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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

MR. UN-LUCKY

 I don't believe in curses, but the hard luck existence of Alfred James Brady may yet cause me to reconsider this conviction. Alfred was born on October 25, 1910 in the isolated crossroads of Kentland, atop the flatlands of northwest Indiana - four miles from the Illinois border and just about forever from anywhere else. Curse number two was delivered when Alfred was just two years old and his father, Roy Brady, died in a farming accident. His mother Clara eventually remarried, to Mr. John Biddle . He moved her and the boy 140 miles south on the Monon Railroad to New Salem, northwest of Indianapolis. At the age of sixteen Alfred suffered yet another loss, when Clara died in December of 1926. She was just 37. And in 1928 Alfred's stepfather also died. That was four strikes before Alfred was twenty.
It might be well to pause here to discuss the differences between Alfred Brady and that other Hoosier handful, John Herbert Dillinger (above), who grew up forty-one miles south of North Salem in Mooresville, Indiana. Dillinger – or Public Enemy Number One as the FBI liked to refer to him - was seven years older than Alfred, and his mother had died when he was three. But perhaps the most interesting thing these two men had in common was that Dillinger's Prussian born father ran a grocery store, and four months after his own stepfather's death, Afred Brady sought his fortune by walking into a grocery store. He pretended to have a gun in his pocket and demanded all the money in the till. The clerk pulled his real gun and opened fire. Alfred got shot three times, and was arrested – strike number five.
Afred served six months on the Indiana State Prison Farm, learning how to shovel horse manure, and upon his release tried to go straight. Despite the depression Alfred (above) found work as a delivery boy for a hot tamale stand, a stock boy in a men's clothing store, a welder in an automobile factory, and later, in a mattress factory. Alfred's dissatisfaction with entry level jobs reached a crescendo on July 10, 1934, when he was arrested for vagrancy. Alfred was adrift and looking for a career.
The turning point in Alfred's life came when he met James Dalhover. James was a five foot four inch tall career criminal, four years older and two inches shorter than Alfred. James' skill set was mostly at making moonshine, which financed his purchase of a farm outside of Hanover, Indiana -  strategically located along the distribution route between Louisville and Cincinnati. But revenue agents had recently shut down this home industry and James had just been released from the State Farm. This setback, plus his time in jails in New Mexico, Kentucky and Ohio, tempted James to team up with Alfred.
Their first joint venture was robbing a movie theater 50 miles south of Indianapolis, in Crothersville, Indiana. Unfortunately they chose a Monday night for their holdup, and the cash register contained just $18. The two crooks marked this up to a learning curve, and did better on the following Saturday night, October 19th , when they robbed a grocery in Sellersburg, Indiana, about ten miles north of Louisville, Kentucky. This time they walked out with $190 dollars (the equivalent of $3,000 today). The Brady Gang, as it would later be referred to, was in business.
The boys brought in twenty year old Clarence Shaffer, who stood five feet five inches tall. And the new gang began a regular Saturday night robbery routine around southern Indiana and Ohio. James would later boast that by the spring of 1936 they had successfully robbed about 150 gas stations and groceries, and they began to aim higher. On Wednesday, March 4, 1936 they hit a jewelry store in Lima, Ohio for $8,000. So on Monday, April 27, 1936, they returned to the scene of that crime and robed the same store again, this time making off with $27,000 in jewelry. And then, the next morning , fifty miles away, outside of the little town of Geneva, Indiana, Alfred's curse struck again.
In a farmer's field, Geneva Police retrieved one of the numbered boxes taken from the Ohio jewelry store. This meant the proceeds of the felony had crossed state lines. And J.Edgar Hoover, the bureaucrat running the FBI, used that slim opening to label Alfred Brady as the new Public Enemy Number One. You see, 1936 had been a presidential election year, and under pressure, Roosevelt had pulled back on New Deal spending. To ward off those budget cuts, Hoover needed a replacement for his very successful John Dillenger, Public Enemy Number One campaign.  And Dillenger's “neighbor” Alfred Brady looked like the perfect fit.  Hoover's F.B.I. issued wanted posters and held press conferences, and on Wednesday, May 11th, the Indianapolis Police arrested Alfred and Clarence Shaffer. Four days later James Dalhover was arrested in Chicago, where he had gone to fence the jewelry.
To their shock, the three crooks were charged with the murder of an Indianapolis Police Officer. Whether they actually committed this murder is questionable. They were prolific crooks, and they did carry guns, and sooner or later somebody was going to get shot. But if Alfred was so cold blooded, why didn't he shoot the would-be hero who interrupted the robbery by jumping on Alfred's back? In any case Alfred must have realized it was too late now. The F.B.I. had labeled the trio as “mad dog killers”. It was enough to make you think Alfred Brady was cursed.
On Sunday morning, October 11, 1936 a sheriff in the Hancock County Jail was delivering breakfast to the three men when they hit him over the head with an iron bar, stole his .38 revolver and made their escape in his car. If anybody thought to ask, they might have wondered why the blood-thirsty Alfred Brady had left behind the living injured sheriff. But Hoover and the Indianapolis police made certain nobody gave that little conundrum more than a passing thought.
