In our quest to
bring you exciting website content, several class members
have stepped forward to write a series of stories about historic
events in Randolph County. We hope you enjoy these pieces
and appreciate the effort of those who have diligently
researched the facts to bring you accurate and interesting
accounts of life in our community.
MURDER IN A SMALL TOWN
Fred A. Lawson
did anyone know that before the day ended on April 25, 1931, the
quiet little town of Winchester, Indiana and surrounding
communities would know excitement, fear and extreme sadness.
This is the story of the fateful meeting of Chief of Police Troy
“Zeke” Clevenger and criminals, Lawrence Schenk and Charles
Schenk, 31, a native of Dayton, Ohio, and veteran of WWI, began
his life of crime early. In 1928, he had been arrested for
stealing a metal cabinet. He escaped prison, stole a car, was
re-captured and eventually paroled after serving his time. He
immediately stole a car and was sent back to the prison at
Michigan City and was released early in 1930.
Hamilton, 33, was from Indianapolis, Indiana. Not much is
known about how he began his life of crime, but he was also
incarcerated in Michigan City for grand larceny where he became
acquainted with Schenk. He was paroled in March,
1931. At one point he was a professional boxer.
had also tried his hand at barbering, a trade he probably
learned in prison.
unknown how long Zeke had been Chief of Police of Winchester,
but at the young age of 29, he was on duty April 25, 1931. He
had just finished his evening meal about 7:15pm.
out of prison in Michigan City, Hamilton traveled to Dayton to
look up his old friend. They hung out together for about a
week, planned several robberies, but without a car, their
opportunities were limited. Eventually, they acquired guns,
stole a car and headed for Richmond. Near Eaton, Ohio, full of
whiskey, they wrecked the car. Amazingly, they were given a ride
back to Eaton where they stole a 1928 Willy’s Whippet Sedan.
Police were already on the lookout for the car as they planned
their next move.
in the Richmond area, they robbed Hartzler’s Grocery at
gunpoint. The “stick-up” produced the tidy sum of $30.00, but
their license number was noted and Richmond Police were alerted
that the car was headed north on Hwy 27. It was at this time
that Randolph County Sheriff, Lee Briner, was contacted.
police in Randolph County had no radios in 1931. The telephone
operator would take a message and then flip a switch that would
turn on a light on the top of the courthouse tower. When an
officer saw the light, he would call the operator and she would
relay the message. After finishing dinner, Zeke strolled to his
back porch and saw the light on the courthouse tower. He was
connected with Sheriff Briner and learned that the bandits were
headed toward Winchester on US 27.
those years, the police station was a small building on the
southeast corner of Washington Street and Main Street, which was
then US 27. Chief Clevenger donned his overcoat where he kept a
.38 cal automatic pistol, dropped his wife at the Randolph Hotel
on Franklin Street and took up his post at the police station.
after arriving, the Chief recognized a car matching the stolen
Whippet stop at the traffic light. He approached the car and
opened the passenger door. With one foot still on the running
board, Schenk stepped from the car and fired one shot, hitting
the Chief in the abdomen. Losing his balance, but still
standing, the Chief drew his .38 and fired once, mortally
wounding Schenk. Unfortunately, the gun jammed on the second
shot and as Hamilton threw the car into gear and sped off,
Schenk fell to the ground.
Chief Clevenger, mortally wounded,
staggered to a car sitting at the light behind the getaway car.
He asked the driver, Sheldon Ayers, to take him to the
hospital. He told Mr. Ayers that he didn’t think he would make
it and, indeed, he died an hour later at the hospital.
crowd gathered in the street where Schenk’s body lay. There is
an account of a scuffle breaking out over an attempt to steal
his pistol. He was ultimately picked up by an ambulance and
pronounced dead at the hospital. . It was also reported that he
may have anticipated getting caught, as it was discovered he had
two hack saw blades hidden in his right shoe.
After heading north, Hamilton turned
West at Cook’s Foundry (now Overmyer’s), lost control on a wet
road and ended up in a wheat field near the old fairgrounds,
wrecking a second car in one day! He walked to the nearest
farmhouse and, incredibly, the farmer drove him back to
Winchester, dropping him on the square in nearly the same
location as the shooting. He even gained entry to the Summers
Funeral Home where the bodies of both Schenk and Chief Clevenger
milled about town for several hours, hidden by the crowds of
people who had heard of the shooting gathered in the square.
Many law enforcement officers from surrounding communities had
come to help with the investigation and Hamilton recognized some
of them from Muncie. He left town for Muncie on a late bus
about 11:00PM. He stopped at the house of a relative and then
rented a room for the night.
one knew this dead robber with a bee tattoo on one arm and an
anchor on the other. Sheriff Briner and Detective U. G. Daly
traveled to Muncie to bring some men who they thought might
identify him, with no luck. Over 3,500 people reportedly viewed
the body and yet no one had any idea who he might be. It took
the State Police to finally identify Schenk. Detective
Vogelsong of Richmond had a hunch that the man on the run was
Charles “Bob” Hamilton.
Hamilton was eventually captured in
Muncie, Indiana, two days later. Sheriff Briner and Detective
Daly were there when Hamilton was taken into custody. He was
staying at the home of Harry Copeland (who later became a member
of the Dillinger Gang) and offered no resistance.
He confessed to being at the scene,
but claimed that he had no idea Schenk was going to shoot the
Chief. He was held at the Pendelton Reformatory because of the
heightened feelings against him. On May 21, 1931, he pled
guilty to Randolph County Judge A. L. Bales, during a rare night
trial, and was sentenced to life in prison in the Indiana State
Prison. Records indicate he was received at the prison as
prisoner #14653 in May, 1931 and paroled in August, 1944. He
was released from supervision in January, 1960.
Lawrence Schenk’s body was kept in a
vault at Fountain Park for 20 days. His family was too poor to
collect the body and he was buried in section 6, grave #4 at
Fountain Park, the Soldier’s Section, as a veteran of WWI. The
county bore the cost of the burial.