Armchair Detective of Historical Mystery

Marvin Almon is age 95 and still living. He was born and raised in Earlington, Ky. He is my father, and he has an oldtime story to tell about the "old days." It seems that in Earlington, somewhere back in the early 1930's, Marvin Almon, a young man then, became a Hopkins County Peace Officer, having been so appointed by the late County Judge, J. D. Shane, of Madisonville. Judge Shane, my dad said, was not only a judge, but also a preacher, well regarded around the county. At any rate, Marvin was so appointed by Judge Shane, and assigned to serve in the community of Earlington. He didn't wear a uniform, but he did wear a badge, pinned to the front of his coat or vest.

It was during this period of time that an incident occurred there that may have thrown him into contact, unknowingly, with one of the most infamous and notorious gangsters of the day, In fact, the F.B.I.'s Public Enemy No. l. But the true answer to the mystery may never be known.

I should say that in those days of the early 1930's, the sleepy little town of Earlington, although times were hard, was still a lot more lively than it is today. The downtown area fairly bustled. The coal mine's "company store" on Main Street was filled with customers. The drug store was doing a good business. People were going and coming into the bank on the corner. The Ben Franklin Store (or Whittford's as most residents called it) buzzed with activity. Several residents stood in front of the Earl Theater, reading the signs advertising the movie to be shown that night. Across the street from the bank, action was taking place at the railroad depot. Standing on the platform were men and women, boys and girls, all dressed up, with stacks of luggage piled before them. They were all waiting for the afternoon train. Looking down that long ribbon of shiny steel track, a huge black cloud of smoke could be seen, rolling and billowing and belching like a gigantic coal fired monster as the L.& N. top train, the Dixie Flyer, pulled into the station and stopped. Even then the commotion did not cease. With a tremendous hissing sound, the great locomotive, let off an excess of steam. It created great white clouds of smoke that swirled around the feet of the waiting passengers, causing each and every one of them to step back, and to do so in a hurry, less they be engulfed in the billowing clouds. From across the street every eye watched as that big locomotive took on water from the large water tower that was a landmark that stood tall and proud for all those many years and is now gone, and gone forever.

Marvin Almon always said the passengers on that southbound train were always a study in of themselves. Almost without fail, sitting on the soft plush seats, there would be a couple of newly weds, she in a pretty dress with many ribbons, and he in a new suit and starched white shirt with a tie too tight. The conductor always said he could spot the new bride and groom every time.

Families, children and babies were all on the train just about every trip, and a scene such as this was repeated often. A small child, sleeping peacefully in its mother's arms, awakes from its slumber and cries fretfully for something to eat. The mother, in her desire to please, rummages hurriedly in a basket containing hard boiled eggs, peach cobbler, leaking profusely, and other delicious little items. At last she pulls from the basket that which she feels will satisfy the whimpering child, a fried chicken drumstick, which she lovingly passes to the infant. Satisfied by the drumstick, the child ceases from fretting and fussing, and begins to suck contentedly on the chicken leg, and between bites, hammers with the drumstick even more contentedly on the back of the seat and the window sill, leaving large greasy spots there on the glass. Marvin said the passengers were always something special to watch.

The conductor, like the captain of a great ship, always passed down the isle looking grand, commanding supreme respect in his blue uniform with its gold buttons, and folks knew he was a man not to be trifled with. In fact, it was said that many a young buck, getting on the train at Madisonville looking for trouble, often got off the train at Earlington, looking for the doctor.

Such was the kind of day it was on that occasion many years ago as young Marvin Almon, with his badge pinned to his vest, stood on the corner across from the depot and watched the passing scene.

Marvin was enjoying the hustle and bustle that unfolded before him. In those days you could see just about everyone in town from that street corner.

He saw Whit Coyle, whose father owned the barbershop, near the drug store. Passing by, also, was his good friend and hunting companion George Smith. He was looking for a fellow with a rabbit dog to sell. Others standing or passing by that busy corner on that day included Dexter McClaren and Willie Patterson, as well as Herbert Carroll. There was also Arthur Beard and Lafe Carpenter, who ran the local cleaning and pressing shop. These were all Earlington residents in their younger days, their glory days, from a time that is long past.

