Hammett: Edwin “Midget” Ware
If you ever had the slightest curiosity about The Midget Bandit, here are the facts, culled by Warren Harris from the news articles of the day, prison records, and other archives. The images at top and bottom of the post — my favorites of the mug shots — come from the San Quentin booking circa June 24 1922. The clip from the Fresno Morning Republican in the text is dated November 21 1921 — at this point, the earliest mug shot of the criminal who inspired Hammett to create Wilmer Cook.
And without further ado, here is Warren Harris, latest — and instantly one of the greatest — Guest Bloggers on this site. Take it, Warren:
For decades Dashiell Hammett scholars have searched in vain for the “The Midget Bandit,” the colorful youth said to be the basis for boy gun-man Wilmer Cook in The Maltese Falcon.
Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Edwin Ware.
In his introduction to the 1934 Modern Library edition of the novel, Hammett wrote that most of the characters were based on people he met while working as an operative for Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency — most of those people are untraceable at this late date as there are simply too few details to identify them.
The original for Wilmer Cook, however, should have been easy to find as Hammett said that the exploits of The Midget Bandit were covered by local newspapers. Stockton, California papers. But Hammett’s only statement on Wilmer’s inspiration gets several key details wrong, leading researchers to look in the wrong place.
The tale of Edwin Ware, the 17-year-old holdup man known to local newspapers as The Midget Bandit matches almost exactly to Hammett’s story, save that he was arrested in Fresno rather than in Stockton, California. Both burgs are in California’s Central Valley, only about 127 miles distance from each other.
In 1995, columnist Michael Fitzgerald of the Stockton Record spent weeks trying to track down the history of the Midget Bandit.
I called Pinkerton. I also called area historians, retired cops, old filling-station owners … every day for weeks, I tried another angle. Finally I recruited a couple of volunteers who slogged through years and years of old newspapers. Joe Schmid found the Miner Bandit, the Gentleman Bandit, the Hermit Bandit, the Boy Bandit, the Argonaut Bandit and the Minstrel Bandit … but no Midget Bandit.
Fitzgerald had to give up his quest without finding the trail of The Midget Bandit. Other Hammett scholars have tried and failed to find the bandit in Stockton back issues.
The Fresno newspapers in 1921 tell the story of a bandit that matched Hammett’s details almost exactly, with headlines following a hold up at the city’s Central Garage on August 19, 1921 — followed by the robbery of a Standard Oil Company service station on September 1.
In the latter robbery — the most important to the legend — Ware followed L. J. Perry home from his job at a Standard Oil station and held him up for day’s receipts, although he gave the man back his own money.
Perry called the man who held him up a “little fellow” in newspaper interviews and said he’d like to meet him again.
The saga begins on August 19, 1921 — and the legend of Fresno’s Midget Bandit is born.
Masked by a black bandana Edwin Ware slipped into the Central garage in Fresno at 3 am. that day, holding up garage man Roy Reid and private patrolman C. A. Murphy, who were talking. Murphy started to go for his gun.
“Stick ’em up,” Ware said. “I’ve a good mind to shoot you. I don’t like cops anyway.”
Ware took the patrolman’s pistol, grabbed a straw hat and handed it to the men, then pointed to the cash register.
“Who knows how to play the piano?” the two-gun man said. “Hurry up, get busy and wind it up.”
With this holdup, a reporter for the Fresno Herald dubs the robber “The Midget Bandit” based on his size. While not a midget, Ware is slight of build and just 5′ 5″ tall.
A few days after this incident, police and the press in Fresno connected him to a brutal holdup at the end of August at the Subway Saloon where the proprietor was slugged over the head, but Ware later claimed he was innocent, and he was never prosecuted for the crime.
On September 1, 1921, Ware followed L. J. Perry home from his job at a Standard Oil station. Ware had seen the man take the day’s proceeds from the station and held him up at his front door.
In contrast to the brash bravado he displayed in the Central Garage holdup, he was described as polite this time. He kept his voice so low that the victim’s mother inside the house thought her son was talking to a friend.
