raider. 

There is hardly a nook or corner of the entire 
United States where the name of S. Glenn Young is 
not known. 

Many are the tales told of marvelous gun plays, 
and his ability to always come out with a new notch 
on his gun. There is hardly a household the country 
over wiiere stories have not been told of his deeds of 
aaring. His ability to draw first has been illustrated, 
mayLe magnified, by many hundreds of verified and 
unveriiied stories. 

Ever since S. Glenn Young made his advent in 
Williamson County, Illinois, there has hardly been a 
gathering of any sort w^here his activities did not 
iurnish the chief topic of conversation. Each time 
the- name was mentioned some one always had a new 
story to tell of som.ething he had said or done. 

One interesting story comes to mind regarding the 
raider's ability to draw his gun first. It is told that 
one time while the City of Herrin, Illinois, was re- 
covering from the shock of an outbreak, during which 
the state troops were called out that Young was walk- 
ing down the street, clad in common civilian clothes. 
There was nothing about his appearance that would 
lead one to believe he carried any of the traditional 
artillery that has made him famous. One of the 
guardsmen met and asked him if he did not feel a bit 
uneasy, going about the streets, among enemies, un- 
arme:!. 

"Start for your gun, sonny," the raider said, and 
the guardsman reached quickly for his gun. Before 

2 



the soldicrr could bring the weapon from its liolster at 
his side Young had him covered with two guns. 

And such were the stories of the life of S. Glenn 
Young until the time he "bit the dust" as he had seen 
so many do who had failed to beat him to the draw. 

The writer knows Young to have been a fearless 
man and one who could draw a gun in the time it 
would take one to wink an eye. 

S. Glenn Young to his admirers was a dauntless 
crusader who feared neither man nor the devil in 
fighting sin such as he found it in and around Herrin. 
To those who hated him, he was a swashbuckling inter- 
loper whose own violences were greater than the crimes 
he attempted to correct. 

Chapter 2 Deals with the Manner in Which Young 

Came Into Prominence By His Daring Work in 

the Employment of the Government. 

CHAPTER 2. 

Glenn Young came into prominence in 1917 when 
he was employed in running down desperate draft 
evaders for the Federal government, his work taking 
him into the most dangerous districts of the Kentuc'.iy 
foothills. He is credited with capturing hundreds of 
desperate characters, and many was the time he used 
his gun and shot to kill in carrying out the orders of 
nis superiors. 

After the war he was given a place on the Federal 
prohibition enforcement forces, and again he was as- 
signed to one of the most dangerous districts in the 
country. For some two years he kept up his warfare 

3 



on illicit liquor, and up until he was dismissed, when 
he was charged with the murder of a foreigner whose 
home he raided near East St. Louis, he was feared by 
law-breakers in an almost unimaginable way. 

Following this Young dropped out of prominence 
until the time he was employed by the Ku Klux Klan 
to conduct the raids in Williamson county. He started 
his work there in January, 1924, and ever since there 
has been a vendetta that has been a sensation to all 
America. 

The writer will say here, that the Klan-Anti Klan 
warfare was a war between two factions, one taking 
the name of the Klan and the other Anti-Klan so they 
were distinguishable. 

The Klan forces had the enmity of Sheriff George 
Galligan of Williamson county and former State's At- 
torney Delos Duty from the start of their raiding 
activities, and it was between these two factions, the 
constituted authorities on one side and the citizens 
who wanted a cleanup of vice on the other, that the 
relentless warfare was carried on. 

One of the regrettable occurrences in connection 
v/ith the whole affair, outside the actual killings that 
took place from day to day, was when the automobile 
driven by Young was fired upon by members of the 
anti-Klan forces as it passed through the Okaw bot- 
toms near Belleville, Illinois, and Mrs. Young who was 
accompanying her husband, was wounded for life. 

It is said that there are nearly thirty notches on 
Young's gun, indicating that he has killed that many 
persons. 

Ora Thomas was the greatest enemy Young ever 
v/as known to have had. Thomas was appointed as a 

4 




CHARLIE BIRQER 



deputy sheriff under Sheriff Galligan and had been 
one of Young's most bitter foes since the noted raider 
entered Williamson county. 

Ora Thomas first came into prominence when he 
was made one of the principal defendants in the Herrin 
mine war suits, he having been charged with having 
taken a leading part in the wholesale killings of the 
men employed at the Lester strip mine. A jury, how- 
ever, exonerated him of these charges. Thomas was 
always prominently mentioned in all the encounters 
between the sheriffs forces and Young's raiders since 
the advent of the notorious raiding forces in William- 
son county. 

Chapter 3 Deals with the Death of S. Glenn Young. 

Much was Kept Hidden But the Main Details are 

Given in the Description Following. 

CHAPTER 3. 

On the night of January 24, 1925, people all over 
the United States talked of the terrible war then 
going on in Williamson county and on that night one 
of the most terrible battles was fought in the main 
street of Herrin. The fight in which S. Glenn Young 
died was incomparable to the fights told in story 
books of the wild west and the frontier. 

It was near 10 o'clock on that fatal night and 
the war of the Klan and its enemies had been going 
on about a year. S. Glenn Young and two of his hench- 
men, Ed Forbes and Homer Warren, and Ora Thomas, 
a Williamson county deputy sheriff, were killed. 

The shooting which was in the form of a free-for- 
all gun battle, took place in front of the European 

5 



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6 



Thomas' gun barked from behind the cigar stand. 
Two shots had struck him in the right side, causing 
almost instant death. Thomas also fell. 

Warner and Forbes dropped in turn, althou^^h the 
former was not killed instantly. He died a few hours 
later in the Herrin Hospital. Forbes' death was in- 
stant. 

Ora Thomas had been shot three times through 
the head, the three bullet holes through his skull not 
being more than an inch apart. 

Things went on peaceful in Herrin for a few 
hours following the battle. Then as the news 
spread and crowds began pouring into the city from 
surrounding cities, there was every indication of a re- 
newal of the disorder. 

Klansmen and others soon filled the streets and many 
who came into the city were searched for weapons for 
fear they might be part of an avenging force that 
would start a new war. Feeling was again at fever 
heat and the business of keeping a closed mouth and 
going one's way seemed to be the most sensible thing 
to do. 

So great was this feeling of bitterness that it was 
thought necessary to ask for state troops and the 
Headquarters Company at Carbondale was soon on 
its w^ay to again restore peace and quiet in the neigh- 
boring city. This made the third time within a period 
of twelve months that this company had been called 
for duty in Herrin. 

S. Glenn Young died almost instantly, but in the 
short time he lived before bridging the gap into Eter- 
nity, he asked if Ora Thomas was dead. Those around 
him said that Thomas had died. The famous raider 
gasped, grinned, and as he died said: "I die in peace." 

7 



Ora Thomas was supported by friends on the floor 
of the European Hotel. Life had been sweet to him 
and he knew it was leaving him rapidly and that the 
end was near. With an almost super-human effort 
he said: "Did I get Young?" When he was assured 
that S. Glenn Young had passed into the great beyond, 
he said: *'I am willing to die." The two men known 
for thousands of miles as the most bitter of foes, died 
at almost the same moment and was happy that the 
other was dead. Their oaths were fulfilled. Thus 
passed another epic or drama in the life of the people 
of southern Illinois. 

Ora Thomas was buried with much pomp by his 
many friends and great was the ceremony for the 
fallen deputy sheriff but it was incomparable to that 
of S. Glenn Young. Thousands of people from miles 
away came for one glimpse at the famous raider or 
for a peep at his tomb in the Herrin cemetery. Not 
until the end of the world will the scene of the funeral 
of S. Glenn Young fade from history. Neither will the 
deeds of this man be forgotten. Nor will the war 
which was carried on by this man be forgotten. 

In cities many miles away people who took no 
side in the affair expressed their opinions and many 
believed that the warfare was over. Yet it grew in 
proportion and the name of Herrin and Williamson 
county was heard in foreign countries. 

Charter 4 Dea]s with Sheriff Galligan and Happenings 
in Williamson County. 

CHAPTER 4. 

February 8th and 9th, Friday and Saturday, 1924, 

8 



were busy days for officers in both Herrin and Marion, 
Williamson County, Illinois. 

On Friday evening at 6:30 o*clock persons living 
in towns around Herrin who had been there on busi- 
ness reported everything quiet. But the Herrin of 
three hours later was a city of lurking death and mur- 
der. Crowds stormed down through the business dis- 
trict and pistol shots, some scattered and some in vol- 
ume were heard from every precinct. 

The cold-blooded shooting of Ceasar Cagle, a con- 
stable and justice of the peace of Herrin, was the be- 
ginning of the fracas which resulted in the entire 
county being practically under military restriction. 

Cagle had played an important part in the raids 
made in the county under the leadership of S. Glenn 
Young, had incurred the enmity of a number of men 
who had suffered arrest as a result of warrants being 
served out of Cagle's office. These men, it seems 
planned to *'get" Cagle and dispatched the dead man's 
son to the Masonic Temple at Herrin to inform his 
father that he was wanted on important business at 
the Jefferson Hotel. 

Cagle started down the street and had proceeded 
as far as a corner near the Jefferson Hotel when he 
was struck down by a man who had been hiding in 
the shadows. Several persons said they saw a bunch 
of men fire shots into Cagle's body, killing him in- 
stantly. Immediately following the death of Cagle 
warrants were issued for George Galligan, sheriff, 
Ora Thomas, deputy sheriff, Hugh Willis, United 
Mine Workers' official, John Layman, deputy sheriff 
and several others. 

Chief of Police John Ford, of Herrin, together 
with several other officers set out to arrest the men 

9 



for whom the warrants were issued. It was reported 
at the time that the men had taken refuge in the Her- 
rin hospital. A Dr. Black was said to have taken the 
men in and when officers demanded they be admitted 
a fusillade of shots greeted them. The fire was return- 
ed by the officers and the windows were shot out of 
the hospital. The patients were said to have suffered 
m.uch from the smoke and excitement. The officers 
drew away from the hospital without making any 
arrests. 

The officers then went to a club hall and when 
they were refused admittance started a fight and John 
Layman, deputy sheriff, was shot. The Herrin police 
officers were later taken to a Perry county jail as a 
result of the shooting at the club house. S. Glenn 
Young assumed charge of police activities in Herrin 
then because Chief of Police John Ford was one of the 
men locked in the Perry county jail. 

When the uniformed soldiers stepped off the train 
in Kerrin citizens breathed a sigh of relief as wild 
reports about the Flaming Circle, Ku Klux Klan and 
raids on homes where liquor was stored were con- 
current. 

S. Glenn Young made the remark at that time that 
eye-witnesses said Ora Thomas and John Layman 
killed Cagle. 

Sheriff George Galligan w^as arrested the next 
day and held on a charge of being an accessory to the 
murder of Ceaser Cagle. He was lodged in jail but 
was soon released. 

At this time cities in Williamson county organized 
corps of men armed with machine guns and rifles to 
help preserve order. 

At this time, the 12th of February, 1924, a man 

10 



ch?a'ged with complicitj^ with the murder of Ceasar 
Cagle was reported to be on the jury at the coroner's 
inquest into Cagle's death. No one was held following 
the inquest. 

Chapter 5 Deals with Peaceful Herrin and the Sheriff 

Who Took the Place of Galligan. 

ALSO LESTER STRIP MINE MASSACRE. 

CHAPTER 5. 

In December, 1925, Herrin stood a purged cit}/. 
Evangelist Howard S. Williams had just finished his 
campaign. He had preached of brotherly love. Where 
men had used pistols before, they now used Bibles. 
Weapons were traded for working tools and books 
such as h>Tnn books and Bibles. 

There were two outstanding reasons for peace 
coming to Herrin. One was the death of S. Glenn 
Young and the other the religious revival held in June 
1925 by Howard S. Williams. Of course, the death 
of Ora Thomas aided in bringing peace but not as that 
of Young. Young, in dying, did what he could not do 
when he was living. 

After the death of Young and Thomas, although a 
nominal truce was declared, the old enmities snarled at 
each other, more to keep up appearances than because 
they really hated. And then came the Williams revival. 
For six weeks he thrust the picture of peace and har- 
mony before his hearers. Men and women of all 
creeds came to hear him. There were a few conver- 
sions and then the idea permeated that there on the 
mourner's bench was the place to lay down all the 
bitterness of the past. Those who had hated, or 

11 



thought they had hated, sought mutual refuge in re- 
ligion. One confessed the error of his ways and others 
followed. In short, the revival offered the solution of 
the whole problem. With all confessing their guilt 
there could be no loss of pride to anyone — and so in 
the Williams tabernacle was reared again the substant- 
ial structure of good citizenship that promises to re- 
main to the end of time. 

No attempt is made by anyone to belittle the ef- 
forts of the evangelist. He was the medium through 
v.'hich too much good was accomplished for anyone to 
say that it was not his powers of eloquence but the 
opportuneness of his visit that led to such far-reaching 
results. He will always be kindly remembered in 
Herrin, especially that dramatic night when he in- 
duced Sheriff George Galligan, arch enemy of the 
klansmen, to ride boldly into Herrin and sit on the 
platform surrounded by hundreds of men who had 
sworn to kill him on sight. Indeed the situation was a 
dramatic one. Hundreds were converted that memor- 
able night and thus passed the Ku Klux Klan warfare 
in Herrin. Southern Illinois again came to light in 
the news columns when Charlie Birger's gang and the 
Shelton brothers gang became enemies after being 
friends and fighting side by side in the Klan war. 
They were enemies of the Klan together and gambled, 
raided and killed for a living. Bootlegging was their 
main occupation for several years in southern Illinois. 
The havoc they wrought is even greater than the Klan 
v.^ar or the Lester strip mine massacre which is de- 
scribed in the following paragraph. 

Over a score of men were killed in July near Her- 
rin at the Lester strip mine in the year of 1922. When 
the mine? in general closed as a result of a strike 

12 



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ART NEWMAN 



niiiiiiiiilt* .^ 



union miners continued to work on condition that no 
coal be shipped away from the mine. When coal wa^ 
shipped from the mine the union men quit and '*scab" 
miners were brought in from all parts of the country. 
They were men who roamed about looking for any- 
thing to do where they could pick up money in an easy 
way. A large number of guards were placed around 

the mine while the miners worked, and for a time al 
went well. 