Looking down the street, Marvin noted a friend of his hurrying his way. It was Albert Stokes. It should be noted that Albert was the grandson of Gabe Stokes, an oldtime marshal of Mortons Gap. But that's another story.

Marvin noticed that Albert Stokes was walking faster than usual as he hurried along and joined the group with whom Marvin was talking. Speaking rapidly, Albert had an unusual story to tell. He said there was a woman at the edge of town trying to hitchhike a ride on the highway headed south on U.S. 41.

"But I don't think it is a woman," Albert Stokes said. "I think it's a man dressed up like a woman."

Marvin moved his badge further under his coat, where it couldn't be seen, got into his old Ford roadster and drove down to where the so-called woman was hitch-hiking. He stopped the car, told the woman he could take her down the road a bit, and she climbed into the car.

Marvin put the car into gear and they started down the road.

"Are you traveling very far?" He asked, wanting to hear the sound of her voice. He wondered if it was the voice of a man or a woman? He couldn't be sure. He kept the conversation going with topics on the weather and everything else, trying to make up his mind.

However, at last he decided it really was a woman, and not actually a man in disguise. He stopped the car about a mile out of town, saying this was as far as he was going. She thanked him and got out of the car.

A couple of days later, Marvin read an interesting item that was spread across the front-page of the newspaper: "Notorious Gangster Arrested. Dressed As Woman."

Marvin believes that he read this headline in the Nashville newspaper. This occurred more than 70 years ago, and the events are hazy, clouded by time. The headline article told of the arrest of one of the most famous gangsters of the day, said to have been traveling dressed as a woman. It was none other than Pretty Boy Floyd, notorious gangster, famous for his smooth skin and handsome young face. He had a reputation for being a dangerous man, and he had lived up to that reputation, earning him the infamous title of the F.B.I as "Public Enemy No. 1."

Marvin Almon scratched his head, reading that newspaper about the capture of Pretty Boy Floyd in a near-by city. He has wondered all of his life, even unto this day, who that woman was that he had given a ride to. Was she a real woman, or was she (or he) this famous gangster, Pretty Boy Floyd, the whole country was looking for? The world will never know, and it will remain forever a forgotten Earlington Mystery from the Old Days.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Marvin Almon, born 1908, is now age 95, and still living at home. He and his wife, Lillian McElroy Almon, (1910-2002) also of Hopkins County, were married for 75 years. Lillian was the daughter of Clarence McElroy and Estella Etheridge McElroy. Marvin was born and raised in Earlington. He is the youngest son of James Walter Almon and his wife Betty Ann Elizabeth Smith. James and Betty built their home (in the 1880's) at the top of the hill on Robinson Street in Earlington, and they lived there all of their lives. Marvin's sister was Lily Almon, the oldest child. His brothers were: Jesse Almon, oldest of the boys, who worked for the West Kentucky Coal Company and lived on Earlington's Sebree Street. He also served in France during World War I. His brother, Elgie Almon, lost the lower part of a leg in a coal mining accident, and later operated Almon's Grocery Store for many years, on Railroad Street in Earlington. Ciff Almon was a traveling auditor for the old L & N Railroad Co. Eddie Almon, another brother, also worked for the L & N as an electrician. Marvin and his wife, Lillian, moved to Louisville about the time of World War II, and he became a patrolman for the Louisville Police Department, and was so engaged for a number of years. Later he was a police reporter for the daily newspaper, The New Albany Tribune, in Indiana. Later he started a bowhunting magazine which he edited for many years. During his long life he has had many interesting experiences. He is one of the oldest living members of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. He obtained a real feeling of personal achievement from American Bowhunters when he was elected to the "Bowhunters Hall of Fame." His love of Earlington and Hopkins County is still alive, and he still can tell stories and antidotes about the old days that almost seem to come to life in the telling, even though they live only through memory!

Submitted by: Catherine Almon