The San Francisco Terror Bandits of 1926


buckThe evening of October 9, 1926, was a beautiful night in San Francisco where the low clouds and scattered rain showers scrubbed the industrial grime off the urban landscape. The Saint Louis Cardinals had tied up the World Series by trouncing the New York Yankees ten to two, in game six. Los Angeles based evangelic Christian preacher Amiee Semple McPherson was in court for obstructing justice over her faked kidnapping earlier that year. Herman “Rudolph” Suhr, who served twelve years in prison for the murder of Yuba County District Attorney E. T. Maxwell during the Wheatland Hop Riot of 1913, was granted parole on the condition that he finds what the parole board regards suitable work.

Sometime around nine in the evening, Clarence “Buck” Kelly and Lawrence Weeks, both twenty-two years old, and two unidentified young men, drank some homemade alcohol and stole an automobile. Driving to a hardware store on Vallejo Street they asked owner Joseph Calonico, to show them some handguns. When the unsuspecting clerk handed them a .38 caliber revolver that they asked to see, Calonico was struck multiple times by the pair, who then took the gun along with ammunition. The two unidentified men, made what was probably one of the best decisions in their young lives; they ran off, leaving Weeks and Kelly to commit their crimes without their help.

1968 Lombard Street as it looks today

1968 Lombard Street as it looks today

With robbery on their drunken minds, the pair drove to Guillen’s Pool Hall at 1968 Lombard Street. Inside, Kelly asked owner Constantio Guillen for a package of cigarettes. When Guillen turned his back to retrieve the cigarettes, Kelly hit him on the head with his revolver, and fired five bullets into his prone body. Weeks violently rounded up the seven patrons who just moments ago were enjoying a Saturday night, and lined them up against a wall. They robbed the men of their money and valuables, before fleeing into the foggy night. Guillen died the next day.

The crime spree began in earnest, as the pair stopped Mario Pagano at on Powell Street and attempted to rob him, but Pagano resisted and was shot dead for his trouble. The police found thirty dollars in his wallet.

Looking for an easier target, Kelly and Weeks spotted George Karaisky, Beth Bolu, Emma Bird, and her fourteen-year old daughter Emma, strolling on Bryant Street, near 8th Street. After relieving the group of their money and valuables, Weeks and Kelly forced the elder Bird into their car and drove off. They threw her out of the car at 10th and Bryant, telling her that they did not like her looks.

Mario Begene was savagely gunned down when he did not have enough money to suit the pair. He died on two days later.

The pair cruised through San Francisco looking for more victims to rob. They relieved Harry Gianini of twenty-eight dollars at the intersection of Steiner and Sutter. Next they robbed Lester Irish at Webster and Washington Streets, taking a miserly four-dollars and thirty-five cents.

1914 Pine Street as it looks today

1914 Pine Street as it looks today

Seeking crimes of opportunity, the men spotted John Copren fumbling with his keys at 1914 Pine Street and robbed of ten dollars in front of his home. Using the same technique, Dr. S. Nicholas Jacobs was robbed of a four-hundred-fifty dollar watch and ninety-five dollars in front of his home on Webster Street. Shortly after that crime, Anthony Ganzales was robbed of his coat and twenty-dollars at 5th and Harrison. One block down Harrison, Weeks and Kelly robbed Manual Salazar of sixteen dollars.

Before calling it a night, Kelly and Weeks relieved Jack Story and Henry Berthiaune of cash and their watches in front of their home at 1225 Clay Street.

After lying low for a day, probably sleeping off his hangover, Buck Kelly met up with a friend of a friend, seventeen-year old Mike Papadaches. After drinking some bootleg alcohol together, they decided to repeat another night of terrorizing San Francisco. Around six in the evening, they called a Yellow Cab with evil intentions.

Proud Yellow Cab Taxi drivers in San Francisco in the 1920's

Proud Yellow Cab Taxi drivers in San Francisco in the 1920’s

Kelly had worked the past summer as a cab driver, so it is possible that he recognized the cabbie that picked them up. Roy Swanson, an insurance salesman, husband and father of a one month old baby girl was driving a Yellow Cab to make extra money. Swanson, who was probably jovial to have an acquaintance as a fare, was soon shocked when Kelly ordered him to stop on the 16th Street Viaduct. Kelly ordered Swanson out of his cab at gunpoint. While Papadaches rifled through Swanson’s cashbox, Kelly ask Swanson for his Yellow Cab jacket and cap. Swanson gave Kelly his uniform and was promptly shot. Swanson and Papadaches tossed Swanson’s dead body off the viaduct and drove into the Mission District.

