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Buffalo Courier Express, July 11, 1933
ALTON, Illinois (AP) — August Luer, 77, wealthy retired meat packer and president of Alton Banking and Trust Company was kidnapped last night from his home by two men who forced their way into his residence.

An article by Tim O'Neil of the St. Louis Dispatch, in recounting the kidnapping, said Luer was listening to "Amos and Andy" on the radio when a man and a woman knocked on the front door.

Luer's wife, Helena, opened the door and was asked if the woman on her doorstep could use her telephone. Once inside, the woman cut the phone line, and her escort, plus another man who was hiding outside, took over. They knocked Helena Luer to the floor and dragged the banker to a getaway car.

Thus began the most uncomfortable six days August Luer had probably experienced in his long life. His wife had aches and pains from the treatment she received at the hands of the kidnappers, but her concern was for her husband, who had a heart condition. Reporters would describe him as a semi-invalid, though he would some through his ordeal surprisingly well. However, his abductors soon became concerned their victim was dying. They did not want that to happen.

Meanwhile, negotiations over the $100,000 ransom being asked by the kidnappers were going nowhere. Luer's 41-year-old son, Carl, was dealing with the kidnappers, but not well. There were missed connections and the Luers were having difficulty getting the money together.

A lot was at stake. Just four months earlier, August Luer had used his own money to save the Alton Banking and Trust Company. His announcement that his assets were behind the company prevented a run that would have ruined him and his business.

Days dragged by and it appeared that Luer, kept in a hole his abductors had dug in advance beneath a tool shed on a farm near Collinsville, Illinois, would not survive much longer. And so ...

Buffalo Courier-Express, July 17. 1933
ALTON, Illinois, July 16 (AP) — Dirty, exhausted, but in remarkably good physical condition, August Luer, 77-year-old kidnapped banker, returned to his family here today after being released on a country road.

He told a story of being confined in a foul, cramped sub-cellar by abductors who seized him in his own home last Monday night.

Carl Luer, his son, declared, “We didn’t pay a cent of ransom.” Other unverified reports said $10,000 was paid Saturday morning, hours before representatives of the family issued a plea last night for the abductors to get in touch with them again immediately, as it had been impossible to execute ransom instructions.

The aged and semi-invalid told Sheriff Peter Fitzgerald that one of his abductors had said, “We’d never have touched you, Pop, if we’d known you were to weak and sick.”

This gave rise to belief in some quarters the gang liberated their prisoner because they feared he might die from a heart affliction while in custody.

He appeared early this morning at a roadhouse conducted near Collinsville, Illinois, by Mrs. Grace Miller.

“Please, ma’am,” he said as he opened the door “I’m August Luer. The kidnappers pushed me out of a car on a dirt road two miles over the mill. Can I come in?”

An orchestra stopped playing and dancers gathered around the banker. He asked if he might use the telephone.

Granted the request, he telephoned his son, Carl, who notified Department of Justice agents in St. Louis. They hurried to the roadhouse and took the banker to Alton in their car.

After talking to his son, Mr. Luer telephoned his wife.

“Hello, is this you, Mom?” he asked. Then he assured her he was all right.

Luer told persons in the resort that the two men and a woman who seized him Monday first threatened him if he made an outcry. “Otherwise, during the time I was held captive, they treated me all right,” he said.

He said he was forced to remain on the floor of the abductors’ automobile for several hours, transferred into another machine several times, and finally taken to a sub-basement, seven feet long, four feet wide and three and one-half feet high.

There he remained while state, federal and county officers searched for him and finally agreed to withdraw, while representatives of the family conducted ransom negotiations. He was fed ham sandwiches, oranges and cantaloupe.

Late yesterday, Luer explained, his captors said “they were going to take me out in their machine,, and there was a chance I would be released.” The release followed.

Luer declared the trio by whom he was seized wore masks and that his eyes were taped immediately so that he never saw any of his captors.

A wide search was started immediately for the gang hideout.

The search didn't take long. Key to the swift solution to the kidnapping was the arrest of an ex-convict with a colorful nickname and a willingness to talk.

Elmira Star-Gazette, July 20, 1933
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Solution of the kidnapping for ransom of August Luer, 77, banker of Alton, Illinois, was claimed today with the arrest of four men and two women.

