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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