Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Unsolved Murder of Henry Hicks Moore

            There was another killing in a secluded parking area, before the Hinote, Bryars, killings. The location of this one was in the Magnolia Bluffs area off of Scenic Highway.  This occurred months before the last one I wrote about, and is also unsolved.

            Henry Hicks Moore left his wife and son at home on the evening of January 10, 1931 and went to the Saenger Theater to watch a movie.  He was not alone.  He had a date with a 19 year old Miss Gretchen Gregory. Moore was 23 years old and  lived at 503 E. Jackson St., with his wife Eulalie, and son Henry, Jr.  Later, Miss Gregory claimed she had no idea that Henry was married.

            After watching, “The Painted Desert”, they jumped in Henry’s roadster and drove toward East Pensacola Heights, stopping to get a soft drink at a roadside sandwich shop, then proceeded to the area of Magnolia Bluffs on Scenic Highway. About 11 pm Moore parked his car down a secluded path about 75 yards from the main road.

            Just a few minutes after stopping, two men, each shining a flashlight into the couple’s eyes, shouted for them to, “Stick ‘em up!”.  Miss Gregory screamed and one of the assailants shot Henry Moore, and then they disappeared in the woods.  After sitting in shock for a moment, she climbed over Henry and got behind the wheel.  She heard him mumble something, but didn’t understand what he said.  She had only driven a car once before, but after a few attempts was able to get the car started and back out on the highway.  She first stopped at a closed drug store, but finding no one there, she drove to Pensacola Hospital. (Later Sacred Heart on 12th ave.)  Her arrival time there was noted as 11:40 pm. 

            Ten minutes later, Dr. C. C. Webb pronounced Moore dead.  The police were notified. Sheriff Mose Penton was notified since the crime occurred outside city limits. Miss Gregory gave him the details of the night’s events.  When Gregory was informed that Henry Moore was married with a family she was shocked. The police went to the scene of the crime but found no evidence.  The only prints they could find on the car belonged to Moore, and Gregory.

            The Officers did discover, however, two $2000 life insurance policies, payable to the victim’s wife.  One of them had only been written that day.

            Miss Gregory was held overnight in jail as a material witness, pending the outcome of the coroner’s inquest and questioned repeatedly, but her story did not change. The autopsy was performed by Dr. James W. Hoffman, and showed the cause of death as a bullet through Moore’s heart that passed at a downward angle and came to rest in his back by the 8th rib. The bullet was identified as a .38 caliber. Powder burns indicated he had been shot a close range.

            Miss Gregory was released on $7500 bond, and her family retained Attorney William Fisher to look out for her best interests.

            A reporter interviewed Henry’s widow who claimed Henry hardly ever went out at night. He had been home for supper, and played with his son for a little while before kissing her goodbye, and heading for the movie. 

            On Wednesday, a capacity crowd gathered in the courtroom of Justice of the Peace, Dan A. Nee to hear evidence on the Moore case.  Testimony was heard from seven witnesses including hospital and police personnel, but the star was Miss Gretchen Gregory.  She repeated the detailed sequence of events of that night, and the jury found that Henry Hicks Moore died “at the hands of an unknown person, or persons.”

            On February 19, State Attorney Fabisinski called a grand jury to once again investigate the case trying to find new evidence. Even though the Associated Press had reported that Moore’s brother-in-law, R. S. Clark of Greenville, SC, claimed to have furnished clues to Pensacola police officers, the grand jury found no new information about the case.

            The murder of Henry Hicks Moore remains unsolved to this day.

            Gretchen Gregory married Henry C. Longuet on June 30, 1931 in Santa Rosa, County. In the 1940 census they are living on 81st Street in New York City, with a three year old daughter, and her husband was a Superintendent of an apartment building.  They divorced in Escambia county in August of 1958.  She passed away in May of 2003, and is buried In Bayview Memorial Park.

            Eulalie Turner Moore, Henry’s widow, married Lewis Kenneth Cahn in May of 1941, and died March 21, 1982.

            Henry Hicks Moore, Jr. was only 2 years old when his father was killed.  He grew up to be a prominent citizen in Pensacola, and was a community activist who wrote many opinion pieces for the News Journal.  He died on December 26, 2010.  He was an interesting person, and a google search should be productive for those interested.

            I doubt these two cases from 1931 were connected. The crime scenes were not too far apart, but there was no attempt to assault Miss Gregory.  I think it was just a robbery gone wrong. When Miss Gregory screamed, she may have startled one of the robbers into accidently firing his weapon.  According to her, they didn’t stick around after that and took nothing. 


Monday, June 19, 2017

Hinote / Bryars Murders, Unsolved


Arthur Hinote / Bernice Bryars
Murder, 22 Oct. 1931


            Arthur Hinote, born, 7 Mar 1914, and Bernice Bryars, born, 27 Sep 1916, left Hinote’s sister’s house at 1000 E. Brainerd St., in Pensacola to go to a movie.  When the two did not return that night, their families began to search.  They even made inquiries to neighboring states to see if a marriage license had been applied for, suspecting they may have eloped.

