Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2001
Clyde, minus Bonnie, captured in county in 1930
By Jim Blount
The name Clyde Barrow caused no fear in Butler County in March 1930. His arrest for car theft in 1926 and his involvement in a four-year series of robberies in and around Dallas, Texas, hadn't merited news coverage in Ohio. Also unknown was his recent romance with Bonnie Parker Thornton, while her husband, Roy Thornton, was in a Texas prison.
A couple years later, the couple would be familiar across the nation as Bonnie and Clyde as their crimes spread from New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Missouri into Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
Barrow -- who had been arrested Feb. 12, 1930 -- escaped March 11 from jail in Waco, Texas. With two other escapees, he fled north and east. Their crime spree eventually brought them to Ohio. They entered the state in a car stolen in Wichita Falls, Texas, bearing license plates the trio had stolen in Indiana.
William Turner, 21, and Emory Abernathy, 24, were passengers in the car driven by Barrow the morning of Tuesday, March 18, 1930, when confronted by police at West Middletown. After a chase by car and on foot and a gun battle, the escapees were apprehended separately by Middletown police and Baltimore & Ohio Railroad police. During the pursuit, Barrow threw his gun -- that had been smuggled into the Texas jail by Bonnie -- into the Middletown hydraulic canal. It was never officially recovered.
The trio had committed several crimes between Cincinnati and Middletown, including theft of $57 from a safe at the B&O's West Middletown depot and at least five thefts, each under $10, from Middletown gas stations.
Turner, not Barrow, was considered the prime catch that day. He was starting a 99-year prison sentence for a Texas murder when he escaped.
Barrow used an alias when arrested. Early news stories identified him as Robert Thomas, age 17, of Indianapolis. Later he was listed as Clyde Barrow, 17, although his birth date is believed to have been March 24, 1909, which would have made him 20.
Capture of the Texas fugitives was soon overshadowed by a more tragic story. The next evening, Middletown Patrolman Daniel Sandlin, 28, was fatally wounded in a confrontation with suspected bootleggers in Middletown. When Sandlin and another officer stopped a car on South Avenue, an occupant jumped out of the back seat and felled Sandlin with two shots. He died three hours later (March 20). One of the suspects also died later in Middletown Hospital.
Bonnie, then 19, and Clyde, 20, had met in Texas about three months before his capture in Butler County. After apprehension in Middletown, Barrow was sent to prison in Texas -- and despite killing a fellow inmate -- won parole Feb. 2, 1932.
That's when he teamed with Bonnie Parker in a series of robberies, burglaries, kidnaping and murders. They were joined by other criminals. In 1933, a brother, Ivan M. "Buck" Barrow, and his wife, Blanche, were added to the gang. But after November 1933, it was just Bonnie and Clyde.
They were believed to have murdered more than a dozen people, the exact number subject to debate. Also uncertain is how many of those killed wore badges. At least six of their victims were law enforcement officers.
The bloody saga of Bonnie and Clyde ended the morning of May 23, 1934, when they were killed in a police ambush near Sailes, Louisiana. By one account, 167 bullets pierced their car as they drove along a rural road. The posse included police from Texas and Louisiana, plus federal agents.
The murderous pair has provided material for numerous articles and books and some movies, most notably a 1967 film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the ruthless Texas natives.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2001
Bambo Harris public housing opened during World War II
By Jim Blount
Low-cost public housing came to Butler County in 1942 as the United States focused on producing the tools of war. It was less than 10 months after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor when families started moving into the Bambo Harris Homes on South Front Street in Hamilton. The official opening was Sunday, Oct. 4, 1942.
"The ceremonies crowned five years of work on the part of the Hamilton Metropolitan Housing Authority," the Journal-News reported. The $730,000 project on about 11 acres included 141 dwellings in 30 buildings, plus an administrative center. Housing units ranged from three to seven rooms, depending on the size of the family.
When initiated, the local program had two purposes: (1) slum clearance and (2) provide low-cost housing for families living in sub-standard buildings.
The first objective was partially achieved with demolition of 53 sub-standard residences housing 40 black and 13 white families in the Second Ward area. They were razed to clear the site for the Bambo Harris Homes.
