A dangerous gang brought to summary grief

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two part series on a group of criminals who were operating in Manistee in the late 1870s.

Local businessman, Robert R. Blacker was on the committee which was formed to find the thieves who had stolen money, food, and jewelry in the city for several months. The thieves, who were apprehended a short time after the committee was brought together, were wounded by lumberman A.O. Wheeler after they had broken into his house.

Local businessman, Robert R. Blacker was on the committee which was formed to find the thieves who had stolen money, food, and jewelry in the city for several months. The thieves, who were apprehended a short time after the committee was brought together, were wounded by lumberman A.O. Wheeler after they had broken into his house.

Continuing with last week’s article concerning the apprehension of the thieves that were striking fear into the citizens of Manistee during the late-1870s, we have to keep in mind that as cities like Manistee grew, one of the unfortunate side effects was the rise in crime.

With that said, last week’s article ended with the thieves being wounded by Abram O. Wheeler, whose house they had broken into, and John Canfield who sprang into action to help us neighbor and business partner bag the evil-doers.

This week’s article concludes the tale which was originally published in the Manistee Times on January 17, 1877:

“In their haste to get away they (the burglars) dropped a box of jewelry, a cap, a pair of mittens, an overshoe and a mask, all of which were more or less stained with blood. Mr. Wheeler then proceeded to the house of Mr. Collins, the city marshal, and informed him of the affair. He went in search of the fellows and Wheeler returned home.

“It was then discovered that one of the burglars, Henry Tompkinson, as afterwards found out, broke a window in the kitchen and came in. He found one of the servant girls in the dining room, where she had laid down on a sofa to take a sleep. The other was in the nursery with the baby. Mrs. Morton was upstairs asleep. About this time someone rapped at the front door, and one of the girls opened the door expecting it was Mr. Wheeler arriving home from the party, but instead, the other burglar, Charles Smith, walked in.

“The two then made the girls show them around the house. They went upstairs and entered Mrs. Morton’s room where she was found in bed. They ordered her to get up, but she refused. The burglars then rummaged the drawers, and afterwards went downstairs and went through everything. They had secured some jewelry, and were getting ready to pack up some silverware when Mr. Wheeler knocked at the door, as we have described.

“Saturday morning the news of the exciting adventure spread all over the city, and the people became thoroughly aroused. The burglars had not yet been caught. The cap found was identified as belonging to Henry Tompkinson and Marshal Collins had been to his boarding house on the north side of the river, and found that he had not been there that night.

“A meeting of the citizens was held at the City Hotel, Hon. Martin Morris, Mayor, being selected as chairman, and App. M. Smith, Secretary. The meeting appointed a committee, consisting of S.S. Conover, T.J. Ramsdell, Chas. Secor, R.R. Blacker, and Perry Russell, whose duty it should be to immediately develop a plan for the abatement of the devils under consideration. The committee forthwith held a meeting and appointed a special police of 40 persons to take measures to clean out the city and bring to punishment those villains who have been committing depredations upon the peace and good order of the community.

“While the committee was in session it was announced that the burglars who entered A.O. Wheeler’s house had been arrested. Marshal Collins and Sheriff Fay having made up their minds as to who the parties were, proceeded to the house of Charles Smith, an ex-saloon keeper in the Fourth Ward, and entering the back door they asked Mrs. Smith if Charles was in. The sudden parlor that overspread her features as she answered that she supposed he was downtown, convinced the officers that they struck the right place, and they immediately pushed forward and entered the house where they found Smith quietly smoking an old black pipe and his head tied up with bandage.

“Henry Tompkinson was there also, resting his weary frame upon a sofa, while his crippled arm, with one of Wheeler’s bullets in it, was laid across his breast. Smith asked what they wanted and Sheriff Fay with his accustomed alacrity of speech replied that they wanted him. Tompkinson got up and started to the kitchen for his boots and Fay followed him. Smith then went to a bedroom after his overcoat, and as he passed the front door, unlocked the door. After getting his overcoat Smith came back, and as soon as he reached a spot near the front door he quietly opened it and sprang out, with Marshal Collins in hot pursuit.

“As he ran Collins fired two shots at Smith,and then lost the cylinder from his pistol, neither shot taking effect. Seeing that there was no other way to catch him but by running, Ben put on all steam he had, and at length took a shortcut around a building and succeeded in getting his hands upon Smith. The two burglars were then taken to jail. Charles Greenfield, alias Charles Greenfield Randall, supposed to be one of the gang that entered Captain Laird’s house, was also arrested. Another man named Tommy Long was taken also, as being connected with some of the petty robberies.

“The occurrence created a most unusual excitement among all classes of people. The hardware stores were overrun with a demand for revolvers and other dangerous implements, each man intent upon providing himself with the means of protecting his family.

“During the day, in searching the premises, Haines’ watch was found, Baxter’s flour, Russell’s groceries, Barrett’s watch, and many other articles that had been stolen from various places.

“The special police are still on duty and the officers are bending every nerve to find other links of evidence to implicate others, but the general belief is that the gang has been broken up most effectually.

“Mrs. Smith, the wife of Charles Smith, had told a good deal about the operations of the gang, and has implicated Tomkinson in the attempt to rob Mr. Lewis, of the firm of Drummond, Lewis & Co.

The thieves were later sent to prison but for how long of a duration remains unclear.

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Posted by Mark Fedder

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Musuem. He can be reached at (231) 723-5531 ormanisteemuseum@yahoo.com.

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