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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Billy the Killer Miller: Pals with Pretty Boy Floyd Hiding Out in Green Township


 
 Billy "The Killer" Miller
 
The slim, dapper Miller, a bigamist with two wives, became known to police throghout
the Midwest as the “torpedo” of various Ohio gangs who had already killed five men. After being arrested twenty-eight times, Miller boasted he would not be taken alive.”

When Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd was killed by federal agents near East Liverpool, Ohio in October 1934, the Portsmouth Times reported “the end of the career of the last of the nation's public enemy who sought refuge in Scioto County. The report went on to say, “While not a resident of this county, Floyd in the earlier days of his career as a public enemy, frequently visited a hideout in the hills of Green Township. In 1930 he often visited the community of Ohio Furnace.”

Pretty Boy was “a pal of Scioto County's public enemy No. 1, William Miller, known nationally as 'Billy the Killer.'” It seem that Floyd and Miller often stopped at Miller's home waiting for the trail of officers to “cool.” They “brushed” now and then with local officers but managed to escape, sometimes in gun battles.

Their last reported trip together to Green Township was during the week preceding Miller's death at the hands of police of Bowling Green in 1930. The pair had robbed a bank in Kentucky and returned to Miller's home

Pretty Boy Floyd's companion in crime was born in Ironton in 1906. William Miller first earned his nickname "Billy the Killer" when, on September 18, 1925, the 19-year-old Miller killed his brother Joseph in a fight over a woman. Billy was living in Midland when he and Joe, 29 – known as the "King of the State Line Bootleggers" – became infatuated with Mrs. Hazel Campbell Anthony. Jealousy turned to bloodshed Sept. 18.

Evidently, the killing was no accident. Determining his girlfriend was near a spring up the hill 200 yards east of the Ohio line, Billy approached Joe, “pulled out a revolver, and began firing without saying a word.” Police later reported Joe had been beaten severely about the head with the handle of the revolver after he had fallen

After the shooting, a witness – Jake Eckert, longtime proprietor of the state line tavern – said, “Mrs. Anthony ran to Billy and threw her arms around his neck. They then walked down the path toward the streetcar tracks, Billy warning Jake to stay where he was” (which Jake evidently did). Billy and Mrs. Anthony reportedly went to the home of Louis Campbell, brother of Mrs. Anthony, after the shooting, then they disappeared.

According to police, the Miller brothers had arrived in the area about three years prior, and were blamed for a number of offenses linked with "Hell's Half Acre,” reported to be during Prohibition “one of the nation's worst concentrations of bootleggers, gunmen, and bank robbers.

Joe Miller had been released from the Allegheny County (Pa.) Workhouse a month before, serving a year on a liquor charge in Beaver County for which he had been fined $1,000. He had been sought for several months on that offense, making several sensational escapes before he was captured. He had been living at the state line since freed from the workhouse.

Billy Miller had earned a bad reputation as a youth around Ironton, Ohio. Billy had returned to the state line area that spring after serving six months in the Allegheny workhouse on a liquor charge. He reportedly had resumed his bootlegging enterprises, and a city illegal liquor charge had been filed against him.
 
In June 1925 Patrolmen Herman Roth and Chester Smith had gone to the state line looking for Billy, locating him on the Ohio side. When Roth told him he was under arrest, Miller bolted. Roth fired at him, the bullet hitting in the leg, and he surrendered.

Billy was admitted to City Hospital where, eight days later, he escaped, apparently with the help of outsiders, one a woman. He climbed down from a second story window using sheets tied together to form a rope. Police said he was taken to New Castle Where he recovered from his wound, and went to Midland where he got a job in the mill and took up residence.

It was reported that “just a few days before shooting his brother Joe, Billy indicated he wanted to 'go straight,' and had almost arranged with police to turn himself in on the liquor charge and pay his fine in installments.”

Miller later was tried in Beaver County for first degree murder in connection with his brother's death., and the jury returned a not guilty verdict. Miller was acquitted of murder on the grounds that he had suffered emotional trauma due to the death of his brother. He also claimed he fired his weapon only after Joe attacked him. The Toledo News-Bee reported his brother Grover said Miller had “a dislike for farm work and the desire to be on the loose,” which was the “cause” of his criminal career. Instead, according to Grover, Billy liked “good clothes and a good time.”

Although Miller was acquitted, the trial judge ordered him held under under an old English law requiring him to post $2,000 as guarantee for future good conduct. Unable to raise the money, he spent a year in jail until the bond was reduced to $500. It was posted by his mother who, it was said, mortgaged her home in Ironton, Ohio.

Pretty Boy

Then, Billy began drifting to other parts of Ohio, engaged in illegal activities, and six years later
in August 1930, he was arrested by police in Lakeside, Michigan and charged with a series of bank robberies committed in Michigan and Ohio. On September 2, Miller escaped from custody while imprisoned in Lucas County, Ohio and fled to Oklahoma where he eventually joined up with George Birdwell and Pretty Boy Floyd. (Floyd had escaped from a train taking him to the Ohio Penitentiary.)

On March 9, 1931, Miller joined Birdwell and Floyd in a $3,000 bank robbery in Earlsboro, Oklahoma. While Miller and Floyd headed for Kansas City shortly afterwards, Birdwell chose to remain in Oklahoma and began dating sisters Rose Ash and Beulah Baird. At the time, Rose was married, and Beulah was dating her brother-in-law. On March 25, Miller and Floyd murdered the brothers William and Wallace Ash, and left their bodies in a car which was found on the outskirts of town days later. Meanwhile, Rose and Beulah joined the outlaws as they continued their crime spree.

