"A Million Dollar Bank Robber; Broke and Behind the Bars; Iron Gates Clang Again Behind Safe Cracker Who Turned Churchman at One Time" by James E. Mills, Jr.
In the dim light of a Pullman drawing room, a man knelt beside a woman while she offered a prayer for his well-being. Tears rolled down their cheeks.
Two United States Marshals and a deputy stood just outside the door; and, on the station platform waited a company of more than seventy members of a little Methodist church outside Phoenix, Ariz.
The man was Jeff Duree, bandit fugitive and robber of more banks than any other living person.
The woman was Mrs. James A. Crutchfield, wife of the pastor of the flock which gathered outside.
"We are for you, Mr. Wilson, may God bless you."
It was the minister's wife who spoke, and she voiced the farewell of all of those who stood on the platform. Six months they had known Joe Wilson--had worked with him in erecting the little church house, and had come to love him.
They had not known Jeff Duree. His introduction was a staggering blow to their simple faith in their fellowman, and it was with reluctant eyes that they saw him, ace of banditry.
Duree studied the figures in the carpet. He did not raise his eyes as the woman finished speaking.
"Thank you, Mrs. Crutchfield," he said, and motioning toward the doorway, where stood ALVA MCDONALD, U. S. MARSHAL for the Western District of Oklahoma, "he'll tell you I am pretty bad back where he is taking me."
The scene in that railroad car was the climax of Duree's swift career as an outlaw. It was the end of a trail over which was scattered the litter from more than a hundred broken bank vaults.
It was the end of a trail which inevitably leads to the other side of prison walls. There it has taken Duree. Again the clank of the closing gates of Leavenworth has marked the end of a career of crime. Duree is back to finish "doing" twenty-five years for the robbery of a train near Edmond, Okla., in 1921.
His story is a page from the book of life itself. It is a tale more strange than fiction.
Once back in Oklahoma, Duree made a clean breast of things and freed himself of a load which visibly weighted him down when he was first arrested. His eyes shifted nervously from one object to another, as vainly he fought off the realization that he had been run to earth. Stoutly he denied that he was Jeff Duree; and, stubbornly, he refused to submit to that telltale test of his fingerprints.
At midnight on the eve of his departure for the Federal Penitentiary, he was called from his cell and taken to a little upstairs room in the Oklahoma City police station.
He greeted (Marshal) McDonald as a boy might greet his father and arm-in-arm the two walked up the stairway.
"I hated to disturb you, Jeff. You were not asleep, were you?" the Marshal inquired.
"I couldn't go to sleep. I'm glad you came, Mac. I'm a little hungry and there's not a bite in there to eat," Duree smiled.
He is moderately tall and has the wiry build of an athlete. Face burnt by the hot Arizona sun, high cheek bones and an abundant growth of straight black hair would pass him anywhere as an Indian. That night he wore the easy manner of confidence. The hunted look had left his eyes. They sparkled as he laid bare his life and lived again the story that took him into the small hours of the morning in its telling.
"I suppose I should start as others in my position have started--about being sorry and that crime doesn't pay and all that. I have read what they have said and laughed, but I find that it is true.
I have made close to $1,000,000 robbing banks and tonight I haven't got a dime. All I have left is a bad reputation. Of course, I am not proud of what I have done; but, if there were nobody but me I could go back to Leavenworth without a single regret.
I am not going to tell you I didn't realize I was doing wrong. I knew I was breaking every law I have broken. I knew that sooner or later I would be just where I am tonight. I depended upon my ability to get away with a job and, if caught, to out-smart the officers at the trial.
That is the reason I never pulled a daylight job. They can lead only to two things. A daylight man sooner or later will be identified and some time will get where he will have to kill somebody. I never did want to kill anybody; and, besides, the game I played was too easy.
But you asked me to start at the first and tell you how I got started.