Chief of Police Joseph Gerk said the case was “cleaned up” during a raid on the farm home, near Madison, Illinois, of Michael and Anna Musiala, and following the admission of Percy Michael Fitzgerald, an ex-convict, that “I’m right for this job, you’ve got me.” Police and Department of Justice men co-operated in the reputed clean up of the case.

Other prisoners, beside Mr. and Mrs. Musiala and Fitzgerald, known as the “Dice Box Kid,” and Randol Eugene Norvell, Granite City, Illinois,, bondsman, and Norma Vaughn, 35, and Frank Douglass, both of East Saint Louis.

The Musiala farm was identified by officers as the hideout where the Alton banker was secreted for five days prior to his release Sunday morning on a country road near Collinsville, Illinois. A dug-out answering the description of the “foul, damp” prison where Luer said he was held was located on the farm, police said.

Department of Justice agents said they had determined definitely that no ransom was paid. The abductors, it was explained, apparently wearied in trying to establish contact with the banker’s family, and released their semi-invalid prisoner, fearing he might die.

Arrest of the “Dice Box Kid,” followed identification of his picture by Mrs. August Luer, 75, as one of the men who seized her husband. Fitzgerald, taken into custody Monday night, pleaded not guilty to the federal charge of using the mails to extort.

Officers last night took Norvell into custody. He is bondsman for Fitzgerald and Douglass,, a pal of the former, in a burglary case.

From Norvell’s home, police went to East Saint Louis, Illinois, where they arrest Miss Vaughn, and then motored to the Musiala farm.

They, they declared, they found Luer’s prison, a small cave beneath a tool shed. A pile of fresh clay nearby led the investigators to believe the hideout was dug for the express purpose of holding the prisoner.

A tunnel leads to a section about three and a half feet high, three feet wide and seven feet long. Luer described his prison as being approximately that size.

 

Syracuse Journal, July 21, 1933
ST. LOUIS — Announcement that Percy Michael Fitzgerald, known as the “Dice Box Kid,” had admitted his part in the kidnapping of August Luer followed the arrest yesterday of five persons alleged to have been implicated.

The gang had followed the advice of Mrs. Lillian Chessen, who selected August Luer as the target of their scheme. Apparently she was unaware of a physical condition that made Luer a bad risk. For the kidnappers, things soon got worse.

Albany Times-Union, September 30, 1933
EDWARDSVILLE, Illinois (AP) — Prison terms ranging from life to five years were assessed here today by a jury trying five men and a woman for the kidnapping of August Luer, Alton, Illinois, banker.

Eugene Norvell, 33; Percy Michael Fitzgerald, 40, and Mrs. Lillian Chessen, 50, were given life sentences.

Other sentences: Mike Musiala, 45, twenty years; Christ Nicolo Gitcho, 56, five years; Charles Chessen, 57, five years.

The state had demanded the death penalty for the kidnapping of the 77-year-old banker and meat packer, who was dragged from his home the night of July 10 and held for five days before he was released after an unsuccessful effort to collect $100,000 ransom.

Deliberations of the jury, which began Thursday at 4:55 p.m. after the trial had run 14 days, ended formally at 10:10 a.m. today when a buzzer sounded in the court room to announced the verdict had been reached.

The prisoners then were ordered brought to the court room. Word that the verdict had been reached spread rapidly and the court room soon was crowded. The prisoners, handcuffed together, were marched before the judge.

Mrs. Chessen was named in statements made by other defendants as the “finger woman” who pointed out Luer to the other participants in the plot as a likely kidnap prospect.

Apparently the jury was hesitant to impose the death penalty because one of those convicted was a woman. Mrs. Chessen was not, however, the woman on the Luer doorstep who asked to use the telephone. That woman, still at large, was Vivian Chase, perhaps the most interesting character involved in this case. She continued to elude police.

Niagara Falls Gazette, June 27, 1935
EDWARDSVILLE, Illinois (AP) — With the seventh chapter of the August Luer kidnapping case written, the state today marked the eight and final chapter, “cherchez la femme.”

The woman to be found — Vivian “Grace” Chase — is the only fugitive of eight persons indicted for the abduction of Luer, wealthy Alton, Illinois, banker, in July 1933. Search for her centered in Kansas City, where she was believed to have participated in two recent holdups.

