One Dead and Eight Wounded in Tavern Robbery
One of the biggest crimes in Boston history occurred in quiet Jamaica Plain, with running gun battles and a dramatic shootout at bucolic Forest Hills Cemetery. The story includes foreign anarchists, less-than-astute police work, a mysterious woman, and more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel. And in the end, the entire thing was repeated overseas with a cameo appearance by Winston Churchill, in what must be his only connection to Jamaica Plain. The story is told here as it was reported in the Boston Globe at the time, which makes it a confusing story indeed. Much that was reported (or misreported) one day was corrected the next, but where the newspaper articles end, much remains unresolved. Remarkably, this dramatic story faded from the collective memory of the residents of Jamaica Plain. Here we bring it to life again.
“Three Robbers Kill In Saloon”
Boston Globe, 22 July 1908
Seven men were sitting in the Winterson & McManus saloon at 3171 Washington Street, near the corner of Boylston Street. It was just before 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21, 1908. Thomas Winterson, the proprietor (residing at 30 Sheridan St.), John Carty, the bartender (residing at 5 Atherton St.), and five customers were having a last drink. Just before closing, three unfamiliar men entered. As one jumped over the bar and threw the cash register to the floor, his two companions drew pistols and began firing.
Winterson took bullets to the base of the skull and the left arm. Customer Patrick Doran was struck in the left side and the spinal column. A second customer, Frank Drake, was hit in the right lung. While one of the men picked up the money from the register, bartender Carty escaped to the back room and called police station 13. With their take of $90 the three men ran into the street.
One block away at the corner of Washington and School streets, patrolman Butler was standing on duty when Frank Drake came running by, badly wounded and seeking a doctor. Butler arrived at the saloon in time to see three men run across Washington Street. After firing shots at them and losing sight of them in the darkness, he returned to care for the wounded at the saloon. Two witnesses saw the policeman shoot at the men, and seeing their direction, chased after them. They went up Chauncey Place (now Chilcott Place) through yards to Weld Avenue, School Street, back to Washington Street, and out Columbus Avenue, only to lose sight of them.
Patrolman Butler’s statement [from Boston Globe, 23 July 1908]:
“I was standing at the corner of School and Washington sts about 10:55 and heard a revolver shot followed by five others in rapid succession. I ran to the saloon and on the way heard six or seven other shots fired. When I reached the door of the saloon I was about to enter when I saw three men firing revolvers, and one of them, the smallest of the three, turned on me and pointed his revolver at me. I dodged out of the door onto the sidewalk as he fired at me. I did not have my revolver out and I got into a doorway in the next building to take it out, when at that moment the three men ran out of the saloon and across the street and into the lot where there are some old cellar walls. I fired at them. Someone cried out to me ‘Don’t shoot these men. The men you want ran down Washington st.’
“I got on to a passing car and rode as far as Green st, but could not see the men. I got off the car and jumped into a carriage that was going in the opposite direction and was driven to the police signal box at the corner of Washington and School sts and telephoned Lieutenant Bodenschatz about the shooting and asked him to send me help. I was told by a citizen that the men I had fired at were the right men, that a woman had told him she had seen them running through Weld av and down Washington st toward Roxbury. I telephoned station 13 that fact and station 10 was notified. I went to the saloon as quickly as I could and looked after the wounded until the physicians and extra police arrived.”
Thomas Winterson, the wounded proprietor, was brought home, where he was reported to be resting. Customer Patrick Doran had a bullet removed that had passed from one side of his body to the other. He was put on the dangerous list at Boston City Hospital.
“Desperadoes Kill One Man And Wound Eight Persons In Flight”
Boston Globe, 23 July 1908
At 7 o’clock on the evening of July 22, two of the yeggmen (bandits) involved in the raid at the Winterson and McManus saloon were in a running gun battle through the streets of Jamaica Plain. Edward Powers, a local citizen, had recognized the men and pointed them out to patrolman Edmund Inglis on South Street. In an exchange of shots at the corner of South and Child streets, patrolman Edmund Inglis took a bullet to his left leg. Nearby, Mrs Mary Fallon was shot through the right side of her face while walking to the store with her child. The men fled down Child Street. In a field at the corner of Child and Lee streets, Patrick McGinn and Edward Wightman were both shot in their legs.
