Monday, February 1, 2016

Life on the Installment Plan

Just think of this as the story of one man's life sentence on the installment plan.

John Hogue, the convicted murderer in Ontario whose life was spared in an eleventh-hour reprieve by the Canadian government, may have seen his life sentence in Canada eventually reduced to a mere ten years, but that wasn't the end of his debt to society. Apparently, there were more charges to face.

Battle Creek, Michigan, for instance, wasn't about to give up on seeing justice served in the March, 1916, safe-cracking case at the Arthur B. Mitchell Billiard Hall—although authorities even ten years later still insisted that the crook's real name was James Gordon. That little event had netted John Hogue a cool $422 on his way to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Back in 1916, it was Battle Creek's detective G. W. Colby who, in vain, had chased the suspect all the way to Toledo, Ohio, only to find he had just been released after questioning by authorities there. Now, on April 1, 1926, it was Sheriff G. W. Colby, accompanied by Calhoun County prosecutor Cortwright, who finally got his man when he traveled to Detroit to meet up with the Ontario provincial police escorting Hogue across the border. A lot had happened back in Michigan since Hogue last blew through town.

Marshall, the county seat of Calhoun County, in which Battle Creek was situated, was the scene of the trial in circuit court the morning of April 22. Since officials at the Kingston penitentiary where Hogue had been incarcerated in Canada had reported that he had been "a model prisoner," perhaps he had shown some signs of reform. In his own mind, apparently, he believed himself to be a much different man than the one who had last darkened the doors of Battle Creek, for in this case, he had "hoped for release on probation."

Authorities in Calhoun County saw otherwise for, according to that day's Marshall Evening Chronicle, Hogue was duly reminded that
the crime for which he stood charged in Calhoun County is a serious one.

Somehow, the incongruity of all that had transpired in the past ten years of Hogue's life suddenly slapped me in the face. Here, after narrowly escaping the death sentence for murder, the man has been retrieved to stand trial for a theft of less than five hundred dollars—admittedly of much more worth then than it is today, but still of no comparison to the value of a life lost—and the court chooses to remind him that the crime "is a serious one."

In the end, the judge turned out to be quite lenient, even in this "serious" case. He chose to give the minimum sentence—one year—and then was quoted in the newspaper as commenting,
With your good time you'll have to serve only about ten months. Furthermore I am going to recommend that when you are released on parole that you may live outside the state.

That, essentially, provided the green light, after serving his sentence, for Hogue to return home to live near his parents in West Virginia, "who are well to do."

What a fortunate turn of events and best-hoped-for outcome for Hogue—except for one thing. According to The Escanaba Daily Press—that spot as far away from Battle Creek as one could get and still be in Michigan—their April 1, 1926 report mentioned one other point of business:
A message today was received from Sheriff Thomas Shaugancy [sic] of Madison, Wis., indicating Stewart or Hogue is wanted there for blowing two safes in February, 1916.

If Michigan never forgets the wrongs committed against them, why would Wisconsin?


  1. He is certainly a colorful character! :)

    1. Just when I think I've caught up with the end of the story, there's always something else.

  2. I wonder if the statue of limitations would finally come into play here...

    1. For a criminal case? It may or may not have. It all depends on the laws of each state and the charge. Moreover, even if the statute of limitations was not a factor, pursuing a charge might be a matter of how solid a case the prosecutor believed he had, whether a jurisdiction would pursue extradition.


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