Tour: Sunday September 21

 

don17Image above — gesticulating next to the plaque marking the Sam Spade apartment building in 891 Post Street.

And if you want to gumshoe the mean streets on The Dashiell Hammett Tour this month, your chance to do so occurs on Sunday September 21.

Starts at noon, near the “L” sculpture.

$20 each.

Lasts 4 hours, maybe even 4 hours and 20 minutes, depending on how many questions get tossed about.

No reservations. If you want to go, be there by noon with the loot and plenty of rosin for your footwear.

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Hammett: In the Aftermath of Midget Bandit Week

Last Sunday, just as we wrapped up a full week of posts for Midget Bandit Week — seven days, every day — Michael Fitzgerald over at the Stockton Record added a post of his own.

What the hell, let’s make like The Beatles and consider it eight days a week, with Michael’s post as much a part of the “official” Midget Bandit Week as anything else. He was the guy who ransacked Stockton years ago, looking for any trace of The Midget Bandit, and has as much interest in the subject as anybody. You should check out his post — especially intriguing because he quotes one particular line of Wilmer Cook’s dialog from The Maltese Falcon and then ties it back into the life (and death) of Edwin “Midget” Ware, who served as the model for Wilmer. Trust me, it’s worth a look.

Plus, as far as I know, it is the only acknowledgement so far in the wider media of the existence of Midget Bandit Week — I think the good old New York Times missed a bet on this one. It was news — in the right circles, BIG news.

For example, our frequent Guest Blogger Terry Zobeck — King of the Pure Texts — sent in a note: “Just checked into the Mean Streets for the first time in a week or two and was fascinated with the investigation into Edwin Ware. What a superb job of research. The most concrete evidence of Hammett’s Pinkerton’s work to date. I’ve recently read comments that actually cast doubt on whether he really did work for Pinkerton’s.” Yeah, that’s one of the reasons the find was so monumental — since actual physical records of Hammett’s work for Pinkerton’s seem to have vanished (I’ve heard a warehouse fire immolated the files of that era), it ties him into a particular case he claimed familiarity with — and one from the San Francisco period, even better.

Of course, there is solid circumstantial evidence that he worked with Pinkerton’s — an interview with his wife can’t be discounted — but some people will not accept anything short of writing on a piece of paper or an account in a newspaper. Or a mug shot.

I also got an email from Sue Montgomery, who lives in Seattle: “What a super week-long feature! Kudos to Warren Harris for all his great sleuthing of Edwin Ware. I truly enjoyed learning about the Pacific Northwest connection in re: Ware, too. The gas station at Eastlake and Fairview is long gone but I’ll likely never drive through that stretch of streets again without thinking of The Midget Bandit.”

Sue adds: “The other cool thing for me is that he bought the farm in the Walla Walla State Pen. Not only my home town but my grandparents’ house was on the same street as the Pen — North 13th — about 2 or 3 blocks south, where the freeway now runs. When I was a little kid my dad would drive us up the street to the Pen because directly across the street from the Pen entrance — I have no idea why — there was a peacock farm. You could drive in and look at the peacocks in their cages along the little road. They’d get all perky and spread their tails for us. I don’t imagine any other prison facility ever had a peacock farm across the street. That was back in the 1950s, so, of course, that’s gone now too.”

Talk about imagery — caged peacocks making a mockery of caged prisoners!

Or maybe nobody thought about it that way in those days. . . . I guess sometimes a peacock farm outside prison gates could just be a peacock farm outside prison gates. No irony intended.

“The other fall-out of MBW,” Sue mentions, “was that I re-watched my 1931 Maltese Falcon to see Dwight Frye. That movie is a dog for certain. I’d like to reach into the screen to slap the smirk off ‘Ricardo Cortez’s’ face. There’s woefully little screen-time for Dwight.”

Before I did up the post mentioning Dwight, I did a fast-forward through the 1931, too. Yeah, Ricardo as Sam Spade is hard to take — impossible, really — but Dwight is solid. I’d forgotten that he has so little to do.

In the 1941 Bogie version, the film follows the novel quite closely, with Wilmer appearing from time to time, scene after scene, but in the 1931 the young gunsel just shows up for the waiting-in-the-apartment sequence — but the weight given to Wilmer’s presence suggests that the literary character Hammett had drawn grabbed the public’s imagination, enough so that the filmmakers realized they needed to do something with the role.

For all they did with it, they may as well have left the character of Wilmer out completely. But in retrospect the fact that they included Wilmer speaks to the power the character modeled on The Midget Bandit already exerted. In 1931, they completely screwed over the ending of the novel — but they cast Dwight Frye to sell Wilmer in that short compass. Dwight clearly is the best actor at work when he’s onscreen.

A last thought, for this round: Warren Harris narrated how the cops in Fresno tricked Edwin Ware into coming out of his rooms so that they nabbed him without a shot fired, with the suggestion that the ruse made Midget look kind of dumb. I’m not saying that Ware was some kind of rocket scientist when clearly he was not, but that sort of ploy is a time-honored tactic in law enforcement. They caught Ware with it in 1921, and with much the same routine in 2011 grabbed Whitey Bulger after he had been on the lam for sixteen years — twelve of those years on the Feds’ Most Wanted List, second only to Osama bin Laden.

The expectation was that Bulger would go down, guns blazing. If he hadn’t been tricked, would Edwin Ware have filled both hands with hardware in 1921 and made those roscoes bark?

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Death Lit: Treasure Coast by Tom Kakonis

Treasure-Coast

Today’s the day — official release date for the first new novel by Tom Kakonis to hit print in many years. I believe it also serves as the launch date for the first thirty or so titles from Brash Books, a tidal wave kind of like the hurricane that threatens the cast of the new Kakonis.

Our pal J. Kingston Pierce over at The Rap Sheet just did a detailed article for Kirkus Reviews on this press — with the interviews that rounded up the background info for Kirkus  showing up on Rap. If you’re curious about the birth of a new crime fiction publisher, there you go. They seem eager, and with a barrage of thirty books to announce their arrival, I think they’re ready.

I’m wildly prejudiced in favor of Kakonis, so decided to hand the reviewing duties off to occasional Guest Blogger Joseph Hirsch, who doesn’t have anything against Kakonis, either. I guess if I scrounged around I could find someone who doesn’t like his writing, but then they wouldn’t make a good fit with the excellent hardboiled content you expect here in Up and Down These Mean Streets.

Joe, by the way, is working away at his own contributions to the field — every time I turn around he’s got another book out, with Kentucky Bestiary the latest — at least I think it’s the latest.