            Arthur worked at a mattress factory, and gave most of his money to his mother. On the night of their date he only had seventy cents in his pocket.

            The next day, shortly after noon, two wood cutters, John Engstrom, and John Birthright, were looking to collect some wood near Bayou Texar, about a mile north of Bayview Park.  At the time, this was a secluded area with little traffic.  Engstrom saw an automobile parked in the distance, and being curious, went to take a look.  Horrified, he saw the body of a young man lying next to the running board with part of his face blown away.  He turned to call his partner, and saw the body of a young lady lying about 15 feet away on the other side of the car.

            The young man had been obviously shot in the face.  The young lady had been savagely beaten to death.  It was later found that she had a deep mark on her forehead, a deep looking wound behind her ear, jaw broken in three places, and one of her eyes was discolored.

            Authorities were notified and began to arrive at the scene, and along with them, a growing crowd of gawkers began to gather.  Police identified the couple as Arthur Hinote, and Bernice Bryars, and notified the families. Police found few clues.  There were several wads from expended shotgun shells near the bodies.  The ground around Arthur was pretty much undisturbed, but it looked as if Bernice had put up quite a fight.  Her watch stopped at 10:15 pm, but not due to need of winding.  Some Bayou residents reported that they had thought they heard gunfire around 10 pm.

            Sheriff Mose Penton, Chief O’Connell, and Inspector Andrew Schmitz traveled to Andalusia, Alabama to interview a young man who had worked with Hinote in a sausage factory months before the slaying.  The young man had an alibi, and was cleared of suspicion.

            On Sunday, a dual funeral was held in the home of Arthur Hinote’s parents at 1118 W. Chase St.  Burial was at St. John’s Cemetery, attended by approximately 5000 people. The two young victims were buried side by side.

            The next day Sheriff Penton announced to the press that there were no new leads. He could not find a motive. It wasn’t robbery. It wasn’t revenge because there were no known enemies. He declared it to be the work of a maniac.

            By Monday, rewards for apprehension of the killer reached $550.  City Manager George J. Roark put up $100. The county offered $250. State Attorney Purl G. Adams in Crestview contributed $100, and a private citizen, Joseph Banman put up $100.

            County Solicitor Richard H. Merritt joined the investigation, and Florida Governor Doyle E. Carlton sent a special investigator to lend a hand.  Every day, at least a dozen investigators scoured Pensacola for leads.  Interviewing, double checking, back tracking, and tirelessly seeking answers, they were getting nowhere fast. 

            Finally, 15 days after the murders, Solicitor Merritt announced that he was holding a suspect named Grady H. Faulk, 25 years of age. Merritt said he would give evidence to the Grand jury, and seek a true bill.  Even though every effort was made to keep the evidence secret, the details began to leak.

            The evidence included a bloody shirt found in Faulk’s home in Klondike.
            A shotgun of caliber that killed Hinote with a bent barrel was in his possession.
            Rumor of a compact belonging to Bryars found in his home.

            The evidence was purely circumstantial, but it was strong enough for the Grand Jury to return two first degree murder indictments against Faulk. The court appointed Attorney Ernest E. Mason to defend Faulk.

            On the 8th of March, 1932, the trial began.  The State’s case, based on circumstantial evidence was built on these points:
            Faulk left home night of October 22nd, carrying shotgun.
            He didn’t return home until 3:30 in the morning, drunk.
            Someone noticed blood on his shirt.
            He became increasingly nervous, and didn’t return to work the day after the murders.
            Vanity case similar to Bryars found in his possession.

Faulk himself took the stand and withstood vigorous examination calmly while answering all questions put to him.

The Defense’s case:
            Faulk DID return to work the next day and the rest of the days of the week.

            The shotgun in question was a 20-guage, not 12-guage used in the murder.

            He was in possession of a shotgun but a witness backed up his story that he took it from an acquaintance named Nora Coleman when she attacked him with it. He bent the    barrel on a table while he was trying to break it.

            The blood on his shirt was turkey blood.

            The vanity case in question was never proven to belong to Bryars.

The same night the trial concluded, the jury took 25 minutes to acquit on the first ballot.
The case then went cold for over 29 years.

On May 1, 1951, Sheriff R. L. Kendrick arrested a 58-year-old man at a Crestview bus depot. The law had been looking for this man because they had been told that he had been in a car accident with Hinote several months before the murders.  Allegedly, he had threatened Hinote’s life when he was forced to pay repair charges stemming from the accident.  Due to lack of evidence, he was released.

            With no more evidence, the case has never been solved.  The killer of Arthur Hinote, and Bernice Bryars has never been identified.

