Category Archives: Toledo area crime news

Once Notorious Area Madam Dies In Quiet Obscurity

Forty years ago, in 1972, Lillian (aka: Ginger) Tailford Belt, 53 years of age, was one of the most notorious women in Northwest Ohio.  As the area’s most famous madam and operator of an equally famous house of ill repute in Ottawa County, she and a small army of accomplices were facing a major federal indictment that included numerous charges, including tax evasion, white slavery and bribery.  It was a case that captured the public’s attention, offering a trial filled with steamy testimony, but also revealing the seamy and sordid underbelly of the prostituion trade and how the “Round the Clock Grille” on Woodville Road was able to evade criminal prosecution for so many years.  The revelations would eventually bring down the sitting Ottawa County sheriff James Ellenberger and sent former Ottawa county sheriff Myron Hetrick to prison for helping to distribute tens of thousands of dollars in bribes.

In the center of the stormy scandal was a striking blonde by the name of Lillian Tailford Belt. known by many as “Ginger”.  She was accused of running the operation for decades, since the 1950’s.  She was also linked to the notorious Rosie Pasco of Port Clinton who was reputed to have a run a similar operation for many years near Camp Perry during the war years when that area was home to thousands of lonely soldiers. Rose Pasco was also charged.  The evidence and testimony in the 1972 trial against Lillian and her co-defendants was  overwhelming. The federal agencies that orchestrated the case had done their homework.  Lillian Belt was convicted and sentenced to a four-year term at a women’s federal prison facility in Arizona, the state where she had been living in the years prior to the federal raid on the “Clock”.

Because of the “Clock’s” location at the corner of Woodville Road and Fostoria Road, about 5 miles northwest of Genoa,  I actually knew Lillian. Not well, but during the mid-60’s while I was a carryout boy at a popular Genoa grocery store where Lillian and her two children often shopped for groceries.Not just for their River Road home near Elmore, but also for the women who worked and stayed at the “Round the Clock”whorehouse.  It was my job, at times, to deliver groceries to both locations. My education in the ways of the world began early. It was always hard for me to believe that the local law enforcement agencies didn’t know what was going on there, when as a 16-year-old, I knew, and so did everybody else.

So for me, it was not just journalistic curiosity, but also personal inquiry, that led me to recently wonder whatever happened to Lillian Pasco Tailford Belt. What happened after she left prison? Did she ever come back to Ohio? Was she even alive?  That I assumed was not probable, given that 40 years had passed since the trial and she was at least 30 years my senior. I just assumed she had probably gone to her final reward many years ago. And after some Internet searches, I did confirm that she, in fact, had passed away, but just a few years ago, in 2009, in her beloved Phoenix at the age of 90.  The obit was really just a short death notice. I’ve been unable to find any other information, nor was there any mention of her one-time public celebrity in Ohio. Even the Toledo Blade missed the event.  Her final days merely yielded a short notice in the Phoenix paper and a schedule for the funeral service. It appears that she must have lived out the balance of her life after the Toledo court case(over 35 years) in relative obscurity in Paradise Valley, Arizona.   Now as a storyteller by nature, this has bothered me. I wish I could have had the chance to have listened to and documented her life story. All of the stories and colorful memories that had no doubt  grown in the garden of her most unusual life.  One can only surmise that Lillian had much more to tell, much more to reveal, more more to have riveted our attention, beyond what had surfaced in the Toledo trial. What a story – still untold.

Today, as I pass by the corner of Woodville and Fostoria roads, the old “Round the Clock” truck stop and house of ill-repute is long gone, burned down and replaced, ironically by a bank. Nothing left on the corner to remind us or future generations of what took place there. How on so many nights, the parking lot at this rural outpost, would be filled with a fleet of yellow taxi cabs from Toledo who brought out men day and night for sample of what was NOT on the menu , how the red hand on the big neon clock on the otuside of the white aluminum siding would blink round and round in circles as an invitation to stop in and see for yourself what earthly “delights” were to be found up the back stairs.   But 40 years have passed.  The “clock” has now stopped. For good. Along  with a moment in time that lives only for those who remember.

