While people across the nation are familiar with names such as John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, many don’t know about the equally ruthless Fleagle Gang – robbers and murderers from Southwest Kansas who earned as notorious a reputation in the 1920s as their successors in crime during the 1930s.
Here at the Finney County Historical Museum, however, we’ve been working to set the record straight about Ralph and Jake Fleagle, as well as their partners in crime, George Abshier and Howard “Heavy” Royston. In fact, if you’re stopping by our 10th Annual Flea Market Festival between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. today in Lee Richardson Zoo, you can also step inside the museum and learn all about the gang in our True Crime Exhibit, which opened about 18 months ago.
Now, as a matter of fact, we have been given an incredible opportunity to enhance that exhibit by adding eight historic firearms wielded by the gang, including the 12-gauge shotgun used in their fateful murder of Dr. William Wineinger. This collection of authenticated rifles, pistols and shotguns employed in the gang’s series of robberies was recently made available to us at a cost of $6,000 – well under the actual value of these eight historic artifacts.
The Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau has already allocated $3,000 toward the cost of these early 20th Century gangster weapons – two pistols, three rifles and three shotguns. So, we’re seeking contributions toward the balance of $3,000, plus an additional amount for construction of a secure display case that will be placed in the exhibit.
The display in the museum already includes the car window glass on which Jake Fleagle left his incriminating fingerprint in the commission of the doctor’s murder during the spring of 1928 – a senseless killing that followed the gang’s ill-fated robbery of the First National Bank in Lamar, Colorado. Three of the gang members were arrested, tried and executed based on this important piece of then-innovate forensic evidence, and the owner of the print himself was later gunned down by law officers on a railroad platform in Branson, Mo.
According to various accounts, including an excellent book by N.T. Betts that you can find in the museum’s gift shop, the Fleagle Gang struck fear in hearts across the Midwest throughout the Roaring Twenties. They are believed to have committed numerous bank and train robberies, possibly even as far west as California, during their 10-year crime spree.
Your Support Welcome
If you would like to join with others in making a one-time contribution toward this historical acquisition, we would obviously be very grateful. So would the thousands of museum visitors, from all over Kansas and many other states, who would learn even more about the way the gang was brought to justice through the diligence of area law enforcement professionals. As a bonus, your contribution would be tax deductible to the full extent of the law.
We’ll be sending letters soon to friends, supporters and members of the historical society to ask for their support. However, you don’t have to wait for a letter to arrive in your mail box. Anyone who wants to share in this project can helping by sending a check. All we ask is that you make it out to Finney County Historical Society, or simply FCHS, and mark “Fleagle Firearms Donation” on the memo line.
Receipt letters will be sent to all contributors and all will be publically acknowledged, except those who prefer otherwise. Our address is PO Box 796, Garden City, Kansas, 67846 and you’ll find the museum at 403 S. Fourth in Garden City’s Finnup Park.
Flea Market Festival Today
In the meantime, don’t forget that you can also still count on a great opportunity, until 2 p.m. today, to stroll through the sun and shade of the zoo during our festival of antiques, collectibles, art and crafts. Admission is free at the entry arches.
The Flea Market Festival is supported by Hampton Inn of Garden City and the Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau. We’ve registered vendors from Abilene, Colby, Copeland, Dodge City, Garden City, Grainfield, Holcomb, Kismet, Lakin, Montezuma, Russell, Salina, Satanta, Scott City, Stockton, Sublette and Ulysses. In addition to browsing the booths, you can also cross over to the west green to take in Jungle Run V, an extensive auto show hosted by the Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo.
We’re not expecting any notorious gangsters, by the way, but you’re sure to encounter plenty of friends and neighbors, as well as visitors from all over Western Kansas.