One of the great joys I get from reading old newspapers, is absorbing the colorful writing of newsprint reporters from years past. It is a true lesson in how to spin a great yarn using the elements of fact, but set down in a narrative the keeps the readers’ attention. Perhaps not always with the most accuracy, and usually spun with some subjective bias, but it’s damn fine storytelling nonetheless. It was the essence of pulp fiction. Few papers in the country did it better that Toledo’s News Bee. If you read the News Bee, you were treated to a tabloid view of life on Toledo’s colorful streets that would compel most everybody to grab the daily paper and a cup of coffee and settle down for an hour’s worth of great reading. Still does.
I found an example of this prose, I thought it would be fun to share with you from a 1930 article taken from a Toledo News Bee that tells the story of a guy named “Big Wingle” and how he came to meet his demise in one of Toledo’s most dangerous crime neighborhoods of the era.
“Guns He Shunned, Finally End Knife King’s Career”
They never would have got “Big Wingle” that way if he had been facing them. Every Detective who responded to 518 State Street agreed on that point. But the fact remained, that “Big Wingle”, Leroy Wagner, Canton Street’s bad boy, lay dead there with five bullet wounds in his neck.
It seemed funny to those detectives to stand there and look down on “Wingle”. They had picked up, in their time, many of the big boy’s victims who had made the double mistake of speaking out of turn and then stepping in front of the one-armed boy’s razor.
“Wingle’s” shed-home near where his body lay didn’t offer much in the way of what happened. The improvised furniture lay scattered about. There must have been a fight. Neighbors heard the rumpus, but Wingle’s neighbors made it a practice of never interfering in his business.
The big boy’s roommate who was seen intoxicated on Canton Street just before the shooting is sought by police. He’s tough too.
Since 1917 police have arrested Wingle 30 times, he has been convicted 10 times on charges that led him to be called the fastest thing with a knife on Canton Street. He served a year in Atlanta penitentiary for dealing in narcotics and in 1918 he went down to Ohio penitentiary for a three year term for carrying concealed weapons. After that, Wingle settled most of his disputes with a knife.
“Gun gets a fellow in trouble” Wingle said that often. And sure enough, a gun got him.
There’s no mention of why Leroy Wagner was called “Big Wingle” but if the current urban dictionary and other online sources are correct, it could be that Wagner not only was known for wielding not just one large weapon, but two,..if you get my drift.
There many tales written in the News Bee during that time frame that employed this cocky type of Mickey Spillane prose as they conjure up a much more vivid picture of the scene and the actors of the times who not only have a name but have a character and a story and jump off the page into your mind’s eye.
My thanks to those writers.
And my thanks to the Toledo Blade who owns the News Bee archive file.