D M Testa
January 26, 1921, Kansas City, Missouri
On a crisp, clear morning, three messengers from the Drovers National Bank stepped briskly into a Ford taxicab and headed towards the clearing house. Resting on the floor of the cab was a suitcase chock full of checks.
As the cab turned from Kersey Coates Drive onto Seventh Street, a bullet sliced through the rear of the vehicle. The shot was followed by a Ford sedan which quickly drew up alongside the taxicab. The driver of the sedan cut in front of the cab, forcing it into the curb.
Two men, wearing bandannas to conceal their faces, jumped from the Ford sedan onto the running board of the taxi and trained their pistols at the occupants. “Stick ‘um up!” One of the outlaws threatened. The other grabbed the suitcase and threw it into the sedan.
“I’ll take this also.” The robber said as he grabbed the key from the taxi’s ignition.
The sedan screeched away after both of the robbers climbed back in.
Later that day, the Drovers National Bank president noted that approximately $853,000.00 worth of checks had been in the stolen suitcase. However, he went on to state that the contents were worthless to the robbers since each check had already been stamped on the back with the signature of the bank.
Evidently the robbers agreed since the following day the suitcase turned up with all the checks intact in an alley a few blocks away.
Case closed, right? Well not really.
Other writers have tied Charles Makley to this January 1921 Drovers Bank job, noting it was “the biggest robbery” in Kansas City’s history and that it took two long years for the law to catch up with Makley.
While this hold-up may have given Makley some ideas about what not to do for future bank jobs; that was about as close as he came to being involved.
You see things aren’t quite what they seem to be.
The Drovers National Bank of Kansas City, Missouri was hit again almost two years later. And Charles Makley definitely played a role in this one. Although the law tracked him down, it is questionable whether Makley was ever really brought to justice for this particular robbery.
A New Gangster is Here
In December of 1922, the Kansas City Star lamented that “a new element in Kansas City’s underworld – youngsters inspired to banditry by harem-scarem novels and the melodrama of the moving pictures, nerved by corn whisky, aided by the motor car and influenced by the moral reflex of the war – all this has led to the development of a new type of gangster and the organization of bandit bands as yet not thoroughly known to the police.”
Although the Star had some of it right with their observation about the state of the underworld, they missed the mark by blaming it just on youngsters. The grown ups were heavily involved as well.
Tom Pendergast and his buddies controlled Kansas City during the days of prohibition. Pendergast was a tough political boss who ran the city and county behind the scenes. He accomplished this by fixing elections, bribing police and engaging in rampart cronyism.
Pendergast’s power even extended to ignoring the 18th Amendment. Not a single felony prosecution took place under the Volstead Act in Kansas City. Instead the “hooch” flowed freely in “soft drink parlors” that popped up throughout the city. This prevalent corruption drew many outlaws who were well past their teens to the Missouri side of Kansas City.
A month or two before that newspaper piece appeared, an odd assortment of criminals who had been hanging out in one of the aforementioned soft drink parlors began hatching plans for the biggest heist in Kansas City’s history.
As police later described them, it was a “catch as catch can band” who operated on both sides of the state line (Missouri and Kansas). Some of the gang were small timers who would steal anything of marketable value. This included looting box cars and robbing country stores with the occasional stick-up thrown in for good measure. Others of the group were far more serious in their criminal endeavors.
At age 34, Jim “Payday” Caverty was one of the permanent members of the gang. He had acquired the nickname while still a young boy for his habit of repaying borrowed money on time regardless of how he got it.
As a teenager, Caverty had been sent to the state reformatory for stealing a horse. He served two out of his five years sentence before being paroled. During the subsequent years, Caverty had been in and out of trouble for petty robberies and the like around the Kansas City area.
His latest infraction of the law took place on the Kansas side of the state line. In the fall of 1922, Caverty was caught running a still and subsequently spent two weeks in the Linn County jail, of Mound City, Kansas before getting bailed out.
Fred McClure was another small time criminal who rotated in and out of the group. A year or so earlier, he had been held for stealing a Marmon automobile and then using it during an attempted hold-up.
Shortly after he was released, McClure was arrested again, this time for armed robbery. However the police had problems making the charges stick so Fred was sprung again.
McClure’s luck for getting off the hook was becoming noteworthy. The underworld took note when Fred ended up being tried three times for holding up a money collector for the Whyco stores in downtown Kansas City. The first two trials resulted in hung juries while the third time turned out to be the charm for Fred. He was acquitted of all charges.
