Sunday, September 13, 2015

Uncle Gordon Goes Joyriding

Death from Row with Six Thugs

Belvidere Daily Republican - (Special by United Press) 

Sunday, 7 December 1925

          One patrolman is near death, another man is dangerously injured, and two youths are in the hospital today following a holdup and shooting escapade and motor car collision overnight. 
           The patrolman, Theodore H. Funke, had stopped six youths in a stolen Packard motor car in the county after they had held up the owner of the car, Herman Hecht, and his niece.
          After Funke had fallen from the car, the six bandits in the Packard drove on, finally crashing broadside into a motor car driven by Henry Holthausen. The latter was badly injured. The patrolman leaped on the running board of the stolen car and was met by a fusillade of bullets. He was struck seven times.1


Sometimes You Just Have to Learn Things the Hard Way     

          One of the boys in the car that night was my great-uncle, Gordon. This is the family story that has been passed down to my generation. Family stories can be wrong, but so can newspapers.

          The story that I heard goes like this: Gordon was out joyriding with five friends. When the car they were in crashed, the boys did some scrambling. Some of the joyriders were well over 21 years of age. The oldest was 32. 

          According to the family, the older men told Gordon, age 17, to say that he did the shooting, because he would get off with a lighter sentence, being under 18 years old. After three trials, finally, the sentencing of the guilty parties would begin in April 1926. 

          The first to be sentenced was Frank O'Brien, age 19. He drew a sentence of 25 years.

          Next, William Palmisano, 23, was sentenced to 30 years. It was the heaviest sentence on an assault charge in the history of the St. Louis criminal courts.

          Gordon and Andrew Stangel were sitting in the courtroom during the sentencing of O'Brien and Palmisano. They heard the sentences meted out to the first two defendants and they must have been scared out of their wits.

          Both Gordon and Andrew withdrew their former pleas of "not guilty" and "threw themselves on the mercy of the court." The sentence for "assault with malice" ranged from two years to life imprisonment. 
          The testimony in the two previous trials showed that neither Gordon nor Andrew had fired any of the seven shots that seriously injured Officer Funke, and both Gordon and Andrew had been injured themselves after the shooting when the automobile they were riding in collided with another car at Grand Avenue and Bates Street.

          Andrew Stangel got five years.

          Gordon, now 18, was convicted of "assault with intent to kill." He was sentenced to ten years in the Missouri State Penitentiary. He would not be leaving the State Prison until the 14th of April 1936, if he served his full 

          Fortunately for Gordon, he must have been an exemplary inmate. He was released on the 15th of October 1931, having served about half of his original sentence. And, as far as I can tell, he was never again involved in any serious criminal activity.3 

          1. United Press, "Death from Row with Six Thugs," article, Belvidere Daily Republican, online, 7 December 1925; online, : accessed 12 September 2015.
          2. "Long Terms of Pals Draw Two Pleas of Guilt in Funke Case," St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, 16 April 1926, St. Louis Public Library, pg. 32, col. 2.
          3. Missouri Secretary of State, "Register of Inmates," Missouri State Archives, 1926-1931, pg. 185, record of Gordon [surname withheld], inmate number 29822, age 18, convicted of "assault with intent to kill."

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