Part 3 can be found here if you missed it...
As America fought in the Philippines in the 1899-1902 Philippine-American war the American soldiers found themselves up against the indigenous Moro tribe who, among other tribes, were said to often take native herbs or drugs that made them fierce to fight. It was said they made bold charges against the Americans with little regard to the .38 caliber bullets they were being shot with by the Colt .38 M1892 that was standard issue to U.S. troops. Reports back from the Philippines urged the Army, and their suppliers, to develop a firearm that would be a real "man-stopper".
The Colt M1911 was developed by John Browning to be just the man-stopper the army was looking for. One of the heads of U.S. Army Ordnance, John T. Thompson (who would later go on to invent the Thompson sub-machine gun) put to several gun manufacturers that the army was looking for a new service revolver that would be at least .45 caliber and preferably semi-automatic. Browning designed his gun by 1904 and put it in the army’s hands for testing that would include firing on animal carcasses from the Chicago stockyards.
The gun produced a relatively low muzzle flash but still rang out at over 150 decibels. An 850 feet-per-second muzzle velocity was slower than some of the Colt’s competitors but the slower speed combined with the heavier weight of the Colt’s .45 caliber round created a knock-down effect; upon entering the body the .45 bullet was designed to produce a large, deep, and permanent wound that resulted in massive, rapid blood loss.
Competing against a field that started with eight rivals, the Colt eventually won out for its stopping power, reliability and simplicity. The gun would formally be adopted into service in 1911, hence the M1911 designation. Some minor changes were made to the gun in 1924 with those guns bearing the M1911A designation. The Colt M1911 or M1911A would go on to be the standard issue sidearm for the U.S. Armed Forces from 1911 to 1986 with around 2,700,000 guns being produced over that timeframe.
Colt .45 M1911 serial number #C2282 sat on Chicago Police Sergeant John Norton’s desk along with a letter back from the Colt company headquarters in Connecticut. The gun had been manufactured by Colt in Hartford and was part of a shipment of 350 guns to the U.S. government’s Springfield Armory on April 25, 1912. The gun was then sold to the Von Lengerke & Antoine Co. of Chicago in early 1913.
V L & A, as the company was known, billed itself at the Greatest Sporting Goods Retailer in the World. They would remain atop their market until continued bloodshed in Chicago, and V L & A’s role in it, would become front and center in the ‘20s and ‘30s as prohibition and the gang wars that followed cast V L & A in a negative light. Being at Wabash and Van Buren put them on the south side of Chicago which meant they were in Al Capone territory. A sporting goods store that sells firearms and other accessories to death was naturally frequented by those that required such tools. The start of the downfall of V L & A might be traced to February 14 in 1929 in a garage on north Clark street. Seven people were shot and killed with multiple weapons, including two Thompson sub-machine guns that would later be traced back to being sold by Von Lengerke & Antoine. Being associated, however distantly, with the St. Valentines Day Massacre, tested the axiom about any press being good press. While V L & A billed itself as Greatest Sporting Goods Retailer in the World, a company in New York was using nearly the same slogan and in 1938 with V L & A on the ropes, the east coast Greatest Sporting Goods Store in the World, Abercrombie & Fitch, swooped in and purchased V L & A.
Sergeant Norton assigned Detective Sergeants Knowles, Parr and Grady to track down the gun. Upon visiting Von Lengerke & Antoine, the detectives were told by the retailer that a Mr. Peter Hoffman had bought the gun in 1914. Not counting the county Coroner, Peter M. Hoffman, there were another dozen or so Hoffman’s to track down but finally they came across electrician Peter H. Hoffman of 1908 north Crawford. Yes, he bought the gun he told the police but he sold it a few months afterwards to a relative. He told the detectives they should go talk to his “brother-in-law Fred. Fred Wanderer.” The policemen couldn't believe their ears. The Ragged Stranger's gun once belonged to a man with the last name of Wanderer? Their next stop was to talk to Fred and find out if he had a relative named Carl Wanderer.
A Chicago literature fan and writer would be hard pressed to write about Abercrombie & Fitch without tying the story to one of their most loyal customers, and native son, Ernest Hemingway. Unfortunately the connection ends the way many great stories do; in tragedy. A ravenous hunter, fisherman, and sportsman, Hemingway was a frequent visitor to the Madison avenue flagship store which featured the entire 7th floor devoted to firearms. Such a tie to the store had led to speculation that Hemingway used a Boss shotgun he bought at A&F to take his own life in Ketchum, Idaho in 1961. The matter was left open to question because after Hemingway's suicide his family had a local metalsmith destroy the gun so it wouldn't become a macabre collectors item. A recent book Hemingway's Guns: The Sporting Arms of Ernest Hemingway challenges the theory it was a Boss gun though and instead says it was a W & C Scott shotgun and it is unknown where the gun was purchased. The authors of the book tracked down the metalsmith company, which was still in business and was being run by the grandson of the original welder who had cut up the gun. The man said that while his grandfather had cut up the gun with an acetylene torch and buried the pieces in a field in Idaho, there were a few fragments that remained. From pieces small enough that they fit in a matchbox, the authors determined the gun was indeed the W & C Scott gun. As far as the pieces buried in the field? Upon that burial spot, years later, a home was built for the original Batman, Adam West.
It was until being purchased by The Limited Inc. in 1988 that Abercrombie & Fitch phased out their sporting goods products in order to focus on apparel. The company president at the time said, "We can't get caught up in guns and fishing rods."
One person who was about to be caught in guns was Carl Wanderer. When the police tracked down Fred Wanderer they learned that he did know Carl, they were cousins. After playing dumb with the police about his gun and claiming he lost it, he finally broke down and spilled his guts and told of Carl asking to borrow the gun the day of the murder.
“He asked me, ‘Fred will you borrow me your gun?’ I wanted to know what for and he replied, ‘I have made a bet with a fellow that I can take it apart in five minutes and he can’t put it back together in one hour.’ I told him then that he could have it on that condition only.”
The police now had two dead bodies and two Colt .45 revolvers that were in the possession of Carl Wanderer.
Part 5 coming Wednesday, May 30- Ruth Johnson and Graceland Cemetery
This blog aims to fill in the gaps where there is unknown, correct fallacies where they have branched away from the truth, and most importantly, to entertain and enlighten. It has been sourced from research for my upcoming book Kisses for Julia, Bullets for Ruth: The Mystery of Carl Wanderer & the Ragged Stranger.
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