From the August 17, 1911 Anamosa Eureka


Guard Hamaker Is Shot Down

One of the boldest and most clever escapes ever effected from the local penal institution was made last Friday. One named Mecum held up and shot a guard, and liberated his brother who was sent to the Reformatory under the name of "Smitch". The holdup occurred near the Anderson mill while "Smitch" was being brought in for the supposed purpose of being interviewed by an attorney. The guard, Allan Hamaker, was shot in the stomach, and has since lingered between life and death. He was then dragged into the woods, bound and gagged, and tied to a tree where his cries later attracted attention and he was liberated.

The story is one fit for the covers of a yellow-backed novel. It smirks of all the bravado of the desperado and of all the coldblooded craftiness of the accomplished crook. Mecum comes from a family of horse traders. Several of the family have done time, including J.W. Mecum and a sister Flora who were in the toils some years ago for horse stealing. It was at first supposed that the trick was turned by J.W. Mecum. Subsequent developments indicate it was carried out by a younger brother by the name of Bert. The brother who was liberated, Charles B. Smitch, alias Smith, alias Chas. Mecum, was sent up for five years on October 19th, 1910. This was the second time that he had done time.

The Mecum who was responsible for the bold delivery visited "Smitch" here about two weeks ago. The presumption is that the slick game which was executed Friday morning was planned at that time. He returned to Anamosa a week ago Monday night and registered at the Gillen hotel as Mecum. He returned again Thursday night of last week and registered as "Wilson". This time he carried a small, light-colored telescope which was later found in the buggy in which the bandits made their escape.

Mecum hired a horse and buggy at the Henriksen livery barn Thursday evening and was gone some time. On this trip he very likely looked over the ground in the locality of the holdup, and familiarized himself with the surrounding country and roads. The next morning he appeared at the livery early. He was in a hurry and chafed under the delay that was caused in hitching the horse that he wanted. He was later seen to cross the tracks in front of the prison gang which was on the way to the state quarry a mile or two west of the Reformatory. As he drove along the roadway near the tracks he attracted the attention of one of the guards, but was not recognized. His errand at this time was evidently for the purpose of giving his brother warning that an attempt was going to be made to effect an escape.

Mecum returned immediately to town and on the way up Main street stopped in front of the Dunlap livery long enough to order a team and carriage there. This was hitched and was on the barn floor when the holdup occurred. Entering the Hines grocery store Mecum called up the warden's office at the Reformatory. He represented himself as an attorney who had just reached the city on the 7:45 passenger train, and asked for the privilege of an interview with "Smitch," so that he could return to Cedar Rapids on the 10 o'clock passenger. The request was granted and an order was forwarded to the quarry to bring "Smitch" in. When an inmate has been brought in during the working hours it has been the custom to walk him down the tracks under the guidance of a guard. Guard Allan Hamaker was detailed for this work, and the two began the journey along the Northwestern spur that leads to the prison walls.

The locality of the old mill, with the wild hills and rockbound outs, is indeed a lonely and suitable spot for the perpetration of such a deed. Though a public highway runs within a short distance of the spot where the holdup occurred, it is not greatly traveled and possible interference from this source was far removed. The nearest dwelling, the Anderson home, several hundred yards away, is so situated that the deed was easily done without the inmates being apprised of the work. When the two men approached a lonely spot on the trestle a short distance west of the old mill, there was a slight ristle as Mecum raised from behind a boulder with a revolver in each hand. The first inkling that Hamaker had of danger was when he looked into the cruel darkness of two shining gun barrels, and the first word he heard was a command to throw up his hands. Hamaker is made of stern stuff. The glint of steel and the wicked eyes that looked along the sights did not turn him from his sworn duty. He reached for the revolver in his pocket. Mecum pulled a trigger and the gun in his right hand barked out a warning as the shot missed. Hamaker's six-shooter snapped a vicious reply, but the bullet simply cut the air. Again Mecum fired and Hamaker dropped in his tracks, shot in the abdomen.

As Hamaker went down, "Smitch" jumped onto him and wrenched the gun from his ahnd. It is supposed that "Smitch" was hit in the hand by the first shot that was fired. From the blinding excitement of the moment and the blank of the shock, the words struck upon Hamaker's ears:

"My God, you hit me."

"Well, you know I didn't intend to," came back the answer.

"Smitch" stripped off his convict suit and put on a suit of citizen's clothes that came from the small, light-colored telescope. Mecum in the meantime kept Hamaker covered with the gun.

"We'll drag him past the buggy and there I have a rope," he said.

The two then tied the guard's hands and dragged hime down the 30-foot embankment. The horse was tied to the bridge. Taking him past the vehicle they carried him into the nearby timber and lashed him to a tree. His arms were first passed around the tree trunk and tied, and the rope was then wound many times about his legs and body. They gagged him by placing a handkerchief in his mouth and tying another about his head to hold it in place. He was then blindfolded.

"I told you I would get even with you for taking me over to the deputy's office one day," said "Smitch" with exultation.

"I aimed to kill you, but fired too low; we ought to kill you now," declared Mecum. "If you had not resisted, I would not have shot you."

The two desperadoes immediately returned to the buggy. The hour was perhaps about 8:30 o'clock. Crossing the Buffalo on the Stone City road they struck northwesterly over what is known as the Ridge Road. The course that they followed is something of a puzzle to those who attempted to reason out the cause of their meanderings. Suffice it to say in this respect that the drive brought out a complete realization of their hopes and plans. Going as far northwest as the Hart place they again turned southward, crossing the Wapsie at Matsell bridge and approaching Viola from the west.

We will now return to Hamaker who was left tied to a tree in the woods. The sensations of the man, tied hand and foot, gagged and blindfolded, with the blood running from the bullet hole in his stomach, can better be imagined than described. That he kept his head and his nerve is well shown by the fact that he closed his teeth down on the gag when it was forced into his mouth. This enabled him to work it loose after he was certain the bandits had deserted the locality. His cries for help attracted the attention of George Parker and a companion who were in the vicinity, after about thirty minutes of time had elapsed. They cut him loose and took him to the Anderson home nearby, where word was immediately phoned to the Reformatory.

The shuffle of revolvers and rifles and the rapid step of determined men sounded about the corridors of the administration building as one party after another was made up and took to the trail. The bandits had chosen their time well. Heavy rains of the night before had left the roads rutted and slippery and well nigh impassable for autos though several took to the chase. Within a few moments telephones were jingling all over this section of the state. The grim looks and muttered words of those who followed each other into the chase indicated that the fugitives would be given scant quarter if overtaken.

Prisoners were locked in their cells and every available guard was spared to engage in the manhunt that was participated in by officers and citizens as well.

However the men may have eluded their pursuers, it is certain that they are now well out of the country. They will probably not be recaptured until they again fall into trouble. One has done time in prison and the Bertillion records of his physical makeup are complete and accurate. When he falls into a police court where such records are kept he will be apprehended. Both are criminal in disposition, and can be depended upon to again reach the courts. Reasoning along this line their apprehension is merely a matter of time.

Allan Hamaker, the young man who risked his life in an effort to carry out his duty, will very likely recover. He was taken immediately to the Sanitarium where he is receiving every known care and attention. A specialist from Cedar Rapids was called in and made an exploration soon after the shooting. He found that the bullet entered the abdomen several inches below the navel. It failed to penetrate the intestines or the stomach, but pierced the liver, passing through and lodging in the muscles in the back. No attempt was made to remove the bullet. This was left for such time as the young man may regain health and strength, when the X-ray and the knife will make this operation a minor one. An anxious people eagerly await the news from his bedside that all danger is past.