The fleeing yeggs turned right onto Lee Street and then left on Keyes (now McBride) Street towards Washington Street. At the intersection of Washington and Keyes streets, Boston Elevated conductor Thomas Moore (of 191 Green St.) was shot while stepping off his streetcar, suffering a broken leg. Here, also, John Nolan (of 60 Keyes St.), foreman at the Ross Twine factory, was shot in the right side, seriously injuring him.
From there, the desperadoes continued to Forest Hills Street, where they turned and ran for Forest Hills Cemetery. At the entrance to the cemetery, Herbert Knox, a watchman at the cemetery, was shot in the abdomen and later died at Emerson hospital.
When news reached station 13, a force of policemen was sent out on the trail of the yeggmen, and calls were sent to headquarters for extra men from around the city. By 8:00 p.m., electric cars and patrol wagons had brought 250 men to the streets around the cemetery. Taking into consideration the size and terrain of the cemetery and the approaching darkness, no attempt was made to immediately search the grounds. Instead, every street around the cemetery was patrolled by armed men. Patrolmen took their places behind shrubbery and trees in the estates around the property. Automobiles with searchlights cruised the adjacent streets.
At 9:20 pm, the police learned that the desperadoes had not escaped. Patrolman Edward McMahon had been keeping watch on the west edge of the cemetery, in the back of 80 Woodlawn Street. He heard a noise at the cemetery fence, and when he came out into the light to investigate, he fell with a gunshot wound to the abdomen. His fellow officers returned fire in the direction of the shots, but with no apparent effect. The rest of the night was quiet, as the police waited for daylight before closing in on the yeggmen.
“Identified By Two Men”
Boston Globe, 23 July 1908
Earlier that same day, policemen from Division 13 who had been watching the South terminal train station in downtown Boston observed a man fitting the description of one of the desperadoes. When he saw the officers, the man ran and was caught after a short chase. Giuseppe De Vico, 21 years old, of Somerville, was questioned closely on the scene. He had a suitcase and a ticket to New York in his pocket, and claimed to be a shoemaker at his uncle’s shop in Somerville. Satisfied by the man’s actions that he had done something wrong, the police brought him to Division 13 to be examined by witnesses.
When John Carty the saloon bartender was brought into the station house, De Vico was brought forward. Carty immediately identified him as the second man to come into the saloon. William Pettee, a customer in the saloon at the time of the robbery, came in next. Pettee was brought downstairs to the cells and identified De Vico as one of the robbers, but suggested that his hat was not the same as the bandit’s. When another hat was brought out from De Vico’s suitcase, Pettee recognized it and identified him as the man who took the money from the cash drawer on the floor.
“Yeggmen Thought To Be Hiding In Woods”
Boston Globe, 24 July 1908
After waiting on guard throughout the night, at 4:00 a.m. two hundred policemen entered Forest Hills Cemetery to engage and capture the bandits. They had followed Superintendent Pierce, Chief Inspector Watts, and Captains Wescott and Hanley for a short distance to the left of the main entrance when they saw a man running over a hill toward a dry ravine. When the man saw them, he unleashed a succession of bullets in their direction. As quickly as he emptied the magazine, he reloaded with another clip and began firing again. The police returned fire as they advanced, but he continued into the gully, firing as he ran. He sought cover from one tree to another, settling behind a fir tree. As police bullets rained down on the man’s location, a single shot came from behind the fir, and a puff of smoke, but no further answers to the police fusillade.
“Supt Pierce, Chief Inspector Watts and patrolman O’Sullivan ran down the gully to where the man leaned against the tree in a sitting posture. Chief Watts grasped him about the throat, while patrolman O’Sullivan wrenched the revolver from the unresisting fingers. ‘He’s dead,’ the chief said, but the announcement made no impression upon the police. The force of armed men surged down the gully, frenzied with rage, crying, ‘Kill him,’ ‘Finish him up,’ ‘Make an end to him.’
“‘Get back, get back,’ shouted Superintendent Pierce and Chief Watts, but the policemen paid no attention to the command. They were for seizing the body and doing it violence. Inspectors Douglas and Wolf jumped beside the superintendent and the chief inspector and joined them in resisting the frantic policemen. Chief Watts and the others struck the patrolmen, knocked them down and fought them off for several minutes until the excited men regained their senses and dropped back. Then Dr. Dunn made a hasty examination of the body and announced that the outlaw was dead. From that moment the policemen were rational, obedient to orders again, the passionate resentment having subsided. They helped place the dead man in the automobile and quietly went away when released from further duty.”