It was through politics. In 1912, my brother Dan and I were in the dairy business at Bartlesville (OK). I was doing a little landscape work on the side and we also were running a little park. We had more or less control of the labor vote and swung our influence in the election of a Sheriff to the losing candidate. That left a grudge and I was hounded until I was convicted of larceny and sent up for a year and a day at Granite (OK).
Dan was a Deputy Sheriff and the trouble all started one night when we put a drunk out of the park. He swore I robbed him when we put him out. It was all a lie; but, I got my year and a day, anyway.
It came back when my time was up and still I was hounded. Life was made miserable for me; so, in 1916, I moved to Sapulpa (OK) and went to work as night clerk in a hotel. The reputation, which had been forced upon me, followed me. I quit the hotel and bought a pool hall at Daugherty (OK). Business was poor and it was not long until I went broke and moved back to Sapulpa. That was in 1920, the year after I got married. I went back to work at the hotel. The hounding kept up and three times that year I was arrested. It kept me broke all the time, hiring lawyers to fight my cases.
Burns' agents caused my arrest one time for a bank robbery in Colorado. I was as innocent of it as you; but, it cost me $800 in attorney fees to keep from going to Colorado to stand trial.
Shortly after that, a bank at Anadarko was robbed and here came the law down on me again. I happened to be talking to a deputy sheriff in the hotel the hour of the robbery, and he helped me prove my alibi. The notoriety I was getting began to hurt the hotel and I had to quit.
I was broke and out of work and I began to think about the raw deals I had been handed. It made me mad and the more I thought about it, the madder I got. Finally, I decided that I might just as well live up to my reputation, so that is when I started out to make money.
It wasn't long though, until the train was robbed at Edmond (OK). That night I robbed a bank in Nebraska; but, I was picked up for the train job. It was a much greater offense than bank robbery; so, it was easy for me to decide to tell the truth and go on back to Nebraska and take what was coming to me.
Jack Adamson, postoffice inspector, was in the Marshal's office with McDonald when I told them of the bank job and asked them to investigate. McDonald was inclined to believe me, but I saw at once that Adamson didn't; and , he was the one who had the authority to investigate my story.
It was Adamson who refused to take Stanley Snyder's word that Dan was innocent of the Edmond train job, and sent him on to Leavenworth with the rest of us. Dan's up there now, doing twenty-five years.
Snyder, you remember, was the man who turned in Al Spencer and sent him to his death. Adamson believed him then, and why he would not believe his story about Dan, I don't know. Snyder paid with his life. After he had turned Spencer, he always lived in mortal fear of being shot where his suspenders crossed in the back. It is odd that that is just where he finally did get his. I never will believe his wife shot him.
I didn't remember the town where I was pulling the (bank) job, when the train was robbed. I guess that is why my story was doubted. They could have learned, though, if they had investigated, for I told them in detail what happened up there that night and just how I left the papers in the bank. I told them about a dog that howled around a house right near the bank, and the storm that was going on. It was the hardest straight blow that country had seen in years. I even told them the direction of the wind, for I remembered the way the trees that were blown down lay."
Duree, his brother Dan, and two other bandits were convicted early in 1922 for the train robbery, largely on testimony furnished by Henry M. Mashore of Enid (OK). Mashore was arrested in connection with the deal. He admitted that he had helped plan the robbery, but said that he refused to go in on the deal when he learned that Ed Dodge had been included. He turned state's evidence and was star witness for the prosecution.
Six masked bandits, garbed in black, participated in the hold-up. The engineer was forced to stop at a campfire three miles South of Edmond (OK). As the train came to a halt, a charge of dynamite, placed under the door of the mail car by bandits riding the rods, blew it down.
Five pouches of mail were taken; but, a final check by postal authorities showed that the loot taken amounted to one $5 bill.
Duree offered his cigarets around and got one under way himself before resuming his tale.
"I had been in prison twenty-nine months when I was permitted to make bond, pending my appeal. The $50,000 Judge Cotteral had set was impossible; but, when it was reduced to $10,000, J. W. Thompson, a friend of mine in the oil business at Sapulpa, made it for me.
