Wednesday, February 5, 2014 12:00 AM
Irving Carl "Charlie" Chapman, born on December 29, 1898, on his family's farm outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi, county seat of Neshoba County, was the son of twenty-nine year old William "Will" S. Chapman and thirty-one year old Lou Ella Chapman.
In his earlier twenties, Charlie Chapman moved to El Dorado, Arkansas, and became "an influential and respected member of society, operating a road contracting business and was looked upon as a leading citizen of the community."
During this time, folklore has it that Chapman was "dubbed Charlie because of his resemblance to the actor, Charlie Chaplin."
At the age of thirty, Chapman expanded his highway constructing business from southern Arkansas to Florida.
In Florida, a combination of inexperience in building roads through "swampland," and several bank failures during the early years of the Great Depression cost Chapman $26,000 in a bank reorganization and left the transplanted Mississippian "practically penniless" and "toppled into ruin an apparently profitable legitimate business career."
On April 30, 1931, Chapman, thirty-two, began a decade-long life as a criminal, attaining the name of the "depression bandit," the "story-book bandit" and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)'s designation of Public Enemy #1, before dying in a fusillade of bullets near the Sandtown community in Neshoba County, located about eight miles east-north-east of Philadelphia, at 9:30 p.m., Sunday, February 22, 1942, seventy-two years ago.
Records compiled by the Arkansas State Police and the FBI described Chapman as "five feet seven inches in height, weighing 152 pounds, with light blue eyes, gray-brown hair, complexion-medium light, stocky built, occupation contractor and bartender."
On the last day of April 1931, South Florida law enforcement authorities arrested Charlie Chapman for the first time on charges of carrying concealed weapons and hi-jacking, an event that opened a ten-year crime spree.
One day later, police arrested Chapman on a charge of assault to kidnap. After this apprehension at Miami, Florida, prosecutors transferred Chapmen to Dade County, where the charges were lowered to assault with intent to kidnap, and released him on unspecified bond. The case was removed to several jurisdictions before being declared "nolle prosequi" in 1933.
The Arkansas builder left Florida during these legal proceedings and traveled to New Jersey.
Four months later, on August 31, 1931, local law officials took Chapman into custody in Ventnor City, New Jersey, charged with highway robbery.
Arresting officers then turned Charlie Chapman over to the Sheriff's Department at Mays Landing, New Jersey, where he was brought to trial and quickly acquitted on October 3, 1931.
After his legal problems in Florida and New Jersey, Chapman returned to what he thought to be safer "old haunts" in the Southwest.
On July 2, 1932, local police department officers arrested the depression bandit in Muskogee, Oklahoma, on robbery of a bank, his first, at Minden, Louisiana.
A short time thereafter, Chapman returned to Minden, where he was tried, convicted and received a sentence of nine to fourteen years in Louisiana penitentiary at Shreveport, Louisiana.
On December 5, 1932, while awaiting transfer to the state prison at Angola, Louisiana, Chapman committed an act that caught the attention of the FBI.
The convicted bank robber escaped from the Caddo Parrish jail at Shreveport by sawing and removing the bars of his cell and using a rope of mattress covers to lower himself, along with two other prisoners, from the eighth story of the prison building.
During this escape, the prisoners stole an automobile and crossed state lines.
After a short period of inactivity, Chapman and Charles O'Keith, a bank robber who later would be incarcerated at the infamous prison, "The Rock" at Alcatraz, San Francisco Bay, California, robbed another bank at Hope, Arkansas.
A Federal Grand Jury at Shreveport on February 21, 1933, indicted Chapman for violation of the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act. Four weeks later, officers from the police department of Little Rock, Arkansas, arrested Chapman and charged him with the Hope robbery and released him to El Dorado, Arkansas, authorities on April 8.
Law officials there released Chapman eighteen days later on a $6,000 bond pending his trial. The bond was forfeited on June 7, 1933, when Chapman failed to appear. Two weeks after jumping bail, the Arkansas bandit struck again. On June 21, Chapman and associates robbed the Citizens Bank and Trust Company in Camden, Arkansas, of $25,000 in cash and bonds.
Chapman was identified as one of the robbers just a few hours after the crime, as he was well known in the area. His contracting company had earlier built the Camden-Chidester highway as well as others in the immediate area. Quachita County Sheriff Arthur Ellis spent the next fifteen months trailing Chapman before his arrest in Mississippi in the fall of 1934. (To be continued - February 12, 2014).*
*Factual information for this article was obtained from a binder in the Neshoba County Public Library that contains copies of a FBI informational report as well as a series of newspaper articles from multiple newspapers across the country written as the events occurred.
Included among others: St. Paul, Mn., Daily News & Pioneer Press; Little Rock, Ar., Democrat & Gazette; Meridian, Ms., Star; Dallas, Tx., Daily News; Milwaukee, Wi., Journal; New York, N.Y., Herald-Tribune; Washington D.C., Star & Post; Houston, Tx., Press; Clarksburg, W.V., Telegram; Seattle, Wa, Times; New Orleans, La., State Times; Pittsburg, Pa., Press & Sun Telegraph; Huntington, W.V., Advertiser; Cincinnati, Oh., Post; and Texarkana, Tx., Gazette.
Civil War Veterans
Thornell, J. Amos - Private; enlisted March 1, 1862, at Philadelphia, Mississippi, in Company D, 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment; age twenty-three; farmer; hospitalized with conjunctivitis at General Hospital #21 at Richmond, Virginia, May 9 to June 4, 1862; wounded at Gaines' Mill, June 27, 1862.
Hospitalized with a gunshot wound at General Hospital #21, June 29, 1862; furloughed for thirty days, July 5, 1862; killed at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863; death benefits of $121.83 paid to his , S.A. Thornell, June 23, 1864; described as six tall, light complexion, dark hair and blue eyes.
World War II Veterans
Chunn, Paul Edward - Private; enlisted on September 9, 1943, at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in the United States Army; age nineteen; nicknamed "Ed;" served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations at Fort McClellan, Alabama, October 1943 to February 1944; served also in the European Theatre of Operations as a rifleman with Company C, First Battalion, 15th Regimental Combat Team, Third Infantry "Rock of Marne" Division, Seventh United States Army, March 1944 to December 1944.
Participated in the campaigns in Naples-Foggia and Rome-Arno, Italy, Southern France and Northern France; stationed in Italy, June 1944; wounded in action, September 27, 1944; awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Purple Heart and the Croix de Guerre.
Discharged from the Brooke Convalescent Hospital at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonia, Texas, July 30, 1945, combat disability; described as five feet nine inches tall, weighing 152 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.
Philadelphia-Neshoba County Historical Museum
Steven H. Stubbs, Curator
303 Water Avenue South Philadelphia, Mississippi 39350 (601) 656-1284
10 a.m. - 3 p.m.;
Monday thru Friday