One morning some union miners started toward 
the mine and the superintendent of the mine is said 
to have picked up a rifle and killed one of the leading 
men. The union miners then left. Before this all 
kinds of trouble had been stirred up and many out- 
rageous acts had been committed by both sides. After 
the killing at the mine a crowd of men, armed to the 
teeth, set out to the mine, ran some of the guards away, 
killed some of them, and caught about 22 or 23 men. 
These prisoners they took away and slaughtered as if 
they had been sheep. Several trials were held follow- 
ing that but no one was convicted of anything as every 
witness swore that the defendant could not have been 
near the mine that day as he saw him some where else. 
The officers of Williamson county were then elected 
upon the strength of their promises to defend the 
union men. Taking advantage of promises many men 
started bootlegging and running road houses knowing 
they would not be harmed. Then came the Ku Klux 
and the terrible war which ended with the death of 
Young and Thomas and the revival of Howard S. Wil- 
liams. All was then quiet in southern Illinois until 
the rival gangs of Cahrlie Birger and the Shelton 
brothers got busy. 

13 



Chapter 6 Deals with the Early Life of Charlie Blrger. 

His First Killing. 
CHAPTER 6. 

Charlie Birger was born in Russia in 1882, and 
immigrated with his family when but a child to Amer- 
ica where the Birger family settled in St. Louis. While 
Birger was still a small boy, the family moved from St. 
Louis to Harrisburg, Illinois, where Birger grew up. 
At one time during his youth he lived in Hell's Half 
Acre, New York City, and there learned the life of the 
underworld. He also spent much time in East St. 
Louis, Illinois, when a boy, it is said. He escaped the 
bloodshed of red Russia which was unrivaled for its 
bloodshed but he did his part in spreading the tinge of 
red over southern Illinois and personally caused the 
taking of many lives and the shedding of much blood. 

Before reaching manhood, young Birger manifest- 
ed, an interest in adventure and enlisted in the United 
States Cavalry, serving, he says, during the Spanish- 
Am^erican war, and for several years afterwards. 

Coming out of the army, Birger returned to Har- 
risburg, and took up farming, and judging from his 
own assertions he became quite a successful farmer. 
At one time, according to his own statement, he owned 
400 acres of land and a home in Harrisburg, although 
it is doubtful if all these properties came into his 
possession as rewards for the honest tilling of the soil. 

The early years of the twentieth century found 
Birger operating a small coal mine between Edgemont 
and St. Louis, and in 1912 he lived in Christopher. A 
year later he was back at Harrisburg. 

It was about this time that persons who have 

14 



known Eirger for a great many years remember him 
as the proprietor of a restaurant with a shady reputa- 
tion at Ledford, near Harrisburg. 

There was little semblance in Birger then to the 
gunman and gang-leader that he later became. He 
operated his lunch room, ran a gambling game and 
sold whiskey, but that was in the days before national 
or even state-wide prohibition and there were many 
such places. Birger's place attracted no more atten- 
tion than simply being one among many places outside 
the dry areas here and there w^here a man could buy 
whiskey. Biijger himself attracted little attention 
other than for being a little different from most 
proprietors of such places in that he had certain at- 
tributes of a gentleman. 

He was kind-hearted and considerate to the unfor- 
tunate and the idol of those whom he employed. One 
Harrisburg girl who was employed in the Birger Res- 
taurant, w^ho had since married and moved away from 
southern Illinois would not believe that the Charlie 
Eirger whom she w^orked for at Ledford w^as the same 
Charlie Birger of Gangland fame when she returned to 
southern Illinois on a visit. 

During the years from 1913 to 1923 Birger oper- 
ated various places in Saline county and just across 
the county line in Williamson county. He did not give 
the law enforcement authorities much trouble, nor 
was he troubled by them to any extent until after the 
eighteenth amendment was passed. It was during the 
prevalence of local option as to the liquor traffic when 
Eirger was in his heydey. In both Saline and William- 
son counties, Birger coud usually be found as the cen- 
ter of an oasis just on the outer edge of some area 
w^hich had gone dry by the voters' choice. Such was 

15 



Ledfcrd, and such was Halfway in Williamson county 
to which Eirger was attracted because of the apparent 
permanency of the dry rule in Marion. 

It was at Halfway on November 15, 1923 that Birger 
killed his first man in Williamson county, although it 
was said at that time that Cecil Knighton whom he 
killed at Halfway on that date was his fifth victim. 

Knighton was a boy about 24 years old and an 
employe of Birger, having come to Saline county to 
Birger's employ from Alabama. At that time Birger's 
place which was the building that formerly stood on 
the west side of the road at Halfway was not operating 
and Eirger was associated with Charles, alias Chink 
Schafer, Nathan Riddle and Ralph Hill in the opera- 
tion of a place across the road on the east. Knighton 
was employed there as a bartender. Birger and Knight- 
on slept in Birger's building across the road. 

On the night of the killing, witnesses testified at 
the inquest, Birger and Knighton were in a bad humor. 
They had been having trouble for three or four days. 
Their associates professed not to know what the trouble 
was about. -It was said, however, that as Birger left 
the place that was open to cross the road to where he 
had teen sleeping, Knighton followed him with a gun. 
Inmates of the former place soon afterwards heard 
three shots. The first ,a revolver shot, was said to 
have been fired by Knighton, and the next two in. 
rapid succession came from a shotgun in the hands of 
Charlie Birger. Knighton was dead, lying face down 
in the road, when the men rushed out of the road 
house. Birger surrendered and spent the rest of the 
night in the Williamson county jail. He was exoner- 
ated by a coroner's jury the next day. 

Three nights later, Birger, himself, was shot and 

16 



seriously wounded in a shooting fray at Halfway in 
which W. G. (Whitey) Doering, Eagen gangster, was 
killed. At the time it was generally believed Birger 
killed Doering although no testimony before the cor- 
oner's jury indicated such to be true. No eye witnesses 
of the shooting testified. The two men were outside of 
the Halfway road house alone at the time of the shoot- 
ing, according to Birger. 

Birger was in the Herrin hospital at the time the 
coroner's jury convened at Herrin and although the 
jury did not interrogate him, he submitted a written 
statement to the jury. In the statement Birger said 
that Doering came to the place and called him outside 
saying that he wanted to talk to him. He said that 
shortly after they got out on the porch, Doering drew 
a gun and shot him, and that immediately afterwards 
a fusilade of twenty or twenty-five shots were fired. 
Birger said that he fell to the ground when Doering 
shot him, and that fact saved him from being caught 
in the volley that followed, but Doering who was stand- 
ing erect was caught in the fire and mortally wounded. 
He died shortly afterward on the operating table in 
the Herrin hospital. 

Three years after the shooting, Birger told a news- 
paper man additional details of the Doering killing. 
He said that after Doering had called him out, the 
St. Louis gangster suggested that Birger assist him in 
robbing the payroll of a Harrisburg mine. Birger told 
the newspaper man that he became indignant at Doer- 
ing's suggestion and told him that he would not take 
part in any such robbery, nor would he permit any one 
else to prey upon the Saline county mines. 

Birger said that while he was denouncing Doer- 
ing for suggesting the robbery, Doering shot him, and 

17 



almost immediately through a window in the road 
house behind him, one of Birger's followers shot 
Doering down. Birger never disclosed the name of 
his man who killed Doering. 

Birger and Doering had known each other for a 
great many years, and just what connection there was 
between the leader of the St. Louis Egan's gangster 
and the man who later became leader of even a more 
famous gang was not revealed at that time. Doering 
died without revealing any of the many gangland sec- 
rets which he harbored. Birger recovered from his 
wounds, however, and throughout the remainder of 
his career runs the adage proven so conclusively in the 
death of Doering, ''Dead men tell no tales." 

CHAPTER 7. 

Chapter 7 Deals with Birger as Owner of Shady Rest 

Before the Opening of the War with the 

Shelton Brothers Gang, 

The notoriety attracted to Birger as a result of 
the shooting fray at Halfway in which Whitey Doering 
lost his life and in which Birger was wounded, result- 
ed in suspicion being cast upon Birger as a possible 
member of the Egan gang which two years before had 
staged a $2,000,000 mail robbery at St. Louis. Doer- 
ing at the time of his death was under conviction for 
the robbery but was free on an appeal bond. At the 
time Doering was killed, there was considerable rumor 
that a quarrel had ensued between the two over the 
division of the mail robbery loot. As a result two days 
after the killing. Inspector Keefe of the postal depart- 
ment headed a search of the Halfway road houses in 

18 



the hopes of finding part of the loot, but the search 
was unsuccessful. 

According to Birger he had known Doering 22 
years before at the time Birger operated a coal mine 
between Edgemont and East St. Louis. 

Whatever were the circumstances which led up to 
the death of Doering, the shooting affray ending in 
his death, at least, according to Birger, brought about 
Birger's meeting with Carl Shelton. Shelton was first 
to become an ally and then an arch enemy of Birger. 
The two met in the Herrin hospital while Birger was 
recovering from his wounds. 

Later, as Birger put it, the two joined in the 
"slot machine racket" in Williamson county, owning 
jointly the machines which were operated in many of 
the bootlegging joints of the county. The two of them 
reaped considerable profits for a year or so, until ac- 
tivities of S. Glenn Young and the Ku Klux Klan be- 
gan to interfere. Speaking of his connection with the 
anti-Klan faction, Birger at one time said, 'The Ku 
Klux Klan began to stir things up in Herrin and Shel- 
ton and I began to tone down some of the Klansmen, 
although they got a bunch of our men, too." 

Throughout the war with the Klan, Birger and 
the Sheltons remained henchmen up to and including 
the last fight on the occasion of an election at Herrin 
on April 13, 1926. Birger denies that he participated 
in that fight which resulted in six fatalities, but he 
admits that some of his men took part in it. 

A few weeks afterward came the break between 
Birger and the Shelton brothers, Carl, Earl and Ber- 
nie. Birger's version of the break was that difficul- 
ties arose when the Sheltons held up a Harrisbur^ 
business man and took several thousand dollars worth 

19 



of jewelry and money from him. The business man 
was a friend to Birger, and Birger said he forced the 
Sheltons to return the money. After the money was 
returned, Birger says, the Sheltons planned to kidnap 
the business man and hold him for $1,000 ransom. 
Art Newman learned of the plot, according to Birger, 
and it was then that Newman allied himself with Bir- 
ger by informing him of the plot which was blocked 
by Birger. 

The Sheltons, however, have a different version 
of the break between them and Birger. Trouble be- 
tween the two factions began, according to Carl Shel- 
ton, leader of the Shelton gang, when the latter refused 
to assist in smuggling some of Birger 's relatives into 
the United States. Shelton said that early difficulties 
between he and Birger were climaxed by a disagree- 
ment over the division of the profits in the slot mach- 
ine business. Shelton said that Birger had collected 
about $3,000 from the slot machines, and when Shel- 
ton asked Birger for his share of the profits, Birger 
declared there were no profits to be divided, claiming 
that he had expended all the receipts for official pro- 
tection. Shelton then severed business as well as 
friendly relations with Birger. When learning of 
Birger*s version of the break between them, Shelton 
declared that Birger had framed the robbery on the 
Harrisburg business man in order to make a grand- 
stand play as the protector of Harrisbiirg citizens. 

The beginning of the gang war found Birger as 
the wealthy owner of Shady Rest, a resort notorious 
far and wide. The resort was located in Williamson 
county just about two miles west of the Saline county 
line. It was located on a 60-acre tract of land which 
was mostly covered with timber. Near the state hard 

20 





r<,.. 



>«oaV- 



1-X^i 



RAY \TL\'' HYLAND 



road in a clearing^ Birger had erected a log cabin and 
installed in it practically every convenience of the 
modern home. In front of the cabin on the state road 
stood a lunch stand which served the two-fold purpose 
of a convenience to travelers and of an outpost to 
protect the cabin against surprise from the authori- 
ties. Built in 1924, Shady Rest however, was not 
troubled much with official interference during the 
rest of that year and the next, during which it ran 
full blast. On summer afternoons scores of automo- 
biles could be seen parked at Shady Rest while their 
owners were at the cabin. It was the most notorious 
resort in the southern part of the state, and attracted 
gamblers and others from far and near. There was 
an arena for cock fighting, while blooded bull dogs, 
eagles and monkeys occupied various large cages about 
the place. 

Aside from being a popular place where whiskey, 
good and bad, could be bought, Shady Rest was also 
a station of a great booze transportation system that 
ran from the coast of Florida to St. Louis. Whiskey 
caravans with smuggled liquor from Florida frequent- 
ly stopped at Shady Rest, according to Birger's own 
story, to wait during the day time to complete the trip 
to St. Louis at night. 

Birger admitted that he was a bootlegger, but he 
declared that the Sheltons had him beaten by far in 
their organization, which he said transported the 
smuggled liquor. Birger declared that the Sheltons 
even used stolen cars in their liquor transportation, 
and got by with it. 

The gang war put an end to profits in the whis- 
key business for both Birger and the Sheltons. Al- 
though the "battle to death" never took place, attacks 

21 



and threat of attacks upon Shady Rest as well as the 
armed crew of some score men which Birger kept there 
scared his trade away. Patrons became afraid to stop 
there. Virtually the same thing was true of the Shel- 
ton joints near Herrin. In the attacks upon Shad|| 
Rest, dynamite bombs thrown from automobiles and 
an airplane were used as well as machine guns and 
rifles. Armored cars were called in to use by both 
factions. 

CHAPTER 8. 

Chapter 8 Deals with the Murders of Ward "Casey'' 
Jones, Mayor Joe Adams of West City and Mr. 

and Mrs. Lory Price of Marion, 111. 

ALSO THE CONFESSION OF ART NEWMAN, 

BIRGERITE. 

The body of Ward "Casey" Jones, Birger gangster 
was found in a creek on October 28, 1926 near Equal- 
ity, Gallatin County, Illinois. Charley Birger identi- 
fied the body which was riddled with shot and had 
Jones buried, paying the bill. 

Charged with this murder in a trial held in Wil- 
liamson county late in June and early in July in 1927 
were Rado Millich and Eural Gowan. A man by the 
name of Rone turned state's evidence and was not 
charged with the murder. The result of the trial is 
told later in this book. 

