I grew up in Solvay, New York, which in my youth was a heavily industrialized village named after Ernest Solvay, a Belgium chemist whose research was put to use at our largest factory. The Solvay Process Company also may have been Onondaga County's largest employer and it certainly did wonders for the village in a variety of ways. But it also filled the air with soot and was chiefly responsible — along with sewage from nearby Syracuse — for destroying Onondaga Lake, a once beautiful body of water known in the 19th century for the resorts that lined its shore.

Outsiders referred to our village as "Solvay dump," an expression that was followed in sing-song fashion by the chant, "You can tell when you're there by the odor in the air!"

And now I've discovered that early in the 20th century, one of the most notorious area hoodlums had a Solvay connection that resulted in a popular nickname popularized by police and newspapers.

Rene Ward seemed to fascinate Central New Yorkers in the way Wild West outlaws did many years earlier. His many escapades, most involving burglaries and escapes from various jails, made him Onondaga County's answer to Jesse James. Ward also had an unusual gift of gab which sometimes minimized the punishment meted out by judges. When all else failed, Ward would salt his stories with tears, delivering several memorable courtroom performances.

Ward's father worked at the Solvay Process Company and his family lived in the village for many years, but Rene Ward's adult life was spent elsewhere, mostly in places where there were bars on his windows.

I found many newspaper articles about Ward, but the following story offered the best summary of the criminal's career, though it left out some of the most interesting details, which we'll get to later on:


Syracuse Journal, July 15, 1925
Solvay Bad Man Now Sought
For 2 Taxi Hold-Ups

[Syracuse Police] Chief [Martin] Cadin Wednesday issued a general alarm for the arrest of Rene Ward, notorious highwayman better known as the Solvay Bad Man, who is now believed to have had some connection with the hold-up of two taxicab drivers, one at Utica and the other at Amsterdam last Saturday night.

The two robberies were first believed to have been engineered by Philip Knapp, the alleged thrill murderer, in his flight, but later investigation tended to shift the blame for the hold-ups to the Syracuse gunman and jail breaker known to have been in the section at the time.

The hold-ups are typical of breaks by the “bad man” and descriptions furnished by the victims further tie the robberies to Ward, who had a long record at headquarters with many charges of burglary, robbery and larceny listed after his name. He also has figured in several jail breaks and is known as a quick-witted, clever, dangerous criminal.

Among the convictions listed against Ward are the following:

√ In 1909 he was first arrested for burglary. He was given a suspended sentence on condition he join the Navy. A few months after enlisting, he was listed as a deserter. He was caught in Syracuse and served a term on a prison ship.

√ In 1911 he was arrested for grand larceny, but escaped with a fine. The following year he served six months on an assault charge and soon after being released was convicted of burglary and given another six months.

√ A series of burglaries in 1913 caused his arrest in Solvay, but he escaped with a fine of $10 for each conviction.

√ He was arrested the following year for three burglaries and was given a suspended sentence.

√ In 1915 he stole a horse and wagon and 40 chickens from an Onondaga farmer.

√ In 1916 he stole a taxicab from the Yates Hotel and started a wild joy ride which ended in his arrest at Rochester.

Brought back, he was given six months in the penitentiary. There he engineered a clever jailbreak but was at liberty but a few hours when caught and returned.

√ In 1917 Ward was sentenced to three years and nine months in state prison for grand larceny. He was first sent to Auburn and later transferred to Great Meadows. In March of that year he escaped from the prison and was at large more than a month.

√ The next heard of the daring criminal was in 1922 when he was arrested in Saratoga Springs and again escaped from the jail.

Ward is now at liberty.


Ah, yes, the Saratoga prison escape ... What was more interesting was what the article didn't mention: events that led Ward to that prison in the first place.


Syracuse Journal, November 28, 1921
Rene Ward Escapes from Saratoga County Jail
Syracuse and Solvay police are searching the county for Rene Ward, “Solvay Bad Man,” who escaped Sunday from the Saratoga County jail, where he was serving three months for post office burglary. He had completed a month of the sentence.

Ward had just been released from prison when he broke into a post office in Clinton County. Then he went to Parsons, Pa., from where soon afterward he eloped with the wife of Eugenio Caramor, a farmer there, and came to Syracuse.

Caramor followed the eloping couple and came into police headquarters here seeking information on them. When Detective Santy discovered Caramor was armed with a revolver, which he admitted was for use on Ward, Santy locked the wronged husband up.

Caramor was sentenced to the penitentiary for carrying the revolver — a term he is still serving — and Ward was arrested and convicted of the post office burglary. The three months sentence was imposed by United States Judge Cooper October 26.