And now, Joe Hirsch on the new Kakonis, Treasure Coast:

Jacques Cousteau once said, “I am not an expert at anything,” and while I certainly don’t style myself an authority of crime fiction, I have read enough in my day to note some very basic rules, one of which should already be as obvious to hardboiled connoisseurs as Sturgeon’s Law is to readers of Science Fiction. The best crime writing (whether you like Chester Himes, Jim Thompson, George V. Higgins, or Elmore Leonard) is usually spare, terse, and deceptively simple in stylistic terms.

Like all rules, though, there are exceptions, and the glaring one in this instance is Tom Kakonis, a man who has been absent for too long, a writer whom Don Herron dubbed the heir apparent to the late Charles Willeford, a man who Publisher’s Weekly glowingly compared to another late, great genre practitioner, Elmore Leonard. Kakonis is a complex wordsmith whose literary powers (and philosophical digressions) far exceed what pulp fans are accustomed to reading.

His latest book is Treasure Coast, and much like his magnum opus, Criss Cross, it is great. In broad outlines, the book is about a down-at-heel cardsharp, a pair of grifters, a couple of ex-cons, a kid who can’t pay the vig on an outstanding debt, and a sexpot who has hitched her wagon to man who is fat, stupid, and rich beyond dreams of avarice.

That brief summary doesn’t do the fine details justice, though. It doesn’t give the reader the full sense of Kakonis’s dark, rich sense of humor, or his near-expressionistic descriptive powers that verge on the Lovecraftian in their density. The reader has to experience the book for themselves to see what I’m talking about. Consider, however, a choice excerpt, in which the aforementioned sexpot gives her sugar daddy a rubdown:

Lonnie laid the smoldering rope in an ashtray and, at her direction, removed his shirt and stretched himself out flat (or as flat as the parabolic arc of tummy allowed for) across the sofa, face buried in a cushion. Gently, expertly, she massaged his manifold distresses away, starting at the neck and working slowly, tantalizingly slow, down the lardy back, like a master pastry chef artfully kneading dough, now and then brushing her fingertips, as if by accident, over the gorge between his flaccid mounds of buttocks

Kakonis doesn’t so much do noir, as he does a kind of Grand Guignol nightmarish carnival, only with convicts in lieu of conventional circus freaks. On the subject of convicts, I should mention that the twosome featured in this book are some of the most sharply realized baddies I’ve encountered this side of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood; and since Dick and Perry were actually real men, we can’t give Capote credit for creating his heavies ex nihilo the same way Kakonis creates his.

I remember reading Criss Cross years ago, and wondering then, as now, how Kakonis knew these bad men, these terminal hard case felons, inside and out. The writer William Styron, a great patron of the ex-convict turned writer Edward Bunker, was fond of saying that imagination could allow a man who hadn’t been to war to write of combat, but that a man needed to have spent time in prison to really be able to write about prison convincingly.

I knew upon reading Criss Cross (and was reminded upon reading Treasure Coast) that this Kakonis guy had to have spent time in prison, either serving a bid, or perhaps working in some kind of correctional officer capacity. His cons are just too real. Consider this terse exchange between two thugs, sizing one-another up and making small talk:

“So what’s your real one?”

“Name?”

“Fuck’re we talkin’ about here? Yeah, your name?”

Already Hector was regretting the shared confidence. A little sheepishly he said, “Jesus Morales,” the given name delivered in precise Spanish pronunciation.

“That Hay-soose’ spelled like the Bible Jesus?”

“Yeah.”

“So why you people say it funny?”

“That’s how we do.”

“Don’t seem right, callin’ yourself Jesus.”

“Why’s that?”

“Ain’t like you is exactly holy.”

“So? Lotta names come from them Bible dudes. Y’got your Matt, Mark, Luke, John,” he enumerated, ticking off the Gospels on the fingers of a hand, warming to the topic, “an’ none a the guys I ever seen wearin’ them tags walkin’ on water either.”

Folks, you can’t make this kind of stuff up, or at least not without receiving a post-doctoral degree from the School of Hard Knocks. A little internet sleuthing confirmed my hunch, as well as Stryon’s assertion, that a man’s imagination can only carry him so far into the terra incognita of the dark underbelly of America’s prisons. Kakonis has, by his own admission, worked “a stint as a teacher at Stateville Prison, Joliet, Illinois” and it shows in the writing. The verisimilitude of the language is unquestionable, on a par with vintage George Pelecanos or Richard Price.

Unlike Price or Pelecanos, however (both of whom I admire), Kakonis is not just kinetic and believable. He is deeply philosophical. Without giving away too much of the plot, the fact that one character perhaps believes she can communicate with the dead adds an eerie, otherworldly quality of dread which is absent from all but the bravest genre-bending forays, like William Hjortsberg’s masterpiece Heart of an Angel.

I’ve said enough already. Let me just close by saying the bottom line is that Treasure Coast is a page turner, but you don’t just find yourself turning the pages. You savor the language, the  mordant, unpleasant insights into human nature, fate, chance…the whole damn ball of wax.

It has been too long since we have had a new offering from Tom Kakonis. Treasure Coast is a wonderful return to form, as good as, or perhaps better than Criss Cross, which I consider to be the best crime novel since Willeford wrote Sideswipe.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many young lions out there, and great burgeoning talents in the field of hardboiled crime writing. Jed Ayres, and his southern-fried bloodbath Peckerwood, spring readily to mind. But with age comes experience, and a veteran can’t be beaten. Now that Elmore Leonard has passed through the pearly gates, Kakonis is, to my mind, the only real master left standing, aside from maybe James Ellroy. I knew as much back when I read Criss Cross all those years ago, and Treasure Coast only confirms it. Read it. You’re in for a hurricane, both figuratively and literally.

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Hammett: A Coda on Midget Bandit Week

Dwight as Wilmer

Shot above: the great Dwight Frye as Wilmer Cook in the first movie version of The Maltese Falcon, from 1931 — the only appearance on film of the character modeled on The Midget Bandit to screen in Edwin Ware’s lifetime.

Would Ware have seen this early Warner Brothers sound film? He might have — Warren Harris told us this week that

Sometime after 1930, surviving prison records don’t indicate exactly when, Ware was released. He obtained employment as a traveling salesman. But his time as a working man was short-lived. In February of 1933 he stuck up a gas station attendant in Seattle. He got away with only $10 and was arrested while trying to board a streetcar several blocks away.

Unless Ware was doing a short jolt in some local hoosegow while the movie was in release, he could have seen it if those dates are good — and if that sort of flick attracted his interest. Even then, I don’t think he would have recognized himself in the character — diminutive, mouthy, two guns, sure — but not tagged with the definitive moniker “The Midget Bandit.” The prisons were filled with small mouthy gunmen.