In a survey of Hamilton housing stock, government workers had found 4,598 sub-standard units, meaning the Bambo Harris complex would fill only 3 percent of the need.
But the war changed the latter objective. "The people living here are war workers," said U. S. Rep. Greg Holbrock of Hamilton during the opening ceremonies.
The program had been designed to house families of low income who were living in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. But several weeks before Pearl Harbor, the federal War Production Board declared a critical shortage of housing for war workers in Hamilton.
That meant preference for Bambo Harris residences was given to employees of 25 Hamilton factories involved in war production.
By the Oct. 4, 1942, official opening, applications had been received from 145 white war workers and 54 black war workers. Twenty-three white and 31 black non-war workers also sought units.
Officials already had decided that 96 white and 45 black war workers would be accommodated in the complex.
The Ohio Board of Housing had created the Hamilton Metropolitan Housing Authority Dec. 29, 1938. The original board members -- still serving in October 1942 -- were appointed Jan. 17, 1939. They were Herman K. Beneke, Arthur Frechtling, A. K. Lewis, Edwin B. Pierce and Frank Vidourek. In July 1941, Robert Bevis, a civil engineer, was appointed director of the Hamilton Authority and Jackson Bosch was named legal advisor.
Government approval of the Hamilton project, planning and property acquisition began in January 1941.
In February 1942 the F. K. Vaughn Building Co. of Hamilton was the low bidder for general contract ($414,591) and the federal government approved all bids, totaling $539,928 in time for Feb. 24 groundbreaking ceremonies.
In June 1942, a tenant selection office opened at 1100 South Front Street. The first family, Mr. and Mrs. Harold Dutze, occupied unit 24-C Sept. 24, 1942. Mr. Dutze qualified as a war worker because of his employment at Armco Steel's New Miami plant.
The name -- Bambo Harris Homes -- had been suggested by Alvin D. Smith, editor of a black newspaper serving Butler County. Early county historians considered Harris the first African-American of record to settle in Butler County. He also is regarded as one of the first mill operators in the county.
Harris, a millwright, arrived in 1800, and built his mill along Elk Creek in the southeast corner of Section 18 in Madison Township. Harris, who is believed to have operated the mill for about 50 years, is buried in Miltonville Cemetery.
Now, the Bambo Harris complex is in its final months as the Butler Metropolitan Housing Authority prepares to raze the World War II project..
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2001
Robert M. Sohngen helped form foundation
By Jim Blount
Robert M. Sohngen, who died in 1953, served Hamilton, the state and the nation as an army officer, lawyer, businessman, school board member, city solicitor, member of the governor’s cabinet and associate justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. But one of his most lasting contributions was as a co-founder of the Hamilton Community Foundation.
The foundation is observing its 50th anniversary this year. In 1951, Sohngen joined six other civic leaders in chartering the non-profit corporation to manage and distribute charitable gifts from individuals and organizations for community improvement and philanthropic efforts.
From a $5,000 startup contribution, the foundation's assets have grown to more than $65 million. Through grants and loans, it has supported numerous projects and programs in the area.
An example of its impact is a scholarship program that began in 1954 with one grant, established by Mr. and Mrs. Herbert T. Randall. In 47 years, through May 2001, HCF scholarships worth more than $2.9 million have been awarded to 1,910 local high school graduates. In May 2001, the foundation allocated more than $400,000 in scholarships to 190 students.
The scholarship program -- now including awards created by individuals, families, businesses and civic groups -- is just one aspect of the multi-faceted foundation, which is based in the historic Lane-Hooven House at 319 North Third Street.
Sohngen was born July 16, 1887, in Hamilton and graduated from Hamilton High School in 1905. After graduating from Cornell University with a bachelor of laws degree, he spent five years with the Williams Shoe Company, a Cincinnati manufacturer. He also was a college and semi-pro baseball player and later enjoyed tennis and golf.
Sohngen -- a leader in the Democratic Party throughout his life -- was admitted to the bar in 1915 and began his law practice in Hamilton. He enlisted in the army in 1918 after the U. S. entered World War I. He served as an intelligence officer and judge advocate and attained the rank of captain.
