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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