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“Whoopee Gang” Stuns Point Place Saloon

For whatever reason, this particular story struck me as one of the more interestingly brazen crimes from the past.   On the front page of the October 24th 1929 issue of the Toledo NewsBee, my eyes focused recently on this provocative headline from the field of ink.

“WHOOPEE GANG ROBS 19 AFTER RESORT PARTY”

As the story was written, it appears that three men who had  been recently set free by Toledo Police after being held for robbery, decided to celebrate their newfound freedom by a night of lewd and criminal behavior.  Namely- holding up the Blue Bird, an illegal nightclub, on 131st Street in Point Place and robbing the 19 people inside. But before robbing the so called “rum resort”, they gave the patrons a show they’ll probably never forget. The NewsBee writers detail those events in their own inimitable style.

“In convivial mood, the gunmen trio entered the inn at 3035 131st street, with three women companions at 10:30 pm Wednesday, they engaged a table and proceeded to make whoopee.

GOOD, CLEAN FUN

Pocket flasks were flashed, deputies were told, and as the evening proceeded, geniality exceeded caution. Exuberant over their release from their cell in police headquarters after 25 victims of recent holdups here had failed to identify them, the three men shouted to all who cared to listen that they were out for good clean fun.

Moved by an esthetic urge, they paid members of the orchestra to deepen the indigo tints of the bluish strains of jazz, while the three celebrators leaped nimbly upon nearby tables and performed dances attributed commonly to only trained performers.

Shortly after midnight, a serious note entered their abandon. They felt the need for ready cash….One by one the trio leaped up and waved revolvers at the astonished guests, orchestra and proprietor Frank Wilkinson.”

The bandits then proceeded to rob everyone in the Blue Bird and then robbed the safe of the Blue Bird, taking about $200 in cash, but not before hitting and beating  Marchetta Schoeltz, the co-owner of the Blue Bird.  The trio and their girls, exited the place, jumped in a car and headed north along Edgewater Drive. Toledo Police were in hot pursuit, but lost them at the Michigan State Line and ended their chase.

INSULT TO INJURY

While the bandits(whose names were known but never mentioned in the article) managed to escape, the owners of the Blue Bird did not. It was raided the next day by federal liquor agents and both Wilkinson and Schoeltz were arrested for running an illegal rum resort.

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Toledo’s Biggest Robbery Not Forgotten

It was 90 years ago that Toledo was thrust into the national crime spotlight, thanks to a previously obscure small time crook by the name of Joe Urbaytis.  On February 17th, 1921, he and a gang pulled off the largest robbery in Toledo history. Not a bank or a store, but the main post office building on 13th Street between Madison and Jefferson. Witnesses said they saw a car swerve onto 14th Street at the rear of the post office. The five men inside the car(later found to be stolen) had been tailing a U.S. Postal Service truck which had just loaded up six pouches at Union Station, filled with securities, cash and bank notes.  The bandits obviously knew what they were after and when the truck reached the loading dock, the men in the car emerged with guns and began ordering postal workers to the floor.  The workers complied and within minutes, the bandits led by Joe Urbaytis were back in the car, and speeding away from downtown.  While no one was shot or killed, it was no less dramatic, for this would prove to be far more than a daring but simple robbery.

The value of the loot  taken in the robbery was estimated to be at least a million dollars.  In today’s dollars, according to a CPI inflation guide, that would be worth about 12 million dollars. The biggest heist in Toledo history. Before it was over it would involve more than a dozen suspects, including a local priest, and would also make Joe Ubaytis and members of his gang some of the most wanted criminals in America.