In 1915, he was elected to the first of two terms on the Hamilton Board of Education. In 1922 he was elected city solicitor, a position now known as law director.
In 1933, he started two years of service as state counsel for the Home Owners Loan Corporation, a federal agency created during the Depression to assist home owners in financial distress.
In 1945 he was appointed director of the Ohio Department of Liquor Control in Gov. Frank J. Lausche’s cabinet. He remained in the post until his appointment in 1947 to associate justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. His term on the bench extended through 1948.
Sohngen also was a director of the Ohio Casualty Insurance Company and a vice president and director of the Second National Bank of Hamilton.
In 1951, Sohngen joined William Murstein, Cyrus J. Fitton, William J. Wolf, Huntington V. Parrish, Frederick A. Reister and W. Otis Briggs in forming the Hamilton Community Foundation as an umbrella organization for charitable and philanthropic endeavors.
Their purpose was to pool resources and investments and to reduce operating expenses by consolidating management of various funds, including some existing family and corporate foundations. The HCF foundation began with a $5,000 contribution from Murstein.
March 30, 1910, Robert Sohngen had married Helen Ray Simpson of Middletown. Her father was Theodore Simpson, co-founder of the P. J. Sorg Co., a Middletown tobacco business later acquired by the American Tobacco Company.
The couple -- who had no children -- resided in Hamilton. He died June 4, 1953. His widow, Helen Sohngen, died April 22, 1965. Both are buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
Now, 48 years after his death, the vision of Sohngen and his six compatriots who created the Hamilton Community Foundation continues to benefit residents of the Hamilton area.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2001
Sabotage was local concern during World War II years
By Jim Blount
Recent American concerns about terrorism recall the fear of sabotage on the home front during World War II. Prevention intensified after the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, much as the nation has responded to the startling events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Then as now, security focused on the city’s electric generating plant and water treatment facilities. In January 1942, the city hired 12 utility guards at a salary of $125 a month.
Precautions in Hamilton factories involved in defense production expanded after Dec. 7. FBI agents conducted safety inspections and assisted in training programs in at least 30 local shops by the end of February 1942.
That month Allan Hyer, chairman of safety and plant protection committee of Hamilton Civilian Defense, announced that industries were forming employee fire brigades and police units to prevent and react to sabotage or accidents. For example, at the Ford Motor Company (N. Fifth Street and Ford Blvd.) about 80 men per shift were trained to handle those responsibilities in addition to their regular jobs.
In the war’s early months, local fires, accidents and incidents formerly considered isolated events were investigated as possible acts of sabotage by agents of Germany, Italy or Japan.
Sunday, Dec. 7 -- within hours of the Pearl Harbor disaster -- amateur radio operators here and across the nation were ordered to cease operation. Three days later, the Federal Communications Commission said "no amateurs are permitted to operate except those activated by federal, state or local authority after approval of applications to the Defense Council Board.."
As a precaution, German, Italian and Japanese nationals residing in the Hamilton area were ordered to bring their radio transmitters, short wave radios and cameras to Hamilton police headquarters between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. Jan. 7-8, 1942.
In March 1942, the county clerk of courts, Conrad C. Stroh, was appointed explosives licensing agent for the county by the Federal Bureau of Mines. Licensing was mandated to prevent explosives being obtained by "unreliable and disloyal persons."
In April 1942, the county game protector, J. Earl Beaver, formed the Minute Men, a secretive group of more than 100 men armed with personal high-powered rifles, ready to combat war-related emergencies, including sabotage and invasion.
The federal government granted local game protectors the authority "to investigate quietly and carefully any individuals acting suspiciously or loitering around places where sabotage may be performed." Beaver said the group also would guard against "injudicious use of arms by nervous or inexperienced persons" and "threats to or injury of non-enemies by riflemen assuming too much authority."
The Minute Men began by mapping and compiling information on the locations and access to dams, power trunk lines, transformers, booster stations, stores of explosives, fire-fighting equipment, ambulances, hospitals and other potential sabotage targets in Butler County.
