ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Black Legion: American Terrorists
FBI Investigation Files
Above left: Joseph Ignagni and Albert Valenti — Rescued from hanging by young hooded mob in Detroit
Boys, Aping Clan, Try to Hang Companion
June 6, 1936
Detroit, June 6 (I.N.S.). “Aw we wouldn’t have dropped him. We ain’t that dumb.” Three frightened boys thus protested to police today after a “Junior Black Legion” lynching party was broken up just as the boys allegedly prepared to hang Albert Valenti, 11.
The three boys, playing “hookey” from school, according to police, saw Valenti and another boy Joseph Ignagni, 9, go by in a coaster wagon.
The trio, Amando Serali, 14; Raymond Buccellati, 11, and Joseph Angelo, 10, swooped on Valenti and Ignagni and forced them into a barn, officers declared.
After keeping their victims ‘prisoners’ for four hours, the trio, Police Inspector Wendell Lockbiler said, tied Ignagni to a post and then bound and gagged Valenti, placed a rope around his neck and started leading him toward the big window of the abandoned barn.
Walter Kaltenberg, a gardener, rushed into the barn and stopped them. Valenti was hysterical.
* * * * *
U.S. Reply to Detroit Plea for Aid Is Delivered to McCrea
* * * * *
12 Men Are Sought
15 to 18 States Involved in Movement, Belief of Authorities
Detroit, May 28 — the Federal government replied today to an invitation to enter the investigation of the night-riding, terroristic society, the Black Legion.
Prosecuting Attorney Duncan C. McCrea pressed his search for 12 fugitive legionnaires, whose arrests may bolster his charge that the cult accused of responsibility for killings and floggings is operating actively in 15 to 18 states and particularly in New York City and Chicago.
The Federal government’s reply was delivered by Harold H. Reinecke, head of the local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose chief is Atty. Gen. Homer S. Cummings, whom McCrea petitioned yesterday for Federal intervention.
Reinecke refused to hint as to the nature of the reply, saying that McCrea was the person to make it public.
As he delivered the reply there came evidence from Lima, O., that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had looked into the Black legion as far back as 18 months ago.
Interviewed by G-Man
William H. Smith, an Ohio farmer who was kidnaped and beaten by legionnaires on Sept. 29, 1934, said he was interviewed by a department of Justice agent who told him: “You’ll be called upon to tell your story in court at the proper time.”
With a mass of evidence already compiled McCrea intimated that the 12 men being sought were of great importance to his investigation.
At Jackson, a grand jury resumed its investigation of legion activities there. The jury already had issued warrants for the arrest of 25 men accused of kidnaping and flogging Harley Smith who was forced to join the Legion and beaten when he failed to attend one of its meetings.
Grand Jury Probes Planned
Atty. Gen. David H. Crowley having initiated a one-man grand jury inquiry in Wayne County (Detroit and environs) returned to Lansing to plan similar proceedings throughout Michigan.
In petitioning Atty. Gen. Cummings for Federal aid yesterday, McCrea said.
“I know definitely that the Black Legion is operating in 15 to 18 states. I know that it is very active in the cities of New York and Chicago. I have reason to believe that the activities of the Legion have included the hauling of bodies across state boundary lines, which is a Federal offense.”
He told Cummings that his evidence showed that “many serious crimes have been committed in states other than Michigan.”
“Of course, I am unable to investigate these,” he said, “and for that reason I have sought the aid of the Department of Justice.
12 Other Hunted
McCrea’s investigators and six members of the Detroit Homicide Squad were searching for the 12 fugitive Legionnaires.
At Jackson, Smith, the Black Legion victim, threw a new light on the organization’s techniques. He said:
‘Two neighbors invited me to a party about a year ago. I went and pretty soon we got to a place where there were three men in robes. They called themselves Black Knights. One man held a gun against me and they gave me the oath. I was scared. I can’t remember the oath, but they did give me a bullet and one of them said, “The next one we give you will be out of a gun.”
Lashed by Group, Report
“I went to one meeting after that. When they told me there was going to be another meeting, I said I couldn’t go to it. Well, about last November some of them came around to my house and said, ‘Your superior officer wants to talk to you’. I went out to their car. They pushed me into the back seat. They drove about a mile. They told me to get out of the car. They took me into a house and tied my hands. Somebody said, ‘What’s the verdict–guilty or not guilty?’ They [said] ‘guilty’ — and somebody said, ‘six lashes’.
“They pulled my shirt off. They gave me six lashes. it felt like a blacksnake whip. It hurt. Then they put me back in the car and we drove a while. We were near my house.
“They took off the blindfold and meeting after that — in December. I’ve been a nervous wreck ever since.”
Nonchalantly, puffing on cigarette, she admits ‘flirting for over a week’ with Black Legion’s triggerman. Invited to ‘Come Up’ and see him ‘Some time’, she climbs through windows of jail his cell.