Even if Ware happened to read the actual novel in one of the Knopf printings, how would he have known that Wilmer was inspired by his California crime spree?

In his coverage of Hammett traveling to Stockton, a.k.a. Fresno, to interview The Midget Bandit, Warren hedges his wording to suggest that the future master of hard-boiled crime fiction could have picked up all the details he needed for the blurb about the stick-up artist just from newspaper accounts. Possibly. If you can’t say for sure, then you hedge your bets — and unlike today they didn’t have video cameras tracking every movement, to show Hammett as a Pinkerton’s op conducting a Q&A with Ware. (Warren is looking for any surviving records from the Fresno jail of visitors Ware may have had — if you have a sign-in log with some Hammett holograph in it, then there’ll be no need for any bet hedging.)

You could say that I have a need, or desire, for there to have been a meeting between Hammett and Ware, no possible question about it — The Midget Bandit anecdote, sewn up tight. I think in fact the meeting did take place, based on Hammett’s description in his introduction to the 1934 Modern Library reprint of the novel. Yes, many of those details could have been gleaned from newsprint of the day. But one line and one word —

he was serenely proud of the name the local newspapers had given him — The Midget Bandit

indicates that Hammett met the gunman. Serenely. Given the dope on Ware that Warren has provided, that word does the job for me.

But if Ware had no real shot at recognizing himself in either the book or film of The Maltese Falcon, how about the idea that Hammett could have remembered his name when it made print again in 1934 as one of the rioters in Walla Walla? Possibly. If he had seen newspaper coverage mentioning the name when he wasn’t drinking either in Hollywood or New York.

Ware’s death, by the way — completely in keeping with what was going on at the time. In the Hammett tour book, page 41, I do a catalog of death-by-lead-poisoning as a thumbnail on how violent the 1930s were: Bonnie and Clyde cut down May 23, 1934, then Dillinger in July, Pretty Boy Floyd in October and Baby Face Nelson in November. Ma Barker squeaked through until January 1935.

And now we know that The Midget Bandit led that particular parade, gunned down February 12 1934 and dead the next day.

Anything else? The note Midget sent the paper — someone who works in a crime lab (I know lots of people who work in crime labs) glanced at it and said: He’s using both hands to write the message. Yes, Ware no doubt was trying to disguise the writing, but switching back and forth that way suggests he may have been ambidextrous — which adds a nice spin to the reports that he used two guns. (Two guns, like Wilmer.)

Michael Fitzgerald of the Stockton Record did a blurb on Midget Bandit Week, breaking the news to his readers that Hammett misplaced the crime spree when he referred to Stockton. I remember when Fitzgerald ransacked the Stockton archives years ago, looking for evidence of The Midget Bandit, and came up empty. That’s what you have to do with research — dig and dig. What he proved was that The Midget Bandit had nothing to do with Stockton, despite what Hammett wrote.

I vaguely recall thinking at the time that the story of the runt gunman might still be true, but perhaps Hammett moved it to Stockton from another state entirely — who knows, maybe Delaware. Someplace. I was as surprised as anyone when Warren Harris located the action nearby, in Fresno.

And the question lingers: When Hammett wrote the intro to the 1934 Modern Library edition of the Falcon, did his memory simply play him tricks? Stockton instead of Fresno. Or was he disguising the location deliberately? We’ll probably never know.

After a solid week of posts on the life of The Midget Bandit, though, one thing we can be sure of is that Edwin Ware was in fact “serenely proud” of his nickname, and his exploits. He had become The Midget Bandit — and he liked it.

When Ware died early in 1934 he had no way of knowing that that same year Hammett would make him an immortal by telling the tale of The Midget Bandit in the introduction to the Modern Library edition of The Maltese Falcon. Ware died and faded from history, but generations of Hammett fans have had a fascination with his story, never knowing who exactly the story was about. . . .

The enigma held for some 85 years, until Warren Harris got on the case and connected the dots.

The Mystery of Edwin “The Midget Bandit” Ware has been solved.

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Hammett: Death of The Midget Bandit — Gutshot in a Prison Break!

walla-mug

And how else would The Midget Bandit have gone out, except as an authentic gangsta?

The mug shots — the final mug shots — this time come from his stint in Walla Walla.

And here once more is Midget authority Warren Harris to paint the scene:

It took a jury less than thirty minutes to convict Edward Ware, The Midget Bandit of Fresno, California of two counts of robbery.

Although he pled not guilty, his own words were used against him as police officers and a short hand stenographer related the confession he gave to police the day he was arrested, and reporters testified to what he told them in interviews conducted at the county jail.

Sentencing would be more complicated. With newspaper headlines calling him “misfortune’s child” Ware’s attorney made a bid for the now 18-year-old to be granted probation.

While Probation Officer Oliver M. Akers was sympathetic — he called the case one of the saddest ever brought to his attention — he couldn’t recommend probation because not a single person would take responsibility for Ware. Even his father had abandoned him and did not respond to the probation officer’s inquiries.

Some of this was undoubtedly Ware shading the truth. He evidently claimed that his mother died when he was young and his upbringing had been “left to the mercies of a housekeeper.” Later prison records state that his mother was still alive more than 10 years after this, although Ware was not in contact with her.

Judge C. E. Beaumont was unmoved and sentenced Ware to San Quentin where he was taken the next day. Two years later, he was transferred to Folsom Prison where he served the remainder of his sentence.

Sometime after 1930, surviving prison records don’t indicate exactly when, Ware was released. He obtained employment as a traveling salesman.

But his time as a working man was short-lived. In February of 1933 he stuck up a gas station attendant in Seattle. He got away with only $10 and was arrested while trying to board a streetcar several blocks away.

He would never see freedom again.

Ware pled guilty and was quickly sent to the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla on a sentence of 8 to 10 years.

On February 12, 1934, a group of inmates that included Ware seized hostages in an ill-thought-out attempt at escape. The ring leaders evidently believed that they had been sentenced to too much time.

The escape attempt was quickly detected, but some of the inmates were not deterred. A group of 11 inmates used wires from the prison shoemaking shop to restrain their hostages. The plan was to use them as living shields and force their way to the main gates and freedom.

With the prison alarm sounding and local police officers, sheriff’s deputies and a unit of the national guard mobilizing to surround the prison, the escape was doomed from the start.

The group, tightly packed together, began the march on the gates under the guns of the guards on the wall.  Warden James M. McCauley called on the prisoners to surrender — that he wouldn’t permit them to escape and had told his men to fire if they didn’t stop.