Soon after the shooting described above, a Mr. Hugh McDougall, a conductor on the Forest Hills elevated line, was arrested on Morton Street. He was carrying a revolver, and was believed to be the second yeggman. Police charged him with the shooting of patrolman McMahon at 9:30 the previous night at Woodlawn Street. Immediately at the scene, a score of acquaintances vouched for him, to no effect.
The dead yeggman at the cemetery was identified by several witnesses in both the saloon raid and the running battle through the streets of Jamaica Plain. Dissenting was Edward Powers, who originally identified the two bandits to patrolman Inglis. Powers insisted that the dead man had different features, and a heavier mustache than the men he saw.
After the shootout at the cemetery, when things had gone quiet, patrolman Buckley walked along the edge of the Arnold Arboretum near South Street and the Arborway. The policeman saw a man and called after him, but the man darted off, dodging from tree to tree. Buckley chased him, firing his revolver as he went. The fugitive turned on the policeman, raising his revolver and shouted “I’ll getta you yet” with an Italian accent. With that, he sped off through the trees and was lost.
Patrolman Buckley returned to Forest Hills seeking help from the force that had surrounded the cemetery, but the police had all gone home, and the third man got away. Later that day at the Williams farm on Centre Street on the opposite side of the Arboretum, a suspicious man was seen. When called, squads of policemen searched for the man, but with no success. In spite of losing him, police had confidence that he would be caught. An hour before the two yeggmen were seen on South Street, they were believed to have entered the house of Christopher Spruhde of 48 Jamaica Street. Mr. Spruhde and his brother had left two coats in the kitchen in the morning, but when they returned, their coats were gone. In their place were two other coats, one with a bullet hole in one sleeve. The lining of this coat was saturated with blood, suggesting that the fugitive would need medical attention soon.
“Dead Desperado Edmund Gutman”
Boston Globe, 25 July 1908
The dead desperado at the Forest Hills Cemetery was identified as Edmund Gutman, a Lett (Latvian) who had come to the United States from the western provinces of Russia within the previous two years. Witnesses identified him as a participant in the raid on the saloon, and as the more vicious desperado in the running battle through the streets of Jamaica Plain to the cemetery. Gutman, it was said, shot at those who challenged them through the streets, urging on his companion to reload the pistols as he emptied them.
The companion was believed to be Francesco Sperduto, who had been arrested the previous day in Dedham with Sepa Pasquale. While no reason was given for the arrest of Sperduto, John Nolan, who was shot at Child Street, identified Gutman as the man who shot him, and Sperduto as the man who reloaded the pistol. Police became aware of two good friends of Gutman, and believed that finding them would close the case. Gutman himself had been identified by his Lettish countrymen when his death picture was published in the newspaper. When he arrived in this country, Gutman had received the aid of countrymen who lived in colonies in South Boston, Roxbury and Jamaica Plain. After a time, he procured a job with the metropolitan park force doing gypsy moth extermination work in the Middlesex Fells. Although he became a foreman, the men complained of his bad temper, and there were rumors that he had committed a murder in his own country. In time, it was believed that he became familiar with Jamaica Plain, visiting a friend on Jamaica Street.
A note found near Gutman’s body in the cemetery gave further clues to his connection to the area. It was addressed to a Miss L. Mauren, in care of Mrs Rosenwald, 3302 Washington Street, just north of Green Street and not far from the saloon that was robbed. The note was written in Lettish, but was translated for the police. When interviewed by the police with the aid of a translator, the Rosenwalds denied any knowledge of Gutman or a Miss Mauren, and said they had few visitors. However, local people told police that the Rosenwalds had many Russian visitors, and one was a young, good-looking woman.
Even after the success at the cemetery, Jamaica Plain remained in terror. Women and children remained inside their houses, and men came home early to be with them. Men called Station 13 and asked for spare revolvers. At all times, the streets were filled with young men, imagining a return of the fugitives to take revenge on the community, and extra police were sent in from the rest of the city to patrol the streets. In Roxbury and South Boston, police watched colonies of Letts for signs of the fugitives seeking aid from their countrymen.
