Displaying items by tag: criminals
We recently acquired this wanted poster from board member Charles Kelly. I can’t be sure because I still haven’t opened every box in our stacks, but so far, it seems this is our first wanted poster.
Wendell Bowers was a kid with a troubled past. Born in Ambler in 1918, his mother died when he was 14 months old. Although his father was still alive, and he testified at his sentencing to having an aunt in the area, Bowers was sent to live with an unrelated family. He described himself as a child who always got what he wanted. When told “no” he would cry until he got it. He also stole toys and bicycles.
He attended school until the 5th grade. When his foster mother died, he moved back in with his father and stepmother. His misbehavior escalated. He frequently ran away, getting as far as Virginia and Michigan on different occasions. When he once skipped school, his father beat him. Twelve-year-old Bowers then stabbed himself with a knife, leaving the knife in until his father removed it.
He was in and out of reformatories through his teenage years, and it was in the reformatory that he learned housebreaking.
On December 13, 1937, Bowers broke into the Dreshertown home of Mrs. Wilma V. Carpenter, a 38-year-old widow who owned a beauty salon in Germantown. The house was empty when he entered at 4 p.m. He testified that he searched for money but found none. He did find Carpenter’s .38 caliber revolver and drank some of her liquor and read her magazines. A little while later, Carpenter came home with her employee, 22-year-old Mary Griffin. He demanded money from the two women who handed it over. He then decided to tie them up.
He hit Mary Griffin on the head with the gun to knock her out, then told Carpenter to tie her up. While doing this, Carpenter reached for the gun. They struggled and Bowers knocked Carpenter to the floor. As she rose, he shot her twice, killing her.
After, Carpenter assaulted or attempted to assault Mary Griffin. The Times-Herald of February 8, 1938, quoted extensively from Bowers’ testimony, but glosses over the assault, and I will, too. Bowers said that he then dressed Griffin’s wounded head and left the house through the window. He made his way to the train station and bought a ticket to Pittsburgh.
A few days later, Mary Griffin identified Wendell Bowers from her bed at Chestnut Hill Hospital, and a nationwide manhunt began. The local police sent latent fingerprints from the Carpenter home to the FBI, who identified them as Bowers’.
On December 20th, Bowers was picked up in Louisville, KY, for vagrancy and housebreaking. He was using an alias, but his fingerprints identified him as the killer.
Bowers was sent back to Montgomery County to face his trial. Judge Harold Knight was to preside, but Bower surprised everyone by pleading guilty. Judge Knight described Bowers in his diary as a “pasty faced youth.” The court went straight into the sentencing phase. Knight wrote, “The three judges then heard the evidence of one of the most cruel, brutal and unnecessary crimes I have ever heard.”
Bowers testified for some time about his early life and the murder. Knight described Bowers as being “without emotion.” The county’s three president judges went over the evidence on the evening on February 8. On the morning of the 9th, they sentenced Bowers to death. Knight wrote, “He took it calmly and apparently was not as nervous as the judges.”
The Times-Herald of February 9, 1938 reported that he took the sentence calmly, although it also reported that Bowers did not expect to be executed. He returned to cell number 2 at the county jail, lit a pipe and read a magazine. Wendell Bowers was executed by the electric chair on June 13, 1938.
Every week, we put out a little article about something in our collection, and how it tells a story from Montgomery County’s past. And then – well, generally, then nothing. Maybe a few likes on Facebook. Then another Thursday comes around, and another article goes up on the blog.
Every once in a while, we get a response. This is always a little shocking because it means someone actually read our blog. Last summer, I received two (!) responses to a blog post I wrote about a libel case against Moses Auge.
To recap, Henry L. Acker sued Auge and John L. Williams for libel after an article appeared in the newspaper, the Norristown Republican. Auge and Williams were co-editors of the paper. The article accused Acker of embezzling public money while he was postmaster. Our collection holds the original indictment, but it doesn’t tell us the verdict. There was a curious detail in the indictment, however. A document filed with the indictments, tells us that a bond of $500 was set for both Auge and Williams, as well as an addition man named Jacob Cowden, but Cowden was not mentioned in the indictment.
Earlene O’Hare sent me an email a few weeks later explaining that Cowden was a relative of Auge’s by marriage. Moses Auge married Mary Cowden, and it looks like Jacob was her nephew. It doesn’t tell us how in was involved with the libel suit.
Then I received a letter from another member, Ben Curtis, who was familiar with Jacob Cowden’s name from some family lore. It seems Jacob was involved in some dishonest real estate deals. Auge describes him in his Lives of the Eminent Dead and Biographical Notices of Prominent Living Citizens of Montgomery County, Pa.:
“He owns considerable real estate in the borough, generally investing in such properties as yield a good income. Jacob M. Cowden had but a moderate school education, but has risen in fortune by shrewd judgment and close attention to business.”
Cowden died suddenly on April 16, 1887. According to his lengthy obituary in the Herald and Free Press, “He possessed push, capital, and shrewdness.”
After Cowden’s death, however, it all fell apart. Ben sent along a newspaper clipping that says “he invested enormous amounts of money for other people, invariably taking securities in his own name and assigning them to his clients, with the injunction not the record the assignment.” He also borrowed large amounts of money using promissory notes and used that money to purchase real estate, which he transferred to his three single daughters.
This doesn’t explain his $500 bond, but it raises some intriguing questions.