Armed and Dangerous

The one thing I enjoy researching more than history is researching my own family tree.

I’ve been at it for nearly 50 years, but I still often find information about family members that surprises me.

For instance, I was browsing through old issues of The Sentinel-Echo newspaper on microfilm a few weeks ago, looking for some information for my “Where Are the Women?” blog entries.

As I was scanning the headlines in the 1935 newspapers, a familiar name caught my eye: Reuben Brown, who was my maternal great-uncle.

Needless to say, I was interested to know why my then 23-year-old great-uncle would be in a headline on the front page of the local newspaper. So I began reading the article and I received one of those little surprises I get so excited about.

The news article told about how Reuben Brown, a taxi driver in London, had been lured out into the county and had his taxi stolen from him at gunpoint.

Not only was his taxi stolen, it was taken by three fugitives who had escaped from the State Penitentiary in Frankfort two weeks earlier, on May 12, 1935. There were actually five escaped convicts, but my great-uncle only came into contact with three of them.

Following is an excerpt of the article, which explains what happened [notes in brackets are mine, used for clarification]:

“Three men, identified as Eller Robinson, James C. Morris and James B. Brown, escaped convicts, held up Reuben Brown, taxi driver, Monday afternoon [June 3] on Highway 80 near the Laurel-Clay line, commandeered his automobile, carried him six miles, put him out, and sped toward Manchester.”

“After the auto driven by Brown, and owned by Layton Sutton, was taken, Brown had to walk several miles before he could communicate with officers, who followed the fugitives but lost trace of them just beyond McKee in Jackson County.”

“Brown said a telephone message summoned him about one o’clock on Monday afternoon to a store ten miles east of here [London] on the Manchester road, and upon arrival there he picked up two men who said they would pick up two girls a short distance away. Brown stated that when they got to the designated spot he was ordered to blow his horn twice, and that a man whom he identified as Eller Robinson walked out from the bushes carrying a machine gun and a sack of ammunition and got into his taxi. They drove several miles, Brown asserted, when at Robinson’s request he was let out of the automobile. The other two men, he said, wanted to take him with them.” [The Sentinel-Echo, June 6, 1935, page 1.]

Police found the taxi abandoned between Shelbyville and Louisville the next morning. It had a flat tire, which probably explains why the fugitives left it behind.

Of course, I had to know more, so I tracked the story until all five fugitives were taken into custody again. I followed the story through gun battles, more stolen vehicles, robberies, police chases, and other thrilling exploits of the escaped convicts.

Three of the five fugitives, James C. Morris, Eller Robinson and James Boyd Brown, the men who stole Uncle Reuben’s taxi, were captured on June 11 in Ashland. A fourth escapee, Edward Sons, was taken into custody on August 2 in Manchester.

The remaining fugitive, Frank McDaniels, was arrested in Missouri in early October. He was selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door under the name Carson Baker and was recognized from a photo in a magazine by an off-duty police officer when McDaniels tried to sell him a vacuum cleaner!

Exciting stuff. Interesting stuff. And completely new to me!

I had never heard this story before! Not from my great-uncle, not from my great-grandmother (Reuben’s mother-in-law), not from my grandfather (Reuben’s brother-in-law), not from my mother (Reuben’s niece). Not from anyone in the family. I asked my Dad if he knew about it and he said he didn’t.

Now, if something that amazing had happened to me, I would have told everyone I knew all about it. At least twice. Probably more.

So, I have to wonder why I never heard this amazing episode mentioned by anyone in my family. Had they forgotten about it by the time I was born? Doubtful. Were they ashamed? Afraid? Angry?

Since all the people involved are now deceased, I guess I’ll never know why they wanted to keep the episode a secret.

It just goes to show that no matter how much any genealogist researches their family tree, there are always surprises still waiting to be found.

Here’s to those little surprises that make research so much fun!

Danna Estridge, Guest Blogger

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