The men continued. On the wall, sharpshooter H. H. Corey began to pick off convicts with deadly accurate rifle fire, barely grazing one of his friends, a fellow guard who was held as a human shield, as Corey slew the convict hiding behind him.

The mixed group broke up, with some convicts trying to flee as the machine gunners opened up — others using prison-made knives to take the life of a guard, before being cut down.

The riot and prison break was over. Seven convicts and one turn-key were left dead on the grounds of the prison. An eighth prisoner — Edward Alonzo Ware, the former Midget Bandit of Fresno and the inspiration for the character of Wilmer Cook — was taken to the prison hospital.

He was alive but gut-shot.

He died the following day, the final casualty of the breakout attempt.

Ware is not mentioned as one of the ringleaders in the prison escape that took his life. But it was in his character to join in the spur-of-the-moment insurrection. Once the Warden realized the prison break was happening, it was doomed and many of the convicts abandoned the attempt — including some of the ringleaders.

Ware was one of only 11 convicts to make the march toward the front gate that would end with 8 of them, Ware among them, dead.

The ringleaders who survived were tried for the turn-key’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. The men who thought their prison sentences were too long, would never leave the prison again.

Ware’s sister would take possession of his body to return it to New York where the story of the youthful yegg had begun. Ware was only 29.

walla1

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Hammett: The Midget Bandit vs. The Smiling Bandit

Gardner

Edwin Ware — The Midget Bandit — was by no means the only yegg in his day to pose for a mug shot. Above you’ll see Roy Gardner — from a Sacramento, California arrest.

Who was Gardner, you ask?

Here’s Warren Harris, our resident expert on all things Midget Bandit, with the scoop:

Edwin Ware, The Midget Bandit, was a mouthy punk who disrespected authority. But there was one man Ware admired.

A man who Ware desperately wanted to emulate.

Roy Gardner, “The Smiling Bandit” and “The King of the Escape Artists,” was the legend whose career overlapped that of the Midget and perhaps inspired him to a life of crime.

While it is true that Ware turned to crime when he couldn’t find work, it is also true that he turned down legitimate opportunities to go straight, including an offer from a prominent Fresno family to take him in.

At his trial Ware told a reporter from the Fresno Morning Republican that he had made up his confession in an effort to be “classed with Roy Gardner and other notorious hold up men.”

In fact, some of the same newspapers that carried the tale of The Midget Bandit also record one of Gardner’s legendary exploits, taking place at the same time.

But Ware was merely a dime-store Roy Gardner.

Gardner stole hundreds of thousands of dollars, successfully escaped the law time and time again and became a household name. He was a tough, competent outlaw, feared and ruthless and known for his daring. He made fools of the toughest lawmen in the West.

Ware stole a few thousand dollars at best, got caught for petty offenses and was more pitied than feared. The Fresno police tricked him into an arrest.

Gardner robbed mail trains and banks. Ware held up service station and garage attendants.

Both started their criminal careers in Mexico. Ware held up a bandit and returned to the U.S. to be held up in turn. Gardner ran guns during the Mexican revolution, was captured by the army and sentenced to death and broke free by attacking the soldiers guarding him. When he returned to the U.S., he was successful as a sparing partner for J. J. Jeffries, heavyweight champion.

Unlike Gardner, Ware dropped out of school after completing the first half of grammar school. Gardner, in contrast, graduated from college with honors, taught college courses, wrote on 17th century literature, ran a successful business and actually wrote a book about his life.

Gardner was known for his escapes, including one that occurred during Ware’s little spree as The Midget Bandit. On September 5, 1921 he escaped from the McNeil Island Penitentiary, being wounded in the leg. That didn’t stop him from hiding on the island until he could swim to the mainland.

Like Ware, he sent a letter to a newspaper, in his case bragging about his escape when the warden of the prison claimed that he was still on the island and would soon be caught. He offered to surrender and give back a quarter million dollars in stolen loot in return for a suspended sentence. Authorities did not take him up on his offer.

He was recaptured, for the final time, less than a week before Ware was arrested in Fresno.

Ware also had a record of escape attempts, but was far less successful than Gardner. Ware repeatedly tried to escape from the Halifax Industrial School for Boys, succeeding only once, and that briefly.

His last escape attempt would end in Ware’s death under a hailstorm of rifle and machine gun fire.

Tomorrow: A life of crime ends is a hail of machine gun bullets as the youthful yegg meets his fate.

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Hammett: Crime Wave of The Midget Bandit!

letter

Over this week Guest Blogger Warren Harris has sketched in the life and criminal career of The Midget Bandit — today he returns to the California crime spree and some of the lurid headlines it generated.

And here’s Warren:

As The Midget Bandit, Edwin Ware wanted to be classed with such notorious badmen as Roy Gardner. For a brief while, thanks to his publicity seeking — and the complicity of newspaper reporters — he almost made it despite the rather pedestrian nature of his crime spree.

The newspapers in 1921 are filled with the sort of crimes committed by Ware, often more notable.

One gang of three men in Los Angeles operating at the same time as Ware robbed eight gas stations in one night, then returned to rob five more times the next, including holding up the same man two days in a row.

Another crew of three committed a half million dollar mail robbery, a crime that Ware was accused of, but probably didn’t commit.

Ware had a habit of robbing Standard Oil stations, but probably was innocent of the most notorious one of his era, the holdup and murder of C. W. Upton at Turlock.

Ware’s actual crimes were minor stick ups.

There are two Fresno newspapers competing in 1921. The Fresno Morning Republican is the more staid of the two. The Fresno Herald is the one that dubs Ware The Midget Bandit from the start, playing him up as a “Two-Gun Man.”

On August 19, 1921, The Midget Bandit makes the headlines for the first time:

YEGG DISARMS OFFICER

“MIDGET BANDIT”

STICKS-UP COP

THEN ROBS TILL

Nervy Gun-man Holds off 2

Garage Men and Armed

Officer, Escapes

The article that follows is truly an epic of crime writing, complete with plenty of action, snappy gangster patter and plenty of pizzazz.

The Morning Republican responds the next day with:

Three Held Up By

Bandit in Garage

The coverage merely calls him a “lone bandit” and plays it straight — and dull.

The Herald responds that day with:

“MIDGET BANDIT”

IS HUNTED

Tiny Yegg Who Robbed Garage

Still at Liberty

Later on August 31, the Herald ups the ante with:

Midget Bandit

is Blamed for

Saloon Robbery

The Morning Republican still refuses to play, not mentioning anything about a midget and only reporting that he “fit the description as the gunman who some time ago robbed the Central garage.”