Higher up the criminal food chain was an ex-convict named James Martin who went by the aliases of Martin Ryan, James Ryan, Charles Mill and E.H Brown. Along the way he also acquired the nicknames of “Dago Joe” and “Chicago Slim” before joining up with the Drovers National gang. Martin, who was in his mid to late thirties, was built like the proverbial brick house and sported tattoos of “a fantastic manner”.
Unlike Caverty and McClure, James Martin engaged in criminal activities throughout multiple states. Authorities in Hutchinson, Kansas charged Martin with cracking the vault of the Buhler State Bank in 1919.
When James Martin found a girlfriend in Kansas City, he tried keeping a lower profile. However by 1922, Kansas City police had him registered as number 7521 in their records.
The fourth member of the group was a cipher. George Wilson arrived in Kansas City sometime during 1921. No one was quite sure where he came from because Wilson didn’t bother associating with the underworld element in downtown Kansas City. Instead he hung out in the stock yard district. Wilson became connected to the gang after his romantic involvement with Jim Caverty’s sister, Mrs. Ruth Adcock.
What the others didn’t realize was George Wilson had a nasty streak. While going by the name of George Nelson, he had murdered Lawrence Chapman, a police chauffeur.
Wilson became angry when he discovered that Chapman had set him up in a police sting operation. While being questioned by a detective, Wilson drew his pistol and killed Chapman with a single shot. Although the murder had taken place in July of 1922 with plenty of newspaper coverage, Wilson remained in Kansas City, shuffling through a series of aliases (Frank Williams, Frank Nelson, Floyd Furshay) while continuing to elude the law.
Wesley “Gibby” Gibbons at the age of twenty four, was the youngest member of the gang. Although the others had a good nine years or more of criminal experience on him, Gibbons may have had good teachers.
His mother lived on Ridge Avenue in Wellston, a suburb right across the western boarder of St. Louis. At the time, Wellston was home to some of St. Louis’s most notorious gangsters. Tommy Hayes, a key member of the Cuckoo gang and Jack Griffin, a heavy hitter for the Russo gang both grew up in that particular neighborhood.
Gibbons knew enough to realize that he had to get out of town after being arrested for robbery in 1920. Using the aliases of William Granger and James Reiley, he headed north, finally ending up in Chicago where he partnered up with the last member of the bandit gang.
Most of the group knew him only as “Mack” because Charles Makley was playing it close to the vest these days. Since January of 1920, he had been using one of his favorite surnames “McGray”; which came in various flavors such as Charles McGray, C.W. McGray, Mack Gray, etc., etc. etc. At this particular point in time, he called himself W. C. McGray which may have secretly tickled Makley since it sounded very similar to the current governor of Indiana, W. T. (Warren) McCray.
As “McGray”, Makley claimed to have been from Chicago where he worked as a conductor for an elevated train company and then later on as a chauffeur. When questioned more closely, Makley gave 1800 Madison Street as his address in Chicago.
This near west side location happened to have its own history. In 1929, the Chicago Stadium was built at 1800 Madison Avenue, which became the home to many memorable athletic events throughout the twentieth century.
However, in 1922 when Makley was using it as his home address, 1800 Madison Street was a prime hangout for a number of hobos and other indigents. It was a good way to throw anyone off his trail since Makley actually lived about a half mile away at 2009 Jackson Boulevard as a lodger.
For most of his adult life, Charles Makley never really called anywhere home. Instead he rambled, not staying in one place for too long. From 1919 thru 1923, he traveled regularly between Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. His partner, Wesley Gibbons even described how the duo took a trip as far west as California in the spring of 1922.
By the early Twenties, in addition to being well-traveled, Makley’s career had gotten more varied as well. As “McGray”, he had graduated from petty theft and cons to stealing autos and bank robbery. In May of 1922, Makley had been questioned closely by the St. Louis police as one of the prime suspects in a local bank robbery. He was released when authorities decided that they didn’t have enough evidence to charge him.
In the fall of 1922, “W.C. McGray” decided to change venues and try his luck in the country’s “most wide open town”.
December 12, 1922, Kansas City, Missouri
One of the many perks that bustling Kansas City offered was the fact it straddled the divide between Kansas and Missouri. If residents in bone dry Kansas needed to “whet their whistle”, they could simply cross the state line and visit one of the many soft drink parlors on the Missouri side. However, booze wasn’t the only attraction located in this part of town.
The Kansas City Livestock Exchange and stockyards area acted as a magnet to many over the years, including outlaws. Established along the Kansas Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroad tracks in 1871, the stockyard rapidly expanded from thirteen to over fifty acres in just a few short years. This new addition meant the stockyards now occupied space in both states. By 1922, business was booming with millions of cattle, hogs, sheep, horses and mules being sold. All this activity insured that plenty of money was passing through the Livestock Exchange.
