Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Picking Up on a Hundred Year Old Story

Let's begin at the end: the moral of this story—at least on the process side of the analysis—is to never start telling a multi-post-long story right before a major holiday. Like I did. Every time the narrative got rolling, it would have to be set aside for posts of another sort. First it was Christmas. Then New Year. Then, too many roadblocks with the impending date of my flight to Salt Lake City—and then a week of training at SLIG.

But now? The coast is clear, I hope, to return to the story of the man who took to blowing up safes in a half dozen midwestern cities before finally being apprehended in Winnipeg.

If you thought the close of the fugitive's drama came at the moment of his sentencing, you would be missing the rest of the story. And I want to tell that story—well, at least as much of it as I've been able to find.

So, before we pick up that narrative, let's endure a brief recap for those who spent their holidays doing things other than reading genealogy blog posts. I'll include hyperlinks back to the original posts, so you can hopscotch your way through the littered trail betwixt the cheery holiday posts of last month.

We started in the middle of December with a discovery of an odd set of entries on a border crossing report for John Hogue of Charleston, West Virginia. Only, he wasn't coming from West Virginia at the time; he was arriving in Detroit from Windsor, Ontario, in February, 1926, escorted by a deputy sheriff of Calhoun County, Michigan. The reason for his re-entry into the country was to stand trial for crimes allegedly committed in that county.

As any genealogist would, I had this nagging doubt about the document, wondering if it really was referring to my John Syme Hogue, son of a civil engineer in Charleston, West Virginia. I had to take a closer look—which led me on this wild chase to figure out exactly who this convict John Hogue might have been.

First stop on my research plan was to search for that name in historic newspaper archives. I got more than I bargained for: apparently, the man was known by several aliases. More importantly, he was wanted in Battle Creek, Michigan, for blowing up a safe and getting away with its contents—over four hundred dollars in cash. That was in March, 1916.

By May, the fugitive—never having been caught by Battle Creek authorities—was plying his craft at another safe in Madison, Wisconsin. By this time, newspaper reports were glowering over the escaped suspect, whom they believed to be named James Stewart.

In October, a case with many of the same details occurred, but this time the suspect was apprehended, and spent nearly three months in jail. Toward the end of his sentence, local law enforcement officials were informed that their prisoner, whom they had assumed was named William Anderson, was wanted in Battle Creek for a similar crime committed there back in March. The process to extradite the prisoner was initiated, and by the end of January, 1917, he was sent east on a train bound for Windsor in the custody of an immigration official. The plan to hand over the convict to U.S. authorities at the international border at Windsor was never completed. Just three miles before his arrival in Windsor, the prisoner grabbed the officer's gun, shot him, and leaped from the still-moving train.

The midnight getaway in the rural outskirts of Windsor prompted a widespread manhunt. For two days, the fugitive eluded both law enforcement officers and citizen posses assembled from several surrounding towns. In an almost anti-climactic way, an unassuming stranger stopping by a local hotel for a meal and a night's stay turned out—despite yet another alias—to be the very man who was the focus of what was billed "the biggest manhunt of a year or more."

Immediately booked into the Windsor jail, starting up the process of scheduling his trial in Ontario's Supreme Court, the suspect made his own protests about the crime just committed. He insisted his captor's gun was "hair-trigger" and that he never meant to kill the man, just keep him at bay to effect his getaway. Newspaper reporters from the several American cities in which he—under a number of aliases—had committed crimes hounded the now-found fugitive for a scoop on this emergent story.

Regardless of intent, James Stewart—a.k.a. numerous other monikers but in reality one and the same as the John Hogue whose genealogy led me to this story—appeared before the Ontario Supreme Court on the morning of March 7, 1917, and saw the conclusion of arguments, jury deliberations and the announcement of their verdict, and the sentencing all unfold before the day was over. He was pronounced guilty as charged. He was sentenced to die on the gallows that May 17.

The defense began immediately to prepare an appeal. While newspapers back in Winnipeg and throughout those midwestern American locales where the suspect had likely also plied his craft churned through all the details of the murder and trial, it seemed they couldn't quite agree on the correct name for the suspect for nearly another month. In the end, it became clear that the man sought by so many cities was indeed John Hogue. And though he had seemed to forget his family, they had not forgotten him. John Hogue's brother began his own campaign to defend his brother, going so far as to enlist the support of his state's then-current governor, John J. Cornwall.

Granted, it might be a far-fetched scenario to think the governor of an American state would be likely to agree to plead on behalf of a criminal detained in an entirely different country. But in the case of this criminal, the chances were somewhat better. Both John Hogue's father and younger brother were prominent civil engineers in the city of Charleston—capital, incidentally, of West Virginia. To say the family was "prominent," however, does not reveal the full line of connections in that family's heritage. Surprisingly, this man condemned in a Canadian court for murder was actually a descendant of one of the United States' own most revered Chief Justices, John Marshall.

Tracing that genealogical connection was where I left off with this story. While it may have seemed as if the story just fell off the table, having been pre-empted by holiday and post-holiday activities, I assure you there is more to be told. And we can pick up the trail again—this time, safe from further interruptions—with tomorrow's post.

Above: The document that started me asking all those questions, Manifest of the United States Department of Labor Immigration Service card for John Hogue; courtesy of


  1. Yes I am ready for the rest of the story! :)

    1. It seemed to fall off the table and lose its momentum with that holiday detour, didn't it? But yes...the rest of the least as much of it as I can find so far!

  2. "Meanwhile back at the ranch . . . ."

    Yes, I too am eager to learn John Hogue's fate and why his family was so eager to defend him unless the family as a whole believed they were above the law.

    1. The psychology-student side of me wants desperately to crawl inside the minds of these people and figure out what they were thinking. On the other hand, they could just be like any of us: wanting to do anything they could to spare the life of someone they loved. Or am I romanticizing this scenario a bit too much?

  3. Maybe we will never know what he was thinking - but you have at least the outlines of what this man did - and that is far more than many have on many of their own ancestors!

    1. I guess there is a plus side to having one's ancestors' names plastered all over the newspaper...


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...