Friday, August 7, 2015

Gang Busters: Two Old Time Radio Thrillers

“The Case of the Throneberry Brothers” was the subject of the December 11, 1948 radio broadcast of Gang Busters. Oftentimes the medium of radio drama required real-life plots to be more melodramatic, in Hollywood style. But the true story of the crime has rarely been documented. Randel Throneberry and his brother O.B. Throneberry, both had a liberal number of aliases. They traveled the country as migratory workers and committed a crime wave, always suspected but never convicted without proof. They robbed a sheepherder of $500, and returned to his house when he went to report the crime, taking three guns, field glasses and two leather jackets.

 On August 8, 1943, in an isolated spot near Routt County, Colorado, they robbed a semi-invalid sheepherder of $56 and tied him up so that he would strangle if he struggled to get loose. On August 9, 1943 they pretended to be seeking work in Rawlins, Wyoming, got a job and hired a cabin. They made acquaintances of three men who were drinking. During a drive in O.B.’s car, which the men had hired for a trip, O.B. pulled out a shotgun and tried to persuade the three to join him in a robbery. One fellow got out of the car and headed for a railroad nearby. O.B. called to him, and then sent the other after him. When both were at a safe distance, they watched O.B. drive away. They reported the incident to the police and the highway patrol was alerted to search for the brothers. They were promptly apprehended and taken to the Carbon County jail at Rawlins. Sheriff Glen Penland and Under-Sheriff Lemoine read in the newspapers about the murdered sheepherder and discovered in their investigation that the guns taken from the Throneberry’s had been stolen from the sheepherder. Lemoine and Boyd searched Saratoga (apparently the brothers had been freed) and arrested them at a filling station. Their car held six rifles, pistols and a sawedoff shotgun. The brothers confessed to petty crimes and were held. Sheriff Todd of Steamboat Springs was contacted and the guns were confirmed as those belonging to the sheepherder.
On August 19, 1943, Todd claimed he had gotten a complete confession of the crime. Several attempted breaks by the boys were frustrated. Finally on October 8, 1943, they made good a spectacular escape. There were many conflicting versions of this story and it became a political issue. When O.B. was captured, he said MacFarlane, the assistant sheriff, had assisted in the escape. Todd fired MacFarlane. When Randel was captured, he stated that they had lured Sheriff Todd into a state of complacency by promising to reveal the location of a cache of stolen money and had gotten him into the cell for a talk and easily overpowered him. Todd stated that he had gone into the cell to bring them writing paper and had been hit from behind and knocked out. At any rate, they locked the sheriff in his own jail, stole his car, gas coupons and escaped.
They had to cross the Mississippi River to make good their escape, which they did by disguising themselves as women. Eventually they went back to Texas. Then O.B. decided to return to Oklahoma and see his newborn daughter. This precipitated a fight and after O.B. took a shot at Randel, the brothers split up. On a hot tip, Sheriff Homer Casey of Waco, Texas, his deputy Martin Ownes and F.B.I. agents Suran and Carlson went after O.B. They almost cornered him in a tavern but he got out before they recognized him. A reckless chase ensured and O.B. was finally captured after Owen smashed O.B.’s wrists with a single shot. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to 34 years.
Randel drove 10,000 miles in the sheriff’s car until the tires wore out. The brothers had used the police car to good advantage. They posed as cops and collected fines from speeders, confiscated gas coupons, etc. When the car wore out, Randel burned it. He got another and took his family to Oregon where he secured a job as a laborer in an apple orchard. While working in the orchard he was captured by F.B.I. Agents. On April 9, 1943, he made a statement to Sheriff MacFarlane, which cleared MacFarlane of any responsibility in the escape and was sentenced to 43 years to life for second degree murder in the Colorado State Penitentiary.

EPISODE #559 (Broadcast December 11, 1948)
Homer Casey, former Sheriff of McLennan County, Waco, Texas.
Scriptwriter: Stanley Niss.
Radio Plot: Randel Throneberry and his brother, O. B. Throneberry, both had a liberal number of aliases. They got off to an early start in crime, having records that extended from petty theft to armed robbery. Both prided themselves on being ‘high class pickpockets.” The Throneberry brothers traveled the country as migratory workers and continued with their crime wave. They were apprehended and taken to the Carbon County Jail at Rawlins. Several attempted breaks by the boys were frustrated. Finally on October 8, 1943, Sheriff Homer Casey of Waco, Texas, his deputy Martin Owns, and Suran and Carlson (Agents of the F.B.I.), went after O. B. on a hot tip after he succeeded in escaping. While working in an orchard under an alias name, O.B. was captured by the F.B.I. Agents. On April 9, 1943, he was sentenced to 43 years to life for second degree murder in the Colorado State Penitentiary.
Trivia, etc. This script was originally scheduled for the broadcast of November 20, 1948.

Another case history you might find more fascinating is "The Case of the High School Hotshots." Two teenagers graduate from robbing gas stations with a hot-rod getaway car to eventual murder. A piece of purple sewing thread proved to be the vital clue to their capture. A recording of this episode exists. But the drama isn't as amusing as the clue delivered at the end of the episode.

