JUSTICE should be meted out to many who, though guilty, are shrewd enough to evade it. From one of the most notorious horse-thieves in the Kansas penitentiary I learned of the manner in which stolen horses were disposed of.
This convict's name is John Watkins. He served a term of three years in the Missouri penitentiary, and is now serving out a ten years' sentence in the Kansas State's prison. He is the chief convict steward in the hospital, and an able assistant of the prison physician, by whom his services are highly appreciated. This prisoner has immediate care of all the sick. His heart is tender as that of a woman. To listen to this man, as he sat with tearful eye at the bedside of the dying prisoner, and spoke words of cheer to him, one would scarcely believe him to be the most daring and one of the shrewdest horse-thieves that ever visited our State. In conversation with trim one night as I lay on my sick bed in the hos-TWIN HELLS.
pital, he gave me an outline of his life's history that reads much like a romance.
I said to him, "John, tell me how many horses you have stolen during the time you have been engaged in that line of business?"
His reply was, that if he had stolen one more he would have been successful in having stolen an even two hundred.
"What did you do with them after you had stolen them?"
He told me his headquarters were in Kansas City; that he would go up in the neighborhood of Omaha and Lincoln and get his horses, and tie them in the woods until he had picked up a number of them, and then he would make his way to the south. Horses stolen in Nebraska he would run south to sell. Those stolen in Missouri and Kansas he would take to the north. He told me that in Omaha, St. Joseph, Atchison, Leavenworth and Kansas City there were dealers, usually keepers of livery stables, who would purchase these stolen horses. He gave me the names of a number of these men, some of whom I know personally. Little would I ever have suspected that these men were engaged in such a wicked traffic as knowingly to deal in stolen property. "When I had a number of horses," he continued, "and wished to dispose of them in St. Joseph, for instance, I would ride into the suburbs of the city and send a note to the man who usually purchased my stock. I would never be seen about his barn. After night he would make his way to where I was and purchase my horses, paying me about one-half what they would really bring in the general market. I would get about fifty dollars for an average horse. After purchasing my stolen horses he would not take them to his livery barn, but to a private stable, usually at his residence. When he would pay over the money for this stolen property he would make out a bill of sale for each one, and would step into a store or grocery, and in the presence of some business man he would say to me, 'we will sign the bill of sale for that horse I bought of you, and have this gentleman to witness the transaction. I gave you fifty dollars at the barn, and now here is fifty dollars more, which makes the hundred, the sum I was to pay for the animal.' I would take the money, sign the bill of sale, which would be witnessed by the business man in whose presence the trade was consummated. We would then go to another place ofTWIN HELLS.
business and sign a bill of sale for another horse, and have that witnessed by another business man, and would continue this until all the horses I had sold were paid for. In this manner he would shift all responsibility of crime upon me. Securing my money I would rest for a time until 'I went broke,' and then I would make another trip. The horse merchant would sometimes keep his horses until he had picked up a car load, and then he would ship them out of the country to Chicago, St. Louis or some other horse market. Sometimes the horse buyer would run stolen property out into the country and exchange it for other property in which he would have a good title and which he could take to his livery barn and feel safe with it there."
"What did you do with your money, John?" I inquired.
To this question he answered that in Kansas City he had a suite of rooms fitted up in elegant style, and kept a mistress. Upon this woman he squandered all his money, obtained honestly and dishonestly. In addition to his horse-thieving; raids he had several other sources of criminal revenue. One of these sources he described as follows: "I kept a horse and wagon, the wheels of which were covered with indiaTWIN HELLS.
rubber. The feet of the horse were also encased in the same material. I could move about the streets of the city in the late hours of the night without making any disturbance, and would pick up anything I could lay my hands on that I could convert into money. I have carried away many a stove and broken it up and sold it for old iron. I would also make my way out into the country and pillage. Often I would enter small towns and load up my noiseless wagon with stolen goods, which I would take out of the stores: All of this money I would foolishly spend on the woman I loved."
"How did you happen to get caught?"
"One day on the streets of Kansas City I accidentally met an ex-convict whom I knew while in Jefferson City penitentiary. He was penniless and somewhat shabby. He suspected me of crooked work, and wanted to go with me on a 'horse raid.' At first I refused to take him with me, as it has always been my rule to go alone when in the crooked business. He persisted and urged me to let him go along. At last I yielded to his appeals, and we started from Kansas City. I have never been back since. My 'pal' was caught on this trip and offered to turn State's evidence if he could regain his lib-TWIN HELLS.
erty. He was allowed to do this. I was tried and got a ten years' sentence. He went free."
"What became of the woman?" I asked.
"When in jail at Leavenworth and in need of money to pay my lawyer, I wrote her a letter informing her of my trouble, and begged her to send me some money. She forgot to answer that letter, and I have never seen or heard from her since that time."
"I suppose when your time is up you will hunt her up and fit up another suite of rooms,won't you?"
"Never," said he. "When I get out I am going to lead an honest life and take care of my money. It does not pay to get money bycrookedness. Such money never does any one any good."
Having imparted this information he bade me good-night and went over to another part of the ward, where he took his place besidea dying convict.