In January, at a fund raising event for the Route 66 Association of Kingman when I first made a presentation entitled An Armchair Tour of Route 66, the thought was that this might be a fun way to add some zest and a laugh or two to book signings. I even thought that it might be a program that could be used as a fund raising venue for museums, events, or organizations.Perhaps I underestimated the appeal of stories from Route 66 peppered with characters like “Baby Face” Doody or about the Bing King Tong. Judging by the calendar of scheduled appearances (I will post this soon) I am not the only one that is intrigued by tales of former slaves building a business empire in Oklahoma, stupid criminals that sample the goods from a liquor store heist in the parking lot of the robbed building, or a famous celebrity loosing an eye in an auto accident on Route 66.
As with my books and the feature articles written, I use the presentations to add some depth and context to the Route 66 story, to shift the focus a bit from tail fins and neon. This includes a few tales of mayhem and disaster to satisfy morbid curiosity, as well as some comedic relief in the form of stories such as Pamela Anderson’s topless adventure on Route 66.
So many of these chapters in the highways colorful history are less than historic footnotes. Baby Face Doody’s bloody reign of terror is but one example.
In 1920’s Chicago where men like Al Capone reigned supreme, Doody was a minor league gangster who paid the bills with a few armed robberies, an occasional heist, and a bit of book making. That all changed in May of 1929.
During the robbery of a Chicago hotel, Doody shot and killed a postal inspector but his accomplice, an accomplished driver, ensured a clean getaway. Three weeks later Doody beat a store owner unconscious during an armed robbery on Ogden Avenue (Route 66) in Berwyn. Adding to his growing resume as a criminal was the need to steal a car for his getaway.
A few days latter the Berwyn Chief of Police, Charles Levy, spotted the stolen car at the scene of an ongoing robbery. Again, Doody and his accomplice escaped, but not before mortally wounding Levy.
On June 18, a pharmacist died in a hail of bullets during a robbery in Oak Park. Doody was identified as the gunman. Two days later a restaurant owner on the South Side was shot and killed in a robbery and again Doody was identified as the gunman.
On August 13, 1929, with an unprecedented show of force, Doody was arrested without incident in front of the apartment building where he resided on West Jackson Boulevard.
His trial was short and uneventful. His sentencing was even quicker, the death penalty.
A series of appeals, however, resulted in a commuted sentence. Without fanfare or notice, Doody died in prison on September 29, 1955.
Would you like to hear more stories such as this? Well, I will be making a presentation at Grand Canyon Caverns soon, and at the Holbrook Route 66 Festival on June 10. I will also be at the first European Route 66 Festival in July, Cuba Fest on the third weekend of October, and at the Missouri Museum of History the same weekend.