Somewhere between 1:00 and 1:30 pm, five men left the post office substation in the Kansas City Livestock Exchange. One was Thomas F. A. Henry, the credit manager of the Drovers National Bank. The second was a detective by the name of Kelley who was hired by the Livestock Exchange. The remaining three were clerks who worked at the bank.
Although the group had just picked up a shipment of $100,000.00 in currency, no one was particularly concerned. As a safety precaution, Drovers National bank always rotated their messengers, not telling them in advance the amount of money they would be handling.
It didn’t occur to anyone that recent budget cuts in Washington which removed the marine guard at the post office substation would put the messengers at greater risk.
As the five reached the lobby near the front doors of the Livestock Exchange, three well-dressed young men stepped forward and cut them off. Kelley immediately was backed up against a wall with a pistol jammed into his ribs while the remainder of the group was ordered to put their hands up.
All three of the clerks obeyed, but without hesitation, Henry the credit manager clutched the money satchel to his chest and bolted for the nearby office of the Alexander, Conover, Martin Commission Company. Stunned for a second by the turn of events, the outlaws regrouped. One took off after Henry shouting, “Get back there or I’ll kill you!”
As Henry pushed his way past the front door into the office, he attempted to throw the money bag over a small partition which divided the room. Hot on his heels was the fuming bandit.
After Henry made the toss, the bandit fired point blank into his back for spite as shocked onlookers began to scream. The money satchel hit the top of the partition and wobbled for a moment before falling back down beside a crumpled Henry.
The bandit grabbed the satchel and ran to join his companions. However, he was careless and a package of bills containing $3000.00 fell out as he fled.
By now the entire Livestock Exchange was in an uproar.
Panicked, the three outlaws leveled their pistols at the crowd and backed their way towards the front doors. Outside a lookout stepped away from the side of the building and signaled to the getaway driver. A large Marmon Touring car with the license plate of 9-791-U idled up to curb as the gang leapt in and sped south on Genesee Street.
Inside Thomas Henry lay in a pool of his own blood, not moving.
The robbery set a dubious record as being the largest amount of cash stolen in Kansas City’s history. Immediately a general round-up of suspicious characters known to police was conducted, the search ranging from pool halls to rooming houses. However, pickings were slim. Only six men were brought in for questioning and of those, five were released. The sixth was booked for the theft of an overcoat.
Meanwhile back at the Livestock Exchange, a group of men loaded Thomas Henry into a car, taking him to the Research Hospital. The bullet had traveled downward into Henry’s leg. At the hospital, doctors determined that surgery would be too dangerous because so much blood had already been lost. Instead the bullet remained and a death watch was started.
Later that same afternoon, the police found the getaway car parked about a mile and a half to the south on the corner of Fairmount Avenue. Surprisingly, the Marmon Touring car added more twists to who exactly had been in on the robbery.
The automobile had been stolen two weeks earlier while it was parked outside a movie theater located at 31st Street and Troost Avenue. The owner, Phil McCrory, was a business associate of Tom Pendergast.
McCrory had a history of “influential” participation in local elections as well as being a Pendergast money man for bails, bonds and loans. In 1922, McCrory was operating the Pendergast Distributing Company, a soft drink business located at 21st street and Central Avenue.
Phil McCrory lived a few blocks away from the movie theater where his Marmon had been stolen. Although the theft may have been coincidental, the Pendergast connection leaves a tantalizing clue that the robbery wasn’t quite as straight forward as police thought.
However law enforcement ignored the McCrory/Pendergast association instead focusing on the location of the abandoned Marmon. During a robbery which had taken place two years prior, the getaway car was left within fifty feet of where the Marmon had been found. Unfortunately the police’s efforts to link those two robberies led to a dead end.
“We won’t bring in those bandits from any soft drink parlors or pool halls,” I. B. Walston, chief of detectives, declared. “The men that ‘pulled’ that job were not any of the characters known to the police department. If they still are in Kansas City there is a better chance that they are stopping at some big downtown hotel than that they are hanging around any rooming houses or billiard rooms.”
At the time, Chief Walston didn’t realize how true his words were.
Scattered to the Winds
Flush with success after ditching the Marmon, the outlaw gang split up, heading back north on foot. They regrouped at the Oregon Flats on 11th and Jefferson streets which was where James Caverty and his wife lived.
Ironically while police were turning Kansas City upside down looking for the robbers, the money was sitting less than two miles away from where it had been stolen.