            It was 1931, and the field of sex crimes was in it’s infancy.  I think this was the motive that Sheriff Penton could not, or did not want to publicly acknowledge.  This kind of crime became more common with the “Phantom Killer” in the 1940’s in Texarkana, Arkansas, and later the Zodiac killer in the San Francisco area around 1969-1970.
            I believe this young couple found a secluded spot for parking, and were accosted by someone with a shotgun who forced Arthur out of the car and shot him.  Then he assaulted Miss Bryars, and afterwards beat her to death. 
            It is nice that their families buried them together. They had been a couple for months, and all indications were that they would be married.
           

            

Monday, May 8, 2017

Grave of Frank M. Penton, Milton Cemetery


The Short Life, and Fast Times of Frank Penton

                Francis Marion “Frank” Penton was the Chief Deputy under Santa Rosa County Sheriff “Long” John Collins.  He killed two men in Milton in two separate shootouts, and possibly a third in an ambush.  The third one resulted in a Federal court trial; the first two he was cleared by a coroner’s jury. I think if Deputy Penton had lived out west in the 1880s, we would be reading about him along with Earp, and Hickock.

                On the 14th of February, 1909, at Andy’s Restaurant in Milton, Deputy Penton, and a man named Robert Fleming decided to settle their differences.  Apparently, as soon as they saw each other they drew their weapons, and commenced shooting.  Shortly after one pm on that day, Mr. Fleming died of gunshot wounds.  The Coroner’s Jury determined it was justifiable homicide.  It was reported that the shootout was a result of an old grudge. 

                On April 20, 1912, in a downtown Milton poolroom, Frank Penton, and his father, Abner T. Penton, were involved in a gunfight with George Warwick Allen.  Allen was a newly married 24-year-old, and the brother of Minnie Allen Collins, wife of S. G. Collins.  According to newspaper reports, 15-20 shots were fired, and though Frank Penton was wounded, he would recover.  Allen was shot with two different caliber bullets, once in the stomach, and a smaller caliber in the shoulder.  The Penton’s were both arrested, and later indicted for murder of Allen.  The elder Penton was found guilty of manslaughter, and was sentenced to 4 years in prison.  I have not been able to find any information on the sentence, (if any), for Frank Penton.

                 In early April 1906, George Allen had been tried for the murder of Eubesau Whitmire. On December 3rd 1905, they were quarreling at the L & N railroad depot over luggage owned by a traveling salesman.  Both young men were working as, “Hacks”, or porters for arriving passengers. During the quarrel, Whitmire was shot dead.  Allen was acquitted for the killing. As a possible motive for the gunfight with Penton, Allen had testified against Penton in Penton’s murder trial, and was assisting the prosecution against Penton in the Corbin Affair.

The Felix Corbin Affair

                In May of 1910, Felix Corbin fled Emanuel County, Georgia, with a warrant for Assault, and Battery on his head.  Emanuel Co. Sheriff Fields was able to track Corbin to Milton, Florida.  The Sheriff obtained the extradition paperwork, and took a trip to Milton.  When Sheriff John Collins received the paperwork, he arrested Mr. Corbin.  Corbin immediately got an attorney to arrange a hearing on the validity of the extradition papers. At the hearing the papers were declared to be, “irregular”, and Corbin was temporarily freed.  Sheriff Fields swore in an affidavit that Corbin was a fugitive from Georgia, and Corbin was again arrested.  Fields, Collins, and Deputy Frank Penton drove Corbin to Brewton, and Fields, with his prisoner took a train back to Swainsboro, Georgia.

                Once in Georgia, Corbin appeared before the U. S. Commissioner and swore out warrants for the arrest of John H. Collins, Santa Rosa Co. Sheriff, Deputy Frank Penton, also of Santa Rosa Co., and Sheriff Fields of Emanuel Co. Ga.  The charge was depriving Corbin of his constitutional rights by conspiring to take him back to Georgia without extradition papers.

                On June 16th, Collins, and Penton were arrested by Federal authorities for forcibly removing Corbin from Florida without a warrant. They were later released. Penton with a $300 bond, and Collins with a $1000 bond.  They were to appear in the next session of Federal Court.

                On December 6, 1910, Felix Corbin ate supper with his wife, and step-children.  As he finished his meal he heard someone calling his name outside.  He opened the door and was hit with four bullets. He died quickly, without naming his assailant.  Frank Penton was immediately suspected for the killing. He and a man named W. A. Simmons of Foley, Alabama were taken into custody.  On Dec. 9, there was a preliminary hearing, and both Penton, and Simmons were released with no indictment.  There wasn’t enough evidence to move forward with a case.  The Corbin murder goes unsolved. 