Of course, I don't have to say that Thompson beleived in me and, Mac (he addressed the Marshal), when I told you that I would report to you if my sentence was affirmed, I would have been insulted had you not believed me. I had every intention of making good.
Well, I went with my wife back to Grenola, Kan. Weeds had grown up about the place and it was run down in general. There was a whole lot of work to be done; so, I set about to do it.
I decided to go back to Leavenworth to see Dan. A prisoner is rarely ever permitted to return; so, I called the warden for his permission. He gave it, so I went on up there.
It was at that time that a bank at Bristow (OK) was robbed in broad daylight by three men. I was not in prison; so, the hounding began again. Three officers of the bank positively identified me as one of the bandits. I hadn't seen any of the Oklahoma papers, so I knew nothing about all this.
I went down to Sapulpa. When I got off the train, I noticed several folks on the station platform eyeing me, nudging one another and nodding their heads. I couldn't make out what it was all about. I passed a policeman and he stared at me like he might have been seeing ghosts. Still, I couldn't make it. You know how it makes a fellow feel when folks stare at him openly. That's how I felt. Kinda like maybe I was losing my clothes or something.
I went on up to Thompson's office and when I went up stairs I got the same kind of a look from a deputy sheriff who happened to be standing across the street.
Thompson was seated at his desk. When he looked up, he just slid down in his chair and threw out his arms like he had given up hope.
'My God, man! What do you mean by coming here?' he shot at me.
I still was in the dark. Couldn't make it at all.
'What do you mean?' I asked him.
'Didn't you know that they identified you in the Bristow job? What do you mean by coming here? Do you want to be killed?'
Then, it all began to come to me. He explained about the robbery and what the papers had printed about my part in it.
It made me mad to think about it. Would they never let me alone? There I was, positively identified for a job that I wasn't within 200 miles of. At the hour of the robbery, I was seated in the office of the Warden at Leavenworth, talking to my brother; and, yet, my identification at Bristow was without doubt.
I told Thompson about it, and right there I determined that I would not be taken. 'Mr. Thompson, may I use your car a few minutes?' He gave his consent.
I had a gun on me and prepared to use it. When I walked down the stairs to get in the car, four of the Sheriff's deputies had gathered across the street. I am glad they didn't start anything, for some of us would have been killed.
I drove straight to the County Attorney's office. You know Tom Wallace, don't you? He was there and I went in to see him and explained my situation.
'Now, look here, Tom, I am going to kill the first man who tries to stop me. I want you to call the Warden at Leavenworth to check up my story; and, then, I want you to call off these officers.' He promised me he would, and I left; got on the train and went back to Grenola. Evidentally, Wallace had not notified all the officers who had been set on my trail. I had been at home only a few days when I met Frank Hazleton, the City Marshal up town.
'Jeff, I am going to have to take you with me,' he said.
'What's wrong now?' I asked. He told me I was wnated for the Bristow job. I decided there was nothing else to do but go with him and get it over with; so, I told him to get in the car and go down to the house with me so I could change clothes.
He sat in the living room while I was putting on another suit. It gave me more time to think about it and I couldn't help getting mad. That kind of deal would make anybody mad. I walked in to where Hazelton and my wife were seated.
'Frank, I have decided not to go,' I told him.
'Oh, but, Jeff, I've got to take you,' he replied.
'Oh, no, you haven't'.
I started to explain to him; but, he made a move for his gun and I beat him to the draw.
'Now, Frank, you have known my father a long time and have known me, so let's not have any trouble.'
I took his gun from him, handed it to my wife, and told her to put it in the desk drawer.
'Now, you can have your choice, Frank. Either you can walk across town with me to the church and then come back to get your gun; or, you can drive with me out to the country to where I will drop you and then come back for your gun.
'I'll walk with you,' he chose.
I left him at the church and got out of town, going down by the farm.
Charlie, my kid brother, was there and wanted to go with me. I tried to argue him out of it, but he insisted, arguing that the officers soon would start hounding him, too. We went up around Wichita (KS) and stayed about three weeks before coming back to Grenola.