Millich was a Montenegrin and had a bullet-shap- 
ed head. Gowan was a snappy looking boy of 19 and 
presented quite a contrast in court compared with the 
dark, ill-looking Millich. Rone was used as a witness 

22 



of the state in the case. He claimed Millich and Gowan 
used several means of torture on Jones and then mur- 
dered him in Shady Rest and then placed the body 
in a car in which it was hauled to the creek near Equal- 
ity and thro\\Ti overboard. State's Attorney Arlie 0. 
Boswell, a very young man, conducted the prosecution 
in this trial. 

Gowan swore that he was not a gunman but only 
a flunky and had nothing to do with the killing. At- 
torneys for Millich said that Millich shot and killed 
Jones in front of the barbecue stand of Birger*s but 
that it was in self defense. Arlie Boswell said Jones 
was tortured two days before he was put to death. At 
this time Charlie Birger was in jail for the murder of 
]Mayor Joe Adams, charged with complicity. While 
the Jones trial was going on and Birger was awaiting 
his trial, T. A. King, the builder of the armored car of 
Birger's, filed suit for $175 which he declared was due 
him, and got judgment for that amount. 
The Murder of Mayor Joe Adams of West City, 111. 
It was the armored car of the Sheltons that result- 
ed in Birger's intense hatred for 300-pound Mayor Joe 
Adams of West City. Birger went to Adams' home 
at West City and told him he wanted the Sheltons' 
armored truck, which he accused Adams of harboring. 
Adams refused to turn it over to him and Birger de- 
clared he had better deliver the armored truck to him 
the following morning in order to save trouble. Adams 
did not deliver the truck, and a few days later two 
motor cars speeding through West City riddled with 
machine gun bullets two houses adjacent to the Adams 
home, which were evidently mistaken by the various 
members of the attacking party as the residence of 
the West City Mayor. 

23 



A week later a dynamite bomb hurled from a pass- 
ing automobile landed in Adams' front yard, tearing 
away part of the home. On one occasion Birger called 
the wife of the West City Mayor on the telephone, and 
told her to take out plenty of life insurance on her 
husband. 

It was only a few days after that, December 26, 
1926, that the West City Mayor was called to the front 
door of his home and shot down by the Thomassoii 
brothers, Elmo and Harry, employed, according to the 
latter, by Charley Birger, to do the deed. Elmo Thom- 
asson burned to death in Shady Rest when it went up 
in flames. 

The Thomassons were but two of the youths at- 
tracted to Charley Birger. There Were many others, 
among them being Eural Gowan and Clarence Rone, 
defendants in the trial slated to open in June for the 
murder of Ward Jones at Birger's cabin. These boys 
were loyal to Birger, and Birger himself relates the 
story of Rone's loyalty to him when Rone would have 
been rewarded for betraying his chief tan. 

Birger said that the Shelton boys captured Rone 
in Marion one night, and knowing his affiliation with 
their enemy, debated as to his fate. Finally they de- 
cided to free Rone and to pay him to return to the 
cabin and signal them when Birger was there. Rone, 
according to the story, was to display a white handker- 
chief in one of the windows of the cabin when Birger 
arrived. Instead, he warned Birger of the plot, and 
the gang leader Was prepared to withstand any sur- 
prise attack. 

During the g^ng war Bii*ger lived with his wife 
and children in Harrisbiirg, seldom staying at the 
cabin at Shady Rest. At his home a guard was main- 

24 



tained about the block in which he lived to prevent 
surprise by his enemies. Birger's wife, Mrs. Bernice 
Birger, who is pretty and but 19 years of age, is his 
second wife. His first wife and the mother of his two 
small daughters, and Birger are divorced. 

The separation of Birger and his first wife came 
in 1925. Late in 1924 Birger was one of the bootleg- 
gers raided by S. Glenn Young, and he was prosecuted 
in Federal Court at Danville by the late Judge W. C. 
Potter of Marion on Youngs evidence. Birger stood 
trial and was convicted. Judge Lindley fined Birger 
§500 for possession of liquor, $1000 for selling liquor, 
§1000 for maintaining a common nuisance, and sen- 
tenced him to serve one year in the Vermillion County 
Jail. Just before the Christmas holidays of that year 
Birger petitioned Judge Lindley for a short parole to 
spend the holidays with his wife, Mrs. Bee Birger, and 
their two children. Before the judge had acted on the 
petition, however, Birger's wife wrote to Judge Lind- 
ley not to let Birger out, saying that he had threatened 
to kill her. The parole was denied, and when Birger 
was finally released from jail he and his wife lived 
apart. In February, 1926, he married his present wife 
w^ho cares for his two daughters, Minnie, age 9, and 
Charline, age 5. Birger's first wife is also said to be 
remarried. 

Throughout Birger's career two characteristics 
stand out, his facilities for providing alibis to cover 
his crimes, and his work as a benefactor of the unfor- 
tunate. It is this latter characteristic of his that 
earned for him the nickname of ''Robin Hood." 

Through his charitable actions, Birger won the 
esteem of many of the better citizens of Harrisburg. 
He was known to have contributed frequently to the 

25 



support of widows and orphans. On at least one occas- 
ion during the winter, Birger made a survey of Har- 
risburg to determine the number of widows in need of 
coal, and he saw that they were supplied with fuel. 
On other occasions he bought food for the unfortun- 
ates. 

Birger and his men visited a place in Herrin one 
night where some armed bandits were said to have 
been barricaded. They went with the intention, they 
said, of taking the armed men and turning them over 
to the law. But when they arrived at the home and 
entered they found only an elderly woman there by 
the bedside of her sick daughter. The couple were 
destitute. Birger took money from his pocket and 
gave it to them. Acts of this kind were not forgotten 
and the recipients always stood up for him afterwards. 
Birger then went from the home to the Elks Club and 
called Joe Crizzell, custodian, out in the lobby. "I just 
went out to a house in your town," he told Grizzell, 
''intending to shake it down, but all I found there was 
an old woman and her sick daughter on starvation. I 
gave them some money, but they've got to be cared for 
and have some food." 

When the gangster had gone, Mr. Grizzell, carry- 
ing out the charitable program of his order, investi- 
gated Birger's story and found it true as he had re- 
lated it. 

Birger's work as a benevolent benefactor and as a 
gunman and gangster went hand in hand, as the for- 
mer made alibis easy for the latter. The fact that he 
could readily furnish alibis and divert suspicion was 
responsible to a great extent for the long delays about 
his apprehension. At the time of the slaying of Mayor 
Joe Adams of West City, Birger was in Marion and 

26 



talked to State's Attorney Arlie 0. Boswell. He exhi- 
bited himself about public places in Marion at the very 
time Elmo and Harry Thomasson, according to the lat- 
ter's story, were firing the shots for which Thomasson 
said they were paid $50 each for ending the life of 
Adams. Harry was sentenced to life imprisonment 
for the act. 

When Lory price and wife disappeared from their 
home in Marion all the circumstances indicated that 
the Sheltons were the abductors. Everything was in 
Birger's favor. Price was reputed to be Birger's 
friend. He was thought to have a quarrel with Carl 
Shelton just a few days before he was taken out of his 
home and killed. Previous to the Price abduction, the 
Sheltons were generally regarded as the attackers of 
Birger's Shady Rest when four of Birger's followers 
died in the cabin. 

And not until the lips of gangland were opened 
and associates of the gangster persuaded to talk did 
the authorities actually have evidence that Birger 
kidnapped the Prices and that he had previously burn- 
ed his own cabin and killed his own followers. These 
crimes are alleged to have been committed by Birger. 
all because the victims "knew too much." 

Birger also was the '*cover up man'* in the slay- 
ing of Ward Jones. When Jones' body was found in 
Gallatin county Birger identified the body, gave an 
Equality undertaker instructions to arrange a funeral 
with ''plenty of flowers" and send the bill to Birger. 
In the meantime, Birger swore vengeance on the Shel- 
tons and allegedly set about seeking to punish them as 
the slayers of Jones. 

W^ith Birger brought to bay the one question at 
the time of his trial was, if convicted of any of the 

27 



crimes with which he was charged, would he ever 
speak to clear up the countless other gangland myster- 
ies of which he doubtless knows much. 

The Confession of Art Newman, Birgerite. 

Following is a part of the confession of Art New- 
man, one time a great friend of Birger, as given to a 
St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter: About 3 p. m., on 
January 17, Charley Birger got me to his home in Har- 
risburg. There were present, beside myself and Bir- 
ger, Connie Ritter, Ernest Balleau, Leslie Simpson, 
Riley Simmons, Frank Schrorer, Freddie Wooten and 
Birger's wife. 

Birger asked me if I would go with him to see 
Lory Price, remarking "he has been talking too damn 
much to Sheriff Coleman about us and I am going to 
put a stop to that talk/* 

We then drove to Marion in two automobiles, my 
Chrysler coach and Connie Ritter's Buick sedan. We 
drove around Marion and the hard road in that vicini- 
ty for about two hours but failed to see Price and re- 
turned to Harrisburg about 6 p. m., for supper. We 
started out again for Price about 9 p. m., and drove to 
his home. Observing that some one else was there 
we drove around for a while and returned later to 
find Price gone. We then drove to a barbecue stand 
just north of Marion where we remained until 11:30 
p. m. At this barbecue stand we saw a pet monkey 
we used to own at the Birger cabin. They told us at 
the barbecue stand that Price brought the monkey 
there about 11 o*clock on the night the cabin was dy- 
namited. 

Upon reaching Price's home, we got out and 
walked to the porch. Birger called Price out and told 

28 



Letter Lured Adams to Death 



CclJ/ Al/i "2^'-' — ^ 5-^ 





/^2>lA^ 



^o-e - 




, / "^ ^C^/ 



(O 




^ 




..m' 



Above IS the letter' which Harry Thomasson and his 
brother Elmo presented to Jlayor Adams at his home ii 
West City and then shot him down in the door of his hom^ 



him that he wanted to talk to him and asked him to 
get down and get in my car. Birger took Price's pistol 
from him and laid it on the porch and Price said, *'are 
you going to hurt me, Charlie?" Birger answered, 
**no, I just want to talk to j^ou." 

Price and Birger got in the back seat of my car 
and Freddie Wooten in the front seat with me. The 
door was open. Birger started to say something and 
Price said to me: **Art drive down the road a little 
way. Let's not talk here." But as I started the engine 
Birger called to Ritter and the others standing out- 
side, ''take that woman out and do away with her." 

Wooten then closed the door and we started to 
move. Price said, with alarm, to Birger: "Charlie, 
please don't hurt Ethel." Birger answered: *'0h, 
never mind," and told me to go ahead and drive around 
Saline county. I drove around Saline county about 
an hour, during which time Birger cursed Price in the 
foulest language and accused Price of having sought 
to prevent Harry Thomasson from talking about the 
Joe Adams murder in the Marion jail. He also accus- 
ed Price of telling Sheriff Coleman about the gang 
activities. Price denied all these things repeatedly, 
trying to show Birger that he never had sought to 
hurt him. Birger then began accusing Price of know- 
ing who dynamited the cabin. Price denied this and 
with good reason, for we knew who dynamited the 
cabin. It was three of Birger's own men. 

Birger ordered me to drive to his home in Harris- 
burg. When we got there he got out and went inside. 
He came out in a minute and said : 

"Schrorer is still in there with that dope head, 
Crews. I told him when we left to take Crews out 
and kill him because I did not want Crews to see us 

29 



leave." Birger then got in the car and ordered me to 
drive to Rosiclare to the Spar mine. I drove down 
there and upon reaching there Birger got out, machine 
gun in hand and said: 'Trice I have a damned good 
notion to take you out and kill you and throw you in 
the pit." 

Wooten induced Birger to get back in the car, 
telling Birger that Price was right and was telling the 
truth. Birger got back in the car and told me to drive 
back to Harrisburg, where he told me to drive to the 

ruins of the cabin. "I want to show this the 

ruins he has caused." 

On the way to the barbecue stand where the cabin 
used to be Birger got kind of confidential with Price 
and eased up to him saying: "Price I want you to 
say that the Shelton brothers blew up my cabin and 
killed those people because I want the post office in- 
spector to think that the Shelton brothers were trying 
to get you and me, to prevent us appearing against 
the Sheltons at the mail robbery trial at Quincy. If 
you tell this it will make things look blacker for the 
Sheltons at Quincy." 

Price declared that he did not know who blew up 
the cabin and Birger cursed him. By the time we 
reached the barbecue stand it was raining hard. Bir- 
ger ordered us to get out. As Birger was getting out 
Price leaned over to me and said: **Art can you help 
me now?" 

Before I could reply Birger, machine gun in hand 
said threateningly: "I would like to see some one 
help you now," and then took Price by the arm and took 
him in the barbecue stand cursing him and shot him 
three times in the breast. Price pitched forward on 
his face. At that moment the other car drove up and 

30 



I said : "My God, you have killed that man and look 
where you have put us. I thought you only wanted to 
talk to him." 

Wooten said : *'If I had an idea you were going to 
do this dirty work I would not have come out here." 
Then the others got out of the car outside and Wooten 
said : ''Now here is that other car with that woman, 
what are we going to do now?" 

Ritter and the others then came in the stand and 
said not to w^orry about the woman, that they had 
killed her. I said: "Where did you put her?" 

Ritter said, "down in an old mine shaft near the 
Herrin road about 75 feet. We threw her in and heard 
her hit the water. Then we spent two hours filling it 
up with corrugated iron, stone, timber and rubbage. 
We filled it up." 

Birger said: "All right. I know an old mine 
near DuQuoin. I will put him there." 

They then put Price in my car over my protest, 
wrapped in a piece of canvas. Birger got in the car 
and ordered me to drive. He sat on Price's body, 
machine gun on his lap. We drove for a while around 
Carbondale and just on the other side Birger ordered 
me to stop and he got out and vomited. He said: "I 
can kill a man, but I can't sit on him. I don't know 
what the hell is the matter with me, it's not my nerve, 
but when I kill a man it always makes me sick after- 
wards. It must be my stomach." 

He then ordered Ritter to get in my car and we 
drove on about 5 miles. I thought Price was dead, 
but he said, "0 Connie, you will live to regret this. I 
am an inocent man." Ritter poked him with a mach- 
ine gun, cursed him and ordered me to stop. He got 
out and called back to Birger, "I have had enough." 

