Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Death of the Lone Wolf

1921 must have been an interesting time to be in death row. You had Sam Cardinella and several members of his gang, all awaiting execution and plotting for Cardinella's escape (by means of being brought back to life after the hanging). And there was Carl Wanderer, who had shot his wife and blamed it on a drifter (whom he had also shot).  And there was Harry Ward, known as the "Lone Wolf Bandit." While Cardinella bided his time and sneakily tried to effect his escape, Ward tried every weird trick in the book to get out of the hanging.

"The Lone Wolf" had been arrested for a double murder that occurred while he was robbing the shop of "Al the Hatter" at Cicero and Lake.  A former bandit in Mexico, Ward acted as calm and collected as any man who had ever been in prison. A warden later told Ben Hecht that Ward was the most cold-blooded man who ever lived, and that he had been the best rummy player he'd ever known. Warden and Ward spent Ward's last night playing cards in the death cell.

But as calm as Ward seemed, he was either putting on a good show or was entirely confident that he was going to escape. Recently, he had attempted to plead insanity (as practically everyone did) - the defense had held up a plan he had to open a harem on an island in Lake Michigan and start an airline to take customers to and from the island - as evidence.

As the date of his execution approached, a woman named Elizabeth smuggled a metal file into his cell inside of a magazine. It was confiscated when another prisoner (one of the guys Carl Wanderer wouldn't let into his "army") ratted him out.

All through the day, friends of Ward had been driving up to the jail, only to be warned away by armed police. A "priest" came in to minister to Ward, but fled when they started searching him. 

Oddest of all was that Ward's attorney was approached by "a stranger" with an offer to revive him after hanging - he said that if the body was obtained immediately and taken to an undertaker, he could revive it with pulmotors.  The attorney refused - Ben Hecht probably based his story of a gangster named Frankie Piano on this story.

The was only a short time after the police had caught several men trying to revive Sam Cardinella (and had possibly let Nicholas Vianna, a Cardinella associate, BE revived, according to legend retold in FATAL DROP), and they were in no mood to take chances this time. Authorities wouldn't release the body from the jail until he had been dead for an hour.

2 comments:

Thomas Irvin said...

Hi, I came here on a web search for "Al The Hatter." (Not much about him on the web, sadly.)

I've a picture of what must have been the entrance to his shop, only it's not at Cicero & Lake, but on Wells & Washington. Here's the photo, if you're interested: http://www.flickr.com/photos/81624441@N00/6312980490/

Adam Selzer said...

Hey, that's fantastic! Must have been another location. There may have been a whole chain; the proprietor of the one Ward robbed was named Maurice Grossman. I'll see if I can find anything else.

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