The names of the husband and the married woman who ran off with Ward changed slightly from story to story, an indication of the spelling shortcomings of the press (and immigration authorities). Later the woman would be identified as Catherine Caramour; later still, the name would appear as Cardamone. None of the three last names shows up in the 1920s census. The name that fits is Cardomoni because there was such a family in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, in 1920.

Mr. and Mrs. Cardomoni were natives of Italy. He was 20 years older than she was. They emigrated to Pennsylvania and had five children. The woman who ran off with Ward had five children. She took at least two of them with her when she "eloped" with the fugitive. One of them, daughter Mary, then about 12 years old, escaped her mother and returned home, providing her gun-toting father with the information that led him to Syracuse.

Who cared for the five children after Mr. Cardomoni was sent to prison wasn't mentioned in any story I read. Mrs. Cardomoni apparently remained in the Syracuse area by herself, at least for awhile, even after Ward landed back in prison.

BACKING UP several years, Ward's stint in the Navy, which began in 1909, may not have been his idea, but the Syracuse Journal (April 22, 1909) reported that the teenager had written a letter to his parents in which he gave a glowing account of life in the service. His older brother, Marshall, an outstanding Solvay athlete, was so taken with Rene's letter that he, too, enlisted.

Marshall Ward completed his service honorably, while brother Rene completed his behind bars. Four years later the Solvay Bad Man was up to his old tricks. Noteworthy in the following story is the sympathetic attitude of his father, whose patience would be sorely tested from then on:


Syracuse Journal, April 11, 1913
Ward Drops 20 Feet
to Escape Arrest

The examination of Rene Ward, the 20-year-old youth who was arrested by the Solvay police last night after he had leaped from the roof of the house at 307 Hall Avenue, Solvay, in an effort to escape arrest, was postponed until 8 o’clock tonight owing to Judge Ryan being out of the city.

Young Ward made a spectacular attempt to avoid the officers. He is wanted on two charges, according to the Solvay police, one for robbing John Bartello’s saloon and one for entering T. J. Ryan’s tailor shop. Both these burglaries occurred on the same night. Soon after the burglaries, it is said, Ward left the village and went to Boston, returning two days ago.

The police learned last night that he was staying at 307 Hall Avenue, and Patrolmen Sullivan, Loosemore and Eldred and Special Officer Barnello were sent to get him. Two officers entered the house by the front door, while the other two went to the rear entrance to cut off escape from that quarter.

Ward, who was changing his clothes in his room on the second floor, heard the officers coming up the stairs and, half-clad, climbed onto the roof. The officers returned to the ground and threatened Ward with their revolvers, ordering him to give himself up, but he refused to obey.

Instead he edged along the roof as though to return to his room. Just before he reached the window leading to his room, however, he suddenly crawled to the other side of the roof and leaped to the ground, a distance of about 20 feet.

Although half stunned by the shock of his drop, Ward rose and started to run. The officers succeeded in tripping him up and it required their combined efforts to manacle him. He was wrapped up in a blanket and taken to the village jail.

James Ward, his father, said this morning that the boy was not naturally bad and was inclined to place the blame for his waywardness on his associations.

“He is a mighty good boy to his mother and to me,” said Mr. Ward. “Because of his good qualities, we feel much worse over this than as if he was thoroughly bad. His mother is prostrated over his arrest. I have tried to make a good boy of him and have given him all the advantages I was able. His mother thinks the world of him and I would like to see him out of this trouble for her sake.”

Ward has been in trouble before. A year ago he escaped with another convict from the Onondaga Penitentiary, according to the police, and after being caught was forced to serve an additional three weeks’ time.


His short-lived escape from the Onondaga Penitentiary in Jamesville was made while Ward and another convict were working at the prison quarry. Whatever their reasons, Ward and his buddy chose to remove their shoes before attempting to flee, not the wisest thing to do over a rocky terrain. They tiptoed away unseen, but their absence was soon noted, and a few minutes later they were rounded up. It would not be the first time that a pair of shoes would prove the undoing of Rene Ward.

Fast forward to 1919. If Ward's goal were to spend time in every penitentiary in the state of New York he was well on his way.


Syracuse Post-Standard, March 20, 1919
Rene Ward Breaks Jail;
Bids Adieu to Dannemora

The police received word yesterday to be on the lookout for Rene W. Ward, 27, of Solvay, who has escaped from Dannemora Prison, where he was serving a sentence for the theft of an automobile.

Ward has a record of jail breaks, having escaped from the Solvay jail upon several occasions and from the Great Meadows Prison. he was captured a short time after the last break two years ago. He had served sentences at different times in the Onondaga County Penitentiary, Auburn, Dannemora and Great Meadows.

According to the dispatch, Ward and another prisoner, James Helm, escaped Thursday night from the boiler room of the prison where they were working.