The Toledo Police Department, 90 years later, still has the file from that dusty old case.  Although yellowed and brittle, the contents  fill in the blanks of the investigation that was carried out by Toledo Police and the FBI as they tried to figure out just who had pulled off this stunning caper.  The case was a high priority and the intense pressure eventually lead to the arrests of 18 people, including the “mastermind” of the operation, Joe Urbaytis. He had been a small time criminal with a lengthy rap sheet, born and  raised in the Polish neighborhoods of Lagrange Street.  The file tells a riveting story of how TPD officers worked for days to find Urbaytis, whom they had suspected from the early start of the case.  They  had also suspected he might flee to Chicago along with his other familiar compatriots, George Rogers and Charles “Split Lip” Shultz.  On the evening of February 22nd, 1921, police and railway detectives found Urbaytis and some of those gang members on board the Toledo to Chicago train near Elkhart, Indiana.

Urbaytis might have been in custody, but he proved to be very uncooperative  and did not give up information easily.  After he and about a dozen others were convicted in federal court that summer of 1921 of conspiracy in the case, they were still awaiting trial for the robbery itself. But Urbaytis, Rogers and Shultz had other plans and managed to overpower the turnkey at the Lucas County Jail and escaped.

They remained at large for years and It wasn’t until 1924, that Urbaytis turned up again. This time in Columbus, Ohio, where he was involved in a dramatic gun battle with police, and was shot.  Seriously wounded, he lay in a Columbus hospital and allowed reporters in for bedside interviews and photos. He reveled in his notoriety as a popular public enemy.  Eventually he recovered and was sent back to Toledo where he and the others faced the legal system and were eventually convicted of the robbery and the additional escape charges.  Facing a 60 year sentence, he was shipped off to federal prison. But the Toledo native, was not to be confined for long, and in 1928, he slipped his bonds again, escaping from federal prison in Atlanta.

But this time when he was recaptured, in 1934, federal prison officials sent Urbaytis to the “Rock”, the Alcatraz, federal prison on a remote island in Oakland Bay California where escape was improbable.

The story could have ended there and Urbaytis might have died in prison and obscurity, but once again he escaped. This time, however, by virtue of a shortened sentence and a second chance at freedom. In 1943, Urbaytis was released and came home to Toledo, but instead of takinga low profile after his new found freedom, the ex-con and notorious crime figure almost flaunted his freedom by opening an unlicensed night club on Woodville Road, near the railroad overpass.  But in 1946, Joe’s streak of luck ran out. He was gunned down inside of his Bon-Aire Supper Club on Woodville Road. He did not esacpe death. His life of crime was over. Toledo Police Chief Ray Allen even wrote a letter to FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover letting him know that Urbaytis had been shot and killed and the FBI could close the books on him for good.

Ninety years later, all that’s left is a thick and brittle file in the Safety Building, crammed with photos, mug shots, fingerprint cards, police reports and newspaper articles telling the 25 year tale of the robbery and the “brains” behind it and his violent demise.

There are still, however a few more loose ends that this author and others are trying to resolve. It seems that one of the gunmen in the 1921 heist was known as “James Colson”. His real name was Nathan Otterbeck and he was not arrested until 1923. A newspaper article I found from that era, says he was arrested on a train in Davenport, Iowa. Family members continue to search records to find more information about him and his background. We do know he died under another name in Idaho. If you have more information about Colson or Otterbeck, let us know.

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Toledo Priest Charged With Murder-In 1903!