BANDIT RIFLES

LOCAL SALOON

Proprietor Is Knocked

Unconscious

But the Fresno Herald is now playing hardball and gets the chance when Ware next strikes.

‘MIDGET’ PULLS

THIRD ROBBERY

IN POLITE MOOD

Income of Temperamental Gun-

man Mounting; “Honor” is

Displayed by Yegg

This is the article that has the fateful statement by victim L. J. Perry, the one that leads to the legend of Ware returning to even the score:

“I hated to put my hands up at the command of such a little fellow, half as big a I am,” Perry said, “but what could I do with a pistol pointed at my stomach.”

Ware, incensed by the statement, borrows some stationary while waiting for a train and writes a hand-written note to the newspaper.

The Herald knows a good thing when it sees it and reprints a facsimile of the letter as well as giving good play the very day it arrives in the newspaper’s office.

“Midget, the daring bandit who recently held up the Central Garage on J-st., obtaining a large sum of money and who a few nights ago held up an employee of the Standard Oil Company filling station on Backstone and Belmont-avs., taking the day’s receipts, has written a letter to The Herald denying that he was responsible for the robbery and assault of Paul Frohberg of the Sugway [sic] saloon recently.”

Ware’s letter reads:

Sept. 2, 1921

Read this before you throw away.

The Fresno Herald:

Dear Sirs

If you wish to print this you can.

I the midgit did not get 500$ but 100.19$ was all I got and what is more I did not hold up the Slone [saloon] but I did the Centle Grage [Central Garage] and what is more I only got 18$ and not one more cent and that is the truth whether you believe it or not and you may tell that big stiff that I may be small but without gun I can like on man twise my size and in proper life men can tell you so and in the next three weeks I may show that Grage man or Oil Stat. man so. I never take from the poor I give to them but to the rick I take wich is Justified. You may show this to the police if you wish but there is no clue to my handwriting. I can right very well when I wand.

I will take a rest for at least 3 weeks so good by.

Yours [Illegible]

Midget

At this stage, please recall that Ware had only a fourth grade education and furthermore was trying to disguise his handwriting.

The Morning Republican is still taking the high road at this point with nary a mention of midgets:

Man Held Up and

Robbed by Bandit

Perhaps they are jealous that they didn’t get a letter.

Next it is the turn of the Los Angeles Times to play with a wire service story originating from the Herald’s coverage:

“MIDGET BANDIT” BUSY

The Fresno Morning Republican finally comes out to play with a rewrite of a wire service story coming out of Los Angeles:

“MIDGET” ROBS

L. A. STATION

Tells Service Man He Is

From Fresno

This is actually a very significant story as it shows first that Ware did leave Fresno about when he later said, and that he is working the Midget Bandit legend for all it’s worth. Again, Ware robbed a Standard Oil Company station and what is more, he told his victim ““If anyone wants to know who done this, tell them it was ‘The Midget’ from Fresno”

He also left a note for the police claiming credit as “The Midget” and telling them to “Call Fresno.”

Ware is in jail for some time in Los Angeles, charged with the Bimini Baths holdup. He does not tell the arresting police that he’s the wanted Midget Bandit though, so he’s released on probation.

The Midget doesn’t make the papers again until he’s caught in late November.

While the Morning Republican has finally started calling him The Midget Bandit, their headlines are still not up the Herald’s panache. They also call him “the self-styled ‘midget’ bandit,” completely ignoring the fact that it was their competition who gave him his name.

‘MIDGET’ BANDIT AND PAL ARE CAUGHT IN FRESNO

Local Police Use Ruse In Catching Youthful Robber

CAPTURED WHILE IN HOTEL ROOM

Admits Robbing Garage And Oil Filling Station

The Herald is still in there fighting:

MIDGET’, NABBED HERE, TELLS OF FRESNO CRIMES

Robber, 17, Decoyed Into Arms

Of Police After Pal Is

Forced To Surrender

Not only do the local papers play up the story, but Ware’s crazy confession and life story make the wire services and are printed coast to coast.

The Harrisburg, Penn., Evening News:

ALLEGED MIDGET

BANDIT IS SEIZED

The New York Times:

MIDGET BANDIT CAUGHT

IN FRESNO, CONFESSES

The New York Evening World has some fun:

TURNED BANDIT RATHER

THAN JOIN

NEW YORK POLICE

Edwin Ware, 17, Arrested in Fresno, Cal., Tells a Wierd [sic] tale.

The Los Angeles Times likes the local angle:

“MIDGET BANDIT” IS

ARRESTED AT FRESNO

POLICE ASSERT LAD CONFESSED

TO MANY THEFTS

IN LOS ANGELES

[BY A. P. NIGHT WIRE]

Even the San Bernardino County Sun carries it:

MIDGET BANDIT CAUGHT

BY POLICE IN FRESNO

Sadly after this, The Midget Bandit drops off the national radar and is merely a local phenomenon.

The story of the Midget Bandit is almost over when the Fresno Morning Republican finally gets into the swing of things:

‘Midget Bandit,” Alone, Loses

Appeal For Mercy

Is Unheeded

Misfortune’s Child Punished

I’m told that the Herald didn’t publish that day, but I’m still checking newspaper files for further coverage.

And with that, the legend of The Midget Bandit fades into history. Even when Ware’s death makes national news, no one connects him to his brief fame the prior decade.

Tomorrow: The Smiling Bandit.

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Hammett: Before Edwin Ware Became The Midget Bandit

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Yesterday you got the detailed scoop on The Midget Bandit, his California crime spree, and his encounter with Hammett. Today Warren Harris returns to give you more of the fascinating backstory of one of the many, many criminals Hammett encountered during his years as a Pinkerton’s op.

The mug shots this time come from Edwin Ware’s incarceration in Folsom.

And here’s Warren to tell the tale:

Dashiell Hammett may have doubted the story The Midget Bandit told, but at least some of Edwin Ware’s more outrageous claims have evidence to back them up.

Up until August of 1921, Edwin Alonzo Ware’s life was adventurous — but not criminal. At least not in the United States.

And at least not as far as getting caught.

Ware said that, not yet 18, he had served in the Canadian navy, been sent to a reform school, escaped, served time in prison in Canada, worked for a motion picture company, held up a bandit in Mexico, had been shot and robbed in Texas and committed crimes across the state of California — all because he didn’t want to follow his father’s footsteps as a police officer.