Kelly and Papadaches pulled the cab up to Nicholas Petrovitch at San Bruno and Mariposa Streets, and asked him for the time of day. Petrovitch, who enjoying an after dinner walk, pulled his watch out and told them the time. Kelly thoughtlessly shot and killed him.
Driving a few blocks, the killers stopped at a restaurant at 7th and Brannan Streets. Cook Louis Fernandez was standing at the entrance of the restaurant, taking a break from his duties when Kelly and Papadaches walked in. Kelly stuck his revolver in Fernandez’s face and told him “hold up his hands.” Fernandez, not believing the audacity of the bandits replied, “You’re joking.”

“Joking?” Replied Kelly. “Damn you! Take that!”

Fernandez heard the trigger click, a loud report, and a sharp pain in his neck.

Columbus and Broadway

Columbus and Broadway

Taking forty-dollars out of the cash register, Kelly and Papadaches dashed across Brannan Street to a gas station and ordered C.W. Johnson to put up his hands. Johnson did what he was told, but the jumpy Kelly shot him in the neck after he made a gesture of resistance.

Johnson’s friends, Rex Hayder and Jack Duane jumped the killers, and tried to overpower them, but they were both shot multiple times, with Duane dying immediately on the oily asphalt. Johnson crawled out into the intersection, where two marine engineers took him to the hospital, not knowing about the other victims.

Kelly and Papadaches drove to Pier 86, where the viciously attack marine pilot Alvin Anderson. He was pistol-whipped, robbed of his money, and left in a bloody heap on the sidewalk.

Clarence "Buck" Kelly's San Quentin Mug shot

Clarence “Buck” Kelly’s San Quentin Mug shot

Kelly and Papadaches drove to another gas station, this one at 3rd and Mariposa, where the robbed the register and beat attendant Steve Walker. The owner of the station, L.O. Strand, called the police.

Officer Dorsey Henderson was nearby and answered the call. Seeing the parked cab with the offenders inside and well aware of the crime spree, Henderson open fired on the now moving vehicle, causing it to crash into a curb. Kelly and Papadaches bailed out, firing at Officer Henderson, and ran to the nearby railroad yard. Minutes later, the suspects drove by in a second car that they had apparently stolen, drove past the police officer where they all exchanged shots at each other.

This was to be the last time that the Terror Bandits would be would be on the loose in San Francisco.

The police wasted no time in trying to apprehend the Terror Bandits. Police dragnets were thrown up all over the San Francisco Bay area. Small towns formed posse comitatus to man roadblocks to protect their town from the Terror Bandits. Every usual suspect from Monterrey to Santa Rosa was hauled to police stations for questioning. Finally, on October 17th, Patrick Wafer, a hard-boiled Detective Sargent cornered one of his underworld connections, and got the hoodlum to give him a lead. In those pre-Miranda Rights days, one can use your imagination how Sargent Detective Wafer got his information.

the Duboce Tunnel

the Duboce Tunnel

Lawrence Weeks was picked up at five in the afternoon on October 18th by detectives as he left his construction job at the Duboce Tunnel. After being “interrogated” by San Francisco’s Finest, Weeks gave the police Kelly’s name and address.

Detective Sergeants George Wall, William McMahon and Leo Bunner led a squad of patrolmen to Kelly’s squalid apartment at 47 South Park Street. As the police fumbled their way through the dimly lit hallway, Kelly bolted out of this flat, and ran to the back stairway, and down the exterior stairway.

The police were not about to take chances on a man who had already murdered six men, and they open fired on the fleeing Kelly as he ran down the wooden stairs. Wounded and bleeding, Kelly ran into the ground floor apartment of a Mexican family, and hid in their closet where he was easily taken into custody.

In Kelly’s room, police detectives found a bloody shirt, and Swanson’s leather puttees, which was part of Yellow Cab’s uniform.

Kelly, who was shot in the thumb and lungs, was taken to Central Emergency Hospital where he was deemed in critical condition. Surgery was necessary, but Kelly refused to be operated on.

Katherine Kelly comforts her son, Buck

Katherine Kelly comforts her son, Buck

“I’m picked as the fall guy. Why should I let patched up here so that the police can swing me off later? I’d rather die right here!”