We went out to the farm. My wife has a little place out there that my brother-in-law, Glen Downs, runs for her.
Glen was there. When we came in, he told us we had just missed a fine mess of fish. I remarked that lately it had become a habit with me to miss out on things. He told us he had some lines set out in the river down near the shack and suggested that we go down there and run them. That was the beginning of the wildest experience I ever had.
There were some pretty good fish on the lines when we pulled them up. We cleaned them and one of us suggested that we cook up. That we did. A frying pan and the other stuff needed we got from the shack.
We had finished eating and were sitting down talking when the biggest volley of shots I have ever heard poured in upon us.
We had been surrounded by a posse, I learned later, composed of some sixty men. One of the first shots got Charlie. The bullet entered his right eye and came out behind his head. He died instantly. Glen also was hit, the bullet clipping the leader in his right arm. H ran and got away.
I was seated with my back to a tree. I guess that is how I managed to come through. Three volleys in all poured in upon me. I tried to see who was doing the shooting; but, all of the men were under cover. As I watched, one of the men rose from the bushes and leveled a 30-30 at me. I shot at him. His hat flew off and he dropped to the ground, I thought dead.
I decided that the best thing I could do was to run for it and I started up the creek bank. I was within a couple of jumps of being over the bank when a voice from behind ordered me to halt.
I turned enough to see that it was Buckles, Sheriff from Sendan, Kan.; but, I had no intention of stopping then. Why he didn't shoot me, I don't know. Maybe he didn't like the idea of shooting a man in the back. Anyway, I am grateful to him for, no doubt, he could have fixed me so that I wouldn't have been here tonight.
I was cut off from our car; so, I kept under cover as much as I could until I reached the road. I always carried a deputy sheriff badge with me. I pinned it to my coat and hurried to the nearest farmhouse.
A woman was peeling peaches. I went to her, explained that I was posseman, cut off from my car by bandits we had jumped, and asked if she would let me use her car for a short time.
'It's in the barn out there. The keys are in it. Help yourself,' she told me.
I headed for a low, flint hill nearby. My car was much smaller than the ones the officers were using and I knew, if ever I got to the top of that little massy, the big cars couldn't follow and would have to detour about thirty miles to get to me again. The going was so rough that I had to hang out on the running board so as to balance the car and push in the clutch with my foot.
Luck was not with me though and a car which had come from the opposite direction was bearing down upon me. It was more than a mile away; so, I turned and started away from them. A small cliff blocked me. It was a drop of twelve to fifteen feet, but my only chance was to go over it.
Going back about 100 yards, I gave the car all the gas she would take and went over. The speed I was traveling made the car hit the bottom at about 45 degrees. The jolt blew out one of my front casings, but I kept on across the plain and drove through a barbed-wire fence. That took the other front casing tore off the top and shattered the windshield. I couldn't make much progress though so abandoned the car and set out on foot.
By going over the cliff, I gained a good start on the officers, but needed a car to get out of the country; so, with the aid of my deputy badge, I got one from a man at the first house I saw. He insisted, however, on driving. I didn't have time to waste in arguing so off we drove. I knew we were sure to meet the officers on the road so we had not gone far when I told my driver he could get out and that I would take it from there on. He saw I was in earnest and didn't argue. I left him standing in the road.
Hadn't gone far when (Sheriff) Buckles big car turned in toward me from a section line about half a mile down the road. I had the advantage of his party. I knew who they were; but, they were not expecting to find me in an automobile. I had a full head of gas on and so did they. They recognized me as we flew by each other; but, by the time they could stop and turn, I had the jump on them. It was all I needed.
Have you ever spent much time up in the hedge fence country just across the Kansas border? If you have you know the lay of the land with its plains, low flint hills and high hedge fences. Since that afternoon, I have always held a high regard for those fences. Twice they saved my hide.
After I had passed Buckles, I kept crowding that little car I was driving for all it was worth. Once out of sight of my persuers, I ducked through the first opening in the hedge and doubled back. I passed Buckles' car unnoticed and cut back into the road.
