Hammett: The Midget Bandit vs. The Smiling Bandit


Edwin Ware — The Midget Bandit — was by no means the only yegg in his day to pose for a mug shot. Above you’ll see Roy Gardner — from a Sacramento, California arrest.

Who was Gardner, you ask?

Here’s Warren Harris, our resident expert on all things Midget Bandit, with the scoop:

Edwin Ware, The Midget Bandit, was a mouthy punk who disrespected authority. But there was one man Ware admired.

A man who Ware desperately wanted to emulate.

Roy Gardner, “The Smiling Bandit” and “The King of the Escape Artists,” was the legend whose career overlapped that of the Midget and perhaps inspired him to a life of crime.

While it is true that Ware turned to crime when he couldn’t find work, it is also true that he turned down legitimate opportunities to go straight, including an offer from a prominent Fresno family to take him in.

At his trial Ware told a reporter from the Fresno Morning Republican that he had made up his confession in an effort to be “classed with Roy Gardner and other notorious hold up men.”

In fact, some of the same newspapers that carried the tale of The Midget Bandit also record one of Gardner’s legendary exploits, taking place at the same time.

But Ware was merely a dime-store Roy Gardner.

Gardner stole hundreds of thousands of dollars, successfully escaped the law time and time again and became a household name. He was a tough, competent outlaw, feared and ruthless and known for his daring. He made fools of the toughest lawmen in the West.

Ware stole a few thousand dollars at best, got caught for petty offenses and was more pitied than feared. The Fresno police tricked him into an arrest.

Gardner robbed mail trains and banks. Ware held up service station and garage attendants.

Both started their criminal careers in Mexico. Ware held up a bandit and returned to the U.S. to be held up in turn. Gardner ran guns during the Mexican revolution, was captured by the army and sentenced to death and broke free by attacking the soldiers guarding him. When he returned to the U.S., he was successful as a sparing partner for J. J. Jeffries, heavyweight champion.

Unlike Gardner, Ware dropped out of school after completing the first half of grammar school. Gardner, in contrast, graduated from college with honors, taught college courses, wrote on 17th century literature, ran a successful business and actually wrote a book about his life.

Gardner was known for his escapes, including one that occurred during Ware’s little spree as The Midget Bandit. On September 5, 1921 he escaped from the McNeil Island Penitentiary, being wounded in the leg. That didn’t stop him from hiding on the island until he could swim to the mainland.

Like Ware, he sent a letter to a newspaper, in his case bragging about his escape when the warden of the prison claimed that he was still on the island and would soon be caught. He offered to surrender and give back a quarter million dollars in stolen loot in return for a suspended sentence. Authorities did not take him up on his offer.

He was recaptured, for the final time, less than a week before Ware was arrested in Fresno.

Ware also had a record of escape attempts, but was far less successful than Gardner. Ware repeatedly tried to escape from the Halifax Industrial School for Boys, succeeding only once, and that briefly.

His last escape attempt would end in Ware’s death under a hailstorm of rifle and machine gun fire.

Tomorrow: A life of crime ends is a hail of machine gun bullets as the youthful yegg meets his fate.

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