Hammett thought that Edwin A. Ware was really 21 and claimed to be 17 to try to draw a reformatory sentence instead of hard time in prison. But census records and California prison records show that he was born May 15, 1905 in New York City and was truly 17 at the time of his arrest.

He was the son of a New York City police lieutenant. His father was Lieutenant Harvey Ware, a man described in court filings as “thrifty, frugal, stern, insistent upon a moral home life.”

The senior Ware was a firm supporter of law and order and good public morals, according to an appeal over his contested last will heard by the New York Supreme Court which contains some interesting information about The Midget Bandit’s family life.

Harvey Ware served for 30 years with the New York City Police. He was a stern man who divorced his wife over “moral” issues and aside from drinking an occasional beer in the last few months of his life, was a tee-totaler.

Following the divorce, he raised his three children — Harvey Jr., Gertrude and Edwin — as a single father for the most part, although he did marry a second time while Edwin was still a child. But Gertrude and Edwin were such a grave disappointment that late in life he told people he only had one child and tried to disinherit his youngest two children.

Gertrude Ware was estranged from him because she became pregnant out of wedlock at 17. As an illustration of the attitudes of the time, comments in court documents say that the child “fortunately” did not survive.

After the “good son” Harvey Jr. forced the father of the child to marry his sister, probably literally at gunpoint, the daughter did not live with her legal husband and instead took up with another man. Harvey Sr. cut off all contact with her once he discovered that she was living with a man out of wedlock.

As for the younger son, Edwin Ware, his “criminal career” was “a source of disappointment and grief to him.”

A witness, neighbor Fannie Hirshman, testified under oath in the probate case, that Harvey Ware Sr. told her “and my son, you know, he is a crook … and he stole my revolver and he stole Harvey’s clothes and he stole money from Harvey and he ran away.”

He told Hirshman that Edwin Ware was going to die in prison.

The Supreme Court of New York overturned the lower court case that found Harvey Ware’s will was made under undue influence and that he was of unsound mind when he left almost all of his estate to his older son. The two “bad” children received only a token amount each and that only because it was a legal device to try to forestall a challenge to the will.

The appeal unfortunately doesn’t go into detail on Edwin Ware’s criminal career because he did not contest the will.

Ware graduated from the fourth grade and at the age of 12 ran away from home, ending up in the Children’s Village at Chauncey, New York.  Running away from the village, he crossed the border to Canada and traveled to Nova Scotia where he claimed he joined the British navy as a steward second class.

Ware did not show up in a search of British or naval ratings of the period, either under his name or his alias of “Ed Stone.”

However, an Edward Alonze Ware does appear in Canadian records of the time. The date of birth listed is two years before The Midget Bandit’s, but it’s likely that Ware lied about his age in order to enlist. The discrepancy with his middle name is probably a transcription error.

Ware said he served 18 months in the navy, being given an honorable discharge. He said he was aboard a ship that was nearby when the Halifax Explosion occurred on December 6, 1917 and that he aided in rescue efforts.

The incident, the largest man-made explosion prior to the detonation of nuclear bombs, happened when a munitions-laden ship heading for Europe collided with a freighter and caught fire. Thousands of people were killed or injured and Canadian naval ships in the area did aid in the rescue operations.

Once out of the Canadian navy, he tried to make his way from Nova Scotia back to New York, but got caught stealing at Kentfield and was sentenced to the Halifax Industrial School for Boys. Reports do verify his story that he escaped from the reform school after making several attempts, was recaptured “after a hard struggle” and was sent to the notorious Dorchester Prison as an incorrigible youth for 18 months.

In 1920 he was pardoned by Canadian authorities through the efforts of his father, and deported from Canada back to the United States.

Once back, he rejoined his family and he got a job with the Famous Players-Laskey film company. His father objected as he wanted Edwin to follow in his footsteps as a police officer.

While the probate case does not mention Edwin becoming a police officer, there is evidence in the transcript that Harvey Ware wanted his older son to follow in his footsteps and was disappointed that Harvey Ware Jr. was too small to join the force, calling him a “shrimp”.

So if Harvey Ware Jr. was too short, why would their father think that his younger son the “midget” would be tall enough? Prison records list Edwin Ware’s height at between 5 feet, 5 inches and 5 feet, 7 and a quarter inches. Perhaps not tall, but despite his nom de plume, Edwin was not a midget.

In addition, he was only 16-years-old at this point. Perhaps his father was hoping for a late growth spurt. Edwin Ware does seem to gain at least a half inch  in the two years after he was first measured at San Quentin Prison and a further three quarters of an inch by the time he’s 28.

The dispute with his father led the now 16-year-old Ware to run away from home once again.

He headed south this time, according to newspaper reports, to El Paso, Texas and then across the border to Juarez. There’s no way to confirm this, but according to news reports, he was held up by a Mexican bandit, but turned the tables on him, robbing the bandit instead. Ware told reporters that this was his first robbery.

Back across the border, his luck flipped as he was held up and shot in the leg. So far, none of these incidents are backed up by any evidence other than Ware’s statements to police and reporters on his arrest.

After his Texas adventure, he came west to California and briefly ended up in San Francisco, where he failed to obtain employment.

He then made his first stop in Fresno, where he stayed with a local family and tried to find work. Failing that, he borrowed a rusty revolver and committed the holdup that would start the brief career of “The Midget Bandit.”

Ware’s luck in Fresno improved as he found work at a local packing plant, but after a few weeks he was laid off and returned to a life of crime.

Ware was convicted of two Fresno robberies in 1922 and sent to San Quentin. It looks like he was sentenced to life, but later records show he’s serving a 12-year sentence. The 1930 census shows him now in Folsom Prison. Sometime between then and February of 1933 he was released from prison and obtained work as a salesman.

Sadly, Ware was one of the ninety percent of California prison inmates of the period where the State discarded all but very basic records on them.

For the story of his final violent end, however, we must turn to the records of a prison system in another state.

Tomorrow: Back to the crime spree, two guns, and the capture of The Midget Bandit.

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Hammett: Edwin “Midget” Ware

quentin-mug2

Yesterday I told you we were going to give you an ID on The Midget Bandit — and here it is. As direct as a fist in the face.

If you ever had the slightest curiosity about The Midget Bandit, here are the facts, culled by Warren Harris from the news articles of the day, prison records, and other archives. The images at top and bottom of the post — my favorites of the mug shots — come from the San Quentin booking circa June 24 1922. The clip from the Fresno Morning Republican in the text is dated November 21 1921 — at this point, the earliest mug shot of the criminal who inspired Hammett to create Wilmer Cook.