Luck was not all mine, though, and I hadn't gone far until I saw another car load of officers coming toward me. There was nothing else to do so I decided to try the same trick on them. It worked. We were hitting off a breakneck clip when he passed and my start enabled me to duck through the fence and double back on them as I did Buckles.
When I cut into the road again, I saw Buckles' car coming back. He was about a mile away. Evidently, he had caught his mistake and was coming back to pick up my trail. I was sure it was all off then. I turned around and gave my car all I had. I knew that I couldn't hope to outrun the big car the Sheriff was driving; so, when, I came to a culvert, I turned the car across the road, took the cap off the gas tank and set fire to the padding in the seat. It began to blaze and I took off across a field.
When Buckles' car got to the culvert, the road was blocked by a solid mass of flame and he had to detour to the first section line before he could head back in the direction I had taken.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
"A Million Dollar Bank Robber..." (Cont.)
(NOTE: Jeff Duree - the Phantom Bandit - tells his story to U. S. Marshal Alva McDonald and James E. Mills, author of this article.)
"I made for the nearest farm house. A man and his wife were at work out near the barn. I had no right to expect my run of luck to last always but I pulled the same rush act for their car. It didn't work. They had none.
It would be only a matter of a few minutes until the officers would close in upon me. I knew and determined to make my last stand right there. But, luck has an odd way of doing things.
'You will have to go in the house, I want to talk to you,' I told them. We went in and I explained that the law would be up there looking for me and that they were to say they had not seen me. It wasn't long before a car drove up. The man went to the door. I stood in the shadows just behind him. I thought of Charlie, dead down there on the river bank, and decided that, if the man whom I thought shot him was in the car, I would at least even that score. He was not there. I kept low and when my host told them he had not seen me, they drove off in a hurry.
I am glad I did not see the man I was looking for. When I had determined to kill him, I thought that I had killed the man whose hat I got down on the river. Later, I learned that he was not hurt and I was relieved to know that I was not wanted for murder.
When I left the house after dark, I went to the railroad and walked to Howard, Kan. It was about daybreak. Deciding that it would be unwise to show myself in the town, I skirted it and took the railroad again to Eureka (Ks).
I stayed in the brush all day and that night went into town to get an automobile. I found a large touring car under a street light; but, as I was rolling it away, a man saw me. I knew he would call the police so I rolled it down a hill about half a block away and was wiring it up when a motorcycle started down the hill. I crouched down in front of the car. The officer threw his flashlight first in the back seat and then in front. When he turned it on me, I had him covered.
'I'm busy so don't bother me,' I told him as I took his light and gun. I kept him there until I could wire up the ignition, then left him.
I knew I couldn't get away with the car; but, it occurred to me that if I drove it out of town and planted it the whole country would be out on the trail of a car of that description.
That is just what happened. I planted the car deep in a corn field, about four miles out of Eureka, and then followed the railroad out of town on foot. All that night I watched cars speeding up and down the highways. I imagine the officers stopped every car in the county.
I was going to Independence, Kan., and reached there about noon. I was pretty hungry and had money but didn't dare show myself to buy anything. I walked on to Caney, Kan.; and, after roasting some corn, hid near the highway where I could watch the road without danger of being seen.
I was watching for a car which might look safe for a lift. It was late in the afternoon when an old man in a Ford approached, going in my direction. I hurried out to the road and began walking. He slowed down and asked me if I wanted a lift; so, I got in. He was on his way to Bartlesville, Okla., and dropped me within two blocks of my sister's home.
There was quite a bustle about the house; and, when I went in, they all began to cry. It was I who had been reported killed instead of Charlie and they were getting ready to go to my funeral.
We talked it over. It was there that the first thought of jumping my bond came to me. Charlie was dead. The officers thought it was me; so, why not let them continue to think so, we argued. It couldn't hurt anybody so that's what I decided to do.
My wife was tubercular. She was so crippled with rheumatism that she could walk only with the aid of a crutch and the doctors had given her only six months to live.