“De Vico’s Friends Set Up An Alibi”
Boston Globe, 25 July 1908
During the same day, friends of the suspect De Vico came to his aid. Seven persons claimed that he had been on a Revere beach electric car at the time of the robbery, and had spent the night of the cemetery assault at a Revere beach cottage. During the day there had been a problem at his uncle’s cobbler shop with two women, and when he saw the police at the train station he feared that the women had set the police upon him. His poor command of English increased his fears, and caused him to run and draw further suspicion to himself. His friends and acquaintances insisted that his nature was mild and his connection to the Jamaica Plain crimes impossible.
“On Trail Of Yegg’s Pals”
Boston Globe, 26 July 1908
Intelligence gained from a series of raids and roundups in the Lettish community convinced the police that Edmund Gutman’s associates in the raid and the running shootout at Jamaica Plain were fellow Letts who had been employed with him in the gypsy moth extermination crew. This ruled out those suspects who had been arrested in Dedham and Roxbury. Leontine Mauren, to whom the final note was addressed to, was traced to 43 Union Avenue, Jamaica Plain. It was learned that Mauren, 20 years old, was married, but living under her maiden name since her husband had gone west seeking employment. Upon locating her residence, the police went to 43 Union Avenue, searched the premises, and took an unnamed couple into custody. They were questioned at station 13 and held for further interviews. Mauren was not the woman found, having last been seen at 1:00 p.m. that day.
Having collected much evidence, the police became certain that they knew the identities of Gutman’s accomplices. One had come from Philadelphia recently, and had written Gutman letters from that city. With the certainty of these identities, the authorities decided to release all the other Letts who had been rounded up and held at Station 13. Three men, Francesco Sperduto, Genaro Bruno, and Abraham Weise, were held on the basis of eyewitness identifications, but the police did not credit these identifications, and they were expected to be released soon.
Sepa Pasquale had been released the previous day, but was rearrested on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon. Giussepe De Vico, who was arrested at South Station, and Hugh McDougall, who was taken into custody near Forest Hills Cemetery after the death of Gutman, were held at Charles Street jail for appearances in the West Roxbury district court.
With new intelligence, the police came to believe that Edmund Gutman was not a participant in the running shootout the day after the saloon raid. The three men had spent the night of the raid in or near Forest Hills Cemetery. During the day, Gutman’s associates went out, probably for food. When recognized by Edward Powers and challenged by patrolman Inglis, the two shot their way back to Gutman and their sanctuary at the cemetery. Arriving at the cemetery at the Canterbury Street side, they came upon watchman Herbert Knox. They were overheard to ask Knox if he was a policeman. When he answered, “No, I am a watchman,” one man said, “Take no chances,” and the other man shot him, mortally wounding him in the abdomen.
It was also believed by the police that they knew how two of the men had escaped. At 8:15 that night, three patrolmen were stationed on Walk Hill Street on the south side of the cemetery. One robber was seen approaching the fence, and they drove him back with shots from their revolvers. An hour later, one of the men threatened to break out again, and again was driven back with shots.
In the early morning, when the assault on the cemetery began from the main entrance, the patrolmen on the periphery of the cemetery heard shots coming from the direction of Morton Street and ran to join the fray. In the excitement, Canterbury Street was left unguarded and the two remaining yeggmen escaped over the fence. With no police guarding the far side of the cemetery, it was believed that they jumped the fence, followed Canterbury Street to Walk Hill Street, turned right, followed the road down to Hyde Park Avenue, and crossed the railroad tracks to the Arnold Arboretum. It was at this time that one of the fugitives was seen and chased by patrolman Buckley.
Gutman’s life in the United States was traced with the aid of local Letts. After arrival, he found a job in a mica mine in New Hampshire. In time, he came to Massachusetts and got a job with the gypsy moth crew at the Middlesex Fells park, eventually becoming foreman. Two of his fellow Letts in the crew became close to Gutman, and a group photograph of the crew taken at the time was used to identify Gutman and his associates. During his time in Massachusetts, Gutman became acquainted with the local Lettish community, and became very friendly with Miss Leontine Mauren. Near the site Gutman was found dead, a woman’s handkerchief was found with the embroidered letters L M. It was assumed that the letter found nearby and addressed to Miss Mauren was in Gutman’s hand.
