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The Time They Caught 'Fritzie' Dhein

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, May 20, 1934

The Time They Caught ‘Fritzie’ Dhein

By Howard Burba


     The escapades of Fritzie Dhein, Dayton’s “Public Enemy No. 1” in the gay ’nineties, have been told and retold by local police reporters for a quarter of a century.  But the last roundup of Fritzie Dhein, and possibly the most spectacular chapter in his hectic career, has long been somewhat garbled in the telling.

     In fact, so many reports of his capture were flashed in the newspapers at the time, only to be denied in subsequent editions, that when he did finally walk into a trap laid for him in the little resort city of Hot Springs, Ark., no two newspapers printed the straight of it.  Reference to old police records, and a careful scanning of voluminous data concerning the case now enable us to piece together a correct story of the capture of Dayton’s most notorious diamond robber, and one whose career attracted as widespread attention in earlier days as that of one Mr. John Dillinger in more modern times.

     “Here is a bit of news that will attract widespread attention!” declared The Dayton News on the first page of its edition of Feb. 3, 1894, just 40 years ago.  It was on Saturday, and colder than the proverbial blue blazes.  But Dayton warmed up to the black headlines announcing the end of the long man hunt, and eagerly devoured the story as set down by the local newspaper in these words:

     “Fritzie Dhein, the noted diamond thief, bail jumper and fugitive from justice, and who needs no introduction to the citizens of Dayton, is under arrest at Hot Springs, Ark.

     “The arrest was made about noon yesterday and the information was conveyed to this city by a telegram sent by Chief of Police Tom Farrell, the arresting officer, and was received by Capt. E. M. Wood, director.

     “The news contained in the telegram was brief.  In it Mr. Farrell simply announced that he had him under arrest and that he would return as quickly as possible to Dayton with this prisoner.

     “Fritzie, as he is generally known here, has been a fugitive from justice for many months.  His ingenuity and skill have been evidenced by the successful manner in which, up to yesterday, he evaded capture.

     “A few weeks since some excitement was created by the announcement that Dhein was under arrest in New York state.  This was quickly exploded by Chief Farrell, who went east to identify the prisoner, but who failed in so doing.  Since that time Farrell has never lost an opportunity to follow up a clew which might possibly lead to his arrest, and yesterday his efforts were crowned with success.

     “Last Monday morning Chief Farrell received word to the effect that Dhein was in hiding at Hot Springs, Ark.  Without a moment’s delay the necessary papers were drawn up by ex-Prosecuting Attorney Patterson and on the same day Farrell went to Columbus and secured a requisition.  Thursday evening he started for Hot Springs and no further word came from him until the receipt of his telegram late yesterday afternoon.

     “The announcement of Dhein’s arrest will doubtless create something of a sensation in Dayton.  It will at least serve to recall a series of exciting and interesting events which occurred in this city over a period of several months.

     “November 10, 1891, is a date which will readily be recalled by Daytonians.  It was on the afternoon of this day, and in the glare of a bright sun, that one of the cleverest robberies ever committed in this city was perpetrated.

     “B. E. Kramig, a traveling man in the employe of Hermen Keek & Co., Cincinnati jewelers, was relieved of a case of diamonds valued at $20,000. The news of this affair spread far and wide, but notwithstanding the remarkable degree of boldness which characterized the theft and the great value of the property stolen, the incident would have been more readily forgotten had it not been for the peculiar events which followed, some of the effects of which are lasting.

     “On the day following the robbery some tall hustling was engaged in.  Detective Grannan, of Cincinnati, appeared on the scene and while Cincinnati detectives were working in conjunction with the Dayton department, speculations were rife among the citizens of Dayton as to who the perpetrators might be.  Agent Kramig did not escape, for reflections could be heard concerning him.  The name of Fritzie Dhein also came up by reason of his shady record and greed for sparklers, and notwithstanding his positive assertions that he had retired from the “profesh” and intended making an honorable living by dispensing liquid refreshments.  Charles Freeman, chief of police at the time, held with Detective Grannan that Dhein was innocent.

     “Sometime later Detectives Farrell and Forsee of the Pinkerton agency, appeared in Dayton and it seems that they went to work from the start on the supposition that Dhein was not connected with the affair, and the longer they searched the more convinced they became of the correctness of the first theory.  But still another sleuth entered the case in the person of Detective John T. Norris, of Springfield.

     “On a Sunday night, December 10, 1891, Norris sprung his trap.  When on Monday the citizens of Dayton picked up their newspapers they were not a little surprised to learn that on the previous night nearly all of the diamonds were dug up in a fence corner near West Jefferson, O.  Bill Hurliss, who up to that time had no reputation other than a drunkard and loafer was arrested at Springfield and brought to Dayton as one of the suspects.  The next important arrest was that of Fritzie Dhein.  He was pulled out of bed at 1 o’clock in the morning and, like Hurliss, was locked in jail.  Mrs. Higbee, a handsome widow, residing on Richard st., was pulled out of bed at 3 o’clock in the morning, and these three completed the suspects.  The arrests were made on affidavits by Detective Farrell, charging them with grand larceny.