The trio, now permanently allied by circumstances and the police, fled to Baltimore, Maryland. Here they attempted to establish quiet, respectable lives under assumed names. James Dalhover and Clarence Shaffer even married a pair of nice Italian sisters (despite James still having a wife and two children back in Hanover). For his part, Alfred bought himself a bar. Oh, they periodically returned to Indiana to rob grocery stores and banks, but that was just “what” they did. It wasn't “who” they were. It became who they were on May 27, 1937.
The original plan had been to rob a bank in Sheldon, Illinois, but that institution had failed in the 1937 economic downturn. So instead they robbed a bank in Goodland, Indiana, less than ten miles from Alfred's birthplace in Kentland. They walked out with all of $2,528. And in criss-crossing back roads making their getaway, the gang stumbled upon an intersection called Royal Center, where their careers collided with Indiana Highway Patrol Offiicer Paul Minneman (above) and Cass County Sheriff's Deputy Elmer Craig. In the ensuing fulsade of gunfire, Officer Minneman was killed and Deputy Craig was severely wounded. After the attack, Craig reported one of the gangsters approached the car, pointed a rifle at him and asked, “Shall I finish this guy too? ” Another gang member responded, “No, come on, let's get the hell out of here.” Trooper Minneman left behind a wife and an as yet unborn daughter.
Whatever the truth about Alfred Brady's responsibility in the previous killings attributed to the Brady Gang, there can be no doubt about this one. Even if he had not pulled the trigger, or had been the one telling the gunman not to shoot the wounded deputy, he was now legally responsible for the murder of a police officer. Time Magazine quoted Captain Matt Leach, head of Indiana's State Police, as saying that "because of their viciousness and the way they operate, the Brady mob is going to make Dillinger look like a neophyte.” Reading that, Alfred must have known how it was going to end. The only question was “when”.
In late September, the three men drove to Bangor, Maine, looking to purchase guns and ammunition, telling clerks in at least two sporting goods stores that they were hunters. But nobody in Maine could mistake these Indiana hoods for outdoors men. They returned to Bangor in early October to buy even more guns, and paid the owner of Dakin's Sporting Goods for additional ammunition that was not in stock. The store owner told the men to return in a week.  And that was why, at 8:30 on the Tuesday morning of Columbus Day, October 12, 1937, the “Brady Gang” pulled their black Buick sedan over to the curb in front of 25 Central Street, Bangor. Alfred was in the passenger seat. Clarence and James Dalhover got out, with James entering the store.
James Dalhover approached a clerk and asked, “Where's the stuff I ordered?” His answer came when F.B.I. agent Walter Walsh (above) poked a gun into the back of his head. Instinctively James turned, and Walsh hit him across the bridge of the nose with the pistol. Dalhover fell, and immediately struggled to regain his feet.
Outside, Clarence Shaffer saw the assault, and began firing through the store's windows. He hit agent Walsh in the shoulder. But as he did F.B.I. and Maine State Police “marksmen” stationed on the rooftops along Central Street, opened up.
Several stories under those snipers, 19 year old Poppy Valiades was sitting before the front window of her family's restaurant, the Paramount Cafe, typing up the day's menues. She saw Clarence staggering into the street. “ "I saw his clothes - oh, blood spilling out – bullets...he went into a kind of a coil as he moved into the street. I was probable 10 to 15 feet from him when he dropped.”
Inside the store, James Dalhover broke for the back door, and ran right into the arms of two Bangor city cops, who placed him under arrest. Meanwhile, two agents approached either side of the big Buick. They called for Al Brady to give himself up. Alfred put up his hands and responded, “Don't shoot, don't shoot, I'll get out." But he came out of the car firing and running.
He didn't hit anybody and he didn't get very far. The concentrated gunfire from the rest of the fifteen F.B.I. Agents, and 15 Indiana and Maine State Police Officers, dropped the newest Public Enemy Number One in the very middle of the busy street. Alfred had in his cold dead hand the .38 revolver taken from the holster of murdered Officer Minnemen.
Seventy-four years later, Andrew Taber, who had been on his way to the Dakin's when the shooting exploded on the street, remembered seeing Alfred Brady's body lifted into the wicker basket used to transport fatalities. He watched the silver coins glinting in the brisk morning sunlight as they fell out of Alfred's pocket onto the pavement. The two dead gang members had over sixty wounds in their bodies.
The second the shooting stopped people rushed from all over to have a look; Kalil Ayoob was having breakfast in Main Street that morning, and he remembered, “It looked like the running of the bulls in Spain.”
The only surviving member of the “Brady Gang”, James Dalhover, was tried and convicted of the murder of Officer Minneman. And that was the only murder any member of the gang was ever convicted of. James had the dubious distinction of being the last of nine men executed in Indiana's electric chair in 1938, on November 18th, at the Indiana State Penitentiary, Michigan City.
Clarence Shaffer's family sent for his body, and had it brought home to Indiana. But Alfred Brady had no family. In the end,  he was lowered into a charity unmarked grave in Mount Hope Cemetery, Bangor. However his brain continued to reside in a jar at the Eastern Maine General Hospital, along the Penobscot River, where curious nursing students could wonder if its convolutions hid an explanation for the violence of its lifetime -  until it finally disappeared. And with it, perhaps the Brady curse also died. As the longtime caretaker for the Mount Hope cemetery often told author Stephen King, “In the end, there's always Hope”.
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