Monday, September 25, 2017

On This Date in Minnesota History: September 25

September 25, 1906 – McEwan, Heath and Kelly, the “terrible trio,” who held up and robbed Martin V. Shaw last summer and since their imprisonment and conviction have caused the Hennepin County jail authorities so much trouble and anxiety, are now where they will trouble local officials no more. They are inmates of the state penitentiary in Stillwater and if they serve their respective sentences, nothing will be seen of them for the next 15 years.

William McEwan, the most desperate of the trio and the man who has been kept in irons to prevent his injuring the jail officials and himself, was the first to be sentenced by Judge Andrew Holt today, and he was given the stiffest sentence. The prisoner had nothing to say except the simple statement that he was innocent of the crime charged. The judge sentenced him to hard labor for 15 years and eight months.

Two days prior, a dangerous dagger, made from a case knife, was found concealed in the middle of McEwan’s mattress when it was torn to pieces before it was burned at the order of Sheriff Dreger. This, together with jail officials’ knowledge of McEwan’s desperate plans, indicated that McEwan intended to stab County Attorney Al J. Smith and Jailer Nels Clausen and then take his own life on the day of sentence in the courtroom. He has openly stated since his arrest that he would not be taken to Stillwater alive, and that he would take a few others to the next world with him. He was especially engaged at Smith because of the prosecutor’s plea to the jury in which he referred to McEwan as a “would-be-murderer.”

Hennepin County Attorney Al J. Smith1

 Angus J. Heath and John Kelly were likewise sullenly silent during their sentencing, and grudgingly answered the questions put to them by the court. Heath was given 14 years and eight months, and Kelly had to take a 15-year sentence. Judge Holt said that he gave the prisoners sentences of varying lengths so that they will not be released at the same time and thus be able to form a new combination of crime.

The three men are known to have been implicated in a number of holdups and highway robberies, and the gang is considered one of the worst that has operated in the Minneapolis vicinity in recent years. Their arrest in St. Paul was considered a great catch, and their prosecution and conviction by County Attorney Smith, who took personal charge of the cases, has brought him the congratulations of the officials of the city and county and of others interested in law and order. The men have been desperate for some time.

Sheriff Dreger lost no time, after sentence had been pronounced, in preparation for the trip to Stillwater. The three prisoners, manacled and guarded by the sheriff, Jailor Clausen and Detective Fox, left Minneapolis on the Northern Pacific train at 2 p.m.

On July 14, 1913, the state board of pardons commuted William McEwan’s sentence from 15 years, 8 months to 10 years.

The Minneapolis Journal; “Three Robbers Get Long Terms. McEwan, Heath and Kelly Sentenced to Prison. Men Who Beat and Robbed Aged martin Shaw, and Who Made Desperate Attempts to Escape or Harm Jail Officials, Are in Cells in Stillwater Penitentiary.”; September 25, 1906; p. 6.

The Minneapolis Journal; “Prisoner Would Murder Attorney. Wm. McEwan, Awaiting Sentence, Prepares to Kill Lawyer and Jailer.”; September 24, 1906; p. 1.

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune; “Four Pardons Granted; 10 Sentences Reduced. Pardon Board Shows Leniency But Prescribes Reformatory Conditions.”; July 15, 1913; p. 8.

1The Minneapolis Journal; June 11, 1902; p. 2.

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