According to the F.B.I., John Harvey Bugg’s troubles started when the Sheriff of Dade County, Missouri, arrested him on November 26, 1945 at Greenfield, Missouri, on a bad check charge placed by authorities at Seminole, Oklahoma. On the way to the county jail, Bugg disarmed the sheriff and forced him to drive to Carthage, Missouri. There he abandoned the automobile and took over a taxicab, forcing both the sheriff and the taxicab driver to go along with him. A few miles out of town, Bugg ordered the sheriff to tie the cabbie to a tree. The sheriff and Bugg then rode as far as Kellyville, Oklahoma, where the sheriff was trussed to a telephone pole. Bugg robbed the sheriff and the driver of a total of $125 before leaving them.
On the evening of April 10, 1948, shortly after the drama entitled “The Case of the High-School Hot-Shots” concluded, the announcer read the description of John Harvey Bugg, who had apparently avoided law enforcement and remained in hiding, possibly under an alias. Three days later, Deputy Sheriff Russell V. Carlson of New Milford, Connecticut phoned Wickersham 2-2211 (the phone number of the office of Lord, Inc., located in New York City) inquiring about the clue broadcast on April 10. Vincent Hartnett took the call, and repeated the clue as broadcast, plus F.B.I. I.O. on John Harvey Bugg. Deputy Sheriff Carlson said he had seen an individual with L-O-V-E on the backs of fingers on both his hands, more pronounced on his left than on his right. The height of the suspect, however, did not seem consistent with that of Bugg. Carlson got the license number of the car in which the individual drove away. After the brief conversation, both Hartnett and Deputy Carlson agreed that the person was probably not Bugg and no report was sent to the New York office of the F.B.I. Two very alert Gearhart, Oregon youngsters – Pauline Virgin (age 12) and her cousin Navarre Smith (age 14), heard the Gang Busters clue over KEX, Portland and proved more reliable than the deputy in Connecticut. Suspect John Harvey Bugg, age 31, charged with the kidnapping of the sheriff of Dade County, Missouri, was really a cowboy and rodeo performer, masquerading under the name of Cowboy Jim Williams. He had been employed for about a year by Mr. and Mrs. John Dawson as the operator of a riding academy in Gearhart, an Oregon seacoast town frequented by vacationers. Cowboy Jim habitually wore adhesive tape over the knuckles of his left hand and this first aroused young Pauline’s curiosity. A few months back, during the summer of 1947, Pauline had asked him why he wore the tape, but he wouldn’t tell and gave her a “nasty” reply. The girl observed, however, indications that each finger bore a tattoo.
According to the youngsters, they pricked their ears when the Gang Busters announcer described the kidnap suspect as a man who had the word “LOVE” tattooed on the fingers of his left hand, was fond of horses and walked with a limp. “Why, that’s Cowboy Jim!” Pauline exclaimed when the announcer finished. Thereupon, Pauline and Navarre decided to notify police. Navarre told Sidney B. Smith, police officer in Seaside, an adjacent city to Gearhart, and Smith informed the F.B.I. office in Portland. Three F.B.I. agents went to Gearhart on Wednesday, April 14, but Cowboy Jim wasn’t around. He had told his employers, the Dawsons, that he was going out of town to buy a horse. The F.B.I. learned that the suspect had a friend at Hillsboro, a town about 60 miles inland, so two days later on Friday, they visited the friend’s residence there shortly after midnight. Behind a cedar chest in the bedroom of the friend’s baby, they found the nonplussed cowboy, unable to pull up his gangling legs enough to conceal his fancily-decorated, taper-heel boots. When the adhesive tape was removed from his left hand, there were the telltale tattooed letters spelling out “LOVE.” Howard Bobbitt, the agent in charge of the Portland F.B.I. office, said Cowboy Jim readily admitted he was Bugg.
John Harvey Bugg was proud of his feats in rodeos from coast to coast. In 1942, he won $3,500 in cash prizes at a rodeo in Madison Square Garden. Apparently after his escapades in Missouri and Colorado, he went from rodeo to rodeo, keeping a step ahead of the law many times. Bugg admitted to authorities that he had gone to stay with his Hillsboro, Oregon, friend after receiving a tip that “it was getting warm around Gearhart and Seaside.” While operating the riding academy at Gearhart, Bugg became acquainted with many prominent persons in Oregon and taught scores of their children how to ride. Thanks to two children who listened attentively to the Gang Busters clue of April 10, 1948, John Harvey Bugg was tracked down, picked up and taken into custody awaiting the arrival of certified copies of the indictment against him.
On May 20, 1948, Vincent Hartnett wrote to Ron Moxness of The Portland Oregonian: “People are still talking about the John Harvey Bugg apprehension. We deeply appreciated your fine cooperation on that case.”

EPISODE #524 (Broadcast April 10, 1948)
C.L. Westover, Sheriff of Wayne County, Mississippi. 
Radio Plot: Maurice Shimmick and Joseph Leemon pulled their small jobs, usually filling stations, always escaping fast with Joe’s hot rod. In Waynesboro, Mississippi, the son of Tom Boylsin was found with his throat cut. From the nearby town of Meridian came Detective Tom Harbour, an old friend of the dead boy. What interested him was that in Boylsin’s stiff fingers was a piece of purple sewing thread. Ignoring more obvious approaches, Harbour determined to see what he could do with the clue. This led to the apprehension of the two bandits. The boys were picked up by an alert policeman in La Grange, Georgiana. They were both electrocuted for the Boylsin murder on January 14, 1945.