Not only was the loot close at hand, but one of the robbers, Jim Caverty, actually showed up at the Kansas City police station a couple of hours later to pay the fine on his own car which had been towed away for parking violations.
After the $97,000.00 was divided, the boys decided a celebration was in order. So the six men along with three women companions met that night at a chicken dinner farm near Independence, Missouri which was located to the north.
In a twist of coincidence, Independence happened to be the home town of Harry Truman, the 33rd president of the United States and yet another link back to Tom Pendergast.
While serving in World War I, Harry Truman had met a Lieutenant James M. Pendergast, the nephew of Tom Pendergast. This connection facilitated Truman’s political career when in 1922, he was elected a County Court judge for the eastern district of Jackson County in Missouri. The Kansas City Democratic Party which helped put Truman in office was run by none other than Tom Pendergast.
Evidently the gang felt safe that night of December 12th in Independence. The evening was spent eating, drinking and dancing until the wee hours. Everyone was in high spirits. At the close of the festivities, a final toast was made to newly acquired riches and then the gang split up for good.
Fred McClure stayed in Kansas City while Makley and Gibbons high tailed it to St. Louis on December 18th. The next day, James Martin and his young girlfriend boarded a train taking the scenic route to California.
The final ones to leave were Caverty and Wilson, along with Caverty’s sister. Caverty’s wife, Minerva stayed in Kansas City to take care of unfinished business.
Although Caverty told relatives he was headed to New York City, he decided to sightsee in a different part of the country. The trio hired a driver to get them out of Kansas City and then caught a train to take them to New Orleans. Despite being on the same train, Caverty and Wilson played it safe by not traveling together. When they arrived in New Orleans, they continued to be cautious by not staying in the same hotel.
In contrast, Makley and Gibbons kept together, heading straight for one of the showplaces in St. Louis, the Melbourne Hotel. Built along with other large fancy hotels along Lindell Boulevard, the Melbourne was brand-spanking new when “Mack” and “Gibby” hit town.
Both outlaws registered under aliases with Makley posing as “Charles McGrath” and Gibbons as “William Granger”. The duo spent lavishly, boasting that they were wealthy stockmen who recently arrived from California.
Taxis were frequently hired to drive “Mack” and “Gibby” around the city, especially to the theatrical district which sat further to the east of Lindell at the intersection of Grand and Olive. “Hiding in plain sight” appeared to be their motto as they took in shows and sights throughout St. Louis.
Meanwhile back in Kansas City, things started to get interesting. Bank detectives from the Pinkerton and Burns agencies rolled into town. They had been hired by the National Surety Company of New York who had forked over $97,000.00 to the Drovers National Bank for the largest insurance claim yet paid in Kansas City. Unlike the local police force, these operatives for hire weren’t willing to give up easily.
Coming December 12, 2010 – The Conclusion of A Tale of Two Robberies
(See how Mack celebrated the holidays)
Special Thanks to Daniel Waugh for his information about the Wellston neighborhood of St. Louis where Wesley Gibbons spent some time. If you haven’t checked out Daniel’s books Gangs of St. Louis, Men of Respect or Egan’s Rats, you certainly should. Both are fascinating reads.
Seen More Buhler Robbers,March 7, 1919, Kansas City Star, Kansas City, Mo.
They Protected “Dago Joe”, September 25, 1919, Kansas City Star, Kansas City, Mo.
Bind Over Three Men for Robbery, February 2, 1920, Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO.
Arraign Alleged Shoe Thief, April 8, 1920, Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO.
Denies Assault on Dean, October 19, 1920, Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO.
Rob a Bank Car, January 26, 1921, Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO.
Man is Identified As One of Two Bandits, April 25, 1921, Wichita Daily Times, Wichita, KS.
Three Wearing Lodge Pins Illegally Are Arrested, September 11, 1921, Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO.
A Jury To Try Daniel Kile, July 10, 1922, Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO.
Police Hold Four In Killing, July 13, 1922, Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO.
Three Sought In Slaying, July 13, 1922, Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO.
A $96,000 Robbery, December 12, 1922, Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO.
Bandits Victim May Die, December 12, 1922, Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO.
Round-Up In Bandit Case, December 13, 1922, Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO.
A New Gangster Is Here, December 16, 1922, Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO.
Police Wreck The Alibi, December 30, 1922, Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO.
PHOTOS and ILLUSTRATIONS:
In March 2011, another chapter in the life of Charles Makley will appear. Entitled Diaper Money, it covers his life from 1912 through 1922. A big part of this story will include his wife, Izora Gilman Makley and their four children.
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