It was in the autumn of 1921 that Rene Ward was a fugitive, living in Syracuse with the married Pennsylvania woman who had run off with him. They rented a house as Mr. and Mrs. Robert Williams.

In August, 1921, Ward allegedly was involved in one of his most pathetic crimes, doing what he often did, robbing taxicab drivers. This time he had a partner; one of them carried a gun. They called a cab, then told the driver to take them to an address not far from where Ward and the woman were living. They told the driver to stop near Burnet Park. Ward or his partner pointed a gun at the driver, the other went through the driver's pockets. The driver later told police the men got away with a grand total of 50 cents. More importantly, the driver identified Rene Ward as one of the robbers.

Meanwhile, Ward did what he often did — he sought the safety of his parents' home. By this time, Ward's father apparently had retired from the Solvay Process Company and purchased a farm in Euclid, a small community north of Syracuse. In October, Rene Ward and his runaway wife were arrested at the farm.

The woman's husband already was serving time on the concealed weapons charge. Rene Ward was held in Auburn, awaiting a Federal Court appearance for a crime in eastern New York. Between his arrest and his court appearance, he attempted another escape, but was soon caught.


Syracuse Post-Standard, October 29, 1921
AUBURN, October 15 — Rene Ward of Syracuse, who lost his chances for a suspended sentence by attempting to escape last night, told a long hard luck story to Judge Cooper in Federal Court today, in which he detailed his regrets for trying to get away.

“You have got the idea that you have no chance in the world,” said Judge Cooper. “I am going to send you to the Saratoga county jail for three months and take a chance on you to become a man when you get out in the world again.”

Ward, with tears in his eyes, thanked the court.


For the fidgety Ward, three months would prove too long a sentence. Four weeks after he arrived at Saratoga's prison, Ward escaped. This time he headed for Rochester where he found a former prison pal willing to help. Ward returned the favor by stealing articles valued at $159 from his pal

This time Ward returned to his parents' farm in Euclid where he was recaptured and returned to Saratoga Prison, with three weeks tacked on to his sentence, a small price to pay.

Released from Saratoga, Ward returned to Euclid. Police weren't surprised, but when they went to the farm in June to arrest the Solvay Bad Man ... well, this time he managed to escape. You'd also think he would have managed to convince his father, once and for all, that he actually was a thoroughly bad person.


Syracuse Journal, June 15, 1922
Rene Ward, 28, who earned the sobriquet of “Solvay Bad Man” in the western end of the county, escaped by minutes from a posse of Syracuse police and sheriff’s deputies at the farm of his father near Euclid late Wednesday night.

He was wanted for the theft of an automobile from his father. Deputy Sheriffs Hoffmire and Sleeth with Detectives Ryan and Sharkey made the trip to Euclid.

Ward appeared at his father’s home late last night. When he saw the county car turn down the road leading to the farm he escaped through the fields. Ward attacked his father Tuesday and beat him up so badly that the elder Ward went to a physician at Baldwinsville for treatment.


Incredibly, Ward remained in the Syracuse area, committed another stupid crime — and once more thought he could hide at his parents' farm. And, like the time he tried to escape barefoot from a prison quarry, Ward might have fared much better if he had simply kept his shoes on. As it was, his behavior made him a suspect in a far more serious crime:


Syracuse Journal, July 6, 1922
Ward Capture May Solve Tumpowsky Case
Rene Ward, 30, was arrested just before noon today, charged with being the man who looted the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Martell, 427 Tompkins Street, during the early hours of morning Wednesday.

A pair of black Oxford shoes, abandoned by the burglar when Mrs. Martell awakened and screamed, have been identified positively, police say, as belonging to Ward. Ward was wearing a newly purchased pair of shoes, of exactly the same size, when arrested.

[Syracuse] Chief of Police [Martin] Cadin is authority for the statement that police are proceeding on the hypothesis that Ward may know something about the burglar who shot and killed David A. Tumpowsky, former policeman, May 25. There is a strongly suggestive circumstantial case, declares Chief Cadin.

A squad of six policemen, led by Detectives Thomas F. Carroll and Pasquale H. Bennett, made the arrest. Ward attempted to escape when the policemen surrounded his father’s farm in Euclid, but surrendered when his captors opened fire on him with their revolvers.

Joseph Burns, 23, a farmhand whose home is in Boston, was found in company with Ward and was also taken in custody as a suspect. Police believe Burns may be in a position to furnish them information concerning Ward.

The capture was made after a skilled bit of detective work by Carroll and Bennett had identified the shoes left on Mrs. Martell’s porch as Ward’s. How this identification was made, police refuse to make public, but they assert it is positive.