And without further ado, here is Warren Harris, latest — and instantly one of the greatest — Guest Bloggers on this site. Take it, Warren:

For decades Dashiell Hammett scholars have searched in vain for the “The Midget Bandit,” the colorful youth said to be the basis for boy gun-man Wilmer Cook in The Maltese Falcon.

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Edwin Ware.

In his introduction to the 1934 Modern Library edition of the novel, Hammett wrote that most of the characters were based on people he met while working as an operative for Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency — most of those people are untraceable at this late date as there are simply too few details to identify them.

The original for Wilmer Cook, however, should have been easy to find as Hammett said that the exploits of The Midget Bandit were covered by local newspapers. Stockton, California papers. But Hammett’s only statement on Wilmer’s inspiration gets several key details wrong, leading researchers to look in the wrong place.

The tale of Edwin Ware, the 17-year-old holdup man known to local newspapers as The Midget Bandit matches almost exactly to Hammett’s story, save that he was arrested in Fresno rather than in Stockton, California. Both burgs are in California’s Central Valley, only about 127 miles distance from each other.

In 1995, columnist Michael Fitzgerald of the Stockton Record spent weeks trying to track down the history of the Midget Bandit.

I called Pinkerton. I also called area historians, retired cops, old filling-station owners … every day for weeks, I tried another angle. Finally I recruited a couple of volunteers who slogged through years and years of old newspapers. Joe Schmid found the Miner Bandit, the Gentleman Bandit, the Hermit Bandit, the Boy Bandit, the Argonaut Bandit and the Minstrel Bandit … but no Midget Bandit.

Fitzgerald had to give up his quest without finding the trail of The Midget Bandit. Other Hammett scholars have tried and failed to find the bandit in Stockton back issues.

The Fresno newspapers in 1921 tell the story of a bandit that matched Hammett’s details almost exactly, with headlines following a hold up at the city’s Central Garage on August 19, 1921 — followed by the robbery of a Standard Oil Company service station on September 1.

In the latter robbery —  the most important to the legend — Ware followed L. J. Perry home from his job at a Standard Oil station and held him up for day’s receipts, although he gave the man back his own money.

Perry called the man who held him up a “little fellow” in newspaper interviews and said he’d like to meet him again.

The saga begins on August 19, 1921 — and the legend of Fresno’s Midget Bandit is born.

Masked by a black bandana Edwin Ware slipped into the Central garage in Fresno at 3 am. that day, holding up garage man Roy Reid and private patrolman C. A. Murphy, who were talking. Murphy started to go for his gun.

“Stick ‘em up,” Ware said. “I’ve a good mind to shoot you. I don’t like cops anyway.”

Ware took the patrolman’s pistol, grabbed a straw hat and handed it to the men, then pointed to the cash register.

“Who knows how to play the piano?” the two-gun man said. “Hurry up, get busy and wind it up.”

With this holdup, a reporter for the Fresno Herald dubs the robber “The Midget Bandit” based on his size. While not a midget, Ware is slight of build and just 5′ 5″ tall.

A few days after this incident, police and the press in Fresno connected him to a brutal holdup at the end of August at the Subway Saloon where the proprietor was slugged over the head, but Ware later claimed he was innocent, and he was never prosecuted for the crime.

On September 1, 1921, Ware followed L. J. Perry home from his job at a Standard Oil station. Ware had seen the man take the day’s proceeds from the station and held him up at his front door.

In contrast to the brash bravado he displayed in the Central Garage holdup, he was described as polite this time. He kept his voice so low that the victim’s mother inside the house thought her son was talking to a friend.

Perry told a newspaper that he felt bad that he was held up by a man half as big as he. Ware read the comments and dashed off a reply while waiting for his train to Los Angeles the day after the robbery.

“You may tell that big stiff that I may be small but without a gun I can lick any man twice my size,” Ware said. The newspaper was happy to print a facsimile of the robber’s note.

While in Los Angeles, he robbed a Standard Oil Station and handed the man a note to give police — identifying himself as the Midget Bandit from Fresno.

Later press reports claim he’s a suspect in a series of mail robberies that struck the area in the fall of 1921, including one for more than a half million dollars, but he was never charged over those crimes. He’s reportedly responsible for some 50 gas station hold ups, again without much proof.

Ware was also a suspect in the unsolved murder of a gas station manager in Turlock, California. But then, the police claimed a number of people were suspects in that case and the timing makes it doubtful that he would have been involved.

A second crime he was responsible for in Los Angeles was the holdup he committed at the Bimini Baths where he supposedly stole $2,000 and engaged in a struggle where he fired three shots. Ware was arrested and sentenced to probation and released without taking credit for the crimes of The Midget Bandit.

While in the Los Angeles jail, he met fellow 17-year-old John Noble, a Canadian who had done time in his native country.

The pair teamed up and committed several crimes. First they robbed a pawnshop on Main Street, obtaining a number of guns. Perhaps feeling that Los Angeles was getting too hot for him, Ware decided to steal a car and return to Fresno and hold up Perry again. Noble went with him.

They stopped at the tiny town of Tipton where they burglarized a hardware store and stole silk shirts, pocket knives and a rifle before continuing on to Fresno.

Nobel was arrested first on November 20, 1921 when the proprietor of the rooming house where he was staying became suspicious of him. Inspector Tom O’Brien, who had investigated the original Central Garage holdup, confronted Noble, who shoved a gun into the officer’s stomach.

O’Brien knocked the gun aside and told Noble that he had him covered with a pistol he had in his coat pocket. Once at police headquarters, Noble confessed that he’s the confederate of The Midget Bandit and that the man they have been looking for was back in Fresno. He told the officers that they shouldn’t try to take The Midget Bandit because he was well armed with several revolvers and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Leading a squad of police officers, Captain B. A. Wickstrom started a hunt of hotels and rooming houses in the city, finding that Ware was in a room at the Hotel Adanis.

Ware had intended to hold up Perry again that night, but had fallen asleep instead.

At 2:30 Sunday morning, an officer knocked on Ware’s door and called out that Ware had a phone call. The ruse worked and Ware was taken into custody without trouble.

Ware then made statements to police and reporters that ends up being much of the evidence against him at his trial, as well as being the origin for the newspaper stories about his life.

The brief crime spree of the infamous Midget Bandit, whose exploits were carried by newspapers as far away as New York City, was over.

In November of 1921, then, while Hammett was still working for the Pinkerton’s Agency, members of the Fresno City police force arrested 17-year-old Edwin Ware — who confessed to being the man the newspapers dubbed “The Midget Bandit” — along with his  confederate,  John  Noble.

fresno paper

As Hammett says, Ware did claim — and really was — just 17-years-old. His father, Harvey Ware, really was a lieutenant with the New York City police department.