The seventh prosecution for the kidnapping ended with dramatic suddenness yesterday when Walker “Irish” O’Malley interrupted his trial to plead guilty. He was sentenced to life imprisonment by Circuit Judge Dick H. Mudge.

In a trial in September, 1933, six other defendants were convicted. Three Randol Eugene Norvell, Percy Fitzgerald and Mrs. Lillian Chessen — received life terms. The others were given lesser sentences.

Less that five months later, the search for Vivian Chase was over, but only because the fugitive female was unable to keep running.

New York Sun, November 4, 1935
KANSAS CITY (AP) — Red-haired Vivian Chase, sharp-featured female Public Enemy Number 1, is dead — apparently a victim of a gunman for whom she carried bullets in her purse.

Police renewed their search for John Langan, fugitive bank robber, after the body of the thirty-four-year-old consort of gangsters was found crammed in a motor car near St. Luke’s Hospital in the Country Club Plaza district as church chimes tolled on the Sabbath.

The bullet that entered the woman’s body from the rear was .45 caliber — like twenty others in her handbag, and the same as that which Langan fired into a Kansas deputy in a September 12 gunfight in which Langan’s wife was killed.

Three nights later, a gang led by a man tentatively identified by the victim as Langan terrorized two Platte County farmers. A red-haired woman accompanied him and forced the farmers at machine gun point to obtain liquor for them.

Blood on the running board of the “ride” car, a stolen sedan,, led a woman passerby to discover the body, jammed between the seats. Beneath the victim lay her .38 caliber Spanish-type pistol, a $5 bill and a capacious handbag,, in which she carried her weapon, twenty-five bullets for it wrapped in a blue and white handkerchief, and twenty .45 caliber bullets.

Physician said she had been dead two hours.

Vivian Chase was a suspect in the kidnapping of August Luer at Alton, Illinois, and the “seventh accounted for.” Five men and a woman are serving prison sentences ranging from five years to life. Only one suspect Lloyd “Blacky” Doyle remains at large.

Police said she was an associate of Alvin Karpis, now at the top of the Department of Justice’s list of men most wanted.

Fresh weeds caught in the radiator led police to believe the woman and her accomplice had parked on a country roadside to divide loot and in a quarrel she was slain before she could jerk her pistol from her purse.

Police said the stolen Missouri license plates on the car, taken from Lamont, Iowa, recently had been reported by several victims of highway robberies.

Vivian Chase also was wanted for robbery of the National Bank & Trust Company of North Kansas City, June 7, 1932. She sawed her way out of the county jail in Liberty, Missouri, before trial.

Luer was kidnapped a short time later and released upon his promise to pay $16,000 after being held for six days in a cave beneath a farm house.

Mrs. Chase’s husband, George M. Chase, was killed in a bank robbery in 1923. Many of her subsequent associates met death in gangland’s “one-way ride.”

Known as a woman of iron nerve and cold cruelty who never “squealed,” Vivian Chase was linked with many notorious mobs include the Irish O’Malley gang and Egan’s Rats of St. Louis.

The above story refers to Vivian Chase as the "seventh accounted for," when actually she was the eighth, counting "Irish" O'Malley. The story also includes Lloyd "Blacky" Doyle as a member of the Luer kidnap gang, but his role, if any, was never explained by police. It doesn't appear he was ever caught.

It interests me how reporters described people at the time, particularly women. The above story refers to Vivian Chase as "sharp-featured," and at least one version of the same story, as edited for another newspaper, also called her "attractive." Another story about women outlaws, said she was "vivacious," while another said she was "diminutive."

In any event, she was a career criminal who remained alive until she was about 35 years old. As the story indicates, she likely was killed after an argument about how to split the loot from the latest robbery. There was little honor among thieves, and many of the murders committed by bank robbers resulted either from such a dispute, or simply because the leader of the gang did not want to share, particularly when the job did not live up to expectations.

As for the Luers, Helena, wife of the kidnap victim, died in 1939. She was 81.

August Luer, who seemed on the verge of death while he was crammed into the dugout for six days, managed to survive until September 22, 1942. He died in an Alton, Illinois, hospital after a short illness. He was 86 years old.

 
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