Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. John L. Brown, James L. Davis, Charles C. Williams, and Joseph L. Cary, the subjects of this week’s post, pleaded guilty to robbery in Petersburg in November 1911 and were sentenced to 12 years in the penitentiary. The four first caught my attention while processing the penitentiary records in the early 2000s, when I saw the police from my hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, wanted them for murder. Ten years later, thanks in part to Google News Archive and Ancestry.com, I am able to tell the story of how their Pennsylvania crime spree, culminating in a senseless murder over apple pies, ended in central Virginia.
On Tuesday, 14 November 1911, A. W. Harman, son of the Virginia state treasurer, arrived at the Byrd Street train station in Richmond at 8:15 pm. As Harman started walking up 8th Street, two men stepped out in front of him. “Both of them pointed revolvers at me,” Harmon later told the Richmond News Leader, “and ordered me to throw up my hands.” When Harman resisted, they struck him on the head with a blunt instrument. Two other men arrived; the four dragged Harman behind some freight cars, stole his watch and $10, and fled into the night. “I was absolutely helpless,” Harman said. “It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
The four struck again on Wednesday night when they robbed Charles C. Brown in Petersburg. Brown, a bookkeeper for the C. Leonard Hardware Company, was walking to his home in Colonial Heights around 6:30 p.m. when the four jumped him, stole $60 and his gold watch and chain, and fled into the woods.
Brown immediately contacted the police. The four robbers eluded police, caught a train, and made their escape. They were not free for long. Police in Weldon, North Carolina, alerted by the Petersburg authorities, captured the four at 3:00 a.m. after a brief struggle in the town’s railroad yard. Officers brought John L. Brown, 17, and Joseph Cary, 17, both of Denver, Colorado and James L. Davis, 18, and Charles C. Williams, age 16, both of Galveston, Texas, back to Petersburg that evening.
On Friday, 17 November, with unprecedented speed, the four highwaymen were indicted by the grand jury, arraigned, pleaded guilty in the Petersburg Hustings Court, and were sentenced to twelve years in the Virginia penitentiary. The entire proceeding took less than 30 minutes. The Richmond News Leader questioned if the four might not have given their true names. The newspaper further speculated that the actions of the four prior to their arrival in Virginia “might get them into more serious trouble than now threatens them.”
Eleven day later, front-page stories in the Richmond News Leader and Reading Eagle (Pa.) revealed the “more serious trouble:” the four boys were wanted in Reading for the 10 November 1911 murder of Gordon Kaufman. All four had given false names to the Virginia authorities. Their real names were John Lutz (John L. Brown), 19, Chester Lewzewski (James L. Davis), 18, William Schmitz (Charles Williams), 18, all three from Reading, Pennsylvania, and Joe Winsey (Joseph L. Cary), 19, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The four probably met in 1909 while serving time at the Pennsylvania Industrial Reformatory at Huntingdon, a facility for first-offender males between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five. In early November 1911, the four terrorized Berks County with a string of armed robberies that netted the gang cash and jewelry. As one of the robbers later told Berks County Detective James J. Merkel, their motivation was money.
We made up our minds to get it if it cost our lives. As soon as we were broke, we decided to hold some one up. We did not care whether they were young or old. We took chances on our victims being unarmed.
Their crime wave ended with a senseless early morning murder of a young baker.
Gordon Kaufman, a native of Reading, Pennsylvania, worked all his life as a baker in cities across eastern Pennsylvania before he opened his own bakery in November 1910 in his home at 501 Laurel Street, Reading. At 4:30 a.m. on 10 November 1911, Kaufman was in the basement with two employees, preparing the day’s baking. A few minutes later, three men entered the storeroom at the front of the house. Joe Winsey, in his confession to police, described what happened next.
[W]e four left Chester Lewzewski’s house about quarter to five and went down Laurel street. As we had no breakfast, it was decided to stop into the bakeshop of Gordon Kaufman and buy a pie. We all agreed but Schmitz, who said he was sick and did not want a pie. The other three of us went in …There was a little girl in the store, and as she did not know the different kinds of pies, said she would call someone else.
Christine Kaufman, Gordon’s wife, entered the room to assist. After receiving apple pies from her, the three began to leave without paying. Mrs. Kaufman asked, “Haven’t you forgotten something?” When Winsey said no, she called for her husband. Gordon Kaufman ran outside via the basement door to confront the men. Winsey was the last one out of the store.
Winsey’s testimony continued,
We kept on until we got to the pavement. By the time I got on the pavement Kaufman had Lutz and Chester by the shoulders and the boys seemed to be struggling. I went up to the baker and said, ‘What’s the matter here.’ Just as I said that, Chester L. broke away from him. He makes a grab – for him I suppose – but he grabs me instead by the collar at the throat. I tried to wrench away from him but could not do it, so I reached for my gun, with the intention of frightening him, thinking that if he would see it he would let me go. In making another grab for me, he struck my arm in which I had the gun and it went off. This dazed me; the other boys ran.
