By Hank Nuwer
Fred Brown fought the law. Guess who won.
Today’s story starts in 1887. Richard (Dick) Beers, 14, was known in Greenville for juggling balls with the skill of a circus performer.
Dick was worthless as gum on a boot heel. He had a mouth as foul as his temper. He bullied smaller boys.
On September 1, 1887, Dick promised a whipping to Orin Stephens, a wisp of a lad.
Dick charged with fists flailing. Orin drew a knife and carved Dick’s face from forehead to chin.
Orin went free after an inquiry.
In 1891, Dick pulled out a gun and drew down on Dan Nyswonger. Dick was disarmed. Mayor Martin Trainor fined Dick one dollar and sentenced him to 30 days in jail.
While in jail, Dick became pals with another nogoodnik named Fred Brown. Fred’s brother Frank Brown, a horse trader, was also a scamp.
Dick Beers and Fred Brown discovered a steel plate covering an opening in a 20-inch-thick county jail wall through which deliveries once passed through.
The wily masterminds began cutting an escape hole in the plate, but Sheriff John Walker discovered their handiwork. He ordered the two to finish sawing. The sheriff hired a workman to put in a replacement patch secured by rivets. Dick and Fred watched the job.
Dick Beers returned to his bullyboy bad ways. The Democratic Advocate nicknamed Dick “the Greenville Terror.”
In no time after his release, Dick attacked an old schoolmate named Archie Rehling with a knife. The two were 19, about the same age. Rehling ran away uncut.
On May 16, 1892, between 8 and 9 a.m., Dick Beers chanced to catch Rehling on a Greenville street.
Dick fired a rock at Rehling. “I’ll get you,” shouted Dick.
Surprise! Rehling whipped out a pistol.
Dick spun to flee, but the last of five 32-caliber shots burst the back of his head.
He died on that dusty Greenville street at 20.
Rehling turned over the smoking gun to Mayor Martin Trainor. The shooter went free on bail.
Coroner N. D. Berry ruled the homicide a case of justified self-defense.
“Tough men, who seek to abridge the rights of others, and are insulting, overbearing toward all whom they do not like, are always in danger, for it is only a question of time until they finally run up against the wrong man,” the Advocate editorialized on May 19, 1892.
After release, Fred opened a second-hand junk business with brother Frank.
Dick Beer’s younger buddy also continued his petty criminal activities.
The Greenville Democrat reported “on good authority” that Fred chloroformed his aunt, a Mrs. Rudolph from rural Darke County near unincorporated Dawn, Ohio, before removing spoils.
On January 30, 1905, Fred took a bride named Goldie Hoke. That August, Goldie filed for divorce, charging extreme cruelty. While Goldie was in bed with typhoid fever, Fred bedded multiple “lewd women at Union City” (Ohio), swore Goldie.
In June of 1906, “one of the slickest crooks ever” was in the county jail. Fred was convicted of stealing the horse of Orval Shank of rural Hilgrove, Ohio. Authorities tried without success to pin the same charge on Fred’s brother Frank.
Jump ahead to October 1909. Boldfaced newspaper headlines announced the escape of “daring jail breaker” Fred Brown. He had obtained some type of instrument from an accomplice, possibly brother Frank.
Fred removed the rivets from the steel plate installed by Sheriff John Walker. On the outside of the wall, some unknown accomplice removed bricks to expose the old deliveries hole. Before leaving, Fred stole the coat of a fellow prisoner convicted of writing a bad check to finance his wedding.
Young Fred was accused of a lot of things, but no one ever said he was smart. He hightailed it to a relative’s home in Piqua. Frank Gehle, Piqua’s first police chief, snapped on the shackles without incident.
Darke County Sheriff John Haber arrived by train to pick up the prisoner. Fred thought this was all good fun and stuck out his paw for a handshake “like a long-lost brother,” said Sheriff Haber.
Haber took Fred to the prison in Columbus. “I don’t know whether they can keep me here or not,” Fred told reporters.
Oh, they kept him all right. The escape piled additional time on Fred’s sentence.
Frank Brown’s wife Anna divorced him in 1913, accusing him of being a drug user.
Frank continued the family’s junkyard business on 516 East Fifth street in Greenville. As late as 1937, he took Daily Advocate classified ads out seeking newspapers, rags, and ginger ale bottles.
“I pay the highest price,” Frank boasted.
Brother Fred might have said the same thing.
The former escapee spent a long stretch in an Ohio penitentiary.
Hank Nuwer is an author, columnist and playwright. He and wife Gosia live on the Indiana side of the Union City state line. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.