Miller and Floyd headed east, robbing a bank in Elliston, Kentucky for $2,262 on April 6 and, turning back west, raided another in Whitehouse, Ohio for $1,600 eight days later. Police in Bowling Green, Ohio, became suspicious of a foursome who were spending plenty of money,

On April 16, they were confronted by Bowling Gree authorities and a shootout occurred. Floyd attempted to come to Miller's aid, killing Patrolman Ralph Castner, but Miller was already dead by the time the battle had ended. His life of crime ended as he had boasted – he was not taken alive. While Floyd was able to escape back to Oklahoma, Rose Ash and Beulah Baird, the latter being wounded during the gunfight, were both arrested and charged with harboring fugitives. 

 

The body of “Billy the Killer” was removed from the scene of the shootout and taken to Deck Funeral Home in Bowling Green where it was reported “throughout the night and the following day police kept close watch as 'public enemies' lined up to pay their last respects.” Among the most notorious was Ma Barker and her gang. Two women, both professing to be the wife of Billy Miller, claimed the body. Only one could produce a marriage license. Billy was then transported to Ironton, Ohio where he was buried beside his father and brother, both of whom had also been shot to death.

As told to Kraig Hanneman, funeral director and embalmer, by his grandmother, Hildreth, previous owner of the funeral home …

I lived on Prospect St a hundred feet or so away from the shoot out of April 16th 1931 with BG Police, “Pretty Boy” Floyd and 'Billy the Killer' Miller. A friend and I were sitting in the kitchen when we heard a thump on the door and gunshots. Without thinking jumped up and ran to see what the ruckus was and saw Ralph Castner (policeman) along with another man down on the ground. (The thump on the wooden screen door was discovered to be a strayed bullet.)

We had a lot of women trying to claim the body (Billy); eventually one did produce a marriage license. Only during the time of claiming the body did I feel frightened. One of the women wanted me to release the body to her and was threatening, but unknown to her was the police and FBI agents were hidden behind curtains around the room, and they quickly removed her.

The FBI was watching out for any public enemies wanted in the State of Ohio . (My grandma explained that these killers could move around freely in a State where they did not committee a crime) I felt secure with the police and FBI watching out, but it’s a very strange feeling being in a room filled with known murders. I noticed the presences of a well dressed woman surrounded by younger men, they were very polite to me, and I was informed they were Ma Baker and her boys.”

“Pretty Boy Floyd” became one of legendary folk song writer's Woody Guthrie, more popular ballads. The song seemed a pretty long stretch of the truth about the criminal, as in the tune, the outlaw supposedly helped the poor. The song is essentially a Robin Hood story – a thief steals from the rich banker to give to the poor farmer, though one finds little evidence to support this benevolent version of the real Pretty Boy Floyd.
 
Roger McGuinn of The Byrds said: "I love 'Pretty Boy Floyd.' It's very typical, that killer-outlaw as hero, just because during the depression, banks were considered more the enemy than the people who robbed them. A few killings here and there were allowed."

“I love a good man outside the law, 
just as much as I hate a bad man inside the law,” Woody Guthrie once wrote on a lyric sheet for his song “Pretty Boy Floyd.”The tale of Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd must have appealed to Guthrie. Floyd was an Oklahoma native who turned to bank robbing and violence in the 1920s as the country faced economic difficulty.

Floyd’s exploits were well known during the era, and Guthrie, eight years younger than Floyd, would have likely followed the outlaw’s story in newspapers and local gossip. By the time Guthrie wrote his outlaw ballad in 1939, Pretty Boy Floyd had been dead some five years, though his story must have seemed as relevant to Guthrie as other topical subjects like the Grand Coulee Dam or the USS Reuben James.

Pretty Boy Floyd
By Woody Guthrie

If you'll gather 'round me, children,
A story I will tell
'Bout Pretty Boy Floyd, an outlaw,
Oklahoma knew him well.

It was in the town of Shawnee,
A Saturday afternoon,
His wife beside him in his wagon
As into town they rode.

There a deputy sheriff approached him
In a manner rather rude,
Vulgar words of anger,
An' his wife she overheard.

Pretty Boy grabbed a log chain,
And the deputy grabbed his gun;
In the fight that followed
He laid that deputy down.

Then he took to the trees and timber
To live a life of shame;
Every crime in Oklahoma
Was added to his name.

But a many a starving farmer
The same old story told
How the outlaw paid their mortgage
And saved their little homes.

Others tell you 'bout a stranger
That come to beg a meal,
Underneath his napkin
Left a thousand dollar bill.

It was in Oklahoma City,
It was on a Christmas Day,
There was a whole car load of groceries
Come with a note to say:

Well, you say that I'm an outlaw,
You say that I'm a thief.
Here's a Christmas dinner
For the families on relief.

Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won't never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.

Songwriters: Woody Guthrie

Sources:

Deck-Hanneman Funeral Home and Crematory http://www.hannemanfh.com/history

“Floyd Had Hideout in Scioto County in Early Days of Career.” Portsmouth Times. October 23, 1934.

Michael Newton. The Encyclopedia of Robberies, Heists, and Capers. New York: Facts On File Inc., 2002. (pg. 197-198)

“Pretty Boy Floyd.” Songfacts. http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=10690

Michael Wallis. (1994). Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd. Macmillan.



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