Auto Theft Gang’s Existence Denied
By Rhonda Chalfant Contributing Columnist
The invention of the automobile created major changes for central Missouri, some good and some bad. As automobiles became more common, residents began campaigns for good roads, especially roads linking farms to market towns. Cars made visiting nearby towns for shopping, doctor visits, and entertainment easier. Trucks allowed farmers to move products to railroad shipping points easier and cheaper. New businesses—filling stations, tire stores, parts shops, dealership and used car dealers—opened to meet the needs of car owners.
The negative impact of the automobile included the closing of businesses related to horses—livery stables, wagon and buggy makers, and saddle and harness makers. Many parents thought the car led to a loss of control of their teenagers, who could go to town to for movies and dances, and whose courtship sites moved from the porch swings to lovers’ lanes.
Another negative of automobiles involved a new form of crime—auto theft. Certainly horses had been subject to theft, and organizations such as the Anti-Horse Theft Society dedicated themselves to eliminating the problem. However, a specific horse was difficult to disguise, while a car could be painted and its vehicle identification number changed or removed.
In 1919, Kansas City recorded 1650 automobile thefts. Officers there, alarmed by the prevalence of thefts, began an investigation. Sedalia Police Chief J. B. Marksbury became involved when Kansas City police asked him to come to Kansas City to see if he could recognize any suspected thieves as having been in Sedalia, where a number of stolen cars were thought to have been found.
The Kansas City Journal reported the results of the investigation, based on information provided by an unnamed informant, in January 1920. The report contained some interesting information about Sedalia that Sedalia Police Chief J. B. Marksbury vigorously denied.
According to the Journal, a “gang” of thieves stole cars, then concealed them in Kansas City warehouses before taking them to machine shops where their identification numbers were changed. Other gang members repainted the cars and drove them to Sedalia.
In Sedalia, claimed the Kansas City press, “other members of the gang” pretending to be used car dealers, sold the cars to area farmers. This information about the thefts was based on a story told by a Kansas City man who had supposedly seen and identified his stolen and repainted car when he visited Sedalia, and told Kansas City authorities.
The man did not notify Sedalia police, so his accusation was not followed up by an investigation and identification of the car he claimed was his. Marksbury denied that any of the used car dealers in Sedalia were involved in selling stolen cars.
Prior to Marskbury’s visit to Kansas City, officers there arrested one man in connection to the thefts; he paid his bond, but jumped bail. Police conducted a raid on an apartment house at Eight and Holmes Streets and arrested three men and a woman supposed to be a part of the gang. Police held them two days but released them for lack of evidence.
One of the arrested men told police he knew where a man connected with the Kansas City part of the gang could be found. Chief Marskbury met with Midwest Secret Service officer J. G. Hagen; the two went to the home of the man identified as one of the gang members. No one was home, and neighbors told the officers that the man had transferred the deed to his home and ownership of his furniture to a neighbor, and fled with his wife and children.
When Marksbury returned to Sedalia, Democrat reporters interviewed him. He claimed no gang selling stolen cars existed in Sedalia, and that should any one attempt to market a stolen car, that person would be prosecuted. The unnamed informant “evidently erred” in claiming Sedalia to be “a clearing house for autos stolen by gang.” The comments in the Journal were, Marksbury claimed, “an exaggeration.”
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