Masked gunman from the 1920s.
On February 24, 1927 two masked men entered the central office of Standard Oil Company in Memphis, Tennessee armed with revolvers. Their intent was robbery and cashier J.P. Tucker was their target. The dutiful employee had just finished preparing the receipts for transfer to the bank when he was startled by the brazen act. One of the men fired a shot into the ceiling as the other grabbed for the money. As the robbers rushed out, one of the other employees hurled a soda water bottle at the men which missed. This shattering of the bottle against the wall resulted in another wild shot as the men fled. Leaping into a car, they dashed away. The entire episode took minutes but netted the dastardly duo nearly $7,000 in cash and around $63,000 in checks.
Standard Oil Company was one of the largest companies in the world and had offices and stations located in every state. Their central office in Memphis in 1927 was located on Commerce Street near the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. Even though it was usually secure, this was the second robbery in less than two years. In late 1926 thieves broke into the offices of Standard Oil overnight. They took nearly $2,000 in checks and cash and got away clean. This robbery was still under investigation when the daylight invasion occurred.
The city of Memphis knew these daring robbers had to captured and put a number of detectives on the task. They were headed by Inspector William T. Griffin.
He was one of top men in the department and quickly deduced that this operation had to have an inside man. That man was Jack Richard Clifton, age 33, who was a clerk in the accounting office. After being picked up, he confessed to his role as coming up with the idea but not being involved with the actual robbery. This native of Senatobia, Mississippi had been a trusted employee for about three years with Standard Oil.
According to his confession, the entire plan had came into being just a few weeks ago. Two men, who he refused to identify, asked him if they could keep their car in his garage. The men came back and all three got into a conversation. They asked on what days the money was brought to the bank and he told them. He was actually at work when the robbers came in with guns drawn. The car which the criminals used was found burned near Oakville Sanitarium. Without anymore information from Clifton, Inspector Griffin would have to rely on eyewitness accounts of the robbery and dedicated police work. A little bit of luck would also help.
Lonnie Crawley, also listed sometimes as Crawford, was picked up in Lepanto, Arkansas. He was identified by one of the cashiers, but the police were not sure of his involvement. Crawley also had an alias. He was sometimes called Trigg Avenue. Although in jail, he professed his innocence. Neither man were talking anymore. In fact, Clifton had become a suspect in another robbery of an employee at Standard Oil in the parking lot from a few months before.
Inspector Griffin was truly at a dead end. Thats when luck came through the door. While eating at home he was contacted by Sheriff Thomas P. McArthur of Quitman County who had a tip on a man that he believed Griffin was looking for. That man’s name was Ira G. Allen, a local trouble maker from neighboring Tate County. This red headed young man fit the description of their suspect.
Inspector Griffin knew he was going to need manpower in this arrest gathered his men. At first they laid a trap for him near Whitehaven on Horn Lake and Hernando roads. Armed with automatic shotguns, Griffin was ready for whatever happened. Thats when they got a call saying Allen was at a cafe on Monroe Street. Five detectives were dispatched from headquarters and they quickly surrounded Mike Wallace’s cafe where Ira Allen was eating lunch. In front of at least a hundred spectators, the police moved in. Surprised by them, Allen attempted to pull a dagger from his belt when two strong detectives overpowered him while a third took the weapon. Apparently Ira was drunk and could barely stand as they rushed him to the police station. He was charged with two counts of highway robbery, carrying a pistol, destroying an automobile and larceny of an automobile. Inspector Griffin had his “Red Headed” man from Senatobia.
Who was this “Red Headed” man from Senatobia named Ira G. Allen?
Ira George Allen, Jr. was born September 6, 1898 in Tate County, Mississippi. His father was a well respected educator and Superintendent of Education for Tate County. When World War I broke out he enlisted in the United States Marines on April 24, 1918. Private Allen was honorably discharged on February 12, 1919 and returned to Senatobia. On the 1920 U.S. Census for Tate County he was living with his father in Senatobia and listed his occupation as none. Apparently Ira started getting into trouble and drinking a great deal. He was also diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Although the police believed he was guilty of the earlier Standard Oil Robbery, they couldn’t prove it so he was only charged with the second one. Ira Allen was sentenced from five to ten years at his trial. No other culprits were sent to prison for the crime. After two years, Ira was pardoned . He was ordered to return home to Mississippi where it was hoped that his father would place him in an institution because of his mental issues. On the 1930 U.S. Census he was living with his parents and listed his occupation as farm manager. That same year he was convicted of the Rendezvous Lodge robbery in Coahoma County and sentenced to prison. In 1934 a group of prominent Coahoma Countians petitioned the governor for a pardon for Ira. His tuberculosis had worsened and the American Legion had offered to place him in a sanitarium at Biloxi. No evidence of a pardon was found, but eventually he is released early. Ira George Allen passed away on August 12, 1937 and was buried at Bethesda Cemetery in Senatobia. His friend and fellow partner in crime John R. Clifton, who was also from Tate County, passed away on February 3, 1946 of tuberculosis.
Ira George Allen, Jr. stone from Findagrave.com
Was Ira G. Allen really the “Red Headed” bad man that everyone thought? Was he simply one among many young men who were lost in the 1920s looking for his place in life? Why did a young Ira turn bad when his father was such a respected person? Did he really rob the Rendezvous Lodge or was he simply an easy patsy for the real robber? How was he able to be pardoned time after time? All are truly mysteries. Mysteries of the Delta, Memphis and Mississippi.
“The Leaf Chronicle” Clarksville, Tenn. November 15, 1926. page 1
“Clarion Ledger”. Jackson, MS. July 8, 1927. page 5
“The Tennessean”. Nashville, TN. July 8, 1927. page 8
“The Clarion Ledger”. Jackson, MS. August 7, 1927. page 5
“The Clarion Ledger”. Jackson, MS. July 8, 1927. page 1
“The Knoxville Journal”. Knoxville, TN. June 26, 1929. page 3
“The Tennessean”. Nashville, TN. March 15, 1927. page 2
“The Knoxville Sentinel”. Knoxville, TN. July 7, 1927. page 2
“The Bristol News Bulletin”. Bristol, TN. February 24, 1927. page 1
“The Clarksdale Press Register”. Clarksdale, MS. July 28, 1934. page 3
“The Clarion Ledger”. Jackson, MS. October 17, 1930. page 11