One of the two assumed associates of Gutman had recently traveled to Philadelphia and addressed letters to Gutman in Jamaica Plain, which suggested to the police that Gutman had a familiarity with the area. The man returned from Philadelphia, and he and Gutman were later traced to a home at 17 Oakdale Street, Jamaica Plain. This address was the home of a local Lett, John Walter, and also the place of publication of a Lettish newspaper called Truth. Police interviewed Walter, and learned that the men had no money, and had spoken of going out that night and committing highway robbery on a dark Jamaica Plain street.
In this meeting at the Walter house, there were five men, so the police assumed that others of the gang could be at large and planning more raids. With the intelligence they had gained from Lettish sources, the police raided houses on Green street, Jamaica Street and Oakdale Street. Among the effects of one lodger was the group photograph of the 16 men who worked on the gypsy moth crew, including the dead Gutman. The two men believed to be close associates of Gutman were recognized in the photo, and the rest were gradually identified, rounded up by the police and interviewed. Each accounted for himself and identified Gutman and his two friends.
While the police were focusing on the two known, but officially unnamed associates of Gutman, members of the public continued to arrive at Station 13 and identify Sperduto, Pasquale or Bruno, though none could identify McDougall or De Vico. In spite of the eyewitness identifications, the police were certain that Sperduto, Pasquale and Bruno were not involved in the raid at the saloon or the running gun battle through Jamaica Plain. It was the belief of the police that in carrying out such attacks, Letts would not trust men of another race, for “men of different races would distrust each other too much.”
When the lawyer for Sperduto, Pasquale and Bruno arrived to see his clients at Station 13, he was denied access to the men by the police. Going directly from there to police headquarters, he was told that no lawyer could see the suspects, as it might hurt the case against them. When the lawyer pointed out that constitutional protections were being violated, opening the possibility of civil prosecution, access was granted. Back at the station, it took the intervention of a Captain to allow the lawyer to speak to his clients alone, as the Constitution required.
“Plaude, Jekapson The Yeggs Sought”
Boston Globe, 27 July 1908
It was announced that Peter Plaude and Andrew Jekapson, two friends of the dead outlaw Edmund Gutman, were the men who shot their way through the streets of Jamaica Plain. All who knew Gutman recognized these two men as his closest associates. It was claimed, as well, that the men appeared identical to the descriptions given by witnesses who saw the running gun battle along Keyes Street. Plaude was “the big man” who did the shooting, and Jekapson resembled the other, who reloaded the pistols for his partner. Both men were Letts, both in their twenties, with sandy hair. Both had spent time in Philadelphia as well, and were expected to attempt to return there in an effort to find aid from their countrymen and gain passage out of this country.
It had been learned that the three men, along with Miss Leontine Mauren, had been members of a Lettish anarchist organization that held Sunday meetings in Roxbury. Gutman was a leader, while Jekapson and Plaude were his admirers and followers. The three companions were low on funds, and their extreme anarchist beliefs on property rights justified and led to their attack on the saloon.
Peter Plaude had come to the United States with his brother. Some time after arriving, the Plaudes moved into 53 Jamaica Street, opposite the home of Christopher Spruhde, where the outlaws later left their coats. At the time, the Mauren woman was with them. Miss Mauren was known within the Lettish community to be very fond of Peter Plaude. Eventually, the Plaudes and Miss Mauren moved to 3302 Washington Street, near Green Street. Plaude took the job with the Middlesex Fells Reservation gypsy moth crew, and became close to Gutman and aligned with his violent anarchist principles. Plaude and Andrew Jekapson, another Lettish gypsy moth crewman, began defrauding installment stores, buying furniture and clothing and reselling it without first paying the full amount. In time they came under pressure from agents of the sellers. Plaude fled to Philadelphia, disappeared from sight, and Leontine Mauren returned to her parents.
After a time, Miss Mauren came back to Jamaica Plain, this time living with her young sister at 43 Union Avenue. According to local Letts, Mauren was a believer in a violent form of anarchism. She would, it was said, address gatherings of their group, denouncing the treatment of the workers, and counseling murder when expedient. It was also believed by Lettish acquaintances that, contrary to earlier police belief, the note found near the body of Gutman addressed to Miss Mauren was probably written by Plaude, whose relationship with her was the longer and closer.
