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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 her husband 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 come 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 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. (Alton is across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.) Luer's announcement that his assets were behind the company prevented a run that would have ruined him and his business.

DAYS DRAGGED by and Luer was kept in a hole his abductors had dug in advance beneath a tool shed on a farm near Collinsville, Illinois. It was feared he would not survive. And so, on July 16, Luer was released, but his abductors did not make it easy. Luer showed up shortly after midnight at a roadhouse near Collinsville, Illinois.

“Please, ma’am,” he said to Mrs. Grace Miller, the proprietor, “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?”

He asked to use a phone, and he contacted his family. He was dirty, exhausted, but in remarkably good physical condition. Luer said his kidnappers wore masks and his eyes were taped immediately so he never saw any of his captors. A search for the abductors didn't take long.

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,” are 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 fitting 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.

THE GANG had followed the advice of Mrs. Lillian Chessen, an Alton resident who selected August Luer as the wealthiest local target of their scheme. She also wrote the ransom note. Apparently she was unaware of a physical condition that made Luer a bad risk. For the kidnappers, things soon got worse.

On September 30, 1933, six persons — Randol Eugene Norvell, Percy Michael Fitzgerald and Lillian Chessen — were given life sentences. Mike Musiala, 77, on those farm Luer was held, received a 20-year sentence; Christ Nicola Ghitcho, who owned a vacant building in Madison, Illinois, where Luer was kept briefly, was given a five year sentence, and Charles Chessen, husband of Lillian, also received a five-year sentence. Mrs. Musiala and Norma Vaughn, arrested in July, were not tried.

Three other persons — "Irish" O'Malley, Miss Vivian Chase, and a man whom police did not identify — were still being sought in the case.

MRS. CHESSEN may have masterminded the kidnapping, but she was not 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.

Leader of the kidnapping gang was Walter Holland, alias "Irish" O'Malley, a veteran St. Louis-area criminal who'd already spent seven years in prison for an armored car robbery. Police arrested him May 27, 1935, and he pleaded guilty, earning a life sentence in June. Five months later, the search for Vivian Chase was over.

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.

Vivian Chase was a suspect in the kidnapping of August Luer at Alton, Illinois. Police said she was an associate of Alvin Karpis, now at the top of the Department of Justice’s list of men most wanted.

She 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.

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.

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, called her "attractive." A story about women outlaws said she was "vivacious," while another said she was "diminutive." She sometimes was called Grace Chase, and had six other aliases.

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 disputes, 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 man who killed Vivian Chase, he was better known as John Langdon, and was arrested on April 21, 1936. What happened as a result of that arrest, I don't know. He was not the other man wanted in connection with the Luer kidnapping. That was Lloyd "Blackie" Doyle, who was caught in Dallas on April 11, 1936.

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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