31 



Then Simpson was put in the car and we rode a little 
while and he could not stand it under the heavy breath- 
ing of Price, so he got out. Birger then ordered Woot- 
en in the car, but he didn't sit on Price's body like the 
others, but he turned down the front seat and sat on 
it. We then drove to a mine near DuQuoin. Birger 
got out but came running back and said there was a 
watchman there. 

We soon came to a little white school house on the 
left turn of the road and he said he would put Price's 
body there and burn the building, but it was raining so 
hard he was afraid he could not have a good fire, so he 
ordered me to drive down to the spot where the body 
was later found. Birger ordered me to stop and or- 
dered Price's body taken out of the car and Birger 
walked in the field. As they took Price from the car 
his arm fell on my shoulder and I noticed on his finger 
was a Masonic ring. He said to me : **0 Art, I thought 
you was a friend of mine." And I said: "Lory, I'll 
kill that for this." 

They then took Price's body over in the field and 
threw it down and I heard Birger cry out when they 
let him down "you will never talk against any of my 
boys again." I heard eight shots and Birger came 
back with the blood stained canvas in his hand. I said 
to Birger, "what are you going to do with the canvas?" 
"I am going to wrap Price's pistol in it and throw 
in on the burning pile of rubbish at the Dowell mine." 
Wooten and Ritter got in the car with me and we 
drove to West Frankfort to Ritter's home. On the 
way to West Frankfort Ritter told me that they took 
Mrs. Price away immediately after we left with Price. 
He said she did not say a word, did not ask where she 
was going. When we stopped at the mine and ordered 

32 



her out Schroeder shot her twice in the back as she 
stepped on the running board. She screamed and fell 
on her face. Ritter shot her twice in the back as she 
lay on the ground. He said they then picked her up 
and threw her in the pit 

The Finding of Mrs. Price's Body. 

The body of Mrs. Lory Price, wife of a slain Illi- 
nois highway patrolman, was found at 12:10 p. m., on 
Monday, June 13, 1927, in the shaft of an abandoned 
mine near Marion. 

Discovery of the body appeared to bear out the 
testimony of Art Newman, former henchman of Char- 
lie Birger, that Mr. and Mrs. Price were slain on the 
sam.e night by members of the Birger gang. Price's 
body was found in a field in Washington county in 
February, 1927, where Newman said it was left after 
Birger pumped it full of machine gun bullets. 

The head of the body was first uncovered. Four 
workmen were in the pit at the time. When it became 
visible they called Coroner George Bell and Sheriff 
Oren Coleman into the shaft. Everyone else left. Or- 
en Coleman was the sheriff who succeeded George Gal- 
ligan as sheriff of Williamson county. Coleman had 
a gratifying record before accepting the office as sher- 
iff and did great work as sheriff. 

The officials examined the part of the body ex- 
posed and announced they were certain of the 
identification. The remains were removed at once. 

The body was badly decomposed. The hair was 
drawn far back from the forehead. The rest of the 
remains were kept covered. The body lay face up, ap- 
parently as it had fallen when thrown into the shaft. 

33 



It is said that Mrs. Price was soon to have given birth 
to a child when she was murdered. 

Tin cans, parts of automobiles and other refuse 
covered the body. The assassins spent a half hour 
throwing debris into the shaft over the body. Feeling 
ran high for some time after the finding of the body of 
Mrs. Price, and Birger who was in jail in Benton 
charged with the complicity with the murder of Joe 
Adams and also with that of Mr. and Mrs. Lory Price, 
was moved to the jail in Springfield, the State Capitol. 
Later he was brought back to the Franklin county seat 
for trial. At first it seemed as if a mob would be or- 
ganized and tear down the Benton jail and lynch Bir- 
ger. However, things went smoothly and nothing hap- 
pened. 

A large crowd gathered around the pit and Dale 
Jones, of Ozark, Mo., Mrs. Price^s father, identified 
the body and had it prepared for burial. The body 
was found 33 feet 9 inches from the ground level, un- 
der a mass of timbers, iron roofing and automobile 
parts and other debris. 

The body was discovered by Walter Schmitt and 
J. R. Jelly of Royalton, and Dick McNail and Edw^ard 
Anderson of Energ3\ The discovery was made just 
after the workers had changed shifts. 

The task of removing the body from the muck 
and mire of the mine was a difficult one. It became 
necessary for the men to discard their shovels and use 
wooden paddles in removing the remains of the mur- 
dered woman from the mud. The odor in the mine be- 
came so offensive that it was difficult for the men to 
continue their labors. There was a solemn atmosphere 
about the place as the hundreds who had gathered to 
watch the victim of the most horrible murder that 

34 



ever perpetrated in southern Illinois be taken from the 
mine, bared their heads in respect of the highway pa- 
trolman's wife. Unemployed miners helped dig out 
the body. A large crowd stood near constantly and 
interest was intense. 

A special grand jury indicted Charlie Birger, Con- 
nie Ritter, Leslie Simpson, Ernest Balleau and Riley 
"Alabama" Simmons before the body was found. At 
this time Harvey Dungey, former friend of Birger, 
said he had confessed to John Stack, chief of Illinois 
Highway Police, that the story told by Art Newman 
was the truth. 

Charlie Birger at this time was in jail in Spring- 
field, Illinois, waiting for trial on July 6, 1927, at Ben- 
ton, Illinois, for the murders of Joe Adams and Lory 
Price. When asked about his condition Birger told a 
guard in the jail to leave him alone, that it looked as if 
the jig was up. Later he declared that NewTnan was 
lying to shield himself. Newman came back with the 
w^ords that Birger was lying and trying to "frame" 
Newman. 

At this time, July, 1927, the trial of Eural Gowan 
and Rado Millich for the murder of Ward Jones was 
going on in Marion. Witnesses testified on one side 
just opposite the testimony of the other side, showing 
that no one cared to lie about the matter. The defense 
declared that Harry Thomasson told them that he 
swore falsely for the state but that the officers were 
no longer nice to him and he didn't care for anyone 
knowing he swore falsely. 

As this trial was nearing its end and Birger was 
preparing for his trial on Wednesday, the sixth. It 
looked as if the trial would be postponed through 
complaints of the defense. The prosecution announced 

35 



it was ready to commence. Birger^s wife was staying 
in Benton and doing everything possible for Birger. 
It was reported that she tried in many ways to stir up 
a feeling of pity for Birger. At this time the legislat- 
ure of Illinois was fighting hard to pass a law substit- 
uting electrocution for hanging in cases of the death 
penalty. In the previous month, June 17, 1927, Joe 
Chesnas, 22, was hanged by Sheriff Lige Turner at 
Harrisburg in the Saline county jail yard for the mur- 
der of William Unsell, aged mail carrier of Harrisburg. 
Only a few months prior to the hanging of Chesnas, 
Joe "Peck" Smith of Gallatin county was hanged by 
Sheriff Green in the Shawneetown jail yard for the 
murder of his wife. He was convicted on circumstan- 
tial evidence and maintained his innocence to the last. 
He took his execution very calmly. Joe Chesnas, the 
Harrisburg youth who was hanged on June 17 in Har- 
risburg, had pleaded guilty and took death very calm- 
ly. He smiled and winked at a spectator just before 
the black cap was adjusted. Chesnas was supposed to 
have been a friend of Charlie Birger. The writer of 
this article talked with Chesnas before his death and 
the young man seemed to regret his life of crime not 
at all. He was sentenced by Judge A. E. Somers. 

In the trial of Eural Gowan, 19 year old youth, 
and Rado Millich, Montenegrin, for the murder of 
Vv^ard Jones, Millich said he was the only one to shoot 
Jones, this act being in self defense. He claimed he 
shot four times with a rifle after Jones had fired at 
him from behind with machine gun. Millich testified 
Gowan took no part. Others swore Gowan took no 
part while some swore they saw Gowan shoot Jones 
with a revolver. State's Attorney Arlie 0. Boswell 
said he would prove to the jury that Jones was tortur- 

36 




QUS ADAMS 

(Brother of Joe Adams) 



ed and then killed by Gowan and Millich and later 
thrown in a creek near Equality. Jones was killed 
following a quarrel and one witness testified that Bir- 
ger ordered him killed after he had been wounded by 
Gowan and Millich. 

On Tuesday, July 5, 1927, the writer of this ar- 
ticle had gotten much information on the trial and 
wrote in the paper he was with at that time the fol- 
lowing sketch concerning the preparedness of Frank- 
lin county authorities for the big trial. 

Three machine guns and 30 deputy sheriffs, arm- 
ed to the teeth, were on guard today about the F ranklin 
county jail and courthouse to prevent any possible out- 
break in connection with the trial of Charlie Birger, 
southern Illinois gang leader ; Art Newman, his former 
henchman, and Ray "Izzy" Hyland. 

A posse of 1000 men have been placed in readi- 
ness to appear at short notice. The authorities are 
taking no chances of any further sensational develop- 
ments of a trial that promises to disrupt gangdom in 
the southern part of the state. 

Birger, Newman and Hyland are to be tried, be- 
ginning Wednesday, for the slaying of Joe Adams, 
300 pound mayor of West City, 111., who was called 
to the porch of his home last autumn and riddled with 
bullets. 

And thusly the officers of Franklin county pre- 
pared for the big trial. Williamson county at this time 
was trying hard to get the trial of Birger in connection 
with the killing of Lory Price and wife to be held in 
Marion. Birger's men were alleged to have taken part 
in the killing, had already been indicted by a Washing- 
ton county grand jury. Price's body was found in 

37 



Washington county. Much interest was being shown 
over the trial of Birger and his men for the murder of 
big Joe Adams. Thousands were expected to jam the 
streets of Benton on the day of the trial of the gang- 
sters. Harry Thomasson had already been sentenced 
to life imprisonment after a confession and plea of 
guilt. He was to be used as a star witness for the state 
against Hyland, Newman and Birger. His brother, 
Elmo, died in the fire that destroyed Birger's Shady 
Rest. Newman accused Birger of having the place 
burned to get rid of its occupants who ''knew too 
much." Just before the trial public opinion was that 
Birger and his gang was guilty — in the first degree — 
and should be punished accordingly. A few seemed to 
think that the gangsters who confessed and turned 
state's evidence should be dealt with lightly, as in the 
case of Clarence Rone in the trial following the killing 
of Ward Jones. 

CHAPTER 9. 

This Chapter Deals with the Trial of Charlie Birger, 

Newman and Hyland in Connection with the 

Murder of Joe Adams. 

Also Ward Jones Trial in Marion. 

Guarded on all sides by thirty special deputies, 
^'Machine Gun Charlie" Birger, notorious southern 
Illinois gangster, and two of his former henchmen. Art 
Newman and Ray "Izzy the Jew" Hyland, were escort- 
ed into the courtroom at Benton, Illinois, July 6, 1927, 
to defend themselves against charges of murdering 
Mayor Joe Adams of West City, in Franklin county. 

38 



The courtroom was packed to capacity long before 
the three defendants were taken from the jail and 
brought in for trial. Crowds of curious bystanders 
thronged the yards below and Sheriff James Pritchard 
experienced difficulty in taking the prisoners from 
the jail to the court house. 

While no announcement was made when the pris- 
oners were brought in concerning the procedure the 
defense will take to save the gangsters from conviction, 
it was understood the attorney for Newman would at- 
tack the indictment, charging that the grand jury 
which returned it was ''handpicked." The state was 
relying upon the testimony of its star witness, Harry 
Thomasson, former Birgerite, to convict the men. 
Thomasson made a confession that he and his brother 
Elmo, now dead, were paid $50 by Birger to kill Adams. 

Birger sat in the courtroom and watched fate. 
His first act upon entering the court room was to kiss 
his wife and two children. The work of selecting the 
jury was begun shortly before noon. 

A motion to quash the indictment against the 
three defendants was introduced by their attorneys 
shortly after they were brought into court. Judge 
Charles H. Miller was to rule on the motion later. The 
defense attorneys presented the motion on the grounds 
that the grand jury which indicted the men had been 
illegally drawn and therefore was not vested with 
proper power. They contended that the venire of 
the grand jury was issued and returned the same day 
and only a few minutes apart. 

When the court reconvened for the afternoon ses- 
sion R. E. Smith of the Birger counsel was introduc- 
ing evidence in an effort to support his motion. The 
work of selecting the jury had not at that time begun. 

39 



Attorneys for Hyland were trying to prove he 
was not the driver of the car as alleged by Thomasson. 

State's Attorney Roy Martin of Franklin county 
believed that he had sufficient evidence to place the 
noose around the neck of each defendant. 
Jury Takes Ward Jones Case. 

At this time, July 6, in Marion, the jury in the 
trial of Rado Millich and Eural Gowan, charged with 
the murder of Ward Jones, took the case and retired 
to their room after the final pleas of State's Attorney 
Arlie 0. Boswell. 

The state sought the death penalty for Gowan 
and Milhch. It was contended that the two defendants 
killed Jones at Shady Rest and later threw his body 
into North Fork creek in Gallatin county. Millich ad- 
mitted killing Jones in self defense, following a quar- 
rel, while Gowan denied all complicity in the crime. 

In the sensational final arguments before the jury 
State's Attorney Arlie 0. Bosw^ell of Williamson county 
pleaded with the jurors to assess the death penalty and 
*'put an end to the reign of terror created by Charlie 
Birger and his infamous band of murderers." 

''We don't have to go to Franklin county," declar- 
ed Boswell, ''for men to bring our criminals to justice, 
you men are courageous." 

Attorneys for the defendants argued Millich and 
Gowan were not real offenders but only "hangers on" 
of Birger's gang while the slain man was *'Birger's 
trusted lieutenant." 

Result of Ward Jones Murder Trial At Marion. 

Rado Millich and Eural Gowan were found guilty 
of the 'murder of Ward Jones, a fellow gangster, at 
iMarion on July 7, by the jury that heard their case in 
Williamson county circuit court. 

40 



Punishment for Millich was fixed at death and for 
Gowan 25 years imprisonment in the Chester peniten- 
tiary. 

The jury reached its verdict early on the 7th after 
12 hours of dehberation. It was sealed and turned 
over to the authorities to be read at the opening of 
Judge HartwelFs court at 9 :30 a. m. 