Kelly’s mother, Katherine Kelly, and her daughter, eighteen-year old Edna were brought to the hospital by the police to talk him into the operation. Kelly kept up his bravado. He told his mother, “I’m the fall guy, Ma. All my life I’ve been the fall guy. Why should I let them operate? They’ll patch me up and then they’ll hang me. What’s the use? I’d rather die here.”

Katherine Kelly reminded her son that he had a wife and child to think about. He changed his mind about dying for the sake of his two-month old daughter, Dorothy and his wife Alma.

Buck in the hospital

Buck in the hospital

Even though Papadaches was still unidentified and on the loose, the newspapers had a field day with the capture of the Terror Bandits. They called Kelly, a human tiger, and printed whatever spewed out of his mouth. Kelly called Weeks a “rat,” and a “hophead,” meaning that he was a marijuana user, and that he was completely innocent.

Clarence “Buck” Kelly was charged with four counts of first degree murder, and was tried separately from Papadaches and Weeks. Assistant District Attorney Isadore Golden believed it to be easiest to convict him with the May 11th murders of Jack Duane, Walter Swanson and Michael Petrovich. Kelly entered a plea of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.

Kelly’s attorney was Milton U’Ren, the tough former Assistant District Attorney who in 1922 was assigned to prosecute film star, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle for the murder of film extra and prostitute, Virginia Rappe. Even with such a competent attorney as U’Ren, Kelly was doomed to the hangman’s rope because of the testimony of his accomplices and victims.

det-sgt-17-35002Papadaches was unbreakable on the witness stand. The seventeen-year old stanchly told the court of the events of October 11th. They met at Kelly’s apartment at 47 South Park Street around midday, when they started on an all-day drinking binge. Taking taxis on their tour of various San Francisco speakeasies and pool-halls, the two had a thoroughly drunken time. A third person, who Papadaches only knew as “Span” joined them for a time, eating at a restaurant at Twenty-eighth and Mission with the pair, and sharing a cab to a pool-hall on Third Street, where they continued drinking before calling the Yellow Cab that Swanson was driving.

The San Francisco Examiner wrote that Kelly acted completely aloof while Papadaches told what he could remember of the evening. “His beady black eyes,” rolled while Papadaches testified.

Whether he was merely acting to appear mentally defective during the incriminating testimony, Kelly could not hold back his rage when Weeks went on the stand to testify a few days later. It was reported in the San Francisco Chronicle that Kelly face turned red, with his nose and jaw twitching uncontrollably while Kelly told his version of the night of May 9th.

The crimes of the Terror Bandits are now forgotten, but it was big news in 1926

The crimes of the Terror Bandits are now forgotten, but it was big news in 1926

If it was bad enough that Kelly’s partners in crime testified against him, Kelly was shocked to find out that a passerby, Peter McPhee witnessed Kelly shooting Swanson on the 16th Street Viaduct. McPhee was about a block away and had a clear view of the crime. Seeing Swanson gunned down terrified McPhee, who ran from the scene as fast as he could.

Kelly had more surprises in store for him when two of his friends, Roy O’Neal and James Fitzgerald both told the court that shortly before the May 9th reign of terror, Kelly had told them, “I’m going over the gate soon, but I’m sure going to raise hell in San Francisco before I go.” To make matters worse for Kelly, Fitzgerald and O’Neal recalled that they saw Kelly on Sunday, October 10th at a speakeasy at Third and Hanson where he bragged to the pair that, “Well, they didn’t think I’d get them, but I did. Didn’t I?”

Louis Fernandez, the cook who Kelly shot at the restaurant, and Rex Hayder, who came to the aid of his friend, C.W. Johnson, when Kelly attempted to rob the gas station at Seventh and Brannan also testified at the trial, completely indicting Kelly as the murderer. Both men had been shot point blank by Kelly, and were still recovering from their bullet wounds. Their testimony doomed any hope of Kelly being found not guilty, except by reason of insanity.

Clarence “Buck” Kelly took the stand in his own defense. U’Ren questioned him about the nights of October ninth and eleventh, and Kelly answered that he could not remember anything about the nights in question. He claimed that after a few drinks, he would lose his memory. Most of his replies were answered with, “I guess.”

U’Ren questioned Kelly about the many head injuries that he received in his twenty-two years of life. Kelly testified that when he was a child he suffered a skull fracture due to a fall. As an adolescent he was knocked unconscious by a flying object, and he was also kicked in the mouth by a horse when he was a teenager. He had also had been an amateur boxer with fifteen matches under his belt. Kelly claimed, but oddly, no doctor testified for the defense, that he had a three-inch unhealed crack in his skull.