Perry told a newspaper that he felt bad that he was held up by a man half as big as he. Ware read the comments and dashed off a reply while waiting for his train to Los Angeles the day after the robbery.
“You may tell that big stiff that I may be small but without a gun I can lick any man twice my size,” Ware said. The newspaper was happy to print a facsimile of the robber’s note.
While in Los Angeles, he robbed a Standard Oil Station and handed the man a note to give police — identifying himself as the Midget Bandit from Fresno.
Later press reports claim he’s a suspect in a series of mail robberies that struck the area in the fall of 1921, including one for more than a half million dollars, but he was never charged over those crimes. He’s reportedly responsible for some 50 gas station hold ups, again without much proof.
Ware was also a suspect in the unsolved murder of a gas station manager in Turlock, California. But then, the police claimed a number of people were suspects in that case and the timing makes it doubtful that he would have been involved.
A second crime he was responsible for in Los Angeles was the holdup he committed at the Bimini Baths where he supposedly stole $2,000 and engaged in a struggle where he fired three shots. Ware was arrested and sentenced to probation and released without taking credit for the crimes of The Midget Bandit.
While in the Los Angeles jail, he met fellow 17-year-old John Noble, a Canadian who had done time in his native country.
The pair teamed up and committed several crimes. First they robbed a pawnshop on Main Street, obtaining a number of guns. Perhaps feeling that Los Angeles was getting too hot for him, Ware decided to steal a car and return to Fresno and hold up Perry again. Noble went with him.
They stopped at the tiny town of Tipton where they burglarized a hardware store and stole silk shirts, pocket knives and a rifle before continuing on to Fresno.
Nobel was arrested first on November 20, 1921 when the proprietor of the rooming house where he was staying became suspicious of him. Inspector Tom O’Brien, who had investigated the original Central Garage holdup, confronted Noble, who shoved a gun into the officer’s stomach.
O’Brien knocked the gun aside and told Noble that he had him covered with a pistol he had in his coat pocket. Once at police headquarters, Noble confessed that he’s the confederate of The Midget Bandit and that the man they have been looking for was back in Fresno. He told the officers that they shouldn’t try to take The Midget Bandit because he was well armed with several revolvers and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Leading a squad of police officers, Captain B. A. Wickstrom started a hunt of hotels and rooming houses in the city, finding that Ware was in a room at the Hotel Adanis.
Ware had intended to hold up Perry again that night, but had fallen asleep instead.
At 2:30 Sunday morning, an officer knocked on Ware’s door and called out that Ware had a phone call. The ruse worked and Ware was taken into custody without trouble.
Ware then made statements to police and reporters that ends up being much of the evidence against him at his trial, as well as being the origin for the newspaper stories about his life.
The brief crime spree of the infamous Midget Bandit, whose exploits were carried by newspapers as far away as New York City, was over.
In November of 1921, then, while Hammett was still working for the Pinkerton’s Agency, members of the Fresno City police force arrested 17-year-old Edwin Ware — who confessed to being the man the newspapers dubbed “The Midget Bandit” — along with his confederate, John Noble.
As Hammett says, Ware did claim — and really was — just 17-years-old. His father, Harvey Ware, really was a lieutenant with the New York City police department.
In a jail-house interview with the Fresno Morning Republican, following his November 20,1921 arrest, Ware confirmed the last part of Hammett’s story:
“At this time I met Noble and we wanted to get away from Los Angeles and come back to Fresno where we … could holdup the Standard Oil station and Perry, who wanted to meet me again, so we took a car.”
Unfortunately, Hammett did not have anything to do with Ware’s arrest, although some Hammett biographers have interpreted Hammett’s statement about a “fair pick-up” otherwise. Hammett certainly could have talked to Ware — but he also could have gotten all of the details he relates just from reading newspaper coverage.