The lengthy deliberations were over the penalty 
to be imposed on Millich, members of the jury told, 
after their dismissal. The jurors could not agree 
whether to recommend death or life imprisonment. 
MilHch admitted at the trial that he shot and killed 
Jones, a bartender at Charlie Birger's roadhouse, but 
pleaded self defense. Gowan denied any part in the 
slaying. 

Millich by terms of the verdict, would be electro- 
cuted under the new Illinois capital punishment law,. 
electrocution replacing hanging. Millich was the first 
to be sentenced to death since then the law was passed. 

The trial of Millich and Gowan was the first on 
charges of murder resulting from the long gang feud 
in southern Illinois which is credited with a large 
death toll. 

A large crowd in the court room rushed forward 
to congratulate jurors immediately after the formality 
of reading the verdict. 

The defendants were immediately removed to the 
Williamson county jail, where they were to await sen- 
tencing by Judge Hartwell. Gowen made no comment, 
but Millich protested that the trial was a "frame-up." 
He cursed all the way back to his cell. 

Jones, according to evidence at the trial, was shot 
down by Millich during a quarrel at Shady Rest, the 

41 



fort of the Birger gang. The evidence showed also 
that he was assisted by Gowan. 

Millich, a middle aged Montenegrin, serving a 
term in the Chester penitentiary, testified in his own 
behalf, saying that he shot Jones in self defense. His 
attorneys said they would appeal the case. Gowan's 
attorneys said he would not appeal. 

Throughout the trial, State's Attorney Arlie Bos- 
well pleaded for a death verdict to help clear the name 
of ''Bloody Williamson." There were two ministers 
on the jury, one of them foreman. 

Continuation of the Trial of Birger, Hyland and New- 
man at Benton, Illinois for Murder of Joe Adams. 

The picking of the jury in the trial of Charlie Bir- 
ger, Art Newman and Ray Hyland for assisting in the 
murder of Joe Adams, Mayor of West City, began on 
July 8, 1927, at Benton, Illinois. 

Birger's attorneys moved for a spearate trial 
from Art Newman, and Newman made a motion to 
have a separate trial from Birger. Hyland threw his 
lot with Birger. Birger then demanded that he be 
tried before a jury composed of ladies or a mixed jury. 
Charles Karch of Birger's counsel made a motion for 
a bill of particulars. A motion to quash the indictment 
of the three men was made. Judge Charles A. Miller 
heard all the motions and then denied everyone of 
them. Continuance of trial was denied and the selec- 
tion of the jury began. A large crowd was present and 
the sheriff had a large armed force aiding in keeping 
order. 

The defendants were brought into the court room 
one at a time under guard. They appeared calm and 
indifferent and acted as though they did not realize 

42 



that the state was trying to exact their lives. They 
greeted their families and friends and Birger sat with 
one of his daughters on his lap. He was unsuccessful 
when he tried to induce her to allow him to pull one 
of her teeth which was loose. Newman and Birger 
paid little attention of the other at first. Later they 
scowled across the table and cursed one another. Hy- 
land sat back and grinned and whispered to one of the 
defense attorneys. The court room was large enough to 
hold the crowds. Not so many people attended as was 
expected. The court then told the attorneys to start 
examining for witnesses. 

At recess of the court Newman told C. E. Hoiles, 
president of the Bond County State bank at Pocahon- 
tas, 111., that he drove the car used by three robbers 
some time ago and assisted two of Birger's men in 
robbing the bank. This happened in November, 1926. 

He said Birger sent the men and that Birger got 
one-fifth of the loot as his part. They took $10,000 
from the bank. Newman displayed a scar on his hand 
which he said he received when shot by citizens who 
opened fire on the fleeing car. 

Newman also told that Birger killed Shag Wor- 
sham and an unknown man found at the home of Ollie 
Potts of near Marion, whom Newman described as 
Connie Ritter's sweetheart. Birger cursed and raved 
at Newman and screamed *'women killer.'* Newman 
scowled and cursed back and said, "if they don't shut 
up that rat there's a lot more that can be told." Birger 
shut up. 

Both men then controlled themselves and the trial 
went on quietly. The process of selecting a jury was 
very slow and tedious. 

The general public throughout the southern end 

43 



of the state of Illinois was at this time wondering if 
much of gangland mysteries would be brought to light 
in the trial at Benton. The topic of the day was Bir- 
ger and the trial in Franklin county. Public sentiment 
was very decidedly against Birger and his gang, al- 
though many thought Art Newman should be dealt 
with less harshly than Birger and his men because he 
came through and confessed. 

CHAPTER 10. 

Chapter 10 Deals with More Details Concerning the 

Trial of Birger, Newman and Hyland Before 

the Selection of the Jury Was Completed At 

Benton, Illinois. 

Rado Millich Charges Numerous Crimes 

to Man He Killed. 

Rado Millich, in trying to get another trial for the 
murder of Ward Jones, came out with a statement to 
the public covering the crime. Millich did not deny 
killing Jones, but is positive in his stand that it was 
done in self defense. He tried to exonerate Eural 
Go wan of any complicity with the crime. 

In his statement in broken English, the Montene- 
grin miner declared that he killed Jones with a rifle 
belonging to State's Attorney Arlie Boswell, of Wil- 
liamson county, and when Boswell heard this story he 
replied : **If Millich got a rifle from me, when did he 
get it, and why in the devil doesn't he bring it home?'' 
and laughingly commented further that "the story was 
among the best he had ever heard." 

44 




MRS. JOE ADAMS 



Millich charged unsolved killings to Clarence Rone 
Harry Thomasson and Danny Brown Parker, and cited 

them as the class of witnesses used against him. Nu- 
merous killings were recounted by Millich, which in- 
cluded that of *'Shag" Worsham, who was slain in 
Zeigler and his body believed to have been disposed of 
in a barn that was burned. 

Ward Jones, Millich says, tried to kill him, but 
could not shoot straight enough to do the job, which 

was the only reason he was not ''bumped off" by 
Jones. 

The slaying of ''Wild Biir^ Holland, 18, is also re- 
counted in the statements of Millich. Holland's body 
according to Millich, was riddled by 28 bullet wounds. 

On the same night Holland was killed Millich de- 
clares that it was Ward Jones who shot Mr. and Mrs. 
Max Pulliam, and that the reason they were not killed 
was because Jones* machine gun jammed. 

Millich denied ever being a gangster or of having 
v/orked for either Newman or Birger and that all he 
had told was the truth. He said that if he was forced 
to die he would die with a load off his mind. 

While the trial of Birger, Newman and Hyland 
was going on in Benton for the killing of Joe Adams, 
the attorneys of Millich were trying to solicit funds 
for his appeal. They went to the local union Millich 
belonged to and to his friends. 

On the 11th of July, 1927, it was declared that all 
death sentences would be carried out by hanging, only 
in case w^here the murder had taken place before the 
new law for electrocution took effect. Therefore Mil- 
lich would be sentenced to hang. 

On July 9, 1927, Floyd "Jardown" Arms of Her- 

45 



rin, Shelton gangster, started an eight year sentence 
at Chester penitentiary following conviction on a sta- 
tutory charge. 

At this time, July 11, 1927, Monday, much hagg- 
ingly and commenting was going on in Egypt concern- 
ing the trial of the gangsters at Benton. The writer, 
who at this time, was with the Eldorado News, made 
a trip throughout the entire traversable districts of 
Egypt and talked with gangsters, officers, good and 
bad citizens, newspaper men and professional and 
business men and clergymen. 

The writer noticed that progressive citiznes and 
honest business men in Egypt had declared that gang 
war should stop. And that they would do all in their 
power to see that it did stop. Two Benton bankers 
stated that the mine riots, Klan war and gang war 
had cost the south end of the state over $20,000,000.00 
and there was no exaggeration in the figures. 

Although much was brought to light that the 
gangsters had done and there was much that was not 
told which they had done, many deeds with which they 
had nothing to do were credited to them. Old murders 
and robberies were blamed on the gangsters and wild 
rumors of confessions swept the country for several 
weeks. It was the Jesse James scene played all over 
again. 
Birger Denied Every Charge Brought Up by Newman. 

Birger at this time, in early July, was charged by 
Newman with the murder of Jimmie Stone, whose dead 
body was found sitting upright in a ditch near Marion 
with a cigar jammed into the mouth, in December 1926. 
Birger denied the charge. He also denied any know- 
ledge of Lyle **Shag'* Worsham murder or of the Poch- 

46 



antos bank robbery, in which Newman implicated his 
former chief during a bitter cross fire of interviews 
with newspaper men. 

Birger contended that he would be able to estab- 
lish his innocence of all these charges when brought 
to trial. 

Birger, in all his denial, said he had served three 
years in the U. S. Army and had an honorable dis- 
charge. He also claimed that he was a native born 
American citizen and that the people would know the 
reason for the many accusations against him before 
the trial was over. 

Jimmie Stone was found dead with a note pinned 
to his flesh which said : "He stole from his friends,'' 
and was signed : "K.K.K." On the night of December 
1, 1925, two men called at the home of Ollie Potts, in 
Harrisburg, called Stone out and took him away and 
that was the last time he was seen alive by the Potts 
woman, who was claimed to be the sweetheart of Con- 
nie Ritter. Ritter was named in the Pocahontas bank 
robbery with Newman, Frank Schrader and "Okla- 
homa Slim" McGuire. The confessions of Millich and 
Newman seem to run together on this story. 

During the selecting of a jury in the Adams case 
the attorneys for the defense were thrown into a panic 
a number of times by Birger and Newman cursing and 
telling on each other. They tried several times to get 
at one another. At this time several newspapers came 
out with the statements that the defense would plead 
insanity as a result of the bitter verbal war of Birger 
and Newman. 

In connection with the Stone murder Newman 

said to Birger when Birger called him a " woman 

killing ," "I'll shut that dirty rat up." "Short- 

47 



]y after I got acquainted with the 'great gang leader' 
(sneeringly) in 1924 he told me that he and Orb Tread- 
way (since slain) were calling on Ollie Potts, who is 
Connie Ritter's sweetheart. She lived near Marion. 

"They found a man there. Treadway forced him 
into a car and Birger shot him from behind. Then 
they took the body around and showed it to several 
persons — never mind who they were. They stuck a 
cigar in his mouth, sat his body upright in a ditch and 
left it." 

"If that doesn't shut up that rat, tell him I'll 
speak a little piece about w^ho killed 'Shag" Worsham. 
There's a lot that can be told. So I'm a woman mur- 
derer? We'll see." No more talking, the defense said 
and Newman shut up. A defense attorney said: "If the 
stories told by Ne^vman should be true both of these 
men by their acts, would necessarily prove themselves 
to be paranoiacs, two maniacs with positive homicidal 
tendencies, and should be dealt with accordingly." 

At intervals of the trial Birger would smoke with 
his guard and go with him to get a drink and kept up 
quit€ a conversation on various topics. He would al- 
ways address his body guard when he wanted to go 
get something as "you and I." Harry Thomasson who 
was a star witness of the state, was anxious to go back 
to the penitentiary where he was serving a life term 
so he could study his music. He was playing the cor- 
net. He said Hyland drove the car he and his brother 
rode in to kill Joe Adams. 

As time passed and the jury had not been selected 
and panel after panel exhausted, crowds jammed the 
court room and for the sake of giving the lawyers 
more room the relatives of the defendants were made 

48 



move into the space behind the railing away from the 
defendants. 

Selecting the jury was a most tedious job and 
day after day was consumed by it with one side dis- 
missing those selected by the other side. Birger and 
Newman kept up their verbal fire. Hyland who had 
served in the U. S. Navy, paid little attention to any- 
thing. His only relative that attended was a sister. 

State's Attorney Arlie 0. Boswell of Williamson 
county said that he was still trying hard to land the 
Lory Price and wife murder trial for Marion. Birger 
and a gang of his men had been indicted by both a 
Washington and Williamson county grand jury follow- 
ing the confession of Art Newman to a Post-Dispatch 
reporter from St. Louis clearing up the mysterious 
murders. 

CHAPTER 11. 

Chapter 11 Deals with More of the Adams Murder 

Trial and Things Brought to Light by 

Gangsters. 

On July 12, 1927, as the trial of Birger, Newman 
and Hyland continued there was a rumor that Birger- 
ites featured in the Potter tragedy at Marion in the 
fall of 1926. W. 0. Potter was a former U. S. district 
attorney for eastern Illinois. Potter's wife, two chil- 
dren and two grandchildren were found slain in the 
Potter home and Potter was found dead in the well 
outside the house. The heads of all were crushed. 
The coroner's jury said Potter killed his family and 
committed suicide. When the rumor started. State's 
Attorney Boswell started a new investigation to try to 

49 



throw light on the tragedy which shocked even bloody 
Williamson county, when it was discovered. 

Since Art Newman turned on his former chief- 
tain, he had been accusing him of the responsibility of 
one murder after another in addition to the one which 
he, Birger and *'Izzy" Hyland were then standing trial 
for in Benton. In each instance evidence was uncover- 
ed which, at least, in part seemed to confirm his 

charges. 

This latest and most startling development, con- 
necting members of the Birger gang with the death of 
Attorney Potter and family, could not be traced direct- 
ly to Newman, but information was sent to Williamson 
county's prosecutor that if he succesfully interrogated 
Rado Millich, a fellow conspirator, he might uncover 
the real reason for the Potter deaths. 

Potter's fingerprints were identified on the stair- 
way leading to the second floor of the house where 
the crime was committed. It was also revealed that 
Potter had encountered financial difficulties and that 
he was responsible for the tragedies when he became 
temporarily insane. 

State's Attorney Boswell with Sheriff Oren Cole- 
man and Coroner George Bell, questioned Rado Mil- 
lich in the Williamson county jail where he was await- 
ing execution. He had been sentenced to hang. 

"Millich talked of Birger's activities in gang cir- 
cles but denied absolutely he had knowledge tending 
to indicate that Birger was connected with the death 
of Attorney Potter and members of his family," Bos- 
well declared. 

**We also questioned members of the family, but 
learned nothing to change our belief that Potter alone 

50 



caused the deaths of his family while temporarily in- 
sane." 

All this time the selection of the jury in the Ad- 
ams murder case went on very slowly and exceptional- 
ly tedious. Absolutely, one who was not at the trial, 
cannot imagine the red tape which was unwound while 
selecting the jury. Everything that ever pertained to 
clauses of law was brought into question and motions 
were made and turned down and attorneys argued 
and Ne\ATnan and Birger cursed each other and Izzy 
Hyland grinned until the whole thing became so dis- 
gusting it was sickening. 