                By December 22nd, the federal authorities were investigating the murder. Penton Is no longer a Deputy and is in federal custody on two charges, killing Corbin to prevent him from testifying against him, Collins, and Fields, and a charge of conspiracy to commit murder in the Corbin case.

                On April 3, 1911, Penton was indicted by Federal Court, but was freed on a $2000 bond.  His trial started later, on December 1.  The Government case was presented by Emmett Wilson, and Penton’s attorney was E. A. Pace of Dothan, Alabama.  On Dec. 3rd, after deliberating for 12 hours, the jury reported that it was hopelessly divided, and the court ordered a mistrial.  When the jury began deliberations the 10 man jury was 9 for conviction, and one for acquittal.  After 12 hours of debating the issue it was 6 to 4 for conviction.  Penton was released on the same bond, and was to be retried at the next federal court session. 

                In the March 10, 1913 issue of the Times-Democrat newspaper from New Orleans, it was reported that the U. S. Attorney, nol prossed, (dropped prosecution), in the Penton, and Collins cases.

                One final note on Felix Corbin.  There is a full slab grave marker in the Milton cemetery for Mr. Corbin next to his wife, who died in 1954.  Shortly after his killing, a newspaper in Georgia reported that his body had been shipped back to Georgia to be interred in the Corbin cemetery.  Personally, I think he was buried in Milton, and the Georgia newspaper jumped the gun.  Corbin had three sons from his first marriage living in Georgia, with their maternal grandmother. 

                Frank Penton sometime after being finally cleared of charges in the Corbin, and Allen cases found himself employed as the Fire Marshal  at the Pensacola Shipbuilding Company.  On June 27, 1919 he was shot, and killed by W. P. Cox, who was either on the police force at the shipyard, or was on the fire department with Penton and shared a dwelling with him.  There were no witnesses, and the reason for the shooting, or the fate of Cox are unknown at this time. 

                Good, or bad, Frank Penton was an interesting character.  I would like to know more about him.  I bet there is much more about his short life that would be of great interest. 

                Mr. Penton is buried in section three of our Milton Cemetery on Berryhill.  His marker claims he died in 1920, but the newspaper claims he was killed in 1919.  Felix Corbin’s marker is in section 12 as is Eubesau Whitmire’s.  George Warwick Allen is buried in the Collins plot also in Section 12. (northwest part, near the fence).  Allen’s widow, Eva Jernigan, remarried in 1915.  She, and her husband Henry C. Collins, are also buried in the Collins plot.

The one newspaper article I was able to find referring to Penton's death, stated his occupation as Chief of Police.  His death certificate shows it as Fire Marshal at Pensacola Shipbuilding Company.  The certificate show Homicide by pistol shot, and confirms his date of death as 27 June 1919.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Why Judging Shadows?

I thought long and hard about what to name my blog.  I wanted it to be unique. While eating lunch with my wife Sandi at Ruby Tuesday’s, we hashed it out.  
The “Shadows” refer to the subjects of these essays.  Many of them are remembered only by name, and the info on their headstones.  Some have stories passed down through their families, but those too will continue to fade over time.  
We may hear these tales, and find old newspaper accounts, and subconsciously, or not we unfairly tend to pass judgement on these folks.  Honestly, there is no legitimate way, to criticize the lives, and actions of those who lived 80-100 years ago.  Hard times does not even begin to describe their existence. Justice was swift, and if it was not handed out in a timely manner, some people dealt it out themselves.  
City, and County police forces were small in the more rural towns, and they tended to selectively enforce the law, depending on the circumstances. County Sheriff’s had the power back in the early part of the 20th century.  

The point is, if someone should see an ancestor’s name in these stories.  Please, don’t be offended.  I assure you, there is no malice intended.  There is no judgement here on the motivations of those that lived decades before.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Fate of Judge Trueman

During the 1931 tragic events in Milton, the attorney and business partner of Spencer G. “Babe” Collins, was a man named Lewis V. Trueman.  In 1933, Trueman departed the Florida Panhandle for new opportunities out west. He and his wife settled in Ogden, Utah, and in 1943, Judge Trueman was killed at night, at his house, in the presence of his wife, with a blast from a shotgun. Amazingly similar to the death of Aubrey Gainer.
Before Gainer was killed, there was an article in the Milton Gazette informing the town that Trueman, his wife and another local couple were going on a trip to Cuba. A few days after they left, on July 18, 1931, Aubrey Gainer was killed outside his home, in the presence of his wife and daughter.  (See previous blog for details)
There was a book written years ago called, “Secrets of the Old Milton Cemetery”, by B. B. Morrell.  In the book Morrell indicated that there was a “Mister X”, who was the puppet master concerning some of the events of 1931.  He didn’t name the person specifically, but my top prospect for that role would be Mr. Trueman.
Babe Collins owned the Collins Construction Company and he built Hwy 37 from Milton to the Alabama state line, south of Brewton.  Of course it is now known as State Highway 87.  His company was to be paid $100,000 for the project.  Bonds were sold by the First National Bank of Milton, and the work was done.  There was a dispute about the money paid to Collins.  He claimed he was owed $15,000, and the Santa Rosa County Commission who  controlled the payout, believed the correct number to be a little over $2,000.  There was a lawsuit and then a change of venue to Walton County.  Unfortunately, Collins was killed before the case went to court.  Trueman, as the lawyer for the estate, settled the case for the $2,000 offered by the county. Incidentally, the only items recovered in the safe after the arson at the ice factory and Collins’ warehouse, were burned remains of road bonds.
During his time in Northwest Florida Trueman had been active in state politics and from 1928 until he left the area in 1933 he was an appointed aide to the Florida Governor Doyle Carlton.  He was also the lawyer for the Santa Rosa Co., school board, and Vice-President and charter member of the Society of the Bar, 1st Judicial District of Florida.
In early 1933, he and his wife Ora, moved to Ogden, Utah, and by January 1939 he was appointed Judge of the 2nd District Court for the State of Utah.


