Federal prisoners Joseph P. Cretzer and Arnold T. Kyle kill U.S. Marshal Artis J. Chitty in Tacoma on August 22, 1940.

  • By Daryl C. McClary
  • Posted 1/19/2013
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10277
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On August 22, 1940, Joseph P. Cretzer (1911-1940), age 29, and Arnold T. Kyle (1909-1980), age 30, on trial in U.S. District Court for escaping from the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary, attack U.S. Marshal Artis J. Chitty (1887-1940), age 53,  in a detention cell at the Federal Building in Tacoma, Washington. The prisoners knock Marshal Chitty onto the floor and attempt to steal his revolver, but are quickly subdued by prison guards. Ten minutes after the struggle, Marshal Chitty collapses and shortly thereafter is pronounced dead. An autopsy will determine his death is due to a coronary thrombosis (blood clot), ostensibly caused by the altercation. On October 21, 1939, Cretzer and Kyle will plead guilty to second-degree murder and be sentenced to life imprisonment.

Artis James Chitty

Artis James Chitty was born in Coates, Kansas, on March 3, 1887. He received a law degree from Iowa State College and later studied business at Whitman College in Walla Walla. During World War I (1917-1918) he served in France with the U.S. Army Tank Corps and Motor Transportation Corps.

Although he practiced law and sold real estate for a time in Spokane, much of his life was devoted to journalism. Chitty worked on newspapers in Chicago and other cities in the Midwest before coming to Washington state. He published The Shelton Independent for seven years prior to his appointment as United States Marshal for the Western District of Washington in 1934. He married Gladys May Stidwell in 1921 and had two daughters, Bernadine and Bonnie Jean.

A Gang of Bank Robbers

Joseph Paul “Dutch” Cretzer and Arnold Thomas Kyle, alias Shorty McKay, had both been in and out of prison since the 1920s. Cretzer was married to Kyle’s sister, Edna May “Teddy,” making them related by marriage. Kyle’s wife was named Thelma and they had one son, LeRoy. In the mid-1930s the pair roamed far and wide robbing banks, a federal crime under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. On April 28, 1937, Cretzer and Kyle were indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles for robbing the American National Trust and Saving Association bank and seven other federally insured banks on the West Coast in 1935 and 1936.

The FBI placed the Cretzer-Kyle Gang first on their list of most-wanted bank robbers, and Joseph Cretzer, known for extreme violence, was ranked as Public Enemy No. 4. Kyle was arrested on a drunk-driving charge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 19, 1939, and Cretzer was captured on August 28, 1939, in Chicago, Illinois. They pleaded guilty in separate appearances in U.S. District Court, Los Angeles, and were both sentenced to 25 years imprisonment by Judge Leon R. Yankwich. Kyle was received at the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary on June 7, 1939 and Cretzer on February 15, 1940.

Escape and Capture

On Thursday, April 11, 1940, Cretzer and Kyle escaped from the McNeil Island Penitentiary in a dump truck that was parked in the prison yard. They threatened the driver with an awl, jumped into the cab and drove to the rear inspection gate. When the guard approached the truck for an inspection, the prisoners made their getaway through the portal under a hail of bullets. The truck was found abandoned two miles from the penitentiary.

Three days later, a posse of 12 prison guards captured the prisoners. They were found hiding in the underbrush near the McNeil Island schoolhouse.

Marshall Chitty's Last Day

On Wednesday, June 26, 1940, Cretzer and Kyle were indicted by a federal grand jury in Tacoma for attempting to escape from the McNeil Island Penitentiary. The convicts were transported from the island to the U.S. District Court in Tacoma for arraignment on four separate occasions and each time postponed a plea. Judge Yankwich, visiting from Los Angeles, was convinced the men were making as many trips as possible, hoping for an opportunity to escape. The judge finally declared that he was not going to be a party to any more commuting and would grant no more continuances. On Saturday, July 20, Cretzer and Kyle entered pleas of not guilty and Judge Yankwich set the trial date for August 22, 1940. Tacoma attorneys Anthony M. Ursich, and William F. LeVeque were appointed to represent the defendants.

Trial began in U.S. District Court, Tacoma, on Thursday, August 22, 1940, as scheduled. The court recessed for lunch at noon and Marshal Chitty, flanked by penitentiary guards, took Cretzer and Kyle, handcuffed together, to a detention cell where they could eat lunch and consult with their attorneys. At 2:30 p.m., Marshal Chitty told the prisoners it was time to return to the courtroom and asked the attorneys to leave. When Chitty entered the cell, the two men sprang to their feet and Cretzer grabbed Chitty around the waist and pulled him forward. Marshal Chitty was thrown against the cell wall and Kyle reached for Chitty’s right-hand back pocket in an attempt to snatch his revolver. A struggle ensued and all three men fell onto the floor. A penitentiary guard grabbed Kyle just as he struck Chitty in the face with his right fist. More guards rushed in and quickly subdued the prisoners. Chitty arose, berated the men and then walked into an adjoining office.

As he was speaking to his clerk, Lillian Holtz, Chitty collapsed onto the floor unconscious. He was carried into his private office where two physicians pronounced him dead. Less than 10 minutes had elapsed from the time he was attacked until his death.