Eventually, Plaude returned from Philadelphia and again found his friend Gutman. Gutman was now living in Roxbury, and sought the aid of his landlady in finding rooms for two friends. She referred them to a friend of hers, who later identified the two boarders as Plaude and Jekapson. Shortly before the raid on the saloon, all three men complained of a lack on money, and under Gutman’s theory of property, they struck at the saloon to seize what the considered was rightfully theirs.
“Bandits Return To Scene Of Shooting”
Boston Globe, 28 July 1908
Witnesses from the gun-battle in the streets were shown the picture of the gypsy moth crew. All identified Jekapson as one of the men who ran shooting through Jamaica Plain, and all but one recognized Plaude. A new witness added to the certainty of the police. An acquaintance of Plaude and Jekapson, she volunteered that she had seen both men in Jamaica Plain on Wednesday night. New information led police to suspect that there had been a fourth man at the raid on the saloon, with one standing guard outside. The fourth man was Peter Sware, a known associate of the three bandits, though not a member of the gypsy moth crew. Sware did not have the reputation for violence the others did, and police said they sought him as a witness rather than as a definite suspect.
The police continued their search for Miss Mauren. A search of the homes of Lettish people on Ruggles Street in Roxbury failed to find a trace of her, as did a watch on her parents’ home in Lawrence. As she seemed to be the one person in the area who would remain loyal to the men, the investigators believed that she might be in contact with them. At the same time, the police of Station 13 continued to prepare their cases against Francesco Sperduto, Giuseppe De Vico and Hugh McDougall. Although police had reasoned that Gutman and his fellow Letts would not trust an Italian like Sperduto, six persons identified him as one of the bandits at the saloon, and one man identified him as the man who shot Herbert Knox at the cemetery. Hugh McDougall was under suspicion for shooting patrolman McMahon near the cemetery border at Woodlawn Street, but he was released on bail supplied by the treasurer of the Boston Elevated Railway Company.
A week after the raid on the saloon, only three men remained hospitalized. Patrick Doran, who was shot in the abdomen at the saloon, was now off the dangerous list. Thomas Moore, the streetcar conductor who was shot in the side at Washington and Keyes streets, was improving every day. Patrolman Edward McMahon, with a wound to the abdomen, was still on the dangerous list, but was also improving.
“Baffled In Yeggmen Hunt”
Boston Globe, 29 July 1908
In the week since the shootout at the cemetery, there had been no sightings of the missing men or their associate Leontine Mauren. The Mauren woman was now known as a philanthropist of the group of Letts. Police were told that she had supplied Plaude with the money to return from Philadelphia in early July. She had also helped friends of Gutman, and was the one person to whom the outlaws would turn for aid. Her disappearance had shocked her reputable friends, and the police had concluded that she was traveling with the fugitives and aiding them in their effort to leave the country. It was reported by local Letts that the four had been expelled from their association several months earlier for their bloodthirsty views, and the fear that they would bring disrepute upon the law-abiding members.
“Both Men Released”
Boston Globe, 30 July 1908
On Tuesday, Francesco Sperduto of Dedham and Giuseppe DeVico of Somerville had their hearings in front of Judge Perrins in the Jamaica Plain court. Witnesses called against DeVico during the morning session could not positively identify him in court. Both John Carty the bartender and William Pettee, a customer, said that they were brought to see DeVico in his cell, and were not required to pick him out of a line-up. When witnesses for DeVico testified that he was with them in Malden during the saloon raid and at Revere beach the night of the running shoot-out, the judge ordered him released. It was revealed during the afternoon Sperduto hearing that the police had believed since the day of his arrest that he had a perfect alibi. In spite of this belief, police put on witnesses in an effort to hold him. In the afternoon court session, none of the government witnesses could positively identify Sperduto as one of the two bandits from the running gun battle Wednesday night. David Eldredge, who was with watchman Knox when he was shot at the entrance to the cemetery, began his testimony quite sure of his identification. In spite of his initial confidence, the defense lawyer got him to admit that he “wouldn’t want to swear to it, because they all look so much alike.” The defense put Edward Powers on the stand, who had followed the bandits at the cemetery in the morning, and identified them to patrolman Inglis later that day. He insisted that Sperduto was not one of the two men he had followed that day. When the owner of the lodging house Sperduto lived in testified that he had been at home both Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the police closed the case and he was released.