About a hundred years before Toledo priest Rev. Gerald Robinson was charged with the murder of a nun, another Toledo priest also faced a charge of murder.  The year was 1903 and Father Ferdinand Walser, at the time was the assistant pastor at the Scared Heart parish in Toledo. But while staying at the home of another Catholic priest in Lorain,  he became caught up in the bold headlines of a murder case that rocked the country.  It was alleged that Walser had murdered the sister of the priest he was staying with. On May 2nd of 1903 Ferdinand Walser of Toledo was arrested and taken to jail in Lorain County charged with brutally murdering 34-year old Agatha Reichlin, the sister of Father Charles Reichlin, pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Chuch in Lorain. Walser had been staying at the home while Rev. Reichlin was assigned temporarily to Kelley’s Island.  Police say Walser entered the bedroom of the young woman and crushed her head with a paving stone. No motive was ever offered. The wire service accounts of the crime say that bloodhounds were brought to the scene in an effort to find the trail of the killer and the dogs kept returning to room of the home where Father Walser was staying. They also reportedly took police to the nearby hospital where Walser had spent the previous night.  Walser was arrested and taken to the county jail in Elyria on what even investigators described as mostly circumstantial evidence. As the Toledo priest was being taken to jail a reporter asked him if he was guilty and Waslser was quoted as saying.

 “All I have to say is that I am not guilty of any crime. I am innocent and I say that with a clear conscience.” He went on to say that the charges against him were “a disgrace” and that he would prove his innocence. 

 

 Father Walser, however, was quizzed about two events some saw as adding to his possible guilt. He apparently sent the brother of the murder victim out to get some liquor early in the morning. He admitted that he had done so and explained that he needed “the stimulant” to help calm him after the murder. It was also revealed that Father Walser had a previous run-in with the law on a kidnapping charge in Clinton Missouri several years before.  He and another priest were charged with abducting a young boy, however Walser said they were cleared of any wrongdoing in the case when it was learned  that the two men had adopted the boy and had not broken the law.   Walser spent two more days in the county jail and then on the 6th of May, at the conclusion of a coroner’s inquest, the priest was set free. During that proceeding, both the Rev. Reichlin and another brother, Casimer Reichlin swore to the court that it couldn’t have been Walser who killed their sister. Events were described that indicated it was perhaps a burglar who had gotten into the home through an attic window, or that it might have been the work of a “jilted” lover. As Rev. Walser left the inquest hearing he told the Mayor and prosecutor that he had been “hurt a great deal” by the accusations and that he couldn’t kill anyone. He said “I couldn’t even kill a chicken”.

The crime was never solved as to this day, no one knows who in fact did so brutally kill Agatha Reichlin.

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The Toledo Trunk Mystery, A Grave Robbing Tale

 

 

It was known as “Toledo’s Trunk Mystery”  and for a while in 1886, it was probably the most talked about story of the day. Not  just in Toledo, but around the world as it made headlines in many major newspapers. And no doubt it would be just as attention grabbing today, for this story was not only sensational, but  laid bare the grisly truth of grave robbing by medical schools. A story that began in a Toledo train station where the lifeless body of a young woman was found in a large trunk. As the New York Times relates the story on September 11, 1886, the trunk had been put on the Wheeling and Lake Erie train earlier in the day in Bellevue, about 40 miles east of Toledo.

  

“Among the assortment of trunks that arrived this forenoon was one from which there came a terrible odor. It was placed in an isolated spot and the authorities were notified. When the detectives broke open the trunk it appeared to be filled with straw, but on pulling out a quantity, the officers found the body of a young woman. She was of medium height with blue eyes and brown hair. The clothing was of fine quality, indicating that the victim was of a family in good circumstances. In the mouth, a lot of tissue paper had been stuffed.”