With police across California trying to pin every unsolved crime in the state onto Ware, it’s possible that the Pinkerton’s Agency, faced with investigating a smash-and-grab jewelry store heist in San Jose, would think it worthwhile to send the then-ailing Hammett to Stockton to interview the jailed Ware to see if they could glue that crime on him as well. But it turns out that Ware wasn’t involved in the San Jose case and all Hammett got for his time was the inspiration for Wilmer.
Hammett carefully words his language so that The Midget Bandit was a fair pick-up — he doesn’t say he personally arrested him. He says he went to Stockton (really Fresno, Hammett either got the name of the city wrong when reminiscing fifteen years later — or changed it enough to not credit Edwin Ware directly for inspiration) looking for the criminal who smashed a window at a San Jose jewelry store robbery. He admits that The Midget Bandit wasn’t responsible.
Some have read that statement to say that Hammett claimed to have arrested The Midget Bandit while looking for the other criminal. But what Hammett is really saying is that he traveled to Fresno after Edwin Ware was arrested and interviewed him in jail.
It was a logical task for a Pinkerton’s agent. Police across the state were trying to tie Ware to every unsolved crime they could. A smash-and-grab at a jewelry store is exactly the sort of crime Ware committed. He’d burglarized a hardware store and robbed a pawn shop in L.A. and he was known to have spent at least some time in the San Francisco Bay Area before moving on to Fresno.
Hammett apparently made the trip, met the cocky youth and returned to San Francisco without the lead he’d hoped for — but with the inspiration for Wilmer Cook, the boy gunsel.
Now that we know the story of the real Midget Bandit, we can say for certain that Hammett, while he might have met the youth, did not have any part in his arrest by Fresno city police officers.
Ware was arrested in late 1921 and by early 1922 Hammett was out as a Pinkerton, unable to continue because of ill-health. The trip to interview Ware would be one of Hammett’s last — and now confirmed — cases.
This entry was posted in Dash, Frisco, News and tagged Edwin Ware, Fresno California, Michael Fitzgerald, Modern Library Falcon, Pinkerton’s, Stockton California, The Midget Bandit, Warren Harris, Wilmer Cook. Bookmark the permalink.
Hammett: Before Edwin Ware Became The Midget Bandit
Today Warren Harris returns to give you more of the fascinating backstory of one of the many, many criminals Hammett encountered during his years as a Pinkerton’s op.
The mug shots this time come from Edwin Ware’s incarceration in Folsom.
And here’s Warren to tell the tale:
Dashiell Hammett may have doubted the story The Midget Bandit told, but at least some of Edwin Ware’s more outrageous claims have evidence to back them up.
Up until August of 1921, Edwin Alonzo Ware’s life was adventurous — but not criminal. At least not in the United States.
And at least not as far as getting caught.
Ware said that, not yet 18, he had served in the Canadian navy, been sent to a reform school, escaped, served time in prison in Canada, worked for a motion picture company, held up a bandit in Mexico, had been shot and robbed in Texas and committed crimes across the state of California — all because he didn’t want to follow his father’s footsteps as a police officer.
Hammett thought that Edwin A. Ware was really 21 and claimed to be 17 to try to draw a reformatory sentence instead of hard time in prison. But census records and California prison records show that he was born May 15, 1905 in New York City and was truly 17 at the time of his arrest.
He was the son of a New York City police lieutenant. His father was Lieutenant Harvey Ware, a man described in court filings as “thrifty, frugal, stern, insistent upon a moral home life.”
The senior Ware was a firm supporter of law and order and good public morals, according to an appeal over his contested last will heard by the New York Supreme Court which contains some interesting information about The Midget Bandit’s family life.
Harvey Ware served for 30 years with the New York City Police. He was a stern man who divorced his wife over “moral” issues and aside from drinking an occasional beer in the last few months of his life, was a tee-totaler.
Following the divorce, he raised his three children — Harvey Jr., Gertrude and Edwin — as a single father for the most part, although he did marry a second time while Edwin was still a child. But Gertrude and Edwin were such a grave disappointment that late in life he told people he only had one child and tried to disinherit his youngest two children.
