Moran takes the stand in Dayton robbery trial

The story so far: Bugs Moran has been brought to Dayton to stand trial for robbing a tavern keeper. He is revelling in his criminal notoriety, and his defense seems to be going well. But a new accusation is about to turn the tables.

"Here's Why FBI Trailed Moran, Summers"

That story, slapped across the top of the Aug. 16, 1946, issue of The Dayton Herald, burned through the city like a comet. The FBI leaked to local reporters that its agents had begun following Bugs Moran and his cronies - Illinois killer Virgil Summers and Dayton bootlegger Al Fouts - when they suspected the trio was part of a syndicate that looted 22 small-town banks and bars.

The gang was led by a St. Louis hood who had a habit of bumping off his fellow crooks for their shares of the loot. After he was dispatched by an unknown, shotgun-toting assassin, Moran took control.

The seven-man crime wave swept through Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, swiping jukeboxes and slot machines and plundering safety deposit boxes swollen with the cash of servicemen back from the war.

But of the gang's many supposed crimes, the FBI had the goods on just one: a November 1945 heist at the Citizens' State Bank in the small Darke County town of Ansonia.

Under cover of night, the FBI said, thieves turned off the alarm system and walked in the bank's front door.

They burned open the vault with an acetylene torch and stuffed an estimated $50,000 in cash into baskets they had stolen from a nearby grocery store.

No one saw the crime. But a few hours earlier, an Ansonia lumber dealer caught a glimpse of three strangers hanging around a nearby street corner.

Two of them turned away when he said "hello," but the third looked him straight in the eye. The lumber dealer would later identify that man as Al Fouts.

News of the accusations prompted the attorneys for Moran and Fouts to call for a mistrial in the tavern keeper robbery case, but the judge refused. If the men were to be saved, they would have to do it themselves. And so on Aug. 21, the day of his 54th birthday, Bugs Moran took the stand.

He wore a double-breasted blue suit with a white shirt and blue-striped tie. He leaned forward when he spoke, his voice a slow monotone. His face was pale, his cheeks drawn.

He tried to evade his famous crime career, saying he had fallen into bad company as a youngster. He said he met Fouts and Summers when they asked him for liquor connections - not that he had anything to do with booze. He was a simple oil man, but generous enough to try to help.

He admitted to visiting Dayton around the time of the robbery, hoping to interest Fouts in an oil deal. But he spent most of his time here drinking and feeling sick, he said, and left for Kentucky two hours before the pistol-wielding men kidnapped barkeeper John Kurpe Jr. and stole $10,000.

His testimony was subdued until he talked about the FBI agents who rousted him from his bed.

"I didn't know why I was being arrested, but when they came in at 4:30 in the morning with machine guns and shotguns I knew it must be for something I knew nothing about," he said.

Moran's wife tried to buck up his story. She was blonde and slender, a former showgirl with enough residual glamour to captivate reporters, the courthouse crowd, even the jurors.

"Mrs. Moran . . . (was) wearing a well-fitting suit that showed her slim figure to advantage," wrote Ralph Vines in the Dayton Daily News. "The jury includes 11 women, nine of whom are middle-aged, plainly-dressed housewives. They scrutinized her closely."

Evelyn Moran swore her husband returned to their Kentucky home, 288 miles away from Dayton, by 1:30 p.m. the day of the robbery. That would have been impossible had Moran robbed Kurpe three hours earlier.

Fouts didn't take the stand, but he did offer nine people who said he was in the White Owl Cafe on West Third Street, drinking beer with his Airedale at his side, when Kurpe was snatched.

A beat cop, however, testified that he didn't see Fouts there that morning. Prosecutors also said Fouts had thrown an "alibi party" after the robbery, where his pals and favorite bartenders were encouraged to recall his presence at the cafe that morning.

In closing arguments, the defense attorneys attacked the FBI. Herbert Eikenbary, Fouts' stem-winding lawyer, ridiculed the agents who were following Fouts, Summers and Moran for losing track of them before the robbery.

"I feel really sorry for one fellow when he goes back to J. Edgar Hoover and gets put at the foot of the class," he said. "He was really Casey at the Bat when he struck out while following them on the morning of the alleged holdup."

But Prosecutor William Wolff gave credit to the deviousness of the robbers. The G-men had to back off if they thought their quarry was on to them, he said.

"To these people, robbery is a business," he said. "They make clever plans and plan well. They don't want to get caught. If they get caught, they're out of business. There is no other conclusion that can be reached by you except that all three are guilty as charged."

If Moran was worried as the case went to the jury of 11 women and one man, he didn't let on.

"Oh, they'll acquit me," he told reporters. "All this stuff is just a frame. They haven't anything on me."

Ninety-two minutes later, the jurors returned with their verdict. All three men were guilty. They would get no less than 10 years in the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus.

Their duty complete, the jurors filed out of the courtroom. As they walked past Evelyn Moran, she leaned forward and hissed: "I hope you have bad luck the rest of your lives!"

More misfortune was indeed on its way. But the jurors wouldn't be the ones to suffer.

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