February 7, 2009

Randolph County History

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
By Fred A. Lawson

Little 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 “Bob” Hamilton.

Lawrence Schenk
Lawrence 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.

Charles “Bob” Hamilton
Charles 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. 
He had also tried his hand at barbering, a trade he probably learned in prison.

Troy “Zeke” Clevenger
It is 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.

Once 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.

While 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.

The 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.

During 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.

Shortly 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.

A 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 were moved.

He 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.

No 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.

In Memoriam
Chief Clevenger was buried Wednesday, April 29, 1931, at the largest funeral Winchester had ever seen.  The service at the Main Street Christian church was filled to capacity with friends, family and officers from the tri-state area and the State Police.  Those honoring Chief Clevenger included many who stood outside on the sidewalk and street to hear the service.  Many spoke of his unselfish bravery and how much he loved his job and helping others.  Chief Clevenger left behind his wife, Donna, and his 7 year-old son, John Edward.


U.G. (Liss) Daly, friend and fellow police officer, served as pallbearer at the funeral.   Detective Daly is the grandfather of classmate, Bill Daly. 

Troy (Zeke) Clevenger is buried in Fountain Park Cemetery.  The Winchester City Council approved payment of $350 in expenses for the funeral.  The headstone that marks his grave was purchased by his friends, of which he had many.  Several months later, the Council also approved the purchase of three bulletproof vests at a cost of $90.00 each.


His photo has hung in the Winchester Police Department for 78 years.  In 1979, Don Hesser, then Chief of Police, nominated Chief Clevenger to the American Police Hall of Fame.  He was also awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery. 

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Monisa Wisener, Curator of the Randolph County Historical Society.  Many of the words in this article are from the book “Randolph County, Indiana – 1818-1990.  Monisa, you are the best!!!

I would like to thank Larry (Bacon) McCoy for taking the time to dig deep into the McCoy Family Archives.

Finally, I would like to thank the nice lady at the Winchester Library for giving me a lesson on the microfiche machine.