Image below: Dayton Dean
Denying any connection between the Black Legion and the Ku Klux Klan, burly Hiram W. Evans, Imperial Wizard of the Klan, is shown at Atlanta as he urged the use of G-Men to stamp out the blackhooded terrorists.
Girl’s Jail Tryst With Killer Told
By Lucile Turner
Following is an account of Lucile Turner’s three-hour tryst with Dayton dean, infamous Black Legion killer, in a jail cell in Detroit. The visit is now subject of an extensive police probe
Detroit, Feb 22 (INS) — Sure I visited Dayton Dean in his jail cell. Sure i kissed him. And we had dinner together, too. Our affair started about a week ago.
You see, I’ve been kept in the sewing room on the eighth floor at police headquarters, which is directly under Dean’s cell. There’s a piano in there and I like to play it and sing sometimes.
A week ago I was playing and singing to myself when i heard voices. dean was yelling out the window and I answered him.
We had quite a conversation but I don’t remember now what was said, except one thing. Dean yelled: “Why don’t you come up and see me some time?”
Last Saturday I was again playing the piano I was playing some old Southern songs (Miss Turner is from Asheville, N.C.) and guess Dean recognized the songs.
He yelled: “Ain’t you coming up?” I yelled: “Sure, I’m coming right up.” I opened the window and climbed up the grill outside the window to his room and climbed in. I know I told you at first I went up the elevator, but that wasn’t true.
We said hello when I climbed in, in regular friendly fashion. I have never seen him before and I was interested in him, having heard so much about him.
He certainly had a nice room. We talked for a while. As we became better acquainted, he kissed me passionately . . . Afterward, we ate dinner together. he had some food in his room and we made a dinner from that
Doom for the Black Legion
New York Herald Tribune
October 1, 1936
Eleven men who took part in the murder in Michigan of Charles A. Poole, falsely accused of beating his wife, were found guilty of murder in the United States Circuit Court in Detroit on Tuesday. Seven, convicted in the first degree, face mandatory sentences of life imprisonment; four others are subject to varying terms as second-degree murderers. Thus, it may well be believed, collapses the last remnant of that incredible association of the criminal and the dull-witted which at one time was supposed to have a membership of 135,000.
Many public officials were carried on its books and police officials, deputy sheriffs and other law-enforcement agents were found to be allied with practitioners of murder, flogging, kidnapping, arson and other furtive and cowardly crimes. The Black Legion inspired such terror, by reason of its apparent immunity, that in many communities there was reluctance to prosecute those who were known to be active agents. It was until the particularly callous killing of Poole aroused public indignation that witnesses found the courage to come forward and tell what they knew.
The Black Legion was organized for the purpose of intimidating and oppressing Catholics, Jews and Negroes. As usual with such degraded conspiracies, private malice also directed its activities against persons not included in any of those categories. At one time fifty-seven persons, in Michigan alone, were arrested in connection with unsolved crimes of varying atrocity. seemingly there was no depth to which the legion was not willing to descend. A chemist employed by the City of Detroit was asked it he would be willing to supply typhoid germs to be placed in milk sold to individuals who were obnoxious to the hooded assassins. He refused to assist in the murder plot, but seemingly did not report the proposal to his superiors. When it became known he was dismissed.
A witness testified that “Colonel” Davis, ringleader in the murder, one of those convicted, in the first degree, at one time caused the shooting of an unoffending Negro to amuse himself. A succession of similar, and even worse offenses which came to light as it became evident that the Legion’s power was gone stirred public indignation. It was determined to destroy the criminal conspiracy which had become so widespread that it included plots to overthrow the Federal government. prosecutions were begun and energetically pressed. Witnesses who had feared to tell what they knew were eager to make terms with the authorities, and soon no one who had held a place of power in the Legion was safe from denunciation. the end of a strange and particularly evil manifestation of the mob spirit plainly has arrived.
* * * * *
In Black Legion (the film directed 1936 by Archie Mayo), Humphrey Bogart gives an outstanding performance as factory laborer Frank Taylor, who loses a promotion to a foreign-born coworker. Filled with hatred, Taylor joins the Black Legion, a secret white supremacist organization. The group burns down the barn of Taylor’s coworker, scaring him out of town. Thus, Taylor receives the promotion. But when Taylor is forced to spend his time recruiting new members for the Legion, he is demoted from plant foreman back to factory laborer. The Legion attacks Taylors new boss, making friends suspect Taylor’s involvement, while Taylor himself begins drinking heavily in a fit of self-loathing. When Taylor finally loses his job and the Legion gears up for an attack on a former friend, it appears that Taylor has hit rock bottom–with only himself to blame. This fast-paced, black and white tale of moral decay and redemption is based on the true story of the Black Legion’s condemnable actions in Michigan in the 1930s.
Warner Home Video, Running Time: 83 minutes, Not Rated, B&W, item #VVWA65273