Hidden in Plain Sight

On the back of my great-uncle Dale’s World War II draft card was a complete hidden gem that I had completely overlooked. I had assumed it was just a plain old WW2 draft card where the goodies are all on the front – their address, employer, person who knows your address, etc., so I never really paid much attention to the back of Dale’s card. Last night, I think my eye balls about popped out of my head when I read the reverse of Dale’s card.

Let me back up a sec for new readers. My great-uncle Dale has been notoriously hard to document. I have always assumed it was because he was a merchant marine and just missed being enumerated, had no land records to his name with transient employment, and he was single with no dependents. He’s been a real humdinger to trace. But awhile back I got lucky and found him in 1930 in Montana, arrested for armed robbery. I even got the bonus mug shot from those records and an accompanying news article to describe his crime in detail. So, in searching for Dale, I thought I had pretty much ground to a halt…. and then …

I flipped over his card and saw this …

“Known to this institution as: Daniel W. Shea.” The “institution” being the U.S. Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. What? Wait. Who is Daniel W. Shea? At first, I thought this must have been indexed incorrectly, and flipped back and forth several pages to see if it belonged to someone else. Nope. It sure seemed to belong to Dale. So I went searching in the newspapers.

From the Santa Maria Times (California), 4 Feb 1939, page 1, column 6.

Apparently, in Santa Monica during early February 1939, Dale (aka Daniel Shea), was drunk off his rocker, swaggers up to the post office clerk, did the whole “finger-as-a-gun” trick and told the clerk to “Pass over the business or I’ll fill you full of lead.” The clerk, not believing he is in any real danger, simply ducks down behind the counter and the other post office workers call the cops. Dale/Daniel flees the post office and then a few minutes later, attempts to rob a motorist who just simply drove off, unconvinced by his finger gun. WHAT?! When the cops apprehended him, he was, of course, unarmed and they booked him on “suspicion of intoxication and attempted robbery.” Robbing a post office is a federal crime so it’s no wonder that Dale was in the U.S. Penitentiary! Apparently, he didn’t learn a thing from his 1930 arrest in Montana for armed robbery.

However, I am baffled by his draft card a bit. The back says the date of registration was 18 October 1940 in Lewisburg, PA, but the stamp for the local board says Los Angeles, CA, 1 November 1940, which is where he was reportedly living/working at the time of the 1939 robbery. So did he get out and his card was sent back to LA with him? I’m just confused a bit on the logistics of where he was and when. It’s such fresh, new information though that I haven’t had time to really dig into this alias of his yet.

Eventually, armed with this new information, I’ll be returning to Dale Stewart sometime in the near future when I have more time. Right now, I’m “on the clock” for my certification and that’s my first priority. Dale will have to wait a bit longer but golly, I’m sure fascinated by him and his life.

However, it did remind me of a powerful lesson today – CHECK BOTH SIDES! You never know what information is hidden in plain sight. Remember in September when I searched the whole cemetery for my grandmother’s headstone in dismay because I couldn’t find it but was delighted to find her brother’s? My grandparents were on the BACK of his stone. I was literally standing right there and didn’t look on the back and missed them completely. Duh. AND, on my mother-in-law’s maternal grandfather’s draft card we learned, he was missing a finger from a work accident. You never know what gems are lurking on the back of draft cards, headstones, contracts, etc. so just flip it. FLIP IT.

Dale Stewart’s 1930 Arrest

Dale Stewart’s 1930 mug shot, Montana State Penitentiary.

I don’t know what makes me return to certain relatives time and again even when I think their stories are “done.”  My 2nd great uncle Dale Stewart’s story was pretty cut and dry, I thought. I’ve written about discovering his mug shot from his 1930 arrest in Montana and I fairly thought his story was finished.  So why did I go looking for him again the other night randomly?

I can’t really say for sure other than it bothers me a bit that I know his sad start in life being raised in the children’s home system after his parent’s murder/suicide and his horrible, painful death by eating ant paste in a sanitarium in 1943 in LA.  But his “middle” has always eluded me, and I had assumed that since he was a merchant marine, his story was probably out at sea and there likely wasn’t much to find for him.  He never married, had no children that we knew of … so what was left to really find?  Likely nothing, but I returned to Dale like a moth to a flame, just drawn in by the look on his face.  

I have always felt like he and his older brother, my 2nd great-grandfather Glenn, had a really rotten deal in life. (They could truly be case studies in how your parents’ cruddy choices affect you all through your life.)  So anyway, I went looking for Dale again and stumbled upon a news article about his actual arrest. 

From The Hardin Tribune-Herald (Montana) 16 May 1930, page 5.

Dale and this Bert Stevens fellow he was arrested with somehow met in San Francisco while working on ships.  Dale was a porter on the steamer “Yale” and Burt was in the kitchen on the steamer “Nome City” according to their arrest sheets.  However, both were out of work by May 1, 1930, when they came to Hardin, Montana.  Bert seems to have had multiple run-ins with the law in Montana in 1928-1929 so I wonder if he didn’t convince Dale to come along to familiar stomping grounds. 

In any event, Dale and Bert robbed a mercantile company’s offices on May 10th, just 9 days after arriving, making off with just $15 and a gun.  That’s only equivalent to $229 today so that’s a pretty sad haul considering he traded a year of his life for it in the state penitentiary.  They were caught on the 11th being that they were”suspicious characters” and the cops found through fingerprints that they had priors.  (I’ve seen Bert’s extensive record but I can’t find anything prior for Dale.)  They plead guilty in court on the 15th, arrived at the penitentiary on the 20th, and their paperwork was processed on the 21st.  

As a weird side note, Bert was re-arrested on narcotic charges the very day they were released in April 1931.  Just bonkers!  I lose track of Dale again until his death in LA in 1943.  I know that’s not much more information on Dale but it just makes me crave to know even more about his life.  Now that I know he had a prior arrest somewhere, I want to find it.  I plan on using Bert’s arrest record as a way to eliminate places Dale might have been because I just don’t know how long they were associated.  They could have been traveling together for a while! 

I just thought this bit was interesting and wanted to share.  /shrug/

Long Lost Uncle Dale

My 2nd great uncle Dale Stewart. Inmate #9645 of the Montana State Prison in 1930.

I am so happy to write that I have managed to find a great big puzzle piece in my quest to find my 2nd great uncle Dale Stewart.  For new readers, let me briefly say that Dale was orphaned in 1914 when his mother was murdered by their father before he committed suicide himself at the Columbia Hotel’s out kitchen in Caldwell, Ohio.  Dale and his older brother, my great grandfather, Glenn Archer Stewart ended up in a few home for boys before Dale became a merchant marine and Glenn went on to be a farmer, security guard and a steel worker among his many other incarnations.  Both Dale and Glenn committed suicide later in life to which I’ve written about as well.