Gunshots rang out. A car’s engine revved up, then died. There was a shattering of glass piercing the serenity of beautiful Fair Haven Township. Additional gunfire occurred, unexpected in this landscape.
The Model T truck used by the Chadwick Home Guard had screeched to a stop in front of George Holy’s farm on the Argo Fe road a mile and a quarter west of town. Five men heavily armed alighted from it. It was February 9, 1926,, a chilly day.
A telephone call had alerted them that two prisoners had escaped from Clinton County jail over in Iowa amid gunfire. The automobile used in the get-away crossed the Mississippi River over the high wooden bridge into Fulton, Illinois, likely heading north but it wasn’t certain. A couple men in a high-powered Buick had assisted in the prisoner’s get-away to the dismay of the deputies moving the prisoners. They’d run back into the courthouse to broadcast the news, then took up the chase.
Prisoners and deputies walking along the curb on the sidewalk had been startled by the Buick Brougham pulling along side of them with two men jumping out of the auto, ramming vicious looking guns into the sides of the deputies. The two prisoners had been shoved into the car which roared off, a few shots being fired. A fifth man was driving. It had taken but a couple minutes to execute the act.
Towns both north and south of Fulton were telephoned to be on the lookout for the ‘26 model Buick crowded with five men.
“Central” must have been busy plugging in all those numbers of sheriffs’ and police departments in so many places. The various counties may have called the communities in their jurisdictions. Why otherwise would Chadwick have been alerted so far “inland” as it was? Only the highway through Thomson and Savanna was paved. The rugged hills of Carroll County with all its curves and bends would be a slow route.
Some thought they’d go south to the Tri-Cities where in the warren of streets, they could get lost in the tangled blocks of Moline, Rock Island or Davenport. Or, as some believed, they’d head east toward Chicago. Whiteside County sheriff’s office sent out a carload of deputies, heavily armed, of course, to Carroll County where it seems, they’d been spotted.
Meanwhile Lee County’s sheriff, E.C. Risley, ordered an auto filled with deputies to go north to Polo from Dixon to watch for the fugitives, their aiding and abettors going for Chicago, he was sure.
In Carroll County the chief deputy had to make the plans because the sheriff himself had taken a prisoner to the state penitentiary at Anamosa in Ft. Madison, Iowa and would stay the night. All police in the county were called, including the Chadwick Home Guard, unlikely as it was they’d be needed!
The Home Guard was a “branch” of the “Carroll County Bankers Protective Association.” Be prepared the bankers believed. Their motto also, perhaps. In the 1920’s and ‘30’s bank robberies were common and frequent. The picture here is of the vigilante who answered the call that February day. Kneeling left: Bill Schreiner, president of the Farmers State Bank; Harve Spealman, druggist. Standing: Roy Hartman; John Kerch, attorney. At right, the driver, Ward Weber, gas station owner. They weren’t toughened Marines. Nor heavily trained militia. Just your everyday average guys, your neighbors and mine. C.M. Kingery and Harry Schreiner were separately listed each, in other reference of those who faced the gangsters.
It was 11:00 a.m. when the call came in. Twelve noon when they returned.
Stern-faced, the Home Guard had driven up the long hill on Argo Fe road to Holy Corners. It was very quiet. George didn’t seem to be home. He was probably off with his horse and cart peddling the home products he sold. He needed the transportation because he was lame and walked with two canes. It was early though. He usually didn’t get out until later in the afternoon when with luck he’d be invited to stay for supper at some customers, even offered a bed to stay overnight. Yes, it was quiet.
The five dismounted the truck, now readying themselves for the confrontation should it occur.
Ho. A big automobile was approaching from the west. It was a strange car and as it came closer, the Guard could see it was full of passengers. The fugitives. As they slewed to a stop on seeing the possé a man from the Buick jumped from its door and began shooting. Another man also alighted and joined in. The Home Guard wasted no time and returned fire, the noise rendering the peaceful atmosphere.
The first shot from the Home Guard hit the first man in the chest. He fell to the ground. The second man was hit in the face with the next salvo. He also fell.
The three yet in the car saw the uselessness of the situation and yelled that they’d surrender. They came out with their arms up.
The Home Guard approached cautiously so as not to be surprised by some untoward action but took them into custody without incident.
The fallen gangsters, covered in blood were examined. The first shot breathed laboriously but in a few minutes died. The second many, horribly shot in the face was still alive but was expected to expire at any moment.
The two fugitives in the truck, Alfred Fairfield and John Redman (aka Frank Sawyer) had filed away at their shackles during the escape drive so their hands and feet were free. They must be carefully watched. A third man, Joe Murray, claimed he was merely the driver and had just “Come along for the ride!!!”
The gory scene at Holy Corners would draw curious lookers-on for weeks to come, perhaps months.
It was 12:00. HIGH NOON. Only an hour had elapsed between the warning and the end of the incident.
By the time the possé, fugitives and the two bodies arrived back in Chadwick, the main street was full of crowds of people from all over the area. The party line of the telephone had run hot and lively.
The milling crowd hoped to learn more or see something. They applauded and cheered as the Home Guard passed. It was just the beginning of the accolades given them.
The “Incident at Holy Corners” hadn’t been the only action taking place that day during the manhunt. Others, too, were dedicated to capturing the fugitives who, come to think of it, had actually humiliated departments of law and order throughout the Northwest. One, they’d so easily passed through a number of towns but number two, the sheriff’s office in Clinton seemed lax in keeping them under lock and key.
There was no immediate reporter from the then-limited media of the day. The “Chadwick Clarion,” however, had written and printed a special edition the same day as the incident. Some of it though is not clearly explained or exactly correct.
The few other references, too, are contradictory. PDQ Me pieced together the information here as near the true occurrence as possible. By using items that were told more than once, we felt safe!
It hardly matters now, except to pay tribute to men who have filled the ranks of such as the Home Guard who put their lives on the line to keep their hometowns secure.
The inquest held into the death and occurrences that day in 1926 brought more information to light. Tune in next week for the rest of the story concerning our Chadwick neighbors of long ago.