Gertrude Ware was estranged from him because she became pregnant out of wedlock at 17. As an illustration of the attitudes of the time, comments in court documents say that the child “fortunately” did not survive.
After the “good son” Harvey Jr. forced the father of the child to marry his sister, probably literally at gunpoint, the daughter did not live with her legal husband and instead took up with another man. Harvey Sr. cut off all contact with her once he discovered that she was living with a man out of wedlock.
As for the younger son, Edwin Ware, his “criminal career” was “a source of disappointment and grief to him.”
A witness, neighbor Fannie Hirshman, testified under oath in the probate case, that Harvey Ware Sr. told her “and my son, you know, he is a crook … and he stole my revolver and he stole Harvey’s clothes and he stole money from Harvey and he ran away.”
He told Hirshman that Edwin Ware was going to die in prison.
The Supreme Court of New York overturned the lower court case that found Harvey Ware’s will was made under undue influence and that he was of unsound mind when he left almost all of his estate to his older son. The two “bad” children received only a token amount each and that only because it was a legal device to try to forestall a challenge to the will.
The appeal unfortunately doesn’t go into detail on Edwin Ware’s criminal career because he did not contest the will.
Ware graduated from the fourth grade and at the age of 12 ran away from home, ending up in the Children’s Village at Chauncey, New York. Running away from the village, he crossed the border to Canada and traveled to Nova Scotia where he claimed he joined the British navy as a steward second class.
Ware did not show up in a search of British or naval ratings of the period, either under his name or his alias of “Ed Stone.”
However, an Edward Alonze Ware does appear in Canadian records of the time. The date of birth listed is two years before The Midget Bandit’s, but it’s likely that Ware lied about his age in order to enlist. The discrepancy with his middle name is probably a transcription error.
Ware said he served 18 months in the navy, being given an honorable discharge. He said he was aboard a ship that was nearby when the Halifax Explosion occurred on December 6, 1917 and that he aided in rescue efforts.
The incident, the largest man-made explosion prior to the detonation of nuclear bombs, happened when a munitions-laden ship heading for Europe collided with a freighter and caught fire. Thousands of people were killed or injured and Canadian naval ships in the area did aid in the rescue operations.
Once out of the Canadian navy, he tried to make his way from Nova Scotia back to New York, but got caught stealing at Kentfield and was sentenced to the Halifax Industrial School for Boys. Reports do verify his story that he escaped from the reform school after making several attempts, was recaptured “after a hard struggle” and was sent to the notorious Dorchester Prison as an incorrigible youth for 18 months.
In 1920 he was pardoned by Canadian authorities through the efforts of his father, and deported from Canada back to the United States.
Once back, he rejoined his family and he got a job with the Famous Players-Laskey film company. His father objected as he wanted Edwin to follow in his footsteps as a police officer.
While the probate case does not mention Edwin becoming a police officer, there is evidence in the transcript that Harvey Ware wanted his older son to follow in his footsteps and was disappointed that Harvey Ware Jr. was too small to join the force, calling him a “shrimp”.
So if Harvey Ware Jr. was too short, why would their father think that his younger son the “midget” would be tall enough? Prison records list Edwin Ware’s height at between 5 feet, 5 inches and 5 feet, 7 and a quarter inches. Perhaps not tall, but despite his nom de plume, Edwin was not a midget.
In addition, he was only 16-years-old at this point. Perhaps his father was hoping for a late growth spurt. Edwin Ware does seem to gain at least a half inch in the two years after he was first measured at San Quentin Prison and a further three quarters of an inch by the time he’s 28.
The dispute with his father led the now 16-year-old Ware to run away from home once again.
He headed south this time, according to newspaper reports, to El Paso, Texas and then across the border to Juarez. There’s no way to confirm this, but according to news reports, he was held up by a Mexican bandit, but turned the tables on him, robbing the bandit instead. Ware told reporters that this was his first robbery.
Back across the border, his luck flipped as he was held up and shot in the leg. So far, none of these incidents are backed up by any evidence other than Ware’s statements to police and reporters on his arrest.
