Bob Zwick, the ‘Fox of Gangland,’ terrorized southwest Ohio in the 1920s and ’30s

Before Robert “Bob” Zwick was captured in 1933, he was considered Ohio’s most notorious gunman.

The prohibition-era gangster was known as the “Fox of Gangland” because time and again police thought they had him cornered only to find he had slipped away.

Zwick was the most sought-after criminal in Ohio and Northern Kentucky during a five-year stretch.

A constant string of rumors linked him to many unsolved crimes across the region in one of the most infamous careers in southwest Ohio history.

Life before crime

Zwick and some of his seven brothers worked for the B&O railroad. Bob and his brother Nick were both boilermakers.

At the start of the World War I, Zwick left the railroad and enlisted in the Navy. He served on several vessels and was given an honorable discharge at the end of the war.

He returned to the railroad after the war but was laid off around 1923 when work slowed.

Soon after, Zwick started getting into trouble while bootlegging and doing other small crimes.

Pelican Club poolroom incident

On Easter eve in 1928, Zwick’s life would forever change when he participated in a holdup in the North College Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati.

Zwick and four other men entered the Pelican Club poolroom and lined everyone up and went through their pockets for valuables and money. When village Marshal Peter Dumele walked in, they told him to also raise his hands. Instead, he went for his gun, and the men fired back.

The men killed Dumele, shot another man and then left the scene.

Within months, the four men with Zwick were all caught, or killed.

• Rodney Ford was arrested in Zwick’s car. He was later electrocuted.

• John “Toddy” Messner was arrested and received a life sentence.

• Breck Lutes was also arrested and received a life sentence.

• Jack Parker was slain and found on a road near Lebanon.

The witness

Robert Andres, who was at the Pelican Club poolroom at the time of the crime, identified Ford as one of the bandits.

Before he could testify at trial, his charred body was found. He had been shot and slashed with a knife, and he had his tongue cut out before being burned. Zwick was immediately assumed to be the culprit.

After killing Andres, Zwick found refuge in the underworld of Hamilton.

Shootout in Hamilton

In Hamilton, Zwick had a rival, another bootlegger named George Murphy.

Murphy was found murdered in an alley at Sixth and Heaton streets in Hamilton along with his girlfriend, Pauline Wilson. Murphy’s body was riddled with machine gun fire, and Zwick was the main suspect.

In 1929, members of Murphy’s former gang attempted to assassinate Zwick and shot up the his car with more than 40 bullets.

Zwick was driving the car with passenger and fellow bootlegger Joe “Turkey Joe” Jacobs along Symmes Corner Road in Hamilton when they were ambushed.

Zwick is said to have stumbled from the car and escaped even though he had been shot in the head, hand and hip. A doctor in northern Kentucky later admitted to treating him.

Rose Myers

Rose Calandrilo was Zwick’s long time girlfriend. She traveled and lived with him during the full course of his crime career, helping him escape many times.

The two lived in Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Indiana and were regularly on the move.

Time in Dayton

Zwick made Dayton his headquarters for much of 1929 and 1930.

During that time, he was a suspect in four bank robberies at Germantown Bank, Somerville National Bank, Mason Bank and Phillipsburg State Bank.

No one in Dayton had been accused of as many crimes as Zwick. Dayton Police Inspector Seymore Yendes considered Zwick “more dangerous than John Dillinger.”

While living on Knecht Drive in Dayton in 1930, Zwick was aware that Dayton police were making every effort to locate him.

It wasn’t until three members of his gang were arrested in Dayton that he decided to leave town and move to Florida until things cooled down.

Captured in Toledo

Zwick was finally captured in January 1933. It took five Toledo police officers to overtake Zwick in a shootout.

He had emptied one pistol and was reaching for a second when an officer knocked him out with a blow to the head.

Myers was with him at the time of his arrest and escaped after handing him a revolver which he used to severely wound a Toledo police officer.

She later turned herself in so that she could testify on his behalf during trial.

Myers later received a sentence at Marysville Reformatory for her role in aiding Zwick during his crime spree.

Train to Cincinnati

Zwick was transported by train from Toledo to Cincinnati to face murder charges. He sat handcuffed on the train, accompanied by two officers. Many more officers were at each train stop along the way.

The train stopped briefly in Dayton. Reporters were waiting to talk to him during the five-minute stop.

Zwick was defiant in spite of facing murder charges but found it difficult to talk because of bandaged face. He had been shot through the jaw and wounded in other parts of his body. His jaws had to be wired together.

He was asked about living in Dayton.

“Sure I was in Dayton,” he said. “About a year ago. I lived on Knecht Drive. Yes, Rose was with me.

“We moved away about a year ago. Why? Oh just to be moving.”

The trial

Zwick was to face the Dumele murder but at the last minute before trial, prosecutors received a new indictment for the Andres murder and the trial turned to that.

The trial was delayed a couple of months because Zwick’s jaws, which were still wired together, were not healing and became infected.

Zwick claimed he was in the hospital when the marshal was shot and in Hamilton and when Andres was murdered. He also testified that he had never robbed a bank in his life and denied his guilt on a variety of other crimes.

The defense said Zwick went on the run because he feared he could not get a fair trial. Zwick also said he ran on the advice of his mother because she feared for his safety.

The state provided two rebuttal witnesses that placed Zwick at two Ohio bank robberies.

Witnesses also testified to seeing Zwick in Andres’ neighborhood and hearing him ask around about where he lived and worked. They said they saw Zwick outside of Andres workplace on several occasions, including the day Andres went missing.

A long sentence and a long life

Zwick was found guilty and received a life sentence but avoided the electric chair when the jury recommended mercy.

In an elevator at the courthouse, Myers kissed Zwick on the cheek and told him, “They might take you away from me, but they’ll never take you out of my heart.”

Sentencing rules changed in the following years, and Zwick was up for parole in 1953 after serving 20 years in prison. He was denied on his initial parole attempt.

Zwick ultimately served 35 years in the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus for first-degree murder.

He lived to the age of 99 and died peacefully in his sleep in a Cincinnati nursing home.

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