I stayed under cover in my sister's home about three weeks. It was just across the street from the home of a deputy sheriff.
Then, I went to Radium Springs to take the baths and sent for my wife. She took the baths but they didn't help her. I decided to make some money so that I could take better care of her. The first job I pulled was a Kendrick and it netted us about $4,300.
I hauled off bigger heads and safes from banks in Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma. Just how many I couldn't tell you if I had to. I imagine about 120 in all. I kept track of them until I passed the 100 mark."
Duree and his gang worked quietly and consistently. He claims that he never pulled a daylight job and, as far as officers knw, he tells the truth in that score, at least.
His outfit usually consisted of a highpowered automobile, which had been converted into a truck, a small inconspicuous car, tent and camp equipment and a kit of tools.
In the took kit, the most important items were a thin steel pastry spatula, a screwdriver, sledge and steel punch. With that equipment, and the art of using it, Duree claims the toughest of movable safes give way in 5 to 15 minutes.
His plan of operation was to spot a job; and, under the cover of darkness, spring the lock on the bank door with the spatula. When the safe had been moved into position, a confederate would back the truck to the door and the safe would be hoisted aboard.
Officers would recognize the work of Jeff Duree next morning. Roads would be guarded, cars would be stopped and houses searched.
The chances were that Duree and his men would be camped in full view of the highway just over the county line. This small car, with all its gay marks of the cross country tourist, would be parked peacefully beside an innocent tent and under the tent, secure from prying eyes, the truck and very damning evidence in the form of the bank's missing strong box.
A convenient stream, or deep wood, might offer burial for the looted safe.
For the Arcadia safe, a grave was dug in the floor of a garage rented for that purpose.
Duree was living in Oklahoma City at the time. He was most interested in keeping (U.S. Marshal) Alva McDonald and his special deputies off his trail. At the time, they were actively searching for him too close for comfort to the scene of his next job. The job was planned and executed. The truck and safe was hidden in the garage near the city. In due time, the clock in the nigger-head ran down and deft fingers with a screwdriver did the rest. The officers came in and Duree went on with his work.
Bank after bank, he robbed; and, time after time, he completely covered his trail. Officers were stumped.
It was during this time that Duree earned the title of "The Phantom." Everywhere were the evidences of his activities and nowhere was he to be found. The beginning of his tracks were well defined; but, they vanished as a mirage.
No expense was spared in trailing this ace of Oklahoma's bandit aces. The government commissioned McDonald to cover ten states, orders were issued to the Bureau of Investigation and the State of Oklahoma made special funds available for the hunt.
Despite the power brought to bear in the search for the last of Oklahoma's notorious bandits, it remained for him to be captured in a manner drab and disappointing to those who had followed his spectacular career.
Duree was taken without a flash of gunplay. He was "turned" by a "friend" and arrested upon telegraphic information to the Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona.
The six months Duree spent as Joe Wilson in Arizona is the only chapter from his life of which he speaks with pride. It is the only time since year-and-a-day at Granite in which he finds satisfaction.
In that six months, he proved that he had not forgotten how to be a useful citizen. Though he broke over the traces at least once during the time, it would be unfair to recount the history of his crimes and omit the exemplary life he led on that little farm near Phoenix.
"It was after our stay at Radium Springs," Duree siad, "that we decided to go west. The baths had done my wife no good and her only hope was the climate which Arizona offered.
We moved on a ten-acre tract in a little community just outside of Phoenix. I bought two cows, several hundred chickens, a team of mules and a saddle pony for the boys.
Our neighbors were religious folks. My mother had been a devout member of the Methodist church; so, it was only natural that I should become interested in the work of building a little church which then was in progress.
The preacher was a kindly man and energetic. When he came there, but one church served a community of more than 1,200 families. He took up his task and it was through his efforts that the Bowles Memorial Church was built.
In due time, after our arrival, he called on us. We liked him from the start and I, like all the folk in the community, donated my services in the building of his church. I used my team in grading and landscaping of the grounds.
