Erwin Spicer, Bank Robber

Rowan Spicer Jr 1851-1914 > Grover Cleveland Spicer 1885-1947 > Erwin Spicer 1907-1971

Grover Cleveland “Cleve” Spicer was born in Abilene, Texas 21 days after Grover Cleveland was sworn in as the 22nd President and first Democrat since the Civil War. He married Josie Smalley in 1906; their son Erwin was born in 1907, followed by six daughters between 1909 and 1919. After his father’s death, Cleve took over the Spicer house-moving business.

Erwin made his criminal debut with burglary in Abilene in December 1926: he and two others were arrested for stealing candy, cigars, chewing gum and gasoline from two filling stations.

Abilene Daily Reporter December 28 1926

Erwin was serving a suspended sentence for this when he, Shannon Noel and L C Richards were arrested in Del Rio for stealing two autos in February 1927. They had driven one of the stolen cars for 50 miles, and then swapped its body onto the chassis of their own car. Noel went to Huntsville for 2 years, Erwin and Richards managed to avoid prison.

Abilene Morning News
Abilene Morning News March 1 1927

Beginning in late 1930, a string of robberies and burglaries across Texas were thought to be the work of one gang. On January 16 1931, the State Bank in Dundee (25 southwest of Wichita Falls) was robbed: the culprits broke in during the night and hauled away the 2000lb safe.

Remains of the Dundee State Bank in 2019

On March 11 1931, the State Bank in Jean (50 miles south of Wichita Falls) was robbed: the culprits broke in during the night, cut into the safe with an acetylene torch and stole $1600 cash.

Remains of the Jean State Bank in 2019

The Depression was hard on small-town Texas, and Dundee and Jean are two of many little towns which are now nearly ghost towns.

On March 12, Erwin was arrested at an Abilene taxi business, when the owner noticed that he was paying with scorched currency. After “taking it on the chin” from the cops, Erwin (listed at 5’3″ 128 lbs on his WW2 draft card) identified his accomplices in the Jean bank robbery and the round-up began.

Erwin and former jailbirds Hunter Russell (1900-19??) and Luther “Ike” Weatherred (1906-1965) were charged with the Jean bank robbery, and were also charged with stealing the acetylene torch from Albert Hrbacek’s welding shop in Sweetwater on March 10.

Erwin was convicted of the Jean bank robbery and sentenced to 6 years. He was next tried and sentenced to 7 years for the welding shop burglary. This struck him as unfair, and he told officers that he would stick to robbing banks in the future.

The_Marshall_News_Messenger_Fri__Apr_17__1931_
Marshall News Messenger April 17 1931

He thought his bank robbery sentence was too severe, so he appealed and got a new trial. The jury deliberated 20 minutes before convicting him again, and sentenced him to 10 years instead of 6.

The investigation continued, and in September a 4th name was added to the gang when Kelly Hunt was arrested for the Dundee bank robbery. Erwin, Hunter and Ike were also charged.

Erwin and Hunter pled guilty and testified against Hunt. They said that the gang stole a truck in Wichita Falls, drove it to Dundee in the middle of the night, broke into the bank and loaded the one-ton safe into the truck. They drove to Hunt’s place in the country and unloaded the safe into a field; while unloading it they accidentally knocked off the combination, so they couldn’t get it open. A friend came out with a torch and cut a hole into the safe. They scooped out the cash, used a sled to haul the safe to the Wichita River, and rolled it off the bank into the river, where it remains to this day, buried in some unknown sandbank.

Kelly Hunt was also arrested for bootlegging liquor. At his trial, he unwisely boasted that he had bribed two Federal prohibition agents. They called him a liar, he was convicted of perjury, and went to the Federal prison at Leavenworth for 2 years.

As the investigation grew, gang members were taken to multiple counties to stand trial for robberies and burglaries. While Erwin and John Kerns (1905-1978) were in the Stephenville jail awaiting trial for robberies in Erath county, they managed to escape after midnight on February 4 1932. Kerns got away, but Erwin got cold feet and turned himself back in to the Sheriff.

Abilene Morning News February 5 1932

Kerns was next seen in Hobbs, New Mexico, where he had joined up with three gangsters who had robbed the O’Donnell, Texas bank on April 14. The four had a shootout with the New Mexico police; Kerns and “Race Horse” Baker were shot and arrested, and the other two got away. Kerns was sent back to Texas to serve his time, staying in Huntsville until December 1939.

By the time the investigations were finished, the West Texas gang was convicted of 41 burglaries and robberies in 15 counties.

Erwin was sent to Huntsville Prison at the age of 24 in August 1931, 18 years after his uncle Sam Spicer.

Erwin Spicer Huntsville1

Erwin Spicer Huntsville
Huntsville Prison Record

Erwin was granted a furlough in October 1932. Texas Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson revoked his furlough in April 1933 and sent him back to Huntsville, after he was arrested for swindling a druggist in Trent, west of Abilene. Erwin sold him a barrel of supposed soda syrup, which turned out to be just water with a gallon of syrup in a balloon at the top of the barrel. He was granted another temporary reprieve in 1937, but was quickly back in Huntsville as a reprieve violator.

Erwin was finally released on March 26 1940 and went to live with his father Cleve in Abilene. He didn’t serve in WW2 because he was working at a war industry factory.

His mother Josie had divorced Cleve in 1929, and moved to Los Angeles between 1935-1940. Cleve married and divorced twice more, and died in Abilene on August 9 1947 of uremic poisoning from drinking tainted moonshine.

Cleve Divorce AbMorningNews 26Feb1929a
February 1929
Cleve Divorce AbReporter 8Feb1939a
February 1939
October 1943

By 1945, Erwin had also moved to Los Angeles for a clean start. He married Norine Tyler in January 1945, and they had 4 children in 5 years.

Erwin Spicer Family

They divorced in the 1950s and Norine moved to her hometown in Arizona. Erwin stayed in Los Angeles, and died there in 1971 at the age of 63.

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