Deputy marshals escorted Cretzer and Kyle back into the courtroom and Judge Yankwich resumed the trial. When the court denied a motion for a mistrial, the two defendants withdrew their not-guilty pleas and entered pleas of guilty to the escape charge. Judge Yankwich thereupon sentenced Cretzer and Kyle to additional terms of five years, to commence at the expiration of their 25-year sentences for bank robbery. The Bureau of Prisons quietly transferred Cretzer and Kyle to the Alcatraz Island Federal Penitentiary in San Francisco Bay, a maximum security prison established in 1934 to hold violent and incorrigible prisoners.

Investigating the Death, Honoring the Dead

On Friday, August 23, 1940, Dr. Frank R. Maddison announced an autopsy had disclosed that Marshal Chitty's death was due to a coronary thrombosis (blood clot) following the altercation. Other injuries listed were cuts and bruises on the face and scalp. The results of the autopsy were referred to the FBI, whose jurisdiction included investigating the assault and murder of federal officers.

A funeral service for Artis J. Chitty was held on Saturday, August 25, 1940, at the C. C. Mellinger Co. Funeral Home and Memorial Chapel, 510 Tacoma Avenue S, Tacoma. More than 250 persons, mostly government officials and police officers, attended the service, which was conducted by Reverend Arthur Bell, pastor of Saint Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church. It was a short ceremony without eulogies. Marshal Chitty’s body was taken to Seattle for cremation.

Later, in Washington D.C., the Office of the Attorney General introduced a bill (S. 991: “An Act for the relief of the widow of the late Artis J. Chitty”) in U.S. Congress to compensate Gladys May Chitty for the death of her husband while in performance of his official duties as U.S. Marshal. On June 12, 1941, the Secretary of the Treasury was authorized and directed to pay her the sum of $7,500. (As appointees, U.S. Marshals were not eligible for Civil Service benefits.) 

On Trial for Murder

On August 26, 1940, Chief Deputy Anthony E. Mandery, a close friend of Chitty's, was appointed acting U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Washington by U.S. District Court Judges John C. Bowen and Lloyd L Black. (Under federal law, the judges in the district were authorized to appoint a successor.) Mandery held the position until March 1941 when the U.S. Senate confirmed Herbert W. Algeo, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (1882-1945) nomination for U.S. Marshal. Although Mandery had retained his position as chief deputy, he resigned on May 27, 1941, at Marshal Algeo’s request. He was succeeded as chief deputy by Deputy Marshal Harry E. B. Ault.

On Thursday, August, 29, 1940, Cretzer and Kyle were indicted by the federal grand jury in Tacoma for the first-degree murder of Marshal Chitty with the proscribed penalty of life imprisonment or death. The defendants appeared in U.S. District Court, Tacoma, before Judge Black on September 23, 1940, and both entered pleas of not guilty. While at Alcatraz, Attorney Leo A. Sullivan, who maintained his law office in Oakland, California, had been appointed as counsel for both Cretzer and Kyle. Sullivan was not in court for the arraignment but advised U.S. Attorney Joseph Charles Dennis (1877-1956) that he would be representing both prisoners. On September 30, the defendants were brought into court and Judge Black set the trial date for October 22, 1940 before Judge Jeremiah Neterer.

Meanwhile, Attorney Sullivan negotiated an agreement with U.S. Attorney Dennis that Cretzer and Kyle would be permitted to plead guilty to a lesser charge. On October 21, 1940, the two defendants withdrew their pleas of not guilty and entered pleas of guilty to second-degree murder. Judge Neterer accepted the plea bargain and sentenced Cretzer and Kyle to life imprisonment. The prisoners were summarily returned to the Alcatraz Island Penitentiary under heavy guard.

Joseph Cretzer's Bad End

Cretzer (Prisoner Register No. 548-AZ) and Kyle (No. 547-AZ) continued to cause trouble at Alcatraz. On Wednesday, May 21, 1941, they made another attempt to escape, but how they planned to get off the island was anybody’s guess. Two other lifers were also involved: Lloyd H. Barkdoll (No. 423-AZ) and Sam R. Shockley (No. 462-AZ). They took four employees hostage in a prison workshop, including the Superintendent of Industries, C. J. Manning, and Captain of the Guards, Paul J. Madigan. The convicts first tried to pry the bars off a window with a piece of pipe and then used an electric grinder in an attempt to cut through the tool-proof steel bars. After working for two hours without success, they gave up, released the hostages and surrendered to Captain Madigan. For their efforts, the men were sentenced to serve five years in D Block, the high security unit known as “solitary,” housing the most dangerous prisoners. 

Cretzer apparently didn’t find salvation in D Block and shortly before his release back into the general population, he became a conspirator in yet another escape plan. On Thursday, May 2, 1946. Joseph Cretzer, Bernard Paul Coy (No. 415-AZ), Clarence Carnes (No. 714-AZ), Marvin Franklin Hubbard (No. 645-AZ), Miran Edgar Thompson (No. 729-AZ), and Sam R. Shockley (No. 462-AZ). launched a desperate escape attempt from D Block which became known as “The Battle of Alcatraz.” The armed uprising lasted for three days during which 13 prison guards were wounded and two killed. Of