     In the preliminary trial before Mayor Ward, Hurliss was bound over to the common pleas court, while Dhein and Mrs. Higbee were each dismissed.  It appears that this dismissal was anticipated, for another affidavit against Dhein and Mrs. Higbee had been filed.  Dhein was rearrested in an E. Ffth st. saloon and Constable McWilliams proceded to escort him to jail.

     They entered the “Stag” saloon on S. Jefferson st. at Dhein’s request, the later stating that he desired to speak to his attorney.  In this saloon, Constable McWilliams encountered a gang of toughs, all friends of Dhein’s.  A “push” occurred in which one “Dutch” Engle, an uncle of Dhein’s figured prominently.  Senator Cotterrill, Park Chamberlain and Billy Lucking were among others taking part, and in the scramble someone struck McWilliams a blow on the head which forced him to let go of his prisoner.

     Dhein took advantage of the opportunity and made a dash for liberty.  McWilliams followed in hot pursuit and on Market st. pulled his revolver and fired at the fugitive.  McWilliams captured Dhein in a Market st. saloon, but again encountered the gang of ruffians, who had hot-footed it in pursuit of the officer as he chased the fleeing man.  For a time McWilliams bravely kept back the mob by leveling his revolver at the leaders and declaring that he would shoot down the first man who interfered.  In this manner he managed to get his prisoner as far as Main st., when Dhein once more secured his release and took to his heels.

     The affair created great excitement on the streets, and although Dhein subsequently gave himself up, the action of the mob was indicative of the brazenness and power of the underworld friends of the accused.

     On Feb. 2, 1892, Hurliss entered a plea of guilty and was sentenced to the penitentiary for a term of two years and 10 months.  The light sentence was a surprise, but it was probably due to the use of his evidence in an attempt to convict Dhein.

     The Dhein trial began on Feb. 5 and was not completed until Feb 11, at which time the jury failed to agree, and the case was set for another trial.  Before the time for the second trail arrived, it was ascertained that Dhein was out on bail, and was not in the city.  Then came the rumor that he had jumped his bond.  When the trial was called “Fritzie” failed to respond.  From that time he was searched for high and low.  On frequent occasions Chief Farrell was hot on his trial, but sly “Fritzie” managed to get away.

    It is worthy of note at this point that as the result of a clash between Detective Norris and Chief Freeman, the latter was deposed.  The police board, meeting to consider a successor, took into account the activities of Tom Farrell, the Pinkerton man, and it was on the strength of these activities that he was invited to accept the position.  He accepted, serving through an administration marked by some of the most successful and spectacular police work in the history of the Dayton department.  Later, however, the shadow of suspicion fell across Farrell’s path.  He had made some powerful enemies, and they   hounded him until they secured sufficient evidence of malfeasance and misfeasance in office to drive him out of town.

     When Farrell reached Hot springs on the evening of Feb. 2, 1894, he proceeded to a small hotel on a side street, where he had made an engagement with a detective.  It later developed that this sleuth was Detective Ford, another Pinkerton man, who had worked on the Dhein case in Dayton some three years before.  Farrell learned from Ford that Dhein had bought a ticket for Mobile, and intended taking a late night train out of Hot Springs for the Alabama city.  In order to head him off, Ford set about watching the trains.

     Shortly after Ford and Farrell had separated Ford learned that Dhein had departed for Mobile.  Farrell did not know that Ford had caught the same train, and for the moment it appeared that Dhein had again slipped from his grasp.  Dhein had taken a train for Malvern, Ark., where he was to make connections with a through train for the south.  It was only a short ride, and prompt action was necessary.  By using the wires Farrell succeeded in getting the sheriff with a posse of men at Malvern station in time to catch the train which Dhein was on.  Dhein, however, had already succeeded in leaving the train and mounting to the fast one on a track alongside.  He had curled himself up in a seat when the sheriff and his men entered and placed him under arrest.

     Fritzie began immediately to “hang a bluff.”  He demanded to know of the sheriff on what grounds he was being arrested and wanted to see the papers, declaring he would not accompany them until the same had been produced.  All of his objections, however, were finally overruled, and he was conducted back to Hot Springs. He first stated that he did not know Farrell and to his knowledge had never seen him before. Finally, however, he became more reasonable, and after his attorney had informed him that nothing could save him from being taken back to Dayton, he consented to return peaceably.

     Farrell and Ford accompanied Dhein from Hot Springs to Dayton.  News of their arrival in Cincinnati from St. Louis preceded them to Dayton, and there was a general search for time cards since hundreds were anxious to be at the depot for a glimpse of the celebrated prisoner when his captors reached Dayton with him.  Ford and Farrell had other plans, however.  They took precautions to make their entry into Dayton as inconspicuous as possible, but when the C. H. and D. train bearing them from Cincinnati arrived at the depot an eager throng filled the trainshed and stretched out along Ludlow st., over the route the officers were expected to traverse with their prisoner on their way to the jail.