In a jail-house interview with the Fresno Morning Republican, following his November 20,1921 arrest, Ware confirmed the last part of Hammett’s story:

“At this time I met Noble and we wanted to get away from Los Angeles and come back to Fresno where we … could holdup the Standard Oil station and Perry, who wanted to meet me again, so we took a car.”

Unfortunately, Hammett did not have anything to do with Ware’s arrest, although some Hammett biographers have interpreted Hammett’s statement about a “fair pick-up” otherwise. Hammett certainly could have talked to Ware — but he also could have gotten all of the details he relates just from reading newspaper coverage.

With police across California trying to pin every unsolved crime in the state onto Ware, it’s possible that the Pinkerton’s Agency, faced with investigating a smash-and-grab jewelry store heist in San Jose, would think it worthwhile to send the then-ailing Hammett to Stockton to interview the jailed Ware to see if they could glue that crime on him as well. But it turns out that Ware wasn’t involved in the San Jose case and all Hammett got for his time was the inspiration for Wilmer.

Hammett carefully words his language so that The Midget Bandit was a fair pick-up — he doesn’t say he personally arrested him. He says he went to Stockton (really Fresno, Hammett either got the name of the city wrong when reminiscing fifteen years later — or changed it enough to not credit Edwin Ware directly for inspiration) looking for the criminal who smashed a window at a San Jose jewelry store robbery. He admits that The Midget Bandit wasn’t responsible.

Some have read that statement to say that Hammett claimed to have arrested The Midget Bandit while looking for the other criminal. But what Hammett is really saying is that he traveled to Fresno after Edwin Ware was arrested and interviewed him in jail.

It was a logical task for a Pinkerton’s agent. Police across the state were trying to tie Ware to every unsolved crime they could. A smash-and-grab at a jewelry store is exactly the sort of crime Ware committed. He’d burglarized a hardware store and robbed a pawn shop in L.A. and he was known to have spent at least some time in the San Francisco Bay Area before moving on to Fresno.

Hammett apparently made the trip, met the cocky youth and returned to San Francisco without the lead he’d hoped for — but with the inspiration for Wilmer Cook, the boy gunsel.

Now that we know the story of the real Midget Bandit, we can say for certain that Hammett, while he might have met the youth, did not have any part in his arrest by Fresno city police officers.

Ware was arrested in late 1921 and by early 1922 Hammett was out as a Pinkerton, unable to continue because of ill-health. The trip to interview Ware would be one of Hammett’s last — and now confirmed — cases.

Tomorrow: Before the Crime Spree.

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Hammett: Midget Bandit Week!

Midget

If you’re any kind of serious fan of the writings of Dashiell Hammett, you know that Hammett modeled the gunsel Wilmer Cook in The Maltese Falcon, published in first edition hardcovers by Knopf in 1930, on a crook known as The Midget Bandit.

Wilmer. Without argument the most famous gunsel of all time. Immortalized onscreen by Elisha Cook Jr. in the 1941 film version of the novel, directed by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart as detective Sam Spade. A classic role for a classic actor in a classic movie. From a classic novel.

Hammett told us about The Midget Bandit in a two-page intro he did for a 1934 reprint of the novel by the Modern Library. He mentions that he remembers “where I got most of my characters” and does quick thumbnails: “Dundy’s prototype I worked with in a North Carolina railroad yard; Cairo’s I picked up on a forgery charge in Pasco, Washington, in 1920; Polhaus’s was a former captain of detectives,” and so on — he shadowed the original of Caspar Gutman in the early days of World War I “and I never remember shadowing a man who bored me as much.”

But Hammett begins his catalog with Wilmer and The Midget Bandit, the longest paragraph in his intro — twice as long as his paragraph about Sam Spade:

Wilmer, the boy gun-man, was picked up in Stockton, California, where I had gone hunting a window-smasher who had robbed a San Jose jewelry store. Wilmer’s original was not my window-smasher, unfortunately, but he was a fair pick-up. He was a neat small smooth-faced quiet boy of perhaps twenty-one. He said he was only seventeen, but that was probably an attempt to draw a reform school instead of a penitentiary sentence. He also said his father was a lieutenant of police in New York, which may or may not have been true, and he was serenely proud of the name the local newspapers had given him — The Midget Bandit. He had robbed a Stockton filling station the previous week. In Los Angeles a day or two later, reading a Stockton newspaper — there must be criminals who subscribe to subscription services — he had been annoyed by the description the filling station owner had given of him and by the proprietor’s statement of what he would do to that little runt if he ever laid eyes on him again. So The Midget Bandit had stolen an automobile and returned to Stockton to, in his words, stick that guy up again and see what he wanted to do about it.

Needless to say, Hammett fans, Hammett scholars, maybe even some Hammett biographers, have tried to track down The Midget Bandit. I’ve met a few guys who’ve prowled fruitlessly through archives of the Stockton papers, almost in tears — no Midget Bandit.

On the trail of The Midget Bandit for decades. . . .

No luck.

Until now.

And I don’t think luck had much of a role in the tracking down and capture of the identity of The Midget Bandit — what cracked the case was the involvement of a tireless Continental Op-style archive-prowling man-hunter named Warren Harris.

I believe I first met Warren when he came out on the tour a decade or more back, and I bump into him on rare occasion. He does a zine titled Back Numbers Can Be Easily Procured for an amateur press association devoted to pulps — The Pulp Era Amateur Press Society, or PEAPS for short. Warren’s been a member on and off since about 2002, with his current stint his third go-round.

Point is Warren appreciates Hammett and knows the pulp scene, and The Mystery of The Midget Bandit grabbed his attention.

Avoiding misdirection, he followed each new lead until he nailed down the name, birthplace, criminal career, and several mug shots of the man who inspired Hammett to create Wilmer Cook. Everything from his California crime spree to his violent death.

And Warren has selected Up and Down These Mean Streets as the vehicle to present this research to the wider world — though he’s unearthed so much info I think the only way for him to do full justice to the subject is a book. Since I consider this find to be the coolest piece of info on Hammett’s career as a detective to be uncovered in decades, I’m honored that Warren lays out the facts here.

(Wow. Someone found The Midget Bandit! Personally, I am floored.)

So fasten your seatbelts and come back tomorrow to find out if Hammett was right or wrong about Midget’s age, whether or not his father was a New York cop — if even the moniker The Midget Bandit was real.

I’ll tell you this much now: The Midget Bandit was real. And on These Mean Streets it is now, officially, Midget Bandit Week!

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