The story so far: Dayton barkeeper John Kurpe Jr. has been robbed of $10,000 by a gang of masked bandits. The FBI, which had been following Bugs Moran and his crime crew for months, busted the men on suspicion of pulling the job. Moran and his partner are returning to Dayton for trial.
A squalid thrill hung in the summer air, as cheap and delicious as candy. A star was coming to town.
"The Dayton police lineup is scheduled to take on an `up-town' air this week when George C. (Bugs) Moran, 49, and his alleged sidekick, Virgil Summers . . . are brought here to stand trial for the June 28 kidnap robbery of John Kurpe Jr.," gushed the July 8, 1946, edition of the Dayton Herald . "Both men strictly are classed as big-time operators by the police of several states."
They arrived three days later to a throng of newsmen perched outside the central police station on Ford Street. Six heavily-armed detectives had accompanied Moran and Summers on the silent ride from Kentucky, and the duo emerged from their cars with their wrists double-cuffed.
The crowd must have reminded Moran of the old days, and he glistened with raffish charm. He cheerfully scolded photographers about aiming their lenses at his double-cuffed wrists. A picture like that, he said, "helps convict you right away." When a detective asked him if he wanted to make a statement, Moran shot back: "Do you know any more funny stories?"
While Moran preened, Summers pouted. The 33-year-old was tall, dull-eyed and morose, with a shock of brown hair curling up from his head. He told local police he was married and living in Henderson, Ky., where he owned a filling station. As for his criminal background, he admitted only that he had served time for murder.
But the cops knew more. Summers had led a Chicago gang that preyed upon gambling joints, and police there wanted to question him in connection with the slaying of one of his fellow mobsters. He was also suspected of the attempted robbery of an Illinois bank.
A judge set bail at $25,000 for Moran, Summers and their pal Al Fouts, a Dayton bootlegger also arrested in the Kurpe robbery. Fouts put up the money instantly. But Moran - the guy who made millions in the Chicago liquor racket - didn't have the cash. The police had confiscated the dough he had stashed at his house.
He and Summers moldered in the cramped, sweaty cells of the county jail until the trial began.
* * *
Herbert M. Eikenbary was a Shakespearean actor before he became a lawyer, and he loved words - especially those rolling from his own tongue.
The mountainous, thoroughly bald defense attorney was given to calling prosecutors "the crown," and judges "your lordship." As the Kurpe robbery trial got underway, the full gallery of spectators in the colossal, wood-laden county courtroom gave Eikenbary a fitting audience for his flights of rhetoric.
"I represent of the three, quaintly, the one Dayton resident, Mr. Fouts," he began. ". . . Quaintly, and I want you to follow me on this, folks, it is rather odd, and I might add at this point, I think at this time we likewise have told the whole world, have told every newspaper reader in the valley, that Al Fouts likewise, with the other two, claims alibi, his alibi being he was in a cafe. We have sounded the bugle all over the country he was . . . in the White Owl Cafe."
Albert Scharrer, a tightly wound ex-prosecutor, represented Moran, and his alibi defense was simpler to decipher. Sure, he said, his client had been in Dayton the morning of the robbery, but he had left two hours before it happened.
What's more, Scharrer said, the barkeeper who had been held up had told his parents and everyone who came into his tavern that he couldn't identify the men who robbed him. Nor could he pick out Moran when he saw him at the county jail.
"I believe, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, after you have heard all of this case you will find there is a different story to tell," Scharrer said.
The prosecution began by trotting out nine FBI agents who had followed Moran, Fouts and Summers at various points. Several testified they had seen Moran and Summers case the route Kurpe would follow. They had to admit, though, that they had lost Summers' car the morning of the robbery, when an agent thought the crew was getting wise to the tail.
Another rough spot for the defense was a letter written by Fouts to Summers.
"Starting Wednesday A.M. the issue starts to roll," it read. "I want you folks to see those conditions for one week . . . By the way bring with you also a working man's outfit like you did up Fort Wayne way. It will make it better to see things . . . I will arrange for you folks lodging so be here by 9:30 A.M. Wednesday then we'll go into detail."
Then there were the guns and money agents found when raiding Fouts' house. The G-men confiscated two pistols Kurpe said were used in the holdup. They also snatched up $1,280 in worn $10 bills - exactly like what was stolen from Kurpe.
Even so, the case was going as well as the defense could hope. The FBI agents hadn't seen the robbery, the attorneys noted. The letter was meaningless. The money was legit - Fouts paid all his bills in cash. And Kurpe couldn't ID the short man who had robbed him.
But on Aug. 16, in the midst of the proceedings, The Dayton Herald splashed a new allegation across its front page, one that explained why federal agents had been so interested in a washed-up gangster and his buddies.
Bugs Moran, it seemed, had been immersed in much more than a stickup.
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