After his Texas adventure, he came west to California and briefly ended up in San Francisco, where he failed to obtain employment.
He then made his first stop in Fresno, where he stayed with a local family and tried to find work. Failing that, he borrowed a rusty revolver and committed the holdup that would start the brief career of “The Midget Bandit.”
Ware’s luck in Fresno improved as he found work at a local packing plant, but after a few weeks he was laid off and returned to a life of crime.
Ware was convicted of two Fresno robberies in 1922 and sent to San Quentin. It looks like he was sentenced to life, but later records show he’s serving a 12-year sentence. The 1930 census shows him now in Folsom Prison. Sometime between then and February of 1933 he was released from prison and obtained work as a salesman.
Sadly, Ware was one of the ninety percent of California prison inmates of the period where the State discarded all but very basic records on them.
For the story of his final violent end, however, we must turn to the records of a prison system in another state.
Hammett: Crime Wave of The Midget Bandit!
Over this week Guest Blogger Warren Harris has sketched in the life and criminal career of The Midget Bandit — today he returns to the California crime spree and some of the lurid headlines it generated.
And here’s Warren:
As The Midget Bandit, Edwin Ware wanted to be classed with such notorious badmen as Roy Gardner. For a brief while, thanks to his publicity seeking — and the complicity of newspaper reporters — he almost made it despite the rather pedestrian nature of his crime spree.
The newspapers in 1921 are filled with the sort of crimes committed by Ware, often more notable.
One gang of three men in Los Angeles operating at the same time as Ware robbed eight gas stations in one night, then returned to rob five more times the next, including holding up the same man two days in a row.
Another crew of three committed a half million dollar mail robbery, a crime that Ware was accused of, but probably didn’t commit.
Ware had a habit of robbing Standard Oil stations, but probably was innocent of the most notorious one of his era, the holdup and murder of C. W. Upton at Turlock.
Ware’s actual crimes were minor stick ups.
There are two Fresno newspapers competing in 1921. The Fresno Morning Republican is the more staid of the two. The Fresno Herald is the one that dubs Ware The Midget Bandit from the start, playing him up as a “Two-Gun Man.”
On August 19, 1921, The Midget Bandit makes the headlines for the first time:
YEGG DISARMS OFFICER
THEN ROBS TILL
Nervy Gun-man Holds off 2
Garage Men and Armed
The article that follows is truly an epic of crime writing, complete with plenty of action, snappy gangster patter and plenty of pizzazz.
The Morning Republican responds the next day with:
Three Held Up By
Bandit in Garage
The coverage merely calls him a “lone bandit” and plays it straight — and dull.
The Herald responds that day with:
Tiny Yegg Who Robbed Garage
Still at Liberty
Later on August 31, the Herald ups the ante with:
is Blamed for
The Morning Republican still refuses to play, not mentioning anything about a midget and only reporting that he “fit the description as the gunman who some time ago robbed the Central garage.”
Proprietor Is Knocked
But the Fresno Herald is now playing hardball and gets the chance when Ware next strikes.
IN POLITE MOOD
Income of Temperamental Gun-
man Mounting; “Honor” is
Displayed by Yegg
This is the article that has the fateful statement by victim L. J. Perry, the one that leads to the legend of Ware returning to even the score:
“I hated to put my hands up at the command of such a little fellow, half as big a I am,” Perry said, “but what could I do with a pistol pointed at my stomach.”
Ware, incensed by the statement, borrows some stationary while waiting for a train and writes a hand-written note to the newspaper.
The Herald knows a good thing when it sees it and reprints a facsimile of the letter as well as giving good play the very day it arrives in the newspaper’s office.
“Midget, the daring bandit who recently held up the Central Garage on J-st., obtaining a large sum of money and who a few nights ago held up an employee of the Standard Oil Company filling station on Backstone and Belmont-avs., taking the day’s receipts, has written a letter to The Herald denying that he was responsible for the robbery and assault of Paul Frohberg of the Sugway [sic] saloon recently.”