Testimony during the day’s hearings added to the public’s knowledge of the case. It was revealed for the first time that the police were informed Wednesday, the morning after the saloon raid, and twelve hours before the gun battle in the streets, that two suspicious men were in Forest Hills Cemetery, but they failed to investigate. Edward Powers, who later identified the two men to patrolman Inglis at South Street, had followed the two into Forest Hills Cemetery. As he was on his way to work, he asked two people to inform the police. Powers said that one of the two had done so, because a policeman later told him of receiving the information. Another witness, Lawrence Gingoff, testified that as he was looking into the saloon during the robbery, patrolman Butler came upon the scene, looked into the window, and walked off, probably to go to a patrol box for help. When it was his turn to testify, patrolman Butler said that when he reached the door of the saloon, one of the men fired his pistol at him. He jumped back, and in the time it took him to draw his revolver, the bandits had run from the saloon and up the street. Patrolman Butler went on to testify that he gave chase, firing at the bandits and shouting at them to stop. When he lost sight of them, he boarded a car that was going in the opposite direction, explaining that he was sent in the wrong direction by a citizen. When he realized his mistake, he returned in a wagon pressed into service.
“In Defense Of Police”
Boston Globe, 1 Aug. 1908
The next day, Hugh McDougall, accused of shooting patrolman Edward McMahon at Forest Hills Cemetery, was released by Judge Perrins when no witnesses could testify to his presence at the scene of the shooting. Eight witnesses had testified for the defense when the judge discharged the defendant.
Following the revelations coming from the court hearings of De Vico, Sperduto and McDougall, Police Commissioner O’Meara defended his men. According to his statement, there were 238 policemen of all ranks on duty at Forest Hills Cemetery, not the 600 claimed by some. One hundred and forty nine men stood guard, while 89 entered the cemetery. Of those, it was determined that 67 fired 208 shots. After pointing out that the two missing fugitives could have left the cemetery before the police cordon was in place, the commissioner stated, “I have studied the events of the night with a greater interest perhaps than any other man can have and I do not see wherein the plan could have been improved, even if the work were to be done again.” Regarding Mr. McDougall, the commissioner said that his arrest was due to his own folly, and that if one of the fugitives had been in the cemetery at the time and had later escaped, it was due to the police believing that McDougall himself was that man.
“Mauren Girls In Harlem”
Boston Globe, 30 Oct. 1908
Boston Police detectives traced Leontine Mauren and her sister Elizabeth to a lodging house on 170th Street, New York City, where they were working as dressmakers. The police were confident that the sisters had no information to provide regarding the case, and expected to drop their watch on the two. With Peter Plaude in Russia, and Andrew Jekapson and Peter Sware assumed to be there as well, it was likely that no arrests would ever be made in the case.
Here, the trail goes quiet for over five years. On February 6, 1914, one final report is made in the Boston Globe. The Boston police announced that the two fugitives involved in the Jamaica Plain shootings of 1908 were dead. Three years earlier, two of the three men who escaped from Boston were involved in the Houndsditch jewelry robbery in London in December, 1910. One was shot and killed by one of his companions, and the other was killed in a building fire while fighting off the police.
Only in recent months had the Boston police learned of the connection between the events in London and the crimes that shocked Jamaica Plain. Inspector Thomas Lynch traveled to London, and with the intelligence gained there, an investigation in Boston was carried out and corroborated what he had learned. The companions of Edmund Gutman, the man who had been killed at Forest Hills Cemetery, were Fritz Svars and Poolka Mourrivtz. Both were Letts and anarchists, and both were known as criminals with many deaths on their hands. Inspector Lynch had learned in London that Svars had killed Herbert Knox, the cemetery watchman. Gutman was not killed by bullets fired by the Boston police, nor by his own hand, but had been killed by Mourrivtz before he and Svars fled. Gutman had told them that he could not keep up their pace, and Mourrivtz killed him out of fear that Gutman might be captured and talk.