We always wanted to bring the children up in the right way; so, we sent them to Sunday School and they attended Epworth League."
Then, with some hesitancy, but unashamed, Duree made an intimate confession. Wholly surprising from a man of his caliber, it shed new light upon his complex character.
"I taught a Sunday School class and was vice president of the league. Would you believe it that never a night goes by but finds me on my knees to pray?"
The two officers in his hearing had laughed when Duree pictured himself addressing the Epworth League; but, something that left no room for mirth was in the picture of this most hunted of bandits on his knees.
Though Duree claims that he "went straight" allthe time he lived in Arizona, Bureau of Investigation records leave room for doubt. They show that for six weeks before he was arrested, he was away from his farm. He left in a rather dilapidated touring car, and returned the day before his arrest in an expensive automobile, stolen in Kansas, and converted into a truck.
(SOURCE: THE DAILY OKLAHOMAN JULY 12, 1925)
That was a good long article of and outlaw who ran with Ray Terrill. More about these two bandits will be forthcoming in "The Kimes Gang" book soon to be out later this summer. The Terrill-Duree gang were nighttime safe crackers of a special breed and worked in Oklahoma, Colorado and various other parts of the plains.
Does anyone know "when" Jeff Duree died, and "where" is he buried? Thank you.
To my knowledge Jeff Duree passed away while doing Federal time at Leavenworth at Leavenworth, Kansas and is more than likely buried in that city. He was serving a 25-year stint for bank robbery from 1957. I hope this helps you and thanks for your interest.
Thanks for the information. I'll contact the National Archives in Kansas City where the Leavenworth Prison Records are maintained. I'll check it out! Thanks, again.
Doctor's Tale Hits High-Ups In Duree Gang: Oil Man, Banker and Jewelry Men Put Under Shadow By Duncan Statement.
Headquarters for Disposing of Loot said to have been in Sapulpa (OK).
The law's lever has pried its way into the secrets of Oklahoma's last outlaw gang--led by Jeff Duree--with a statement of Dr. H. E. Duncan, Claremore sanitarium manager, of the gang's ramifications in middle western crime, made public Saturday by Charles McCloud, special investigator for Governor Trapp.
Bankers, oil men and jewelers in the sector of Tulsa, Sapulpa and Claremore are placed under suspicion by the statement for activities in connection with the financial handling of the gang's loot. Two men besides Duncan have been arrested. They are J. W. Thompson, oil man and farmer near Sapulpa, and his son Wilbur. Thompson is in the Pryor County jail. He refuses to discuss the implications made by Duncan of his activities as bondsman and alleged "fence" for the gang's operations.
McCloud says other arrests will take place this week.
While the hunt for the remaining members of the gang is on, the uncrowned king of the outlaws, Jeff Duree, has skipped the country. McCloud says the Durango hills of old Mexico have enveloped the Oklahoma outlaw. McCloud ranks him with Al Spencer, the Daltons and Henry Starr.
Banks losing their safes to the Duree Gang were named by McCloud in the following cities: Sweetwater, Kan.; Altoona, Kan.; Arcadia, Kendrick, Sparks, and Catoosa, Oklahoma.
Scattered to the four winds by a thunder cloud that rose with Duncan's threatening to tell "all he knew"--the gang fled for shelter.
Duncan's statement tells of bank robberies, stolen cars and payroll holdups in the matter-of-fact manner of a man ordering a T-bone steak well done, in his favorite restaurant.
"I asked Glen Downs how the boys disposed of all the bonds and jewelry," the statement read. "He said the jewelry was disposed to Goldberg at Tulsa and a jeweler at Sapulpa and one at Kansas City. He said Thompson handled the bonds through a banker friend at Sapulpa.
Jeff Duree told me three years ago that he sold Mr. Berry in the American National Bank at Sapulpa $190,000 worth of bonds at a discount of 40 cents on the dollar." Attempts were made to rob the Sapulpa bank a month ago, but were repulsed by the police.
