Boy Bandits Shock Chief Desmond

     Few crimes or criminals shocked St. Louis Chief of Detectives William Desmond.  In his long career, Desmond saw first hand many instances of man’s inhumanity to man.  On September 9, 1903, two criminals shocked Chief Desmond for one of the few times in his 17 years as the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s Chief of Detectives.


Boy Bandits from the September 10, 1903 edition of the St. Louis Republic

     “Baby highwaymen” is what Chief Desmond called 16-year-old John Green and 15-year-old Thomas Kelly.  While Green and Kelly were juveniles by age, they committed several adult crimes during the early weeks of September 1903.  The September 10, 1903 edition of the St. Louis Republic carried details of the young men’s criminal exploits.

     The boys freely admitted their participation in two robberies.  During one of the robberies, Green shot farmer John Kawelske four times.  When Desmond told Green his victim may die, Green expressed neither emotion nor regret.  The boys and third unidentified confederate targeted horse-drawn carts heading to St. Louis’ farmers markets.


Chief Desmond’s Sweating of Suspects from the St. Louis Republic

     Green told Chief Desmond farmers were considered easy targets.  Green got a dollar from Kelly.  Green used the dollar to buy a pistol from the pawn shop located on Morgan Street between 9th and 10th Streets.  The area around the pawn shop was a notorious slum.

     Around 12:25 a.m. on the morning of September 9, 1903, Green attempted to stop farmer Charles Lehoniller at N. Broadway and E. Grand.  The boys got spooked and ran off as Lehoniller drove away.

     The boys rode the Broadway streetcar down to South St. Louis, where they hid for a while.  Around 1:45 a.m., they heard a  cart coming up Broadway.  The meeting had dreadful consequences for Bobringville farmer John Kawelske.  When Green approached Kawelske, Kawelske whipped his horses to drive away.  Green fired four shots at Kawelske and hit him at least twice.

     The boys fled again.  St. Louis Police Special Officers Dannaher and Mahon along with Patrolman O’Connor arrested the boys around noon on September 9, 1903.  They frankly confessed their crimes.

     John Green left his St. Joseph home in July 1903 due to “bad relations with his father”.  He sustained himself by shoplifting goods and burglarizing businesses.  Chief Desmond confronted him about the crimes and Green confessed.  After the confessions, Chief Desmond looked at veteran St. Louis Detective James Tracy and said, “Isn’t it dreadful!”

     A few days later, St. Louis Police arrested their confederate Carrol Higgins, a 15-year-old.  Higgins confession added to the charges the boys were facing.  The boys tried to rob two other men and assaulted a drunken man on N. Broadway.

     I cannot find any information about Kawelske’s death but the boys surely served jail or prison time for their activities, which shocked Chief of Detectives William Desmond for one of the few times in his life.

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