Judge Trueman Grants Divorce to Mrs. Cox

In February 1943 a pregnant Mrs. Wanda May Cox was granted a divorce in Judge Trueman’s court from her drunk and abusive husband, Austin Cox, Jr.  The Cox’s got married in August of 1942 and he was employed at the Utah Naval Depot as a guard.  Soon after marriage, he quit his job, and instead of searching for new employment, he stayed drunk and became very abusive.  He once threatened to cut Wanda’s tongue out. After the divorce Wanda left town and a couple of months later gave birth to a son.  
On the night of July 23, 1943, during Ogden’s annual Pioneer Days Celebration Cox was drinking heavily with friends and around nine o’clock, he received a phone call saying that Wanda was in town and staying at a local address.  He told his friends he was going to see her.
About an hour later Cox drove up to the home of Mr., and Mrs. Bert Stauffer.  When Bert answered the knock on the door Cox demanded that Stauffer, “Send Wanda out here”.  Stauffer didn’t know Wanda and when he told Cox this Cox called him a liar, and threatened him with a shotgun.  Mrs. Stauffer, and her mother, Mrs Burton came to the door pleading for Cox to leave. Losing his patience, Cox began firing his shotgun.  Mrs. Stauffer and Burton were killed instantly and Bert Stauffer was critically injured but survived his wounds.  A neighbor, Dale Brooks, heard the commotion and ran out of his house to have his hand shot off.  Mrs. Brooks ran into the yard and Cox killed her.  Another neighbor, Sam Nelson was killed as Cox was walking back to his car.
After driving to the home of Judge Trueman, Cox stood in his front yard and fired buckshot into the house.  The Truemans had just gone to bed when they heard the noise and got up to investigate. Ora Trueman later testified that the Judge looked out a window overlooking the yard and after asking what was going on, was hit with a load of buckshot and died instantly. She was unharmed.
Cox eluded the police dragnet until just after midnight when he drove up to the police station.  Lt. John A. Smith, Assistant Provost Marshal of the Ogden area, was there helping to direct the search for the shooter.  He looked up in time to see Cox coming through the door brandishing the shotgun and yelled an alert.  Several officers rushed into the room and one was slightly wounded by Cox. Smith and the other officers subdued Cox with a blow to the head.  During the scuffle, Cox screamed, ‘Why in the hell don’t you shoot me? Come on get it over with!”
In the 1940’s justice was swift.  He was found guilty at trial and sentenced to death.  A higher court delayed his execution for eight months until June 19, 1944.
At dawn, Austin Cox, Jr. was executed by firing squad at the Utah State Prison.  As his death warrant was being read he fought his restraints and stuck his tongue out
Judge Trueman was buried at Aultorest Memorial Park in Ogden on July 27, 1943.  His wife Ora moved to Pensacola and lived there until her death in October of 1965.

Mostly compiled from numerous articles published in the Ogden Standard-Examiner, 1943-1944.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Killing of John Wesley Penton

John Wesley Penton
(Thank you, Anne Penton Pinckard)

