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Reprinted with permission of The Repository
The Gervasi Vineyard property comes with a historical story that is as intriguing as an old western movie. This story was best told in 2004 by Tim Botos, staff writer for the Canton Repository.
This is a story of past and present. It’s a tale of a fateful trip Dutch and his bandit friends made to Stark County and the restless journeys Dutch made in death, leading him in 2003 to his final resting place at a Washington DC museum.
Like many professional criminals of his day, Dutch Kapler was known by plenty of aliases, including Harry Harpert, Harry Hartman, William Martin, and William Hoffman. Rumored to be the son of a well-to-do Pittsburgh couple, Dutch was first arrested in 1909. He spent the next dozen years in and out of prisons.
By 1922, he’s hooked up with the notorious “Jiggs” Losteiner Gang of Cleveland. In January of that year, Dutch and four gang members robbed a bank in Crafton, PA. Dutch shot and killed a teller, the gang made off with a bundle of loot.
Five months later, the law caught up with on the gang. A man known by most as “Oklahoma Slim” was imprisoned, arrested on a burglary tools charge. There he sat in the Stark County Workhouse at Mahoning Road and Maple Avenue NE, site of the present-day dog warden.
It was May 4, 1922, when Canton Police motorcycle officer John Wise saw a speeding car, referred to as a “machine” in newspaper accounts, east of the city.
This was the same year the American Professional Football Association was renamed the NFL. The Palace Theatre wasn’t open yet. Women only recently won the right to vote. The city’s first traffic light wasn’t installed until a year later. And most roads outside the city limits were dirt.
Wise had no idea of background of the four men in the car – Kapler, Tommy Saxton, John Stephens and Eddie Stephenson. All he knew was the car was speeding at 45 miles per hour.
He ordered the four to police headquarters. On the way there, they got the drop on officer Wise. They overpowered, bound and gagged him and threw him into their car before speeding north on Maple. Kapler would later admit the gang should have just paid the offer a $20 bribe and sent him on his way.
A Bell Telephone linesman who saw the kidnapping followed the bandits’ car in his own. He stopped from time to time, tapping into phone lines to update the police on the location of the bandits.
Police and a posse of civic activists quickly assembled and gave chase. Speeding north on Middlebranch Avenue, then west on what is now Schneider Street, the bandits and pursuers traded gunfire.
Ralph Hoffee,, a member of the posse, was struck and killed. The bandits ditched their car and headed south onto Obed Oberlin’s farm (now Gervasi Vineyard) off present-day 55th Street NE. They stopped in the barn and dumped a handful of local maps, presumably their guides for getting out of the area after the jail break.
With the posse in hot pursuit, the gang then ran toward a tree line, along the railroad tracks on the farm. For at least an hour, they exchanged gunfire with the posse and police. By the time the shoot-out ended, gang member Stephenson was dead. Another Stephens, died a few hours later.
The shootout made local headlines for weeks. Oberlin charged gawkers 25 cents admission to his farm for a first-hand look at the scene, but pledged half the proceeds to Hoffee’s widow. The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote an editorial, praising the work of the posse.
In part it said: “The Losteiner gang comes to its logical end. Those who live by violence die by violence. Singly or in small groups, the former lieutenants of Jiggs the gunman have fallen under the law’s strong arm. The battle of Oberlin’s farm writes finish to the career of a graceless bunch of bandits as the annals of crime reveal.”
In the coming weeks, the last two bandits died in the hospital, then known as Aultman Annex. First, it was Saxon. Dutch, who’d been shot in the head, was the last to die on May 30.
Dutch never told them anything about himself before he died. His body was heavily embalmed, in reality mummified, at the former Hiller Funeral Parlor in Canton. Since no relative claimed him, his mummy went on public display inside the parlor window on Tuscarawas Street W.
The practice wasn’t as outrageous as it may sound today. Among those embalmed in similar but more complete fashion are Russian revolutionist Vladimir Lenin and Eva Peron of Argentina.
For several years at least, Dutch’s body stayed there for all to see. That is, until the parlor sold it to a San Francisco side-show entrepreneur who charged customers for glimpses at the dead bandit.
It’s unclear where Dutch was before Lawrence Mooney of Virginia got possession of the mummy. What is clear is that he had it in the late 1970s. Mooney sold it in the early 1990s to Robert L. White, a noted collector from Maryland.
At one time, White was believed to have the largest collection of John F. Kennedy memorabilia and artifacts in the world. His collection also included Raymond Burr’s 1961 Emmy Award as Perry Mason, a 1939 Academy Award for cinematography to “Wuthering Heights,” Titanic memorabilia, and an endorsed presidential paycheck to Warren Harding.
White died at the age of 54 in 2003. In December, the executor of his estate arrange for the transfer of Dutch’s mummy to the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington D.C., on the campus of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The museum has nearly 25 million pieces in it collection, including Paul Revere’s dental tools, 2,000 skeletal specimens of Civil War casualties, a piece of John Wilkes Booth’s spine, microscope slides of Ulysses S. Grant’s tumor, mummified hip bone, Gen. Pershing’s dentures and vases found at Hiroshima after the atomic attack.
Steven Solomon, a museum spokesperson, said the museum was interested in the specimen not because of Dutch’s notoriety, but because it’s an example of early 20th century preservation by embalming.
It’s part of the museum’s collection of specimens to document preservation of human tissue. For now at least, his final resting place is inside a wooden crate, stored in the museum’s warehouse.
Copyright Gatehouse Media Inc.