It was a tip from Boston’s Lettish community that sent Lynch to London, following rumors that the two would be found there. In London, he learned that both Svars and Mourrivtz had boasted of the raid on the saloon and the running shoot-out through Jamaica Plain. A woman who was associated with both men in London could not say where the crimes had occurred, but the details she gave were such that the police were confidant that the crimes she described and those that took place in Jamaica Plain were the same.
In London, the Houndsditch robbery and the notorious Siege of Sidney Street repeated the events of Jamaica Plain in a remarkable way. As in Jamaica Plain, there was an initial robbery/shootout and a later siege on the surrounded fugitives. During the attempted robbery at Houndsditch, three policemen were killed by Russian revolutionaries. Through a tip, the gang was found in a house at 100 Sidney Street. When police attempted to take them, a gun battle erupted in which the police found themselves seriously out-gunned. Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary at the time, called in the Scots Guards, and during the siege, the building caught fire and burned to the ground. As the Boston Police came to learn, two of the men killed in London had taken part in the Jamaica Plain raid and shootout as well. So here we have the promised connection between Churchill and Jamaica Plain.
So our story finally ends, but the questions continue.
- How did Edmund Gutman die? If we credit the story from London, we would have to believe that Mourrivtz shot Gutman as he hid behind the fir tree, but did so unnoticed by 89 policemen in the cemetery. The “fog of war” is relevant here. Can we trust the police story as conveyed by the Globe article? This entire story is an indictment of the value of eyewitness evidence. The original “swarthy” Italian bandits turned out to be sandy-haired Latvians, and the policemen who gave the story of Gutman’s death staged a massive brawl over the body.
- How did Miss Mauren go from rabid anarchist, to gun moll on the run, to harmless Harlem seamstress? President McKinley had been assassinated in 1901 by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist. Revolution had been put down in Russia in 1905, and pressure by the Czar’s secret police caused many, including Letts, to flee their homeland. How much did these events play in the portrayal of Leontine Mauren? If xenophobia played a part, it becomes harder to explain the sudden disinterest in her. Perhaps someone in the local Lettish community, feeling the pressure of midnight raids and round-ups, decided to point the finger at Mauren to protect the greater community. In the end, Leontine Mauren was able to convince the Boston police that she had no part in the crimes and provided no aid to the fugitives.
- What of Plaude and Jekapson? According to reports from the Lettish community, there was no doubt that these two men would be Gutman’s partners in crime. They were picked out by witnesses in the gypsy moth crew photograph. If they were innocent, then the police must have pointed them out in the photo and asked, “Is this them?” rather than requiring them to pick out the men on their own. So why did they run? They had been involved in the installment store scam, and perhaps they brought a distrust of the police with them from their homeland.
- What of Peter Sware? He was the fourth man, suspected of standing guard outside the saloon. Could Sware be the same man as Fritz Svars, who was killed in London? In the Boston Globe articles, De Vico became De Vigo, and it was certainly common for immigrants to change their names when they came to the United States. The Globe gives us no help here.
- Why the Italians? Witnesses described the bandits as “swarthy.” De Vico and Sperduto were picked up by policemen on the basis of eyewitness descriptions. Patrolman Buckley heard an Italian accent from the man he chased. How did straw-haired Latvians become dark Italians? The statement of the witness in open court: “They all look alike,” certainly tells us something about the mentality of the time.
- Why did the police insist on prosecuting Sperduto, De Vico and McDougall? Reports of their doubts as to the involvement of all three had already been published in the newspaper. They clearly recognized the inherent weakness of eyewitness identifications, and logic told them that a small immigrant group would not trust outsiders. It almost seems that they preferred going to court and losing to telling their witnesses that they had accused the wrong men.
Finally, for bonus trivia points, a Jamaica Plain connection can be made to Alfred Hitchcock. His 1934 film The Man Who Knew Too Much featured Peter Lorre and drew on the events at Sidney Street for its final shootout scene. Hitchcock remade his own film in 1956 with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day, and featuring the song Que Sera, Sera, but without the climactic Sidney Street scene.
So the story finally ends for good. No movie was made about the events in Jamaica Plain, and no books were written. Both this middle-aged writer and his 82-year-old mother grew up in Jamaica Plain, and neither ever heard the story. Perhaps the people of Jamaica Plain were just too busy working and raising families to bother retelling the story to their neighbors and children. In any case, it is a story worth passing on to future generations.