In May of 1891, the ex-Sheriff of Covington County, Alabama, John Wesley Penton, was living in Milton Florida.  It was well known in the Milton area that Penton was wanted in Alabama for fleeing an 1889 life sentence for murder.  The folks up in Andalusia knew where Penton was living too.
There had been an arrest attempt in 1890, that resulted in the severe beating of two officers from Pensacola, who had made the trip to Milton to capture Penton.  Until May of 1891, there had been no further attempts.  
In late April, or beginning of May, the Governor of Alabama, Thomas Jones, demanded that Florida extradite Penton back to Alabama.  Governor Francis Fleming issued a writ of extradition to all the County Sheriffs in the State of Florida. Sheriff Thomas J. Watts, of Washington County, Florida appointed two special deputies to accompany him to Milton. They were, J. S. Ball, the Chipley Fla. town Marshall, and J. R. Shoemaker, a Chipley businessman.
In Alabama, W. D. Cheatham, an Agent for the State of Alabama from Montgomery, Robert Charlson and D. S. Jackson, both of Birmingham took a train to Pensacola, and then on to Milton, arriving about 4:30 pm.  At 5 pm they met the three from Washington County, and a man named Harry Adams from Troy, Alabama.  
Following a consultation at the Railroad Depot, Shoemaker, and Adams walked to town to see if they could spot Penton.  The remaining five posse members boarded the train as if returning to Pensacola.  About a mile or so out of town the conductor slowed the train and the officers jumped off and concealed themselves in the woods waiting for sundown.
After dark, the officers made their way along the track back to the depot, and met Adams and Shoemaker who reported that they had seen Penton in a bar and observed him while having a drink. The officers walked to the town square to see if they could spot Penton. Around 9 pm Cheatham and Adams entered the bar, followed shortly by Charlson and Jackson.  The other three officers secreted themselves close by to provide back up.


Shootout in the Streets of Milton


Not seeing Penton in the bar, Charlson and Jackson stepped out of the bar onto the sidewalk out front, followed a few minutes later by Adams.  Cheatham was still in the bar speaking to the bartender.
The Street was crowded with people, and across the street a man was selling goods by torchlight.  Adams scanned the crowd and spotted Penton in the street talking to another man.  He pointed him out as the man with the long beard.  Cheatham joined the others on the sidewalk, and they planned their approach.
Cheatham and Adams were going to approach Penton from the front, and Charlson and Jackson were going to make a circuit and approach from the rear, all converging at the same time.  As they approached, Penton suddenly started walking toward Adams.  Adams called for him to stop, and said he had a warrant for his arrest. The officers began pulling their pistols.
Penton quickly produced his own pistol and fired two shots, one hitting Adams in the shoulder. The officers returned fire, and closed on Penton taking his arms and keeping him between them.  The shots Penton fired alerted his friends and they began to fire at the officers.  Cheatham and Adams had Penton between them moving him up the street away from the torchlight, while Charlson and Jackson followed them with covering fire.  The other three officers joined the fight, one of them having a double-barreled shotgun.  The shotgun cleared the street as the officers made their way toward the depot.  During the melee, Penton was hit in the back.  He screamed, “My God, I’m shot!” and slowly sank down to the ground.  The officers commandeered a cart, loaded Penton and hurried to the depot. Penton may have lived about 10 minutes after being wounded.
In the midst of the gunfight, Shoemaker, and Jackson got separated and had been set upon by friends of Penton.  They were knocked down, and Jackson’s hand was damaged when someone wrenched his pistol away from him.  When they made it to the depot, the other officers were relieved to see them alive. After wiring for a special train, the officers put Penton’s body in the depot, and set up guard while waiting for the train.
The City Marshal of Milton, took the side of Penton and his friends during the fight and immediately after tried to arrest the officers.  Sheriff Watts told him there was a warrant and they were legally authorized to make the arrest. When the Marshal persisted a fight ensued and the Marshall was knocked to the ground.  He made no further attempt at arrest.


Where was the Santa Rosa County Sheriff?


The Sheriff of Santa Rosa County was William Jackson. During the gunfight he was conspicuously absent.  He knew Penton and knew he was wanted in Covington county for fleeing a life sentence.  Presumably he had also received the writ of extradition from Gov. Fleming
An inquest was convened in Pensacola and determined that Penton died of gunshot by an unknown person.  Nobody knows who fired the shot that killed him. It was determined to be a .45 caliber shot from a pistol from some distance.  Penton’s body was returned to his family.
As the officers from Alabama were buying tickets to return to Montgomery, they were arrested without resistance for murder by Santa Rosa County Sheriff Jackson. The officers quickly got an attorney and filed a writ of habeas corpus and were released.  They were back in Alabama by Sunday afternoon.


Penton’s history


John W. Penton was born in Alabama even though the newspaper claimed North Carolina.  During the Civil War he served as a Private in the 1st Florida Regiment. (After his death, his wife Josephine and his children moved back to Andalusia, where she drew his war pension and ran a boarding house.)
In the 1880 census, Penton is shown as a “Retail Grocer”, but by 1884 he had gained some local notoriety when some U. S. Marshalls traveled to Andalusia to arrest some timber “depredators”.  The marshalls were attacked by Penton and some friends and ran out of town. He was soon elected Sheriff of Covington County, and was serving his term when he killed Robert E. Crumpler.