Attorneys for Hyland asked each prospective jur- 
or his opinion of secret orders, of Jews, and if he had 
ever read the Dearborn Independent, the paper pub- 
lished by Henry Ford opposing the Jews. The defense 
attorney's at first turned down every one who was ex- 
amined if he did not come up to their expectations as 
how he should determine secret orders, Jews, gang- 
sters and other things which no one thought of before 
they were mentioned in the trial. 

The spectre of the Ku Klux Klan was brought into 
issue when defense attorneys for Hyland asked pros- 
pective jurors as to their affiliation with secret orders, 
religion, race and so on. 

Defense attorneys for both Birger and Newman 
said that neither of their clients would be allowed on 
the stand as they were afraid that the defense of one 
would tear down the defense of the other. If Birger 
and Nevv^man could have been given a separate trial 
they undoubtedly would have unloaded much on each 
other. However Birger said that he had no unloading 
to do and that he would tell nothing that Newman or 
any one else had done. He also maintained his inno- 

51 



cence in the Adams murder and said he would prove it. 

The state's attorney and assistants came out with 
the statement, while the selection of the jury was going 
on, that they were ready to combat any plea made by 
any of the defense. From the questions asked the pros- 
pective jurors, it seemed as if the defending attor- 
neys would come out with a plea of self defense, in- 
sanity or alibis for the defendants. 

The possibility of an insanity plea being offered 
in Birger's defense made its first actual appearance 
officially late in the afternoon of July 11 when Attor- 
ney Robert E. Smith for Birger began questioning 
veniremen on their attitude toward insanity as a de- 
fense plea to a charge of murder. He was taken up 
almost instantly by State's Attorney Martin who point- 
ed out to the veniremen that before a prisoner at bar 
can offer a plea of insanity as defense, he must admit 
the act with which he is charged. Smith made no ref- 
erence to it as a possible defense after that during the 
remainder of the afternoon. 

Smith also questioned veniremen upon their atti- 
tude toward self-defense should it be made an issue 
in the trial. Such a plea would likewise make it nec- 
essary for the defendant to admit the act charged, and 
a plea of self defense in this case would be regarded 
impossible since Birger was not charged with the 
actual killing. 

Alibis, the third defense to be used, was possibly 
the strongest of the three and was used heavily. All 
three defendants were preparing to prove their absence 
from the scene of the killing at the time it occurred. 
For Birger this could be no difficult task. Birger 
could prove that he was on the Marion public square 

52 



talking to Arlie Bos well when the shots were fired that 
killed Adams in West City. 

Hyland said he would deny knowledge of the plot 
to kill Adams and that he drove the car which carried 
the Thomasson boys, Harry and Elmo, to the Adams 
home. Hyland said he would offer several witnesses 
in his behalf as would Newman to prove he was other 
than where Thomasson said he was. 

The writer will take time here to tell the reader 
a few facts concerning the court room while the selec- 
tion of the jury was going on: 

The crowd which occupied every seat in the little 
court room of the old Franklin county court house in 
Benton in early July began to lose a little of its tena- 
city in the swelter of the day as the trial wore on with 
the attorneys questioning veniremen. Rotating fans 
played a breeze of cool air occasionally upon the judge, 
attorneys and jurors, but for the spectators back of 
the bar railing, there was no relief from the heat. 
Hearing was difficult, also, and the spectators in the 
back of the room could do little more than watch the 
pantomime going on before them as defendants moved 
or lawyers made gestures of one sort or another, in 
talking to the prospective jurors sitting in cane bot- 
tom chairs upon a slightly raised platform in front of 
the counsel tables. 

Occasional}^ two, three or maybe a whole row of 
spectators would get up and walk down the broad 
center aisle to the steps that lead to the first floor of 
the court house. Their places, however, were soon 
filled as the deputy sheriffs at the front of the stairs 
let just as many people ascend as had descended be- 
fore them. No crowding was permitted, and no one 
was allowed to ascend the stairs until the officers were 

53 



sure there was a vacant seat upstairs. At the head 
of the stairway a short, heavy set Httle man partly gray 
and partly bald, acted as usher, and he found the vacant 
seats for those who were permitted to enter. Motion- 
ing to the persons as they entered, he walked down the 
aisle in front of them to their seats. In his right pocket 
he carried a heavy revolver, the weight of which caus- 
ed his trousers sag several inches lower on the right 
than on the left. He was a busy man, this officer- 
usher, and his job of guiding his ever shifting audience 
did not stop until the court was over for the day. 

Confusion was injected into that little court house 
while the selection of the jury was going on when one 
afternoon the newsboys with their papers were turned 
loose upon the court yard below. "All about Charlie 
Birger," was their loud cry and they cried it so loud 
that the noise penetrated the court room and gave com- 
petition to the voice of counsel. Attorney Robert 
Smith of Birger's counsel petitioned the court to stop 
the noise and Judge C. H. Miller dispatched Sheriff 
James Pritchard below stairs to quell the uproar. The 
sheriff evidently had his hands full as it was full 
thirty minutes before the babel in the court yard 
ceased. 

During the first five days of the trial four jurors 
were tentatively selected by both sides. They were 
John Krugg, miner of Christopher; Marion Meeks, 
miner, West Frankfort; Dave Whitledge, miner, of 
West Frankfort and Dow Fisher, laborer, of Whitting- 
ton. Sixty veniremen had been dismissed when these 
four were chosen. 

54 



CHAPTER 12. 

Chapter 12 Deals with the Talking of Millich; Also 

More of the Adams Murder Trial at Benton. 

Mrs. Nellie Worsham, mother of Lyle Worsham, 
visited Rado Millich in jail at Marion, July 11, in hope 
of getting some information that would lead to the 
solution of her son^s mysterious death. 

Millich knew Lyle, better known as *'Shag", and 
Mrs. Worsham was assured by Millich that he would 
give her the details of the slaying, who did it and for 
what purpose it was done. 

"Me going to die, Mrs. Worsham, and we will tell 
you all," was the final promise offered to Mrs. Wor- 
sham by Millich at that time. 

Mrs4 Worsham carried a life insurance policy on 
her son Lyle, but was never able to collect it, owing 
to the demand of the insurance company for more 
positive proof of the death of her son that had not then 
been offered. 

While Millich, in his numerous confessions gave 
out the information that he knew all about the slaying 
of Shag Worsham, his confession would not be accepted 
by the insurance company. 

While the jury was still being sought to try Bir- 
ger, Newman and Hyland, rumors were afloat that 
gangsters would try to rescue Millich from the Marion 
jail where he was awaiting execution and that the 
gangsters on trial in Benton would be rescued by 
friends. As a result sharpshooters with highpowered 
rifles and machine guns were placed on guard. At Ben- 
ton seven extra sharpshooters with highpow^ered rifles 
were added to the guard force. 

From the time that ended the trial of Rado Millich 

55 



and Eural Gowan in connection with the murder of 
Ward Jones, to July 14, 1927 $5,000 had been raised to 
finance an appeal from the death sentence imposed by 
Williamson county circuit court on Rado Millich for the 
murder of Jones. A vigorous campaign was gone 
through with in raising the funds for the appeal to 
Judge Hartwell. 

On July 14 a teriffic wind storm struck the court 
house and vicinity and passed on without doing any 
damage. Birger said, *'If the old building had been 
wrecked, I'd be blamed for it. I've been blamed for al- 
most everything else. I'm glad the old shack is 
still standing." 

On this same day an irate cov/ attempted to de- 
stroy the tireless efforts of state and defense in 
selecting a jury for the case. T^Irs. Charles R. Francis, 
wife of one of the accepted jurors, hobbled into the 
court room and appealed to Judge Charles H. Miller to 
release her husband, as she had been disabled by a cow 
that trampled her under its hoof. There was no one 
to take care of the cow, she argued. The judge ex- 
plained the necessity of keeping her husband in the 
jury box. 

"Your arguments are silly," she replied* ''Let me 
see my husband". The husband was called into an 
ante-room and they embraced. He agreed with the 
judge. "All right," she replied in a tone of regret. 
"I expected that so I brought your clothes. Goodbye." 

The decision kept the second panel of four intact. 

Art Newman, willing confessor of the bad deeds 
of his former chieftain, Charlie Birger, on the 14th 
day of July charged his co-defendant in the Adams 
murder trial with another crime. 

Newman said Birger furnished two pistols to a 
man hired to shoot Robert R. Ward, president of the 

56 



Benton State Bank. The attempted assassination in 
December, 1926, was unsuccessful, although four shots 
were fired through the living room of Ward's home, 
where the bank president was standing. The attack- 
er escaped. 

The man who hired the gunman to fire the shots, 
according to Newman, was angry with Ward because 
of a foreclosure deal. 

Newman had excited newspapermen in the court 
room with promises of "another startling confession," 
but it proved to be milder than his previous confessions 
since the murder trial begun. 

Birger, when told of the confession, merely 
sneered, declaring "the next thing he will charge me 
with having fired the shot that killed President McKin- 
ley." 

Newman said, in baring his latest confession of 
Birger crimes, the gang chieftain loaned the guns to a 
man who gave them to a negro to kill Ward. The fel- 
low received one gun from Birger and one from Steve 
George at Shady Rest. The fellow was called "Doc". 
He wanted to let George do the kilKng but Birger didn't 
want George to leave Shady Rest* Steve George and 
wife were among those who were burned to death in 
the destruction of Shady Rest. 

On the 15th of July, just after the selection of 
the jury had been completed, two of Chicago's most no- 
torious gunmen, in company with a leading criminal 
of southern Illinois of ten years' past, appeared at the 
Birger trial. Their pesence, coupled with extra pre- 
cautions taken by Sheriff Pritchard in stationing ex- 
pert marksmen about the court, caused considerable 
apprehension among some attending the trial, and all 
were on their guard. 

A pitiful figure in the courtroom was the elderly 

57 



mother of the slain man, who wept during the state- 
ment of State's Attorney Martin. The prosecution 
opened by asking death for all three of the defendants. 

At this time, the 15th of July, Robert Torrese, 
Charles Duchowski and Walter Taleski were hanged 
from a triple gallows in the jail yard at Joliet, 111., for 
the killing of Peter Klein, deputy warden of the peni- 
tentiary there. The men weref hanged at dawn by the 
sheriff. Each of the murderers went to their death 
fearlessly. More than seven hundred persons wit- 
nessed the hangings. Blood lust of the Roman arena 
v/as pesent as the mob fought for vantage points to 
view the death spectacle. 

CHAPTER 13. 

Chapter 13 Deals with the Beginning of the Adams 

Murder Trail Just After the Selection of the Jury 

Had Been Completed. 

The selection of the jury in the Adams murder 
case, in which Charlie Birger, Art Newman and Ray 
Hyland were on trial for the murder of Mayor Joe 
Adams of West City, was completed at 11:15 on the 
morning of July 14, 1927, at Benton, Illinois. 

The jurors were: John Krug, Christopher, farmer- 
miner; Marion Meeks, West Frankfort, miner; Dave 
Whitledge, West Frankfort, miner ; Dow Fisher, Whit- 
tington, laborer; Charles R. Francis, West Frankfort 
township, farmer-miner; L. A. Gunn, Cave township, 
farmer; Paul Knight, Thompsonville, merchant, the 
youngest man on the jury, being 26 years of age; F. 
C. Downen, Thomsponville, farmer ; F. Marion Warren, 
Eastern township, farmer; Wm. Hendricks, Christo- 

58 



pher, miner ; Milo Hopper, West Frankfort, miner and 
Harry Simpson, West Frankfort auto salesman. 

The last four 'men were accepted by the defense 
after they had been tendered by the state following 
but a few moments of questioning on the part of 
defense counsel. Judge Charles H. Miller, before whom 
the case was being tried, at once ordered the jury 
sworn in. 

With the selection of the jury completed after 
more than four days of interrogation by the state and 
defense counsel, the stage was cleared for the more 
dramatic scenes that the trial was to present : Specta- 
tors became much more interested. Newspapermen 
got busy with their cameras and then court was re- 
cessed until after the noon hour when Staters Attorney 
Roy C. Martin made his opening plea. The defense 
said they would make no statements until they 
heard the prosecution give their complete outline so 
they would know the nature of their defense better. 

The prosecution had carefully endeavored to 
select what is known as a "hanging jury." The de- 
fense had been equally deliberate in an effort to select 
a jury that would save the defendants from the gal- 
lows. 

In thundering tones, the state's attorney recited 
the, murder story, as he was to present it to the jury, 
going back to the day, when according to testimony 
that the state was to present, the murder of Adams 
was planned at Shady Rest. He went over the crime, 
step by step, from the time the murder car left Shady 
Rest accompanied by another car in which leaders of 
the Birger gang were alleged to have accompanied the 
killers as far as Marion. 

The prosecuter spoke with grim resolution, as he 
pictured the cruel, heartless manner in which the mur- 

59 



der of Joe Adams was planned and executed. He 
charged that Charlie Birger, Art Newman and Connie 
Hitter, the latter under indictment at that time and 
and also a fugitive from justice, planned the crime and 
paid Harry and Elmo Thomasson for firing the shots 
that killed Adams, known to have been the friend of 
the Sheltons, bitter enemies of Birger. The State's 
Attorney charged that Ray Hyland drove the car and 
shared equally with the Thomassons in the division of 
the blood money with which they were paid for the suc- 
cess of their murderous mission. 

None of the Sheltons were at the trial or in Ben- 
ton as Sheriff Pritchard wrote them saying that he did 
not want them near Benton while the trial was going 
on. They promised him that they would stay away. 

The prosecutor said that he would not introduce the 
confession of Harry Thomasson, who was serving a life 
sentence at the Chester penitentiary for his part in the 
crime. Thomasson was placed on the stand as a wit- 
ness, however, and through his testimony and that of 
more than a hundred other witnesses, Martin hoped to 
end the crime career of Birger and his gangsters by 
placing the noose around the necks of Birger, Newman 
and Hyland. 

Martin first recited the indictment charging the 
trio on trial and Connie Ritter and Harry Thomasson 
with the murder of Adams. 

It was Thomasson's confession that resulted in 
the indictment of the others. 