     Among the number there were many who knew Dhein personally.  They were anxious to see if the debonair appearance had changed during the 18 months he was a fugitive, and the object of the greatest man-hunt the middlewest had staged up to that time.  They were very quick in detecting a marked contrast to the Dhein who had occupied the limelight during his trail.  His hair, then jet black, was now streaked with gray.  Deep lines in his face, where there had before been only smoothness, attested to the mental worry through which he had passed.

     “In those large steel-gray eyes, however, “ commented a newspaper writer, “his friends were able to recognize the former Fritzie Dhein. They were as bright and penetrating as ever, and indicate that their possessor has lost none of his cunning.

     “At police headquarters Fritzie’s picture was taken. It is an operation which he has undergone many times, and with which he is perfectly conversant.  After taking due notes as to his height, private marks, etc., he was escorted to the county jail.  He was assigned to a cell on the second floor, which is large and comfortable, but very secure.”

     Shortly after the arrival of Farrell and Dhein in Dayton a reporter for The News was permitted by Sheriff Gusler to talk to the prisoner in the county jail.

     “He looks careworn and weary,” wrote the reporter.  “Thoroughly disheartened, he has seemingly thrown up both hands, expressing but little concern as to his future.  There is a strain of pathos running through his story which cannot fail to arouse sympathy in the hearer.  He talks freely of his travels and of his efforts during the past two years to escape the detectives, who constantly dogged his tracks with the determination that a hound runs down the deer.  In a general way he indicated the extent of his travels but refused to name many of the places where he had stopped, stating that he had made many warm friends who are not aware of his history and whose respect and esteem he desired to retain.  In speaking of his travels, he said:

     “ ‘I have expended enough money for railroad fares to have made an ordinary man independently rich.  After the conclusion of the trial in which the jury disagreed, I went to Piqua.  I was out of money, and a man in my predicament, you know, is in bad shape without money.  It was my intention to return for retrial.  I knew that the money of my bondsmen was sweet to me, and I determined to try to retain it.’

     “The prisoner said, in continuation of the story of his travels that he went from Piqua to Norfolk, Va., where he remained a short time, and then went to New York City.  It was here that he was joined by his wife, and he remained there for several months, when matters began to get too hot for him. He then set sail, in company with his wife, for England.  For a number of months they alternated between England, France and Germany and finally, about 10 months ago, returned to America. They then went direct to Mexico.

     “In Mexico he started in the saloon business and was getting comfortably fixed, when he was compelled to abandon his business and again resume his flight.  From Mexico he went to Claybourne, Texas, and once more started in the saloon business.  In commenting on this he said:

     “I had established a good business and was getting comfortably fixed.  Last Christmas was the happiest moment I had experienced since my flight.  I purchased my wife several handsome presents, and we were both happy.  On the evening of the same day a chief of police from a neighboring town stepped into my place.  He had received a tip as to who I was, and in order to avoid arrest, I paid him $500 in money and gave him two valuable diamonds.

     “In a moment our happiness was destroyed.  To avoid arrest I was again compelled to flee, and I left the town as penniless as the day I left Dayton.  I then traveled all over Texas, stopping principally at smaller towns, and a short time since located at Hot Springs.”

     “While at Hot Springs he saw movements which excited his suspicions, and which induced him to undertake to leave the town, but in which he was thwarted.  When questioned concerning the statement that he had visited Dayton several times, the prisoner positively asserted that he had not been here since his first disappearance.

     “In relating his wanderings over the earth, tears frequently came to his eyes.  He said that notwithstanding conflicting stories, he had tried to earn an honest living in the saloon business and by gambling, which he did not consider a sin.  In referring to his wife he wept bitterly.  He alluded pathetically to her devotion to him and indicated that if it were not for her he would be absolutely indifferent as to his fate.

     “Among the concluding remarks the prisoner said: “The jury disagreed at the first trial, and may do so again.”  He thereby indicated that in his breast there still lived that hope which has enabled many men to endure hardships and set aside obstacles which were seemingly insurmountable.”

     At the time of the Keck robbery ‘Fritzie’ Dhein was about 40 years of age and, according to newspaper statements was the black sheep in a highly-respected family.  He was born at Sing Sing, N.Y., and at the time of his birth his father, Phillip Dhein, held an official position in Sing Sing prison.

     ‘Fritzie’ Dhein came to Dayton with his parents when a child and at a remarkable youthful age displayed tendencies which caused his parents great anxiety, but which they were powerless to check.  His numerous relatives residing in Dayton, among them several half-brothers, were highly respected, and all excellent citizens, enjoying the esteem of the entire community.

     In 1877 Dhein was convicted and sentenced to the Tennessee penitentiary for a term of years for robbing a jewelry store at Nashville, in broad daylight.  In 1879, he made a daring attempt at escape and, although thwarted, he greatly added to his notoriety.  During the progress of a fire in 1881 he made a second and, this time, a successful break for liberty.  He came north, stopped for a time in Dayton, and then went east.  He was arrested for a ‘job’ in New York state and sent to Sing Sing.  Immediately upon his release, he was rearrested and taken back to Nashville to complete his unexpired term.

     After his final release from the Nashville prison he came back to Dayton, started in the saloon business on E. Fifth st., and announced that he had abandoned the old life for good and all.