The bullet hit the base of Kaufman’s brain. He died in his wife’s arms a few minutes later. Winsey and his friends fled Reading. Their flight ended a week later in the Virginia Penitentiary.
How did the police connect the murder of Kaufman in Reading to the robberies in Virginia? Detective Merkel caught a break. While returning to Reading from Washington, D.C., following a lead, Merkel stopped in Baltimore on 24 November. He told a Baltimore detective about the robberies in Berks County and the Kaufman murder.
The robbers’ M.O. was similar to two robberies that occurred on 12 November in the outskirts of Baltimore. The Baltimore police investigated further and learned of the four guilty pleas in Petersburg. Merkel traveled to Richmond where he obtained written confessions from Lewzewski and Lutz. Pennsylvania officials immediately began the extradition process.
In order to extradite the four convicts, they first had to be pardoned by the governor of Virginia. Governor William Hodges Mann refused to do so. Mann did not see the point. “Should [Mann] release them to the Pennsylvania authorities, and should they be acquitted on the murder charge” the Richmond News Leader reported on 1 September 1912, “they would be free and would not pay the penalty of the crimes they committed in this State.” In February 1915, Governor Henry C. Stuart refused to pardon and extradite the four, even after Winsey confessed to killing Kaufman.
Meanwhile, Lutz, Lewzewski, Schmitz, and Winsey became model prisoners. They were “the best behaved prisoners ever in the institution,” the Reading Eagle reported in 1919, “and had so conducted themselves … to gain the goodwill and friendship of all.” The Star Clothing Manufacturing Company, who operated the penitentiary’s clothing department, employed the four. In support of their clemency petition, Star Clothing employee C. E. Hunter wrote in July 1918:
Jos. L. Cary is a first-class stenographer, and a thoroughly competent office man. He can handle mail intelligently himself and is competent to fill any position in our office.
C. C. Williams has had full charge of our shipping and receiving department; and has supervised the counting, packing, and shipping of about six million dollars ($6,000,000) worth of clothing within the past three years; and has performed his duties faithfully and efficiently.
John L. Brown has had charge of the printing in our factory for the past five (5) years; and he has handled the printing department in a very business like [sic] manner, and he is a splendid printer.
Jas. L. Davis has held a clerical position in one of our stitching rooms, and he has always been very faithful and has taken a great deal of interest in his work.
Governor Mann also commuted Davis’s sentence to ten years for aiding a guard who had been attacked by another prisoner. Cary wrote Governor Westmoreland Davis on 2 September 1918 asking the governor “to relieve us of further stay here and to permit us to go to Pennsylvania to be tried for our offenses in our home state. [W]e do so in order that if a sentence be given us we may at its expiration still have enough left of our lives to make good and prove to the world by our correct and upright dealing, that we are genuinely reformed men.” Their petition had the support of the trial judge, attorney for the Commonwealth, and Charles C. Brown, one of their robbery victims. “Don’t understand, Governor, that we mean to justify our offense for we do not,” Cary concluded. “[W]e deeply regret it and only desire to get out into the world again and atone for our mistakes.” Governor Davis granted the four a conditional pardon on 5 March 1919.
On 10 June 1919 in Berks County Criminal Court, John Lutz, Chester Lewzewski, and William Schmitz plead guilty to two charges of robbery and each was sentenced to a term of not less than five years and not more than ten years in the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Joseph Winsey plead guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 15 years in Eastern State.
John Lutz – The Pennsylvania State Board of Pardons pardoned Lutz on 2 October 1925. He returned to Reading and worked at the Modern Iron Works during World War II. He died in April 1968.
Chester Lewzewski – The Pennsylvania State Board of Pardons pardoned Lewzewski on 2 October 1925. He married Emma Schaeffer in November 1927 in Berks County and worked as a laborer. Their 10-year-old daughter Victoria died on 14 June 1944 of drowning. Lewzewski died in Reading on 28 October 1947.
William Schmitz – The Pennsylvania State Board of Pardons pardoned Schmitz on 2 October 1925. By 1930, he moved to New Jersey and worked as an auto mechanic. His death date and location is unknown.
Joseph Winsey – The Pennsylvania State Board of Pardons pardoned Winsey on 30 October 1925. He remained in Philadelphia after his release where he worked as a proofreader. On 6 September 1930, he married Ann V. Oat. Winsey died in his Philadelphia home on 8 December 1959.
Christine Kaufman – Christine remarried in 1913 to baker Carl Maier. They had one son, Carl A. Maier. Carl died in Reading on 19 August 1944. Christine died in Berks County on 7 June 1955.
-Roger Christman, Senior State Records Archivist