Police stayed with the trunk and waited for someone to claim it and and finally a man did. He was promptly arrested and identified as Martin.E. Wilson. He told police he lived near Bellevue, Ohio and didn’t know the contents of the trunk but had been given money by “certain parties” to take the trunk to Toledo where he was to turn it over to a Dr. Hill from the Toledo Medical College on Lagrange Street. Dr. Hill, however, later said he knew nothing about it. A subsequent investigation by the Lucas County Coroner’s Office concluded that the woman had died of consumption a day or two earlier and without any foul play, but for some reason this woman’s body had been spirited away before her burial. The coroner even noted there had been puncture marks under the arms for embalming. By the next day, however, more information was forthcoming and it was revealed that the body was that of Belle Bowen, the 17-year old daughter of a well-known and “prosperous farmer” John.M. Bowen. She had died of consumption(tuberculosis) and had been buried in a small cemetery near Attica, but her grave, still fresh from the Friday burial, was exhumed that same evening. It latercame out at trial that Wilson had worked under the light of a full moon that September night to pull her body from the grave and then put it into a large trunk before loading it on the train to Toledo with a final destination at the Toledo Medical College. When news of what appeared to be a “grave robbing” surfaced, indignation grew rapidly. And it was widely speculated that this might have been part of a regular system of grave robbing that had been taking place to help medical schools obtain cadavers for research and training. The Bowen family doctor, an H.G. Blaine was arrested. It was alleged that the man who took the trunk to Toledo, Martin Wilson was his assistant and the two of them had conspired to steal the body of young Belle. Wilson also faced charges, along with several staff members of the Toledo Medical College. Back in the Attica and Bellevue area, neighbors and townspeople were irate. A number of men threatened to lynch the two medical men if they returned to the area. Meanwhile, farmer John Bowen traveled to Toledo, with the empty coffin of his daguhter to reclaim his beloved Belle.

In the ensuing trial, it was learned that the 35-year old Wilson was a medical student who had been offered free tuition by the Toledo Medical College to bring them cadavers which were rare in those days since there was no lawful way to obtain them. Wilson was eventually convicted and sent to prison, while Dr. Blaine was cleared of charges, claiming that he didn’t know Wilson had stolen the body and had merely helped him buy the large trunk.  Blaine eventually returned to practice and moved to Willard Ohio. The staff members at the college were also cleared of wrong doing.

Today, Belle Bowen’s body lies undisturbed, and otherwise undistinguished in her grave at the tiny Omar cemetery near Attica, alongside her parents and other family members. There is no notation of how famous she was in death in 1886 when much of the world knew her name and her macabre story.

The practice of grave robbing was apparently in vogue for a number of years in the Toledo area, for only ten years later after this case made Toledo famous, another Toledo doctor was arrested for stealing corpses from the Toledo Infirmary cemetery. Dr. F.O. Hunt was charged with stealing the body of Edwin Cartwright from his grave. The New York Times reported that the coroner at the time, said he was believed to be “part of a gang of professional ghouls operating here for several months and reaping a rich harvest”.

  

 

 

 

 

 

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Lynch Mob In Tiffin Thwarted: Two Killed

The next time someone tries to sell you on the idea that our culture is becoming more violent and less civilized than it used to be in our grandparents’ era, please remind them of this story and others like it. They were not uncommon.

On the morning of October 27th in 1895, the Seneca County Jail in Tiffin was mobbed by hundreds of men ready to take vengeance on the man who was accused of killing Tiffin City Marshal, August Shultz, just a few days before. The object of their murderous hatred was one Leander Martin, an area farmer south of Tiffin. The story of what led up to Shultz’s death was recounted by the New York Times.

“Martin runs a small farm near Watson Station six miles south of Town. Wednesday afternoon he got into a controversy with the son of a neighboring farmer. The boy who is scarcely 15 years of age refused to obey some trivial request of Martin and the farmer flew into a rage. He struck the boy with his fists and siezed him by the neck nearly strangling him. The boy finally succeeded in breaking away and half dead, though he was, he reached town where he told his story to police.”

The Times goes on to report that Marshal Shultz, along with an Officer Pat Sweeny went to Martin’s farm to investigate the beating incident and when  they arrived and approached the house, Martin opened fire on them.  Officer Sweeny was hit twice and Shultz was shot dead.  Word of the shooting spread quickly and when reinforcements arrived at the farm, Martin quickly surrendered peacefully and was taken to the Seneca County Jail in Tiffin.