Assistant District Attorney Isadore Golden angered Kelly during the cross-examination. Kelly was defiant, and shouted his answers back to Golden. At one point it appeared that Kelly was going to leap out of the witness stand to attack the district attorney.

U’Ren put Kelly’s mother, Margaret Kelly and his aunt, Marjorie McClelland to testify for Clarence. Margaret told the jury that Clarence’s father, also named Clarence, is an insane alcoholic criminal who was currently incarcerated at San Quentin Prison. The sister’s also told about the many head injuries that Kelly had suffered.

During the prosecution’s rebuttal, Doctor Joseph Catton was put on the stand and announced that Kelly’s head injuries would not cause him to have amnesia. Dr. Catton stated that, “there was no damage to his skull and no permanent affliction of the brain from his prior accidents.”

The case went to the jury on December 21st. They came back after deliberating for twenty minutes with the verdict of guilty.

“Well, they can’t break my spirit,” said Kelly as he was led away in handcuffs by the bailiff.

Dr. Leo L. Stanley of San Quentin

Dr. Leo L. Stanley of San Quentin

Doctor Leo L. Stanley was the son of a San Miguel country doctor, and was expected to replace him after he finished at Stanford’s medical school. His father’s premature death made it financially difficult for the young Stanley to finish college without having to take time off to work menial jobs in order to save for tuition. It took him eight years to graduate. Finding himself working as an unpaid intern at a San Francisco hospital, he applied for a job as the assistant physician at San Quentin Prison, twelve miles north of San Francisco in Marin County. He was hired in February 1913, and by August of that year, became the Resident Physician. He held that position for twenty-seven years.

Stanley was a progressive in his philosophy. He believed that there were only a few true criminals in San Quentin, the rest were uneducated, unskilled, and mentally or physically ill.

Even though the doctor was a progressive in his policies towards the prisoners, he was not easily fooled, and he often had to violently deal with prisoners with escape on their minds. Stanley was fair, but he was physically tougher than most of the prisoners and the guards.

San Quentin Prison

San Quentin Prison

Doctor Stanley first met Clarence “Buck” Kelly when the infamous criminal was transferred to San Quentin from San Francisco City Jail in February, 1927. Because of his notoriety, most of the hospital staff attended Kelly’s initial physical examination. Kelly reveled in the attention, swaggering and acting like a tough guy while standing completely naked in the clinic. Stanley noted that Kelly was in perfect physical condition despite having to admit to smoking marijuana. His good facial features were marred by a misaligned nose and evasive and shifty expression.

During the examination Kelly asked Stanley if it “was true that they take the brains out of all the guys that they hang here?” The doctor explained that they have been able to collect valuable scientific information from the autopsies of the condemned men. According to Stanley, Kelly looked thoughtful, then gave a contemptuous laugh and replied:

Well, you can take mine out and cremate the rest of me, for all I care. I’m a con and my old man’s a con, and nobody give a damn about me. I should worry after it’s all over! Kelly’s father was in San Quentin’s ward for the mentally deficient. The forty-four year old, appeared to be a much older man and was mentally confused, possibly from the advanced stages of syphilis and alcoholism.

Dr Leo L. Stanley and prisoner

Dr Leo L. Stanley and prisoner

Kelly’s mother Margaret visited her son as much as she could. Stanley described her as a kind and simple woman, wearing worn out clothing, who adored her eldest child.

Buck Kelly swaggered into the execution room on May 11, 1928. Doctor Stanley, the attending physician wrote of the event:

He seemed flattered by the large group of witnessed waiting before the gallows. One hundred and fifty had come to see him hang. Vanity cannot climb San Quentin’s thirteen steps and survive. By the time Buck reached the rap his courage was gone. There was a ghastly delay when the hangman’s thumb caught in the noose. As they drew the black cap down over the “Terror Bandit’s” face I heard him call out like a frightened kid: “Good-by, mother.”

The trapdoor of the gallows was sprung at10:04am and Doctor Stanley declared him dead fourteen minutes later.

A small scandal arose after reports that Kelly’s brain had been removed during the autopsy for study, against Kelly wishes. Doctor Stanley had to defend himself and San Quentin’s practice of studying the brains of executed criminals. He was cleared of any wrongdoing after Margaret Kelly received monetary compensation.