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WANTED FOR MURDER – JOE FORNELL – $50 REWARD
By Jim Potter
Today I’m examining a murder that occurred in Ringo, Crawford County, Kansas, the night of March 5, 1921. Unlike a lot of crimes, this one was solved quickly, but it took three months to locate and arrest the fugitive, Joe Fornell.
I learned of this crime years ago when I purchased a REWARD or WANTED postcard to add to my collection.
Here is portion of a Pittsburg, Kansas, newspaper article regarding the search for Fornell:
“Sheriff Milt Gould is today mailing to 1,500 sheriff’s officers and police departments throughout the country cards announcing the offer of a reward for information leading to the arrest of Joe Fornell, wanted on the charge of murdering Charles Talick in Ringo last Saturday night.” (Pittsburgh Daily Headlight, March 10, 1921)
Fornell and Talick were both miners of Italian heritage who worked in Central Mine 51 and traveled together to and from work. But there was a disagreement, reportedly over a mule, that led to a fight at a pool hall. Later, the fight continued in the back yard of Talick’s boarding house and Fornell cut Talick’s throat. Charles Talick, about 25 years old, died a couple of hours later after the doctor’s couldn’t stop the hemorrhaging. During that critical period, Talick told the doctors in a dying statement about the fatal attack from Fornell.
Crawford County Sheriff Gould wasn’t making any headway locating Fornell until he got word that Fornell’s family in Ringo had been sending Joe clothing. It was being taken about 40 miles away, 12 miles north of Lamar, Missouri, into the rough Horse Creek country of Barton County. With the assistance of local authorities, especially Barton County (MO) Sheriff W. H. Nobel (who would eventually receive a reward of $300) and his posse, Sheriff Gould captured Fornell during an all-night search that included excellent planning. Before entering the territory, they disconnected telephone wires, so there would be no leak of information. Fornell offered no resistance.
I’d guess that Fornell’s arrest, plea, sentencing, and entry into the state penitentiary might compete for a time-speed record. He was captured on a Saturday morning after an all-night search, plead guilty to second degree murder at 10 o’clock that night, was sentenced to 35 years of hard labor at the state penitentiary, and at 3:20 a.m. the next day, taken by train to Lansing, Kansas.
Joe Fornell was the second oldest child of ten. His parents, James, and Francisco Fornell were both born in Italy. However, Joe was born in France in 1887. The same year, when he was only 8 months old, he, his brother, and parents emigrated to the United States. The next eight children were all born in Kansas, probably in Crawford County. (Note: there’s a possibility that when the Fornell family lived in Italy, their name was Fornelli.)
It’s an assumption, but likely the Fornell’s had responded to a recruitment immigration flyer in their home country and had embarked on a long journey to SE Kansas, already known for its extensive mining.
In the 1920 U.S. census for Crawford County, Joe and his wife, Christina, are listed as the parents of Jim, 9, and Mike, 7. Both boys were born in Kansas.
Fornell’s prison file reveals that at the time of the crime he was running a streetcar (interurban station) restaurant at Ringo. He “was fairly industrious except when drinking. He was drinking at the time of this trouble and liquor seems to be the cause of all his trouble.”
It’s interesting to me that Fornell, who worked in the mines beginning at age 13, continued his occupation while incarcerated in 1921 at the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing.
Fornell’s prison file reveals he was on parole in 1932, living in Detroit, Michigan.
Unfortunately, I learned very little about the murder victim, Charles Talick, and if he had any immediate family living in Crawford County. The newspapers reported he was very popular in Ringo. His father, Elbert Talick, lived in Strawn, Texas.
Milton Lewis Gould, known as “Milt,” was born and raised in Crawford County, Kansas. He was a farmer and a salesman before becoming a peace officer. He served as Crawford County under-sheriff from 1916 to 1920 and was elected sheriff on the Republican ticket in 1920 and re-elected in 1922. As a lawman he was busy arresting bootleggers and handling numerous strikes in the coal mines.
Whenever there was a strike, there was the possibility of widespread violence, especially when the mines hired non-union workers, known as “scabs.” Strikes were often led by women who brought their children along. The organized crowd carrying American flags would make a racket beating pots and pans, accost the strikebreakers trying to go to work, and even used red pepper to create havoc.
The 1940 US Census shows Milt Gould and his wife Irva (Ward) Gould living in Pittsburg, Kansas. That year, at age 54, Milt was working as a police officer. He died in 1945.
I lost track of Irva after 1962 when she was a resident of Pittsburg, Kansas. She was 67 years old.
Until next time, happy writing,