August Shultz had been a popular Marshal and his death was not accepted routinely.  A day following his funeral, at 1:30 in the morning, a crowd of over 150 infuriated men, many according to the NY Times, “under the influence of liquor”, attacked the jail in an effort to secure Martin and hang him. Their effort made some progress as they managed to break a lock and get inside the jail itself.  But they were met by Seneca County Sheriff Joe Van Ness who warned the crowd to back off.  The enraged mentality of the mob had abandoned all common sense and they persisted in trying to get further into the jail. As the snarling crowd surged forward, a half dozen newly appointed deputies opened fire. The barrage of gunfire sent two men to the floor with mortal wounds. They were lated identified as 23-year old Henry Mutchler Jr. and 33-year old Christopher Matz.  The sudden shock quieted the angry mob for only a awhile and Sheriff Van Ness, fearing even more violence and a return of the mob, called for reinforcements from the state militia.  Company C of the 16th Regiment of the Ohio National Guard were called in to stand guard at the jail where by daybreak on Sunday, more crowds began to assemble. The tension grew and there were reports that the men would return with dynamite to blow up the jail to avenge the killings of Mutchler and Matz. Sheriff Van Ness telegraphed Ohio Governor William McKinley for even more troops to quell what he feared could be a a civil uprising. McKinley agreed and throughout the day more troops arrived from Fremont, Sandusky, Toledo and other communities.

What the vigilante’s did not know was that after their failed attempt to drag Martin from the jail, Sheriff Van Ness ordered other deputies to remove the accused killer from the lock up and move him by horseback to the safety of the nearby Sandusky County Jail in Fremont.

Leander Martin would eventually go to trial and was found guilty of Marshal Shultz’s murder. He was sentened to hang, but never did. Many years later he was released from prison, only to die in a fall from a roof.

Patrolman Pat Sweeny who survived the shooting on Martin’s farm did eventually die in the line of duty. He was shot to death in a gunfight with a burglar in downtown Tiffin in 1913.

The narrative of the angry lynch mob is a sad and tragic chapter in our history and one that left an ugly stain on the legacy of the American justice system.  They were violent episodes that were not some infrequent abberation that happened somewhere else, but took place in many towns and communities. Even here – in our own backyard, not all that many years ago. 

 

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Area Coast Guardsmen Nabbed In Bootlegger Bribery Case

This story happened 80 years ago this week and took place against the backdrop of rampant rum running on Lake Erie. The Toledo area and the Western end of Lake Erie was the primary corridor for gangsters who were trying to smuggle booze into the United States after prohibition closed off all the legal trade in wine, beer and whiskey sales in the U.S.

(Toledo, OH) — January 18, 1930. Four Coast Guardsmen from the Port Clinton Coast Guard station are charged with allegedly accepting a bribe of $2,500 from a rum runner who was smuggling illegal booze from Canada into the Toledo Harbor. Three of the men were being held in the Erie County jail in Buffalo New York and the fourth suspect was being sought.
The story was reported in numerous newspapers around the nation and it was also reported that three other Coast Guardsmen were implicated in the case, but were only being charged with desertion.

According to an AP article, a rum runner named “Courtney” had given the men $2500 in cash to release his speedboat after they encountered him in Toledo. But then later, he was picked up again and that’s when he told authorities about his earlier bribe payment to the other Coast Guardsmen.

Author’s note. My Uncle, Louis Hebert, who was the commander of the Marblehead Coast Guard station during the era, often stated there was a “treasure” of of illegal whiskey and wine at the bottom of western Lake Erie. Many of the rum runners, while being pursued by Coast Guard boats frequently dumped their payloads overboard and sent large amounts of high priced scotch, whiskey and other spirits to the bottom of the lake. Uncle Louis was even quoted in a wire service article several years later in which he predicted that the lake would become the popular hunting grounds of future treasure seekers. I’m not sure if that ever came to pass but there were stories appearing from time to time about people being caught by authorities trying to recover the submerged contraband.

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