Hammett: Death of The Midget Bandit — Gutshot in a Prison Break!


And how else would The Midget Bandit have gone out, except as an authentic gangsta?

The mug shots — the final mug shots — this time come from his stint in Walla Walla.

And here once more is Midget authority Warren Harris to paint the scene:

It took a jury less than thirty minutes to convict Edward Ware, The Midget Bandit of Fresno, California of two counts of robbery.

Although he pled not guilty, his own words were used against him as police officers and a short hand stenographer related the confession he gave to police the day he was arrested, and reporters testified to what he told them in interviews conducted at the county jail.

Sentencing would be more complicated. With newspaper headlines calling him “misfortune’s child” Ware’s attorney made a bid for the now 18-year-old to be granted probation.

While Probation Officer Oliver M. Akers was sympathetic — he called the case one of the saddest ever brought to his attention — he couldn’t recommend probation because not a single person would take responsibility for Ware. Even his father had abandoned him and did not respond to the probation officer’s inquiries.

Some of this was undoubtedly Ware shading the truth. He evidently claimed that his mother died when he was young and his upbringing had been “left to the mercies of a housekeeper.” Later prison records state that his mother was still alive more than 10 years after this, although Ware was not in contact with her.

Judge C. E. Beaumont was unmoved and sentenced Ware to San Quentin where he was taken the next day. Two years later, he was transferred to Folsom Prison where he served the remainder of his sentence.

Sometime after 1930, surviving prison records don’t indicate exactly when, Ware was released. He obtained employment as a traveling salesman.

But his time as a working man was short-lived. In February of 1933 he stuck up a gas station attendant in Seattle. He got away with only $10 and was arrested while trying to board a streetcar several blocks away.

He would never see freedom again.

Ware pled guilty and was quickly sent to the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla on a sentence of 8 to 10 years.

On February 12, 1934, a group of inmates that included Ware seized hostages in an ill-thought-out attempt at escape. The ring leaders evidently believed that they had been sentenced to too much time.

The escape attempt was quickly detected, but some of the inmates were not deterred. A group of 11 inmates used wires from the prison shoemaking shop to restrain their hostages. The plan was to use them as living shields and force their way to the main gates and freedom.

With the prison alarm sounding and local police officers, sheriff’s deputies and a unit of the national guard mobilizing to surround the prison, the escape was doomed from the start.

The group, tightly packed together, began the march on the gates under the guns of the guards on the wall.  Warden James M. McCauley called on the prisoners to surrender — that he wouldn’t permit them to escape and had told his men to fire if they didn’t stop.

The men continued. On the wall, sharpshooter H. H. Corey began to pick off convicts with deadly accurate rifle fire, barely grazing one of his friends, a fellow guard who was held as a human shield, as Corey slew the convict hiding behind him.

The mixed group broke up, with some convicts trying to flee as the machine gunners opened up — others using prison-made knives to take the life of a guard, before being cut down.

The riot and prison break was over. Seven convicts and one turn-key were left dead on the grounds of the prison. An eighth prisoner — Edward Alonzo Ware, the former Midget Bandit of Fresno and the inspiration for the character of Wilmer Cook — was taken to the prison hospital.

He was alive but gut-shot.

He died the following day, the final casualty of the breakout attempt.

Ware is not mentioned as one of the ringleaders in the prison escape that took his life. But it was in his character to join in the spur-of-the-moment insurrection. Once the Warden realized the prison break was happening, it was doomed and many of the convicts abandoned the attempt — including some of the ringleaders.

Ware was one of only 11 convicts to make the march toward the front gate that would end with 8 of them, Ware among them, dead.

The ringleaders who survived were tried for the turn-key’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. The men who thought their prison sentences were too long, would never leave the prison again.

Ware’s sister would take possession of his body to return it to New York where the story of the youthful yegg had begun. Ware was only 29.


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