Monday, May 8, 2017

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.


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