Veterans of World War I also were enlisted for local duty. Thirty members of Frank Durwin Post 138, American Legion, became auxiliary members of the Ohio State Patrol in May 1942. Statewide, about 3,000 men were trained to assist the patrol.
Another product of local concern was the Hamilton Safety Council. It was formed Aug. 14, 1942, "to conserve time, machines and manpower, to make Hamilton a safer city in which to live and to help win the war." Peter E. Rentschler, president of Hamilton Foundry, was its first president.
Two local arrests in 1942 heightened the sabotage scare. In February 1942, a Cincinnati resident described as a "German enemy alien" was the first person arrested by the FBI in Southwestern Ohio under the National Defense Act. The 22-year-old, posing as a U. S. citizen, had been working in a Hamilton war plant for six weeks.
In May 1942, an unidentified Hamilton woman was detained as a German enemy alien, but the FBI refused to reveal details.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2001
Accident or sabotage? Questions raised during World War II
By Jim Blount
Were train derailments and industrial fires in the area between December 1941 and August 1945 accidents or caused by enemy saboteurs? That question was raised, and investigated, several times during the World War II years. Similar doubts are certain to arise as the United States continues its war on terrorism 60 years later.
After Dec. 7, 1941, thousands of Butler Countians were trained to react to the possibility of air attacks by German, Italian or Japanese planes -- raids that never came.
Hundreds of other people were prepared to combat sabotage to utilities, industries and transportation targets during the war. They practiced policing their workplaces and learned fire-fighting and rescue techniques.
With at least 125 local factories, large and small, producing products or components for the U. S. military and allies, Hamilton was labeled a prime target for enemy plots. In addition, disruptions to the busy railroads operating through the city and Butler County could cause significant delays in the transportation of military personnel and vital war materials.
Although sabotage was suspected or hinted in several area incidents, no one was arrested, indicted or reported under suspicion during the four-year war.
Fire caused $5,000 in damage at the Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Co. at Grand Blvd. and Erie Highway Feb. 11, 1942. The FBI and U. S. Navy intelligence joined the Hamilton fire department in investigating the blaze. Sabotage was possible because the plant had several war contracts, including the manufacture of anti-aircraft guns for the navy.
The FBI also participated in probing a fire that destroyed the Sall Mountain Co. plant at Rockdale, west of Ohio 4, between Hamilton and Middletown. The factory along the Great Miami River produced asbestos products for U. S. armed forces.
Three soldiers and two railroad workers were hospitalized in a collision near Camden, just north of the Butler County line, Dec. 10, 1942. Several others were injured when a southbound, 20-coach troop train and a northbound freight collided on the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Sabotage was considered the possible cause of a March 15, 1944, derailment on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in Hamilton. No one was injured when a steam locomotive left the tracks at S. Fourth and Ludlow streets, blocking the mainline for several hours. The freight train was hauling war materials
Another railroad incident was definitely an accident, not sabotage. The circumstances Nov. 25, 1943, could have posed a serious danger for residents, and a challenge for Hamilton police and Civil Defense personnel.
At the crossing at N. Fifth and Heaton streets, a driver ignored warning signals and guided his delivery truck into the path of a northbound train on the Pennsylvania Railroad. The truck driver died in the crash that had the potential for turning a few hundred German soldiers loose in the streets of Hamilton.
Had the train derailed, some or all of the occupants of the 14 coaches could have escaped in the confusion. The passengers were German prisoners of war headed to a camp somewhere west of Ohio.
Fortunately, guards maintained order on the train after the crash and the POWs remained in the coaches.
Two other fatal incidents in the county were ruled accidents, including the death of a 29-year-old test pilot for the Aeronca Aircraft Corp., Middletown, in a plane crash at West Middletown June 11, 1943.
One sailor died and 25 were injured in a traffic mishap in Oxford Dec. 22, 1942. A Hamilton man drove his car into a marching column at Main Street and Tallawanda Avenue. The victims were students in the U. S. Navy radio school on the Miami University campus.
Local precautions against sabotage continued until the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, ending World War II.