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· Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge:
Chicken House to the Big House
It’s Sunday, April 10, 1927. There’s little doubt that being a Reno County sheriff is a full-time job. Just ask Fay F. Brown.
“Never a day off,” said Sheriff Fay Brown to his undersheriff, Ed Cunningham.
“No rest for the wicked,” replied Cunningham.
“After last night,” said Brown, “Jim Hacker has proven to me that he’s one of the most despicable men I know. I hope his term in the state pen is long and hard.”
“Brownie, it just goes to show you that one crime leads to another,” said Cunningham. “Even for a young man, a chicken house can lead to the Big House.”
“When I was called to Arlington two weeks ago,” said Brown, “I would have never dreamed that a chicken thief, caught red-handed, would be so desperate that he’d beat our Jess hard enough in the head and face to knock him out.”
“We’ve done this job a long time,” said Cunningham, “but the biggest surprise to me is to have one of our Bastille trusty’s take the law into his own hands.”
“Yeah,” agreed the sheriff, “I never saw that comin’. Who could have imagined a trusty grabbing a gun, chasing after an escapee, and shooting the fleeing prisoner because a jailer was battered? Dickerson deserves a medal, but I’ll bet he’d settle for parole.”
“Plus,” said Cunningham, “the prompt response of the reformatory boys and the police force, couldn’t have been better. They worked like a well-oiled machine.”
“That’s right,” agreed Brown. “Fortunately, Saturday’s run for freedom lasted less than an hour. Hacker was shot in the hip by Dickerson within minutes of them running out the door, and by 7:30 o’clock the reformatory officers had recaptured Kile and Harper.”
“Every criminal faces prison time differently,” said Cunningham. “When Judge Fairchild sentenced Hacker to a year in the reformatory, it must have seemed like the end of his world. He couldn’t handle it. Now he’s looking at five to ten years in the state penitentiary.”
“Every choice has a consequence,” said Brown.
“Our old Jess seems to have a pretty good attitude about this, considering his face is cut and bruised,” said Cunningham. “He told me he’d be all right once his dentist got his bridgework repaired.”
“Jess is a good sport,” remarked Brown. “He’s been doing this for more years than the two of us combined. Supposedly, Hacker’s a paid pugilist. Jess was fighting someone trained to punch, considerably younger, and in a heavier weight category.”
“Hacker’s a palooka,” said Cunningham. “Good riddance. Soon enough he’ll be boxing in the Big House. Do you think his wife will be visiting him there?”
“That would be a mistake,” said Brown. “We’ll be sure to let the prison authorities know that we hold a warrant for her arrest. How many women do you think, assist their husbands in stealing chickens?”
“Wait until A. M. Stuckey hears about this,” said Cunningham. “Hacker is one chicken thief who won’t be stealing fryers anywhere near Arlington for several years.”
“Yeah,” agreed Brown, “but you know, there’s always another lazy criminal to take his place.”
“Think of the conversation between Hacker and his wife,” continued Brown. “‘Honey, how about we go out tonight for chicken?’ ‘Sure,’ she responds, ‘I’ll drop you off at a farm and you can pick up a coop of them. I hear they’re cheaper by the dozen.’”
“Brownie,” said Cunningham, “even in unfortunate situations, you find things to joke about.”
“You know we catch all kinds of criminals,” said Brown. “They range from intelligent, to unlucky, to plain dumb. Take the Hackers for example. They’re smart enough to drive twenty miles out of town to commit their chicken capper, but then they drive their car too close to the farmer’s yard and it wakes him up. Hacker thinks he’s smarter than Jess by knocking him out in order to escape, but then he gets shot by a trusty.”
“Yeah,” Cunningham agreed, “criminals think they have everything figured out. They don’t.”
“Devore is a perfect example,” said Brown. “He was an ex-convict from the Oklahoma penitentiary living in Viola, just out of prison. He knew how he got caught so he figured he wouldn’t get caught again. He traveled over here to Reno County on a Saturday night where no one knew him. He took the license tag off before he pinched the pig, just in case someone spotted his motor car. He rolled the hog, drug it to his vehicle, and got home free.
“Next day, the farmer learned why his pigs were squealing the night before. One of his choice porkers was stolen during the night. He saw the imprint of the large hog where it was dragged from the pen and loaded in the car. There, lying on the ground, was a license plate. He brought it into town and gave it to me.
“After I called Topeka on a Sunday, I found a dedicated employee who was willing to go down to the state office. He looked up the license plate in their records. It belonged to Verne Devore, with an address in Viola.
“I contacted Sedgwick County Sheriff Ed Grove, of Wichita, and urged him to investigate. The sheriff went to Devore’s home and found the man washing his car. Devore told the sheriff he bought a hog the night before in Wichita.
“‘Where’s your license tag?’ asked the sheriff.
“‘Why, it’s right here on my car,’ answered Devore, as he moved to show the inquisitive sheriff. ‘Why it’s gone,’ he exclaimed in surprise.
“‘That’s all right, don’t worry,’ Sheriff Grove told the owner of the car. ‘You lost your tag where you rolled that hog last night.’
“After some questioning, Devore admitted stealing the hog. The sheriff arrested him and brought him to our jail.
“Was Devore caught because he was dumb or because of dumb luck?” Brown asked Cunningham.
“I can’t answer that,” replied Cunningham. “But I know he wouldn’t have been caught without you doing the investigative work on a Sunday, like today, supposedly your day off.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.
The Kansas Authors Club www.kansasauthors.org is a statewide organization that encourages and supports great writing. It’s divided into seven districts. In Hutchinson, Reno County (part of District 6), we have monthly meetings at Hutchinson Community College. http://www.hutchcc.edu You’re invited. Questions? Contact Jim Potter, firstname.lastname@example.org
Great reading of this fascinating report!
Jim Potter says
Thanks for your encouragement.
Marilyn Bolton says
I am enjoying it, Jim. I’m curious: Do you know what comes next, and does your plan sometimes veer off in a different direction?
Jim Potter says
Thanks for your questions and support. When I wrote the episodic adventure, “Deputy Jennings and the Black Buggies,” it was totally fiction. But, “Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge” is historical fiction based on my research. The major events are real. Most of the dialogue, however, is my creation.
Currently, from reading the Hutchinson News in 1927, my plan is to write about a bank robbery trial next week, then follow that with a blog on the May 7th, 1927, tornado that tore up Hutch.
So, the old news affects my focus. The fun is writing the dialogue and pulling things together.
I do my best to get to know the characters even though they lived a hundred years ago. I like to check out the US Census whenever possible.
BTW, for me, reading the old newspapers is so much more fun that reading today’s paper.