Penton Kills an unarmed Man


On June 18, 1888 in the late evening, Sheriff John W. Penton shot and killed Robert E. Crumpler.
Penton tried to collect a fine and court costs in a judgement obtained in Chancery Court against Crumpler.  Crumpler had appealed to a higher court and was advised by his attorney not to pay until the court had made a decision.
Just before dark, Crumpler’s two mule team with a wagon of lumber was driven into town by an employee.
Sheriff Penton took possession of the two mules and led them over in front of Prestwood’s Barroom and leaned against a column of the porch, holding the bridle reins.  When Crumpler learned of this he went to confront Penton.  When he accosted the Sheriff, Penton kicked him hard in the side, and Crumpler staggered away.  After gaining control he approached Penton again and Penton shot him in the throat, with the bullet going through the windpipe.  Crumpler died later that night.  (His headstone shows his date of death as the 19th of June, so it was probably after midnight.)


The Inquest


Penton surrendered to authorities on the 20th, and soon after a coroner’s inquest was held.
From the Montgomery Advertiser dated June 27, 1888:

            We the jury, summoned to hold an inquest on the body of R. E. Crumpler, lying dead at the residence of Mrs. Frank Smith, in the town of Andalusia, State of Alabama, upon our oath, after examining all the testimony, state and present that the deceased R. E. Crumpler, came to his death from a pistol shot in the hands of John W. Penton unlawfully on the 18th day of June, 1888 in the town of Andalusia, given under our hands this, the 20th of June, 1888.


H. B. O’Neal
Jno. F. Thomas
J. J. Wiggins
W. B. Baker
Richard Tillis
P. J. Gantt

On Friday, and Saturday, the 25th, and 26th of June, Judicial proceedings before Justice M. V. Hare, resulted in a verdict of Guilty of First Degree Murder, and Penton was refused bail.  The verdict was appealed to Probate Judge Malachi Riley, who rendered his judgement of Second Degree murder, and fixed a bond of $2500, which was paid promptly.   (This must have been the indictment because Penton actually went on trial in March of 1889.)
At the Penton trial in March of 1889, Penton was found guilty of Murder in the First Degree and sentenced to life in the state penitentiary.  Penton had been forewarned about the verdict and did not show up in court to hear the verdict and could not be located.  A reward of $250 was offered for Penton’s arrest and delivery to the Sheriff.
He moved to Milton with his family because he had other family there and was familiar with the area.  He lived openly with no attempt at deception and many people including local authorities knew he was a wanted man.


Milton was an exciting and dangerous place at one time.  Sheriff Jackson was a one termer and was replaced with the first 4 year stint of Long John Collins.  I haven’t found the name of the Milton Town Marshal who tried to arrest the Alabama contingent before they could get out of town.   
I would like to know where the shootout occurred, but cannot pinpoint it at this time.  I’m thinking it might have been on or near Oak street, but that is speculation.



