· Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge: Bad Boy of Arlington·
It was July 19, 1927. Truman Reynolds, 18, had rubbed Reno County Sheriff Fay F. Brown the wrong way ever since the boy was fifteen-years-old. The youth, who the local paper had dubbed the “Bad Boy of Arlington,” (located 15 miles SW of Hutchinson) was pure trouble.
Sheriff Fay Brown was sick in bed on the second floor of his residence when, shortly before midnight, he heard a noise on the west side of the jail building. He peered through a window to see four men walking away from the bastille.
Brown grabbed his gun and rushed downstairs in time to thwart the escape of three prisoners. To the sheriff’s surprise, ten jailbirds had already flown the coop. They had forced open the heavy steel door of the bull pen. Then they had dug out a block in the thick west wall and crawled through to the outside.
Sheriff Brown immediately alerted the city police force and reformatory officers so that a search of the countryside could be started. Bloodhounds from the reformatory would help in the hunt.
After a sleepless night and a long day of searching for escapees, four prisoners were recaptured. Unfortunately, Truman Reynolds was still loose.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Fay Brown to his undersheriff, Ed Cunningham, “all of them, with the exception of Reynolds, were in on minor offenses.”
“Criminals don’t always make sense, especially when they’re locked up,” reminded Ed. “You know that. Like your dog, some people need to get outside every day or they go stir crazy.”
“The transient train riders would have been free in a few more days,” said Fay. “Now they’ll be facing years in prison.”
“We know who’s behind this wholesale jail escape,” said Ed.
Disgustingly, as though he was spitting poisoned tobacco, two words erupted from Fay’s contorted face, “Truman Reynolds.”
“The Bad Boy of Arlington strikes again,” announced Ed.
Fay shook his head. “Reynolds should have been doing time in the penitentiary long ago. If there’s any good news from this, now we don’t need witnesses signing complaints, swearing that Reynolds destroyed property, issued bad checks, stole someone’s automobile tires, or car.”
“We’ll get him, Fay,” said Ed. “We’ll receive a wire or a phone call. Truman’s a mean drunk. Someday he’ll have a run-in with someone bigger and meaner, and whether he’s dead or alive, we’ll be contacted. Even when Truman’s sober, he’s not smart enough to stay out of trouble.”
“Ed,” said Fay, “We’ve worked together a long time, you know that I rarely hold a grudge against someone I’ve arrested.”
“That’s true, Fay,” agreed the undersheriff, “but Truman Reynolds is a different story, isn’t he?”
“He’s rubbed me the wrong way from the day we jailed him and Bert VanAuken for maliciously destroying Castleton’s town pump,” said Fay. “They were on their drunken way home from a barn dance and decided to have some fun. Paroling Reynolds to his father’s care for that Arlington store robbery didn’t slow him down one bit, and whoever thought the Kansas National Guard could change him, must have been drinking denatured alcohol.”
“He’s been a lot of trouble for the people of Arlington and the rest of the county,” echoed Ed. “He gets his money any way he can, whether it’s honest or dishonest, and he’s always feeling sorry for himself. Poor me.”
“Cora and I have been around him more than we like,” said Fay, thinking of all the jail-time Reynolds had spent waiting for various district court trials.
“We’ll get him back and send him to the Big House where he belongs,” said Ed. “The inmates working the coal mine are required to dig ten tons of coal a week for their room and board.”
“Seeing Reynolds digging coal might be worth the long trip to Lansing,” said Fay.
“Your personal reward of $25 will help, Fay, but you didn’t need to do that.”
“I want him bad,” said Fay. “When Jess was sheriff, we must have arrested Reynolds six times for bad checks. I don’t think that boy’s ever had a conscience. He wears the title, ‘bad check artist’, as though he’s won a blue ribbon at the state fair.”
“No moral compass,” summarized Ed.
Cora had watched her husband slowly recover from his illness. He was still sick about the wholesale jail escape, and he was embarrassed. Every day, Fay wanted Truman Reynolds caught. The reward postcards that Fay had mailed describing Reynolds, had caused a few chiefs and sheriffs across the country to contact him, but each time the lawmen eventually concluded a recent arrestee wasn’t the Bad Boy of Arlington.
At least Bill Coyle hadn’t been downstairs during the mass escape, thought Cora. That would have made matters even worse. Coyle had started eating again after another hunger strike, but he still demanded he be reunited with the prisoners downstairs, no doubt in order to increase his chances of escaping. Fay had told the disagreeable prisoner, confined to the upper pen, that whether the man ever ate another bite of food again, wouldn’t bother Fay one bit. Coyle was not being moved.
Cora wasn’t born yesterday. She knew she could help her husband. As a former long-time telephone operator, Cora reached out to her considerable community resources in order to help capture Reynolds. She had every Bell Telephone employee in Hutchinson, and people she knew at other phone exchanges, on high alert. If Reynolds tried to contact his parents in Arlington, Cora would know about it.
On August 8, 1927, three weeks after the wholesale escape, Cora received a phone call from a friend. A minute later, Cora called to her husband.
“There’s a telephone call for you,” shouted Cora. As she waited for Fay, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and smiled.
“Who is it?” asked Fay, as he reached for the phone.
“Something about a telegram being sent from Joplin, Missouri, to Arlington, Kansas,” said Cora, trying to keep a blank, neutral look on her face.
Cora observed Fay as he listened to the caller. Before her eyes, Cora watched Fay rejuvenate. He exhaled. He relaxed. She recognized this person, a younger, confident man who she had known three weeks earlier.
While remaining on the call, Fay and Cora looked at one another eye-to-eye. Fay nodded at her, mouthed the words ‘thank you.’ He was grateful for the turn of events that Cora had put in motion. Hopefully, after Fay’s call to Joplin, Truman Reynolds would soon be caught and locked up in a secure Missouri jail cell.
Immediately after Fay put the phone down, Cora asked, “Who gets the $25 reward?”
“Let’s not count our chickens before they’re hatched,” replied Fay.
“Well, if he’s caught, who gets the money?” she continued.
“Whoever arrests him,” replied Fay.
“What about the operator who’s making it possible for the Joplin officers to locate him?” asked Cora. “She’s the one who wrote down his address.”
“Right now, I’m feeling generous,” said Fay, “but do you think we can afford another $25 out of our monthly pay for a second reward?”
“It’s a lot of money to be throwing around,” said Cora. “I’m willing to make the financial sacrifice this one time, but let’s not make it a habit. If there’s a next time, let’s give the county commissioners the opportunity to raise a reward.”
“Agreed,” replied Fay. “I was feeling bad about his escape. Let me call Joplin. It’s time for our bad boy to shovel coal at the Big House. It may not help him, but it sure will help me.
Until next time, happy writing and reading.