Ward’s father, James Ward, owns a farm in Euclid and there, Carroll and Bennett learned, Ward was in hiding. As the farm lies in the middle of an open pasture, it is impossible for a sudden, undetected approach, so Carroll and Bennett took Detectives Edward Dillon, Thomas Hayden, Joseph Lewiski and Stephen Santy with them, with the idea of surrounding the farm house and outbuildings and anticipate an attempt by Ward to escape arrest.

The other four men were posted in strategic positions, therefore, before Carroll and Bennett approached the farmhouse. No sooner did they appear, however, when Ward was seen to run out of a barn at the rear of the farmhouse and start across a field leading away from Carroll and Bennett.

He was just vaulting a fence separating his father’s farm from another when the policemen opened fire from several directions. Realizing that he was exposed to an enfilading crossfire, Ward threw himself down in the meadow and awaited the approach of the detectives without further resistance.

The farmhouse and barns were searched in the hope that some of the jewelry stolen from Mrs. Martell might be discovered, and Burns was then found in the barn from which Ward had fled.

Only one potential clue was uncovered. In Ward’s pocket, Detective Carroll found a gold ring, of a Tiffany setting, the stone of which had been removed. Mrs. Martell reported that two such rings were stolen from her, one set with a white sapphire and the other with a green sapphire. Mrs. Martell is to be asked to come to headquarters and identify this ring, if it is hers.

In the attempt to connect Ward in the Tumpowsky murder, Chief Cadin points out that the burglary which preceded the murder and the burglary of Mrs. Martell’s home were identical in many particulars and that each was committed by a man wearing a size six oxford shoe, equipped with rubber heels.

At the home of Bernard Shnadmill, Tumpowsky’s son-in-law, the thief entered by climbing a pillar to a second story porch and gained entrance by cutting the wire screen which surrounded the porch. Breaking into Mrs. Martell’s home, the burglar used exactly similar methods.

When Tumpowsky surprised the burglars in Shnadmill’s apartment, the burglar shot Tumpowsky down, then vaulted over the railing of the front porch and fell 15 feet to the lawn below. His shoes made a deep and well-defined impression in the rain-soaked lawn, which impression comprised the only tangible clue in the case. The impression indicated a size 6, oxford shoe, with rubber heels.


Police were unable to make any connection between Ward and the Tumpowsky murder, which went unsolved. Ward's luck didn't stop there:


Syracuse Journal, March 19, 1923
Because the state would be compelled to rely almost entirely upon the testimony of the father and mother of Rene Ward, charged with burglary second degree, after three previous convictions, Assistant District Attorney Clarence Unckless recommended a short sentence when he was arraigned before Judge William L. Barnum in County Court Monday.

The court, acting upon the recommendation, sentenced Ward to a year and six months in Auburn prison.

Ward had faced a life sentence as a habitual criminal. At 29 years of age, he has had one of the most spectacular careers in the history of Onondaga County crime, having made two sensational escapes from prison, one from Great Meadows Prison in May, 1917, and from Clinton State Prison in December 1919, being quickly recaptured on both occasions.


In 1924, he was again at large, living near Solvay, and a logical suspect in a series of burglaries. His arch enemy, Syracuse Police Chief Martin Cadin, wanted Ward arrested again, and on July 9 he was picked up at a rooming house along with two other men and three women, one of whom was wanted for a parole violation.

Ward took his arrest calmly, and according to the Syracuse Journal (July 10, 1924), remarked to the detectives, "Boys, if you get anything on me, you're good."

Well, police didn't have anything. Not yet. But soon after Ward was released, he paid his parents another visit. Their groan could probably be heard for miles. And no wonder. A few days later he was arrested and charged with grand larceny in the theft of a horse from his father.

Ward's mother had let him borrow the horse, and he hitched it to a buggy borrowed from a neighbor, then drove to a local horse dealer and sold the horse and the buggy.

When the case went to trial, Ward again laid it on thick for the judge, claiming his drinking had been the cause of his lawlessness. Upon hs promse to stop drinking, County Judge William L. Barnum placed Ward on probation.

In March, 1925, his father, James H. Ward, died while visiting his daughter, Mrs. Ernest Kaufman, in Detroit.

Meanwhile, for Rene Ward it was life as usual. By the time of his father's funeral, which he didn't attend, Ward was wanted for a fur robbery in Oswego, north of Syracuse. Afterward he robbed cabbies in Utica and Amsterdam on his way to Westchester County where robbed a few more before he was caught.

Finally, in September, 1925, Rene Ward was sentenced to 25 years in Sing Sing Prison. He remained out of the news until 1948 when he was arrested again, this time as a parole violator and sent to Auburn Prison to finish his 25-year sentence.

Rene Ward, the Solvay Bad Man, died in 1969. He was 76.