Grave of John W. Penton
Milton Cemetery
Milton, Santa Rosa Co., Florida


Friday, April 7, 2017

The Trial of Cecil B. Penton

After the murder of S. G. Babe Collins, the investigation of the Gainer murder came to a halt.  There were also few leads in the Collins killing.  Long John Collins was an older brother of Babe Collins, and had himself been a  two term sheriff of Santa Rosa County.  He had also been Postmaster, and Mayor of Milton at one time.  He was frustrated with Sheriff Mitchell’s lack of progress, and kept digging into his brother’s murder on his own.
For some reason, he strongly suspected Cecil B. Penton for the killing.  Just after the Collins murder, Penton had caught a ride with a newspaper truck delivery driver to Marianna, Fl, and then he traveled on to Jacksonville.  The driver later testified that as they passed through Milton, Penton lowered himself down in the seat, and pulled his hat low over his face.  He told the driver that “they” were after him about the murder. Long John traced him to Jacksonville, and then later to Sarasota, FL.
While Penton was in Sarasota, he was arrested, and convicted of burglary.  He was sentenced to a 2 year stretch, at the Raiford State Prison.
Long John Collins, who had long suspected Penton of involvement in the murder, found out about Penton’s prison sentence, and paid a visit to the warden, Leonard F. Chapman.  After telling the warden his suspicions, they agreed to place informants with Penton.  
When Penton left Milton, he went to Jacksonville, and visited an old friend named John M. Rollo, who was also from Milton. Rollo was also now in Raiford on a robbery charge.  He was called into the warden’s office and told that he was going to be placed with Penton, and to get him to confess.  Two other informants were also recruited to back up Rollo’s story.
In the last election for Santa Rosa County Sheriff, Joe T. Allen defeated Sheriff Mitchell in a close election. The lack of progress in Mitchell’s investigation of Collins’ murder was a factor in his loss.  Sheriff Allen welcomed the effort of Long John Collins, and in November of 1933, he and Collins drove to Raiford with an arrest warrant for C. B. Penton in the murder of Spencer G. “Babe” Collins.  Penton was brought to the warden’s office and Allen took possession of his prisoner.  In handcuffs, and leg irons, Penton was driven back to Milton, and then taken to the Escambia County jail for safekeeping.
In January 1934 a Milton Grand Jury was presented evidence in the Penton case, and refused to indict.  On the second try on May 31st, a different Grand Jury, seeing the same evidence voted to indict Cecil B. Penton for the murder of S. G. Collins.
In his second floor cell at the Escambia County jail, Penton wrote a note to Attorney John Lewis Reese, asking for representation, and dropped it through a window to the alley below.  The note was found by a trusty named Norvie Lee Brown, and delivered to Reese.  (One would think that Penton would have had representation before the indictment. It was a different time for prisoners in the 1930s.)
Reese tried to visit Penton, and was turned away by Escambia Sheriff Hampton E. Gandy, who stated that he didn’t think anyone in Santa Rosa County knew Penton was in his jail. Reese had to go see Judge Leo L. Fabisinski, and threaten to get a writ of habeas corpus, before he was granted permission to speak to Penton.
The Penton trial started on June 12, 1934.  Judge Fabisinski presided, with the Prosecution E. Dixie Beggs, John M. Coe, and J.T. Wiggins presenting the state’s case, with Reese, assisted by young lawyer James N. (Cotton) Elliot, 25 years old.
The State’s case depended largely on the alleged jailhouse confession to John Rollo, and the two other informants.  Rollo’s testimony was that Penton told him that he was at a filling station, about a mile down the main highway from the site of the murder.  He was picked up from there by someone else, and drove to the location across the bayou bridge where Collins, and Estes were talking.  They passed by Estes’ house, and turned the car around, and approached Collins slowly as he was starting to cross the road.  After shooting Collins he tossed the shotgun in the river as they crossed the bridge back into Milton.  Penton told Rollo there was someone with him but didn’t divulge his name. Rollo also testified that after the murder he was running a cafe in Jacksonville, and Penton came in and ordered a piece of pie, and a glass of milk trying to pay with a hundred dollar bill. Rollo mentioned the Collins killing, and Penton said, “Yeah, they are after me on that”.  Rollo denied being promised anything by the state for his testimony.
The other two informants to present testimony corroborating Rollo, did not show up for court.  The Judge called a recess, and asked Sheriff Allen to see if he could find them.  The informants, Wesley Herndon, and Levi Ivy, were in hiding.  Allen used an informant to track them down hiding in some bushes next to the highway.  They told the Sheriff that as they were hitchhiking to town a car full of masked men pulled up to them and warned them not to testify.
These two men were weak witnesses.  Reese was able to show that when Penton allegedly confessed to Herndon, he was actually in solitary confinement.
Another witness, W.O. Eiland was a newspaper delivery truck driver for the News-Journal, and he stated that Penton caught a ride with him to Marianna, offering him two dollars as payment.
The most important information during this trial was the time the shooting occurred.  Collins was killed around 8 pm. This was verified by Sheriff Mitchell’s original investigation, and witness reports, and Dr. Thames estimate of time of death.
C. B. Penton’s story was that he was at the filling station owned by Mr. and Mrs. R. B. Bell at the time of the Collins killing.  The Bell’s testified that he was there from the early afternoon visiting the Bell’s daughter Lucille, until right around dark he jumped into a Ford Model A, and was gone for about a half an hour. When he returned, he stayed until just after 8 pm when Caleb Cox came by the station with the news that Collins had been shot. Penton and Cox drove out to the murder scene across the Bayou bridge, then drove back into Milton, stopping at The Pool hall  owned by Leon Barnes. Barnes testified that Penton came in not long after 8 pm, and went to the rear to the bathroom.  He seemed fidgety, and didn’t shoot pool, but Barnes did not see any powder marks left on someone when they fired a shotgun.  Penton left after a few minutes.
The defense called Ernest Carson to the stand. He was a meteorologist from Pensacola, and stated that it was dark by 6:22 pm on Sept 11, 1931.  The alibi was that if he left the Bell’s station shortly after dark, and was gone for only a half hour, he could not have been on the road in front of Estes house at 8 pm.
After closing statements, the jury retired to deliberate.  Reaching no decision that night they adjourned.  The next morning they reached a decision, and announced a not guilty verdict.

It’s my feeling that Penton was actually guilty in the Collins shooting.  I talked to a lifelong resident once, who has since passed away, that an older brother of his was on the street close to the bridge coming into Milton, and he heard the shot, and then saw a car speed into town with three people, and he identified one as being Penton.  I don’t believe we will ever know for sure who all was involved and who devised the plan for revenge.  I think Collins, and possibly his lawyer L. V. Trueman were behind the KIlling of Aubrey Gainer, and in the future I will have a good story about Trueman, and his eventual (karmic?) fate.  Milton was an incredibly interesting town back in the early part of the 20th century.