"The evidence in this case ^\dll show that Joe 
Adams never was a member of a gang or had any 
connection with the gang," Martin said. 

'The evidence will show that Newman and Hy- 
land were associated with Birger at Shady Rest at the 
time Joe Adams was killed." 

60 



"It will show Charlie Birger became very angry at 
Joe Adams on or about Oct. 15, 1926 for some unknown 
reason. It will show that about this time Birger, 
Newman and Hyland rode up in two automobiles loaded 
with machine guns and told Adams 'You big doughbelly 
we are going to kill you.' " 

Martin said Adams had appealed for protection 
but it was not furnished. Adams then had some men 
at his home for protection and Birger charged that he 
was harboring the Shelton gang. 

*'Birger often declared that Franklin county was 
not big enough to keep him from killing Adams," Mar- 
tin continued. "This was at a time when Franklin 
county had a special guard in West City to keep mem- 
bers of both the Birger and Shelton gangs out of this 
county." 

Martin continued by telling the jury of the threats 
made to Gus Adams and Mrs. Joe Adams that Birger 
and his gang was coming over to kill Joe. He continued 
to shout at the jury that he would hang the defendants. 

"We have picked you to kill Joe Adams," Birger 
told them, according to Martin. He then described 
how the boys told Ne\\Tnan they hadn't killed anyone 
before . He described the writing of the note which 
was used as a ruse to get Adams to this front door and 
the actions of Hyland as the driver of the death car. 
Birger, the state's attorney said, forced Elmo Thomas- 
son to stay at Shady Rest that night when the boy$ 
asked that they be allowed to go home. Birger threat- 
ened Harry, Martin charged, that if he didn't return 
the next day the gang would come and get him. 

Martin then detailed how the boys and Hyland 
were furnished with guns and given whiskey the next 
day, — Dec. 1926 — the day of the murder. 

The courtroom was deathly silent. Not one of 

61 



the four hundred spectators madd a sound. The 
women, who comprised almost a third of the audience, 
waved palm leaf fans as they leaned forward to hear 
Martin. 

Mrs. Birger tapped her fan nervously against the 
back of a chair in front of her as the state's attorney 
continued his outline of the case. 

Martin went through the entire details and de- 
manded the death sentence. Birger looked more nerv- 
ous than he did at the beginning of the selection of 
the jury. This time Birger was facing the law of the 
state of Illinois — and without the use of machine guns 
and armored trucks. As time wore on the attention at- 
tracted throughout the country was unimaginable. A 
fight to the finish had been prepared by both sides. It 
was rumored at the trial that an assistant of Clarence 
Darrow of Chicago, noted criminal lawyer, would assist 
in the appeal of Rado Millich at Marion who was con- 
victed of the murder of Ward Jones. Should Millich's 
appeal fail he would then be sentenced and hanged. 
Millich's appeal to the circuit court of Williamson 
county was turned down. He was sentenced to hang 
on Oct. 24, 1926. 

CHAPTER 14. 
Chapter 14 Deals with the Taking of Evidence in the 
Adams Murder Trial After the Opening State- 
ments to the Court and to the Jury. 

On the morning of July 15, 1927, State's Attorney 
Roy C. Martin started weaving the net of evidence 
by which he expected to be able to send Charlie Birger, 
Newman and Hyland to the gallows for the murder of 
Joe Adams. 

62 



The first witness introduced in the state's effort 
to establish the guilt of Birger, Newman and Hyland 
and his former aids was Sheriff James Pritchard. He 
was followed by Sheriff Oren Coleman of Williamson 
county. 

Pinkney Thomasson, 17, brother of Harry and 
Elmo, supplied the first evidence for the state which 
made their case look strong. His replies were clear 
and strong and he was an ideal witness. Through his 
testimony the state brought out that Ray Hyland was 
with Elmo and Harry Thomasson on the day of the 
Adams murder. 

Roy Adams and wife, distant relatives of the slain 
man, told the first direct story of the killing of Joe 
Adams. They were out walking on the afternoon of 
the murder and 's^itnessed the shooting. They told of 
tw^o youths passing them on the sidewalk. The first 
testimony given in the trial w^as more damaging to 
Hyland than to Newman and Birger. 

Birgers attorneys at this time came out with the 
news that Birger would take the stand later in the trial 
in the defense of himself. 

Aviator Admits Dropping Bomb on Shady Rest. 

On July 16, it was asserted that Elmer Kane, 26- 
year-old aviator, had confessed that he was hired to 
bomb the road house of Charlie Birger, near Marion. 

Police of Waterloo, Iowa, said they had a signed 
statement from Kane to the effect that he was induced 
by Mayor Joe Adams of West City and Carl and Bernie 
Shelton, to undertake to blow up the Birger fortress 
from the air.. 

He said he was paid §1,000 and given an automo- 
bile for his work. The bombs were prepared at the 
home of Gus Adams in West City, according to the 
confession, and plans for the raid were made there. 

63 



A member of the Shelton gang, unnamed in the 
confession, threw the bombs from the plane while 
Kane piloted it, it was said. 

Shady Rest was bombed Nov. 12, 1926. Three 
bombs were dropped, two of them failing to explode 
and a third missing the target. None was injured. 

Gus Adams, brother of Joe, declared that he knew 
no one by the name of Elmer Kane and nothing of the 
transactions which were declared to have taken place 
in his home in connection with the aerial bombing of 
Shady Rest. 

At the opening of the trial many witnesses pointed 
out Hyland as the man who drove a Chrysler automo- 
bile to Joe Adams' home just as he was killed. 

Birger was drawn into the case during the testi- 
mony in the afternoon of the 16th when witnesses told 
of the gang leader having openly threatened the life of 
the West City mayor. Waddell True, who said he 
operated a barbecue stand and sold home brew at West 
City, and Gus Adams, supplied the first direct testi- 
mony against Birger, when they told of the gang 
leader announcing that "I am going to kill that dough 

bellied and all the law in 

Franklin county can't keep me ircm it." 

True said Birger came into his place with a num- 
ber of men, all heavily armed, and ordered him to in- 
form the officers that he (Birger) was going to kill 
Adams. 

True said he told Birger that he would carry no 
messages, but that when Birger ''jammed his machine 
gun in my guts and said *yes you will,' " he agreed to 
carry the message. 

True also told of overhearing a telephone con- 
versation between Birger and Adams, in which Bir- 
ger told the corpulent mayor he was coming over to 

64 



get him. He said Adams protested, asking Birger 
what it was all about and urging him to ''let's fix this 
up." 

As True related the incident when Birger's 
machine gun changed his mind about carrying Birger's 
message, Birger laughed with the crowd, evidently 
appreciating as much as anyone the situation in 
which True told of having been placed. 

Gus Adams told of Birger and his men visiting 
the Adams home one day and with a gang of men 
keeping^Adams covered with rifles cursed the mayor 
and said they would kill him. 

Mrs. Marshall Jones, a tall, straight w^oman who 
sat stiffly in the witness chair despite her 61 years, 
held the courtroom motionless for thirty minutes while 
she told of the slaying of Adams, her son. She was 
in the Adams home w^hen the mayor was shot down 
at his front door. 

Her story was one of fear. She told of spending 
the night of December 11 at the Adams home in 
company with her husband, their daughter, Adams, 
his wife and their daughter. They sat up all night 
she said, because they were afraid to go to sleep. 

''Joe" had been threatened by Birger, the bad 
man from Harrisburg. 

When dawn came they felt relieved and Joe and 
his father-in-law lay down to sleep. "Joe" had been 
ill and spent the day in bed, although he did not un- 
dress. The day was uneventful until 4 p. m. 

Then there was a knock at tlie door, and her 
daughter-in-law answered it. Tw^o young men with a 
note were outside. They asked for Adams and he 
was called out to see them. "Joe said something to 
them," Mrs. Jones said haltingly. "I didn't catch what 

65 



it was. Then he started to read the note. When he 
took his eyes off them they shot him.'' ''Joe fell and 
they ran." 

Mrs. Jones said that the mayor was a man hound- 
ed by enemies against whom he had shown no cause 
for enmity and forced to sit up at night to guard his 
home. Much pity for the elderly lady was shown as 
she tendered the last statement regarding the passing 
of the mayor of West City. 

When word was received in Franklin county of the 
confession of Elmer Kane who said he bombed the 
Birger roadhouse from the air. State's Attorney 
Boswell of Williamson county wired the officials in 
Iowa who were holding Kane to relea^se him. Boswell 
said he was not worrying who bombed the hut and 
would not play into the hands of the defense in 
Franklin county. Boswell said that if he wanted to 
question Kane they would pick him up again after 
the trial in Benton was over. 

Rado Millich's attorneys at this time were work- 
ing hard to raise more funds to carry an appeal to 
the supreme court for Millich. If this should fail 
Millich was to hang on October 24, 1927, a year from 
the time he killed Ward Jones. 

Attorney Robert E. Smith, chief counsel for Bir- 
ger and his former henchmen's defense, only July 18, 
tried to weaken the evidence of the state by a rapid 
cross examination of David Garrison. 

Garrison, a youth doing time at the reformatory 
at Pontiac, told from the witness stand of an attempt 
on the part of Birger to hire him and Alva Wilson to 
"go to the door of a West City man and shoot him." 

Garrison told a clean-cut story of the incident on 
the occasion of one of four visits to Shady Rest, 

66 



where he stopped, the witness said, to **get a shot of 
liquor." Garrison said Birger told the boys he had a 
plan for them to make some easy money. 

"What do you think I am — a damn fool," Garrison 
said he replied to Birger's offer of $100 for the kill- 
ing." 

Smith opened with rapid fire thrusts. "You are a 
member of the Shelton gang, aren't you," he tore into 
the witness that brought back a line of rapid-fire re- 
sponses from the witness. 

"You were driving a stolen car when you went to 
Shady Rest, weren't you ?" Smith shouted at Garrison. 

"Yes," the witness shot back, without a sign of un- 
easiness. 

"How do you know that it was on December 8 that 
Charlie Birger made you the offer which you have 
just told?" 

"Because I pulled a job at Albion the next night, 
and got caught. That is why I am at Pontiac." 

The witness did not deviate from his story during 
the grilling cross-examination. Alva Wilson told the 
same story as Garrison of the offer made by Birger. 
He told Birger he would steal (but not kill. 

On July 19, 1927, Harry Thomasson, star state 
witness, was called to the witness stand. He took 
the stand after a delayed conference of defense attor- 
neys and admitted killing Adams for Birger. He told 
the story as Newman and others against Birger told 
it. The state expected to finish their case 'soon after. 

The testimony of Harry Thomasson, the killer of 
Adams, was the most damaging of the entire group 
of witnesses for the state. As his story progressed 
the judge had deputies move near him and the very 
tenseness of the court room could be felt. As he told 

67 



his story there was a silence so still' as to be almost 
audible. He went through the entire story without a 
quiver and when cross examined, did not falter at any 
time. It seemed as if the noose was drawing near to 
Birger, Hyland and Newman. The testimony of 
Thomasson was damaging to all three defendants. 

Following the testimony of Thomasson, Sheriff 
Pritchard and other witnesses testified and the state 
rested its case. Defense attorneys were at a loss, it 
seemed, to decide what they would do. The court was 
surprised when defense attorneys asked for a new 
jury. This appeal was denied them. 

The gangland trio it was rumored would take the 
stand in their own defense. Then came the startling 
episode. Defense attorneys came forward with the 
statement that the defendants would not take the 
stand nor would any other witness for them take the 
stand. The defense attorneys said they would argue 
the case with the state attorneys, make their pleas 
and leave the rest to the jury. The general public 
thought the noose much nearer to the gangsters. The 
case was then rested. 

The statement of Newman, that he would not tesi- 
fy came as a surprise. His decision caused expressions 
of astonishment on the faces of Birger and Hyland. 
Then came the decision that none of them or their 
witnesses would testify. 

Following the decision of the three defendants not 
to take the witness stand in, their own defense the at- 
torneys for both sides made their concluding pleas. 
The attorneys for the defense pleaded for mercy and 
tried to lessen the weight of the evidence given by 
star state witnesses. 

State's Attorney Roy Martin and his assistant 

68 



pleaded for the death sentence for the three defend- 
ants. The plea made by Martin was a great one and 
following it the judge instructed the jury and it retir- 
ed to the jury room for a verdict. The jury seemed 
indifferent all the way. 

CHAPTER 15. 

Chapter 15 Deals with the Result of the Trial of Birger, 

Hyland and Newman. 

After deliberating 22 1-2 hours, the jury in the 
Adams mudrer trial at Benton, 111 ,, returned their ver- 
dict to Judge Charles H. Miller. 

Charlie Birger was sentenced to hang for the 
crimxe, being found guilty by the jury and his punish- 
ment fixed at death. He took the sentence stoically 
and seemed little perturbed. However, his sister show- 
ed signs of emotion. 

Ray Hyland was also found guilty of the charge 
and his sentence fixed at imprisonment for the rest 
of his natural life. He seemed little shaken and 
was evidently glad that he was not to be hanged. A 
woman in the court room said he was her son who 
had been missing for years. She went into hysterics 
when the sentence was read. Hyland turned pale 
but said nothing. 

Art Newman received the same punishment as 
Hyland, life imprisonment. He showed little concern 
over the verdict. The general public was pleased with 
the verdict. Attorneys for the defense said they 
vrould appeal the case for new trial and if not 
granted would go to the state supreme court. 

When the case went to the jury Hyland said to 
Birger, "The end is near," and Birger affirmed the 

69 



jstatement with a nod of his head. Hyland then said, 
**It looks like a necktie party for someone." Birger 
remained silent. 

After the verdict and sentences were read it was 
learned that at one time the jury was in favor of 
death for all three with the exception of two votes, 
the vote being 10 to 2. The decision that all three 
defendants were guilty was gained early. The remain- 
der of the time was given' to affixing the punishment. 

CHARLIE BIRGER. 

A slender strip of a man, 44 years old and en- 
dowed with a magnetic personality, has caused the 
people of the state of .Illinois more nights of sleepless 
worry and the citizens of the lower half of the state 
more damage than any one individual has ever caused 
a commonwealth. 

Seemingly unconscious, and at the least unworried 
by the turmoil he aroused, he has gone about his ne- 
farious mission of settling his troubles and imaginary 
grievances by the enlistment of what he calls "a gang 
of punks," arming them with machine guns, placing 
them in, armored cars and sending them forth to defy 
his enemies and the law. 