Ware’s letter reads:
Sept. 2, 1921
Read this before you throw away.
The Fresno Herald:
If you wish to print this you can.
I the midgit did not get 500$ but 100.19$ was all I got and what is more I did not hold up the Slone [saloon] but I did the Centle Grage [Central Garage] and what is more I only got 18$ and not one more cent and that is the truth whether you believe it or not and you may tell that big stiff that I may be small but without gun I can like on man twise my size and in proper life men can tell you so and in the next three weeks I may show that Grage man or Oil Stat. man so. I never take from the poor I give to them but to the rick I take wich is Justified. You may show this to the police if you wish but there is no clue to my handwriting. I can right very well when I wand.
I will take a rest for at least 3 weeks so good by.
At this stage, please recall that Ware had only a fourth grade education and furthermore was trying to disguise his handwriting.
The Morning Republican is still taking the high road at this point with nary a mention of midgets:
Man Held Up and
Robbed by Bandit
Perhaps they are jealous that they didn’t get a letter.
Next it is the turn of the Los Angeles Times to play with a wire service story originating from the Herald’s coverage:
“MIDGET BANDIT” BUSY
The Fresno Morning Republican finally comes out to play with a rewrite of a wire service story coming out of Los Angeles:
L. A. STATION
Tells Service Man He Is
This is actually a very significant story as it shows first that Ware did leave Fresno about when he later said, and that he is working the Midget Bandit legend for all it’s worth. Again, Ware robbed a Standard Oil Company station and what is more, he told his victim ““If anyone wants to know who done this, tell them it was ‘The Midget’ from Fresno”
He also left a note for the police claiming credit as “The Midget” and telling them to “Call Fresno.”
Ware is in jail for some time in Los Angeles, charged with the Bimini Baths holdup. He does not tell the arresting police that he’s the wanted Midget Bandit though, so he’s released on probation.
The Midget doesn’t make the papers again until he’s caught in late November.
While the Morning Republican has finally started calling him The Midget Bandit, their headlines are still not up the Herald’s panache. They also call him “the self-styled ‘midget’ bandit,” completely ignoring the fact that it was their competition who gave him his name.
‘MIDGET’ BANDIT AND PAL ARE CAUGHT IN FRESNO
Local Police Use Ruse In Catching Youthful Robber
CAPTURED WHILE IN HOTEL ROOM
Admits Robbing Garage And Oil Filling Station
The Herald is still in there fighting:
MIDGET’, NABBED HERE, TELLS OF FRESNO CRIMES
Robber, 17, Decoyed Into Arms
Of Police After Pal Is
Forced To Surrender
Not only do the local papers play up the story, but Ware’s crazy confession and life story make the wire services and are printed coast to coast.
The Harrisburg, Penn., Evening News:
BANDIT IS SEIZED
The New York Times:
MIDGET BANDIT CAUGHT
IN FRESNO, CONFESSES
The New York Evening World has some fun:
TURNED BANDIT RATHER
NEW YORK POLICE
Edwin Ware, 17, Arrested in Fresno, Cal., Tells a Wierd [sic] tale.
The Los Angeles Times likes the local angle:
“MIDGET BANDIT” IS
ARRESTED AT FRESNO
POLICE ASSERT LAD CONFESSED
TO MANY THEFTS
IN LOS ANGELES
[BY A. P. NIGHT WIRE]
Even the San Bernardino County Sun carries it:
MIDGET BANDIT CAUGHT
BY POLICE IN FRESNO
Sadly after this, The Midget Bandit drops off the national radar and is merely a local phenomenon.
The story of the Midget Bandit is almost over when the Fresno Morning Republican finally gets into the swing of things:
‘Midget Bandit,” Alone, Loses
Appeal For Mercy
Misfortune’s Child Punished
I’m told that the Herald didn’t publish that day, but I’m still checking newspaper files for further coverage.
And with that, the legend of The Midget Bandit fades into history. Even when Ware’s death makes national news, no one connects him to his brief fame the prior decade.