The statement implicates Thompson, Sapulpa farmer and oil man throughout. It says Thompson owned rooms in Sapulpa for dividing loot.
"They always split with Thompson; sometimes they gave him half of what they got," says the Duncan statement. Thompson made bonds for the gang and is charged by McCloud with acting as the gang's fence for stolen property.
"I asked Glen Downs (one of the members of the gang and brother-in-law of Duree) how much the boys got on that Spavinaw payroll holdup. I was at Ponca City when it took place and he said a little over $1,500. Glen told me that Jeff Duree had robbed the Lamont, Oklahoma, bank. Downs told me several days before the safe was hauled off at Catoosa that it was going to be done," asserts the statement.
Duncan told how Thompson, as the bondsman for the Duree gang, had said, "The boys have been doing mighty well in the last few days and, if they can get two weeks more, they will have enough to pay the bonds and I'm keeping the money for them."
The statement mentioned that the bank safes of Sparks and Kendrick had been found on Thompson's farm.
The methods of operation of the Duree gang in walking off with bank safes was explained by McCloud. He said that a motor car back was removed and a windlass constructed on the car. Early in the morning, the gang would back the car up to the bank, enter, and swing the safe with the windlass up on the car. A tarpulin served as a cover for the steel boxes.
E.E. Beach, who has known Jeff Duree for several years, says the outlaw leader has been a victim of circumstances. According to Beach, Duree has a high type of mentality and could easily have turned into any of the professions. Beach, who once lived in Oklahoma City and is now a resident of Pawhuska, says that Duree was not guilty of the Edmond mail robbery.
"He was in South Dakota at the time," said Beach, "but a bank was robbed there the same time the mail train was help up."
SOURCE: Daily Oklahoman Dec. 8, 1924 (p.1)
Jeff Duree died of a stroke at the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing on June 7, 1961.He is buried in an unmarked grave at Mt.Muncie Cemetery in Leavenworth Sec.#34-Row #30-Grave-#53.Cemetery records indicate burial expenses paid by the state of Kansas...R.D.
P.S.--Jeff Duree is buried six plots down from Perry Smith and Richard Hickock of "In Cold Blood" fame on a steep hillside. Smith and Hickock were both hung on April 14, 1965 for the Clutter murders. Myself and Rick Mattix visited these graves yesterday prior to taking a three hour private tour inside the walls of the Kansas State Penetentiary in Lansing. We also visited the Federal Pen (no inside tours allowed) and the now abandonded Military Prison at Fort Leavenworth (built in 1877) which is being torn down. The army is planning on saving several of the older buildings for use as a museum.. R.D.
Sounds like a good trip you had with Rick. There are probaby many old bandits from Oklahoma buried in that cemetery and Lansing held many of Oklahoma's more infamous outlaws like Wilbur Underhill and others. Jeff Duree and Ray Terrill ran togther for some time during the 1920's.
In the summer of 1957 I witnessed the robery of the Peru State Bank located in Peru, Kansas and that was my first encounter with Jeff Duree. I was 12 yrs old at the time and will remember our first meeting for the rest of my life. Jeff had just robbed the bank and came running east by me with a gun in his hand and money showing from his left side suit pocket. He had a car (1949-52 Chevy Fleetline) parked a the end of the block across the street from my grandparents house and made his escape headed south. The town marshal "Red" Nutter got there a little to late but still got off a few shots with his 22 revolver, to no avail. There was a large manhunt centered around Caney, Kansas, but Jeff eluded the law once again.
He was later captured in Denver and extradited back to kansas and stood trial in Sedan, KS in December of 1957. I testified aganst him on my 13th birthday along with the two bank employees William Alford and Betty Swenny. Jeff was convicted and thus commited his last bank robery as he died in the Levenworth prison.
If anyone would like more information about this incident feel free to contact me.
Great story. Sounds like you were a witness to history. However, didn't the robbery and trial occur in 1958 not 1957? Irregardless, I'd like to hear more... R.D.
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