But he has come to the end of his rope. He had 
gone as far as he could. He had finally discovered the 
law is bigger than any man, and that those who come 
or remain after him will laugh at his folly rather than 
praise his daring. Charlie Birger was done for — 
after the trial for the killing of Joe Adams. 

Where to class Charlie Birger is a problem diffi- 
cult for those who know him best. Those who did not 
have his personal acquaintance could easily class him 

70 



as a heartless killer, void of a conscience or the least 
regard as to the value of human life. 

But acquaintance with the wary gangster seems 
to change these opinions in a marked degree. Re- 
membering that he is a hardened criminal who has 
killed and robbed and looted, there is something back 
of it all that tells one that perhaps somewhere there 
is a good trait or two, not enough to overshadow the 
baser things if his life, but something unexplainable 
that touches in a spot, that will, if you are not careful, 
temper your opinions. 

This "unexplainable something" has made him a 
leader of men. True the men he has led have been a 
type that were of inferior breeding and intellect, but 
it is not unreasonable to believe that if he had directed 
his mind and ability toward a legitimate, business 
career, there is no limit to the things he might have 
accomplished. 

But he chose a different route. Some would call 
it the primrose poth. He elected to exert his energies 
toward the establishment of a little kingdom of his 
own. He placed himself on the throne, he named his 
ministry, his captains and his lieutenants and declared 
himself to the world. 

Birger, his attorneys say, was born in or near 
New York, and came to St. Louis when quite young, 
growing to manhood there. He served in the Spanish- 
American war and was a pensioner of the United States 
government, he told newspaper men. 

He came into Franklin county and landed in 
Christopher where he was known as a gambler. He 
went to Harrisburg where he built up a wide acquaint- 
ance among gamblers, bootleggers, touts and criminals. 

71 



Business men, professional men and people of a re- 
spectable class were his acquaintances and friends. 

His name first came into prominence in southern 
Illinois, when he ''shot it out" with Whitey Doering, a 
St. Louis gangster, at a joint at Halfway in Williamson 
county. Doering died, but Birger recovered. 

While he was fast to make friends and acquaint- 
ances, he made as many enemies. Me soon had men 
gunning for him and he was gunning for them. But 
those things were little thought of. Those were per- 
sonal grudges of the underworld that rarely came 
within the pale of the law until one of the men fell a 
victim of the other's vengeance. 

Birger moved on in this channel. Gambling and 
bootlegging, going and coming in the element with 
which he felt most at ease. People generally heard 
but little of him, and knew less. 

Then he conceived the idea of a chain of road 
houses. He saw an opportunity to ''clean up" at booze 
running and operating slot machines. He might or 
might not have had some understanding as to the kind 
of protection he w^ould have from the law. At any 
rate he began operations. 

He acquired a tract of some sixty acres of land on 
State Highway No. 13, midway between Harrisburg 
and Marion. There he erected a small barbecue stand, 
cleared the rubbish and underbrush from a wooded 
plot nearby and erected an enticing sign near the en- 
trance: "Sixty Acres of Free Camping Ground." 

This free camp came to be the site of the infamous 
cabin that was known throughout the United States as 
"Shady Rest," the palace of King Birger, the capital of 
gangland — the eyesore of a nation. 

No one will ever know whether or not it v*'as 

72 



Charlie Birger's plan to raise an army and declare a 
state of gang war when he laid out that camp site and 
built his cabin. 

He might have only had an idea of a place to 
make his headquarters for his chain of road houses. 
Or he might have had in mind just the thing that 
resulted — a stronghold and fortress where he could 
surround himself with gunmen and issue his defiance 
of the law. 

Birger, luring the days following his first arrest, 
talked freely of gangland, and his version then of 
what constitutes a gangster leaves the intimation that 
he has a certain horror for the warriors in his army, 
detesting their criminal instincts, but yet catering to 
their whims so that he might use them to whatever 
advantage he saw fit. 

"A man who will get into a gang is just a no-good 
punk,'* Birger said then. '"The men who came to me 
were ignorant, uneducated, lowbred scum. If they 
hadn't been like this they would never have been 
gangsters." 

Then there is another question. What drew these 
men to Birger? His personality of leadership prob- 
ably had its part and the desire to be a **bad man" like 
Birger, drew some. Others came for protection from 
the law, and some saw possibilities of easy money and 
little work. 

Women had their part in helping to recruit the 
Birger army when some bitter rival made it so hot for 
the man who was winning the affection of his "sweet 
mama" that the protection of the cabin was paid for 
by tl)e sacrfice of the rights a man has to call his soul 
his own. 

Rival gangsters drove others to the protecting 

73 



portals of Birger's cabin, and each new day saw some 
new face within the circle of men who banded them- 
selves together by a code of the underworld. 

The daily and nightly parades of armored cars 
and highpowered motor cars bearing every implement 
of modern warfare led thru a half dozen southern 
Illinois counties. Pillaging, burning, robbing, killing, 
the gang went on, gaining in power and offering a 
new red-lettered page for the history of Little Egypt 
for each new day. 

Driven to the protection of Birger, Art Newman, 
former friend of the Shelton gang, came to be one of 
the trusted lieutenants at Shady Rest. The diminutive 
soldier of fortune who resents the name ^'Gangster," 
was a crack crapshooter, gambler, high-powered boot- 
legger and whiskey runner, before he took up with the 
Shady Rest outfit. 

He admitted his shrewdness with the dice and is 
believed to have harbored the secret ambition of some 
day leading a mutiny that would place him on the 
throne of Birger. 

Any way he went along. He helped in the plan- 
ning and the execution of big and little jobs and as a 
result he was picked up and tried with Birger for the 
murder of Joe Adams. He blames his luck and pleads 
the story of Old Dog Tray for having landed in the 
"clutches of this horrible gang." But he is there. 

Ray Hyland came to Birger's hut, more as a lark 
or adventure. He didn't know what he wanted to do, 
nor didn't care much. He was a happy-go-lucky, care- 
free man who had nothing at stake and was willing to 
take what came. 

They called him "Izzy the Jew," but he tells you he 
is no more Jew than Irish, and laughs it off. They 

74 



wanted him to drive the Thomasson boys to the scene 
of the Joe Adams murder, and he did. Perhaps he was 
compelled to do this to save his own hide, or perhaps 
he displayed a willingness to have a part in the 
"bumping off" of the corpulent West City Mayor. 

The murder committed in Franklin county was 
the beginning of the end. The threats that the **damn- 
ed little Franklin county law" couldn*t keep them from 
kilHng Joe Adams proved true enough. But that 
same little law has put a stop to their further mur- 
derous activities for all time to come. 

They made one false step too many. They failed 
to reckon with Roy Martin, later heralded as the state's 
most fearless prosecutor. Martin answered their dare 
with a warrant that held Birger for the death of 
Adams because someone testified at an inquest that 
they knew of Birger making threats against Adams. 

Anxious days passed and after overcoming many 
obstacles thrown in his way. Sheriff James Pritchard 
succeeded in landing King Charlie in the Benton jail. 
At that time it would have been a weak case, but Mar- 
tin was not satisfied to go before a jury with that 
evidence — that is not his style. 

He began a more thorough investigation. With 
the big chief in jail people talked more and more. They 
were less afraid of his machine gun and his armored 
truck. Slender threads were picked up here and 
there by the prosecutor and before long, and before 
anyone was aware of what was going on, a new grand 
jury had been called, a new indictment had been re- 
turned, and Birger, who had been liberated under 
bonds in the sum of $42,000 on the first charge was 
picked up again, before he knew what was coming. 

He was placed in jail again. Then his jet black 

75 



hair began to turn grey. More of his confederates 
started talking and the net tightened inch by inch on 
up until the time of the trial, when the mass of evi- 
dence piled up by the **damned little Franklin county 
law" proved too great for him to attempt to overcome 
by offering any evidence in his own defense. 

Newman hasn't stood hitched since he has been in 
the toils of the law. He has told a lot of things on his 
former chief and would probably have told more on the 
witness stand if he had not been afraid that Birger 
would have unloaded on him. 

It has been different with Hyland. He has never 
had the happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care smile taken 
from his face. He has joked with reporters about the 
probability of his having his neck stretched, but he 
did not break with his chief. He offered his neck 
as a target for the hangman's noose if it be necessary. 

In the words of his attorney who pleaded for 
mercy in his closing arguments to the jury: "He is 
willing to die with those who have been his friends.'' 

Since the arrest of Birger his gang has scattered 
and gone. Many of the members are too in the toils of 
the law, and most of the others are fugitives from jus- 
tice. The army that stood by him in his defiance of 
the law has left him like rats leaving a sinking ship. 

Freddie Wooten, Riley Simmons, Rado Millich, 
Danny Brown, Harry Thomasson, Clarence Rone, Har- 
vey Dungy, Art Newman, Ray Hyland and Birger 
himself have all felt the arm of the law, and have 
either been sentenced or are awaiting trial for some 
crime or another. 

Steve George, Elmo Thomasson, Ward Jones, 
Shag Worsham and Jimmy Stone have been knocked 

76-^ 



off and their deaths are being cleared up by the de- 
velopments following the arrests of gangmen. 

Connie Ritter, Frankie Schorer, Leslie Simpson, 
Jack Crews, Oklahoma Slim, Ernest Balleau and others 
of lesser importance are at this time in July, 1927, still 
at large. 

Charlie Birger is regarded by some as a shrewd 
man, but he has not demonstrated it. With the cun- 
ning he has displayed in dominating the gangsters of 
his realm, he surely knew that he could not go on for- 
ever defying every law known to man. 

Was he too engrossed with the idea of putting his 
enemy gangsters out of the way to take heed of the 
law, or was he so enamored of his own power that he 
thought the law would never bring him to justice? 

The way he press-agented his plans of killing his 
enemy Carl Shelton and others who had crossed his 
path gives rise to the belief that his insane desire to 
spill human blood overpowered his faculty of reasoning 
that the law would eventually have its way. 

After the Adams trial several papers stated that 
attorneys for the three defendants said that the gang- 
sters admitted to them that they were guilty. The 
attorneys and gangsters denied every bit of it. 

CHAPTER 16. 

Conclusion Telling of Sentence of Birger. Reward 
Offered for Connie Ritter. 

Judge Miller denied Birger another trial in the 
circuit court and sentenced him to hang on October 15, 
1927. Birger's only hope left was an appeal to the 
supreme court of Illinois. 

77 



Following is the sentence placed on Birger by the 

court : 

**It is the sentence of the Court that you, Charlie 
Birger, between the hours of 10 o'clock in the forenoon 
and 2 o'clock in the afternoon, on Saturday, the fifteen- 
th day of October, be hanged by the neck until dead, 
and may God have mercy on your soul." 

These remarks by the Court prompted Birger to 
change his mind and make a statement. His state- 
ment will follow shortly in another paragraph, conclud- 
ing this narrative of the greatest gangster known in 
southern Illinois and one of the greatest the United 
States has ever known. 

Along about this time, late in July, 1927, the law 
in Franklin county renewed its search for Connie Rit- 
ter, also indicted for the murder of Joe Adams. Ritter, 
it was rumored, had gone south and then had crossed 
the ocean into Europe. Ritter was the "sporty guy" of 
the Birger gang and was paymaster for Birger. He 
was said to have paid the Thomasson boys and Ray 
Hyland for their part in the Adams murder. 

The supervisors of Franklin county offered a re- 
ward of $1,000 for the arrest of Ritter. He was also 
a figure in the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Price of Mar- 
ion, it was rumored. 

When Judge Charles H. Miller sentenced Birger 
he made a very beautiful speech to the gang leader and 
following it and the reading of the sentence Birger 
made a five minute talk to the court. 

Following is the court reporter's record of Char- 
lie Birger's remarks to court upon being sentenced to 
death : 

"Your Honor, that was a very nice talk and I have 

78 



listened to you. You have the impression on your mind 
that I wanted to be chief. 

"When I was marked up to be killed since eight 
men drove up in a Cadillac automobile and were look- 
ing for me, and asked for Charlie Birger. 

"I called on the state's attorney for protection; 
and called in Staters Attorney Boswell, of Williamson 
county for protection and also on the Sheriff of Sa- 
line county for protection. I was by myself and had 
to go out and get three negroes to help protect me. 

"It never was in my heart to kill anybody. I want 
the public to get a different impression on it. I wanted 
to keep down the robbing and stealing. I took care of 
the boys around there — my meat bill ran from $130 
to $140 a month. 

*'This man Newman, I wouldn't believe at all. 
There is a man that was the cause of a woman's death. 
For myself I don't care — ^just for my two children. 

"Mr. Martin cannot deny that I called on him for 
protection. 

"I laid out in the weeds for nights and days — at 
one time for seven days and nights I did not have my 
clothes off. It was never in my heart to be chief, or to 
kill anybody. I don't want to kill. There is a man, 
John Rogers, that came to my house. Him and New- 
man has conspired and condemned me. If I had been 
on the jury trying any man in this courthouse, I would 
have given anybody else the same verdict the jury 
gave me. Mr. Martin knowns down in that evidence 
that lots of it was framed up. I never did make any 
confession. I have been shut. I haven't said anything. 

"There is a woman, Mrs. Newman that was the 
cause of Mrs. Price's death. I will tell you more of it 
and tell you who killed those people. As far as the 

79 



cabin that was blown up. I was in Dowell and this 
was the first man (points to Newman) that brought 
this news to me. I know who bio wed up the cabin- 
two men and two women that stayed at Mt. Vernon, 
the night the cabin was blown up. I will give Martin 
credit for one thing — ^that he has brought justice. I 
don't want to go down in history and be blamed for it. 
The night that Price was killed I can prove this man 
Newman was intoxicated and throwed a gun on me. 
I can prove all this. He was not scared of men, or no 
other man. I was in Herrin with him one time and he 
took nine guns from 60 men. He was as busy as a 
bumble bee in that crowd and came to me and handed 
me the nine guns. I can prove that by 20 people. I 
don't want to go down in history as a chief. After I 
was marked to die, Carl Shelton and I got together 
and shook hands. I don't want any sympathy because 
I did not leave the country — ^that is the mistake I am 
going to pay for." 

THE END 

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80 




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