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Early Crime In Saginaw
Crime has always been a problem in Saginaw. Since the early days, Saginaw has been plagued
with everything from speeding motorists, and petty theft to murder, gangs, bootlegging, and kidnapping.
Despite many efforts by law enforcement through the years, it continues to be a problem today.
The first crime that Saginaw witnessed was in 1841, a fur trader named William Mcdonald hired a
group of sailors to unload some of his cargo. One of the sailors, Willard Bunnel found a stash of coins in
Mcdonald’s cellar. He led a group of the sailors to steal it one night. Eventually, Bunnel was captured but
since they had no jail at that time, he easily escaped with the help of a Mrs. Leslie. He was never found
again. Most of the other sailors just got hard labor time. (First Criminal Case)
During Saginaw’s lumber days, violence was a problem. Free fights occurred between twenty of
thirty lumberjacks and were very common. The jacks considered them as friendly fights but they often
ended in injury or death. Also in the lumber days widespread prostitution was a cause of violence.
Prostitutes were the third most arrested violators in East Saginaw, even though prostitution was legal.
Homicides did occur during the lumber days but weren’t that common. Only fifty-five people were
killed during the twenty years of the lumber era. But anyway in 1885 the East Saginaw Courier demanded
a city code prohibiting concealed weapons. Not worry though, the punishments back then were not that
harsh. In fact only three perpetrators were sent to prison for life, and fifty-six of the capitol offenses ended
up with no punishment. (Kilar 75)
“In general, the lumber towns were not a great deal more or less violent than their western
counterparts. In prostitution, fighting, and rowdyism, the saginaws fit comfortably into the mainstream of
America’s violent frontier tradition” (Kilar 75)
An important crime that happened in early Saginaw was on Dec 8th, 1925. Harvy Mandel, Leslie
Eberhardt, and Lawrence Haynes robbed the Herman H, Brix store, 609 E. Genesse. They were captured,
but soon escaped. Awhile later Eberhardt and Haynes turned up again, they killed a policeman in
Clearwater who was investigating the case. Eberhardt and Haynes were quickly sentenced to death. But
right before Eberhardt died, he assumed responsibility for the crime and spared Haynes’ life. (Trail of
The first bank robbery that hit Saginaw was of the People’s Savings Bank, 204 Genesee on July
13th, 1927. It was held up by Thelma Christler. She walked in and pointed a gun at E.E. Speckhard and
demanded five thousand dollars. Speckhard quickly dropped to the floor and set off the alarm. She was
arrested promptly. (Bobbed Bank Bandit)
When prohibition hit Saginaw, it was taken very lightly. “Big-shots at the country club became
accustomed to stopping at the “nine-teenth hole” for whiskey and soda. Common folk has “milk and
orange juice parties” and made “hombrew” on the weekends. And speakeasies replaced saloons.” (Kilar
150) It was quite easy to get liquor during prohibition in Saginaw.
Also during prohibition, Detroit’s infamous “Purple Gang” started stopping in Saginaw. They took
control of the J.G. Schemn Brewery, (Kilar 150) and pretty much ran the bootlegging in Saginaw. “The
“Purple Gang” got its name from a Hasting street merchant who called a small group of youths in
Detroit’s ghetto, “purple” meaning they were off-color, tainted, scalawags, just no goods” (Purple Gang
“During a period of strife in the Detroit area cleaning industry, the purple gang was used as
terrorists by corrupt labor leaders to keep union members in line and to harass non-union independents.
This conflict became known as the cleaners and dyers war. Bombings, thefts, beatings, and murder were
all methods employed by the purples to enforce union policy.” (Rearview Mirror) “Also in May, 1929
some gang members were arrested on charges of providing protection to Detroit narcotics dealers.”
(Rearview Mirror) “Over the years, gang members were accused of hijacking, bootlegging, extortion,
kidnapping, and murder.” (Rearview Mirror) Eventually the gang broke up do to large ego’s and people
with too much power.
Speeding was also becoming a problem in Saginaw, So in 1902 the police board called a meeting
and passed a resolution calling on police to stop speeders. “When a Saginaw motorist involved in a
reckless driving accident pleaded guilty, he was allowed to choose between a twenty-five dollar fine or
thirty days in jail.” (War on Speeders) “Fred Genske issued the first speeding ticket on Gratiot
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Saginaw, Michigan, The Saginaw News
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