Tag Archives: Crime

First American Air Hijack Attempt Happened in Ohio

According to some “official” sources the first air hijacking attempt on American soil happened on July 31, 1961 when pipeline worker Bruce Britt, Sr., boarded and attempted to commandeer a Pacific Airlines flight at the Chico Municipal Airport, in Chico, California, intending to return to his home in Smackover, Arkansas. The hijacking attempt failed, but Britt did shoot two airline employees.

But this reporter has uncovered an even earlier attempt at an airline hijacking..and it took place in Ohio and ended with tragic results.  The year was 1954, 62 years ago this week on July the 6th when a large framed 15-year-old boy, wearing a leather coast denim jeans boarded an American Airlines plane at Cleveland Hopkins airport, waving a pistol and demanded that the pilot fly the plane to Mexico.  The pilot, however, reached into high flight bag and withdrew a .38 caliber handgun and shot the young teen twice, once in the hip and once in the chest. He died about an hour later at the hospital. There were 53 passengers on board the DC-6, and they were largely unaware of what had happened until the ambulance took the boy’s body out on a stretcher. That young man was identified as Ray Kuchenmeister, a 280 pound, six-foot tall teen  who his mother said was bitter because he was too big to be considered a boy and too young to be considered a man.  His 12-year-old brother, Donald, who was outside the plane when the shooting happened said he and his brother had run away from their run down old home in suburban Parma and  just wanted to go out West and “get work as cowboys”.  The pilot, Captain William Bonnell said later, “What was I supposed to do? I had a maniac on the plane with a gun.”  The gun that the young man brandished however was later revealed to be broken and empty. The boy’s mother said it was an old broken gun that been around the house for years and she thought it had been thrown outFirst HiJack attempt.

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Filed under Strange Happenings, The Forgotten and no so famous, Uncategorized

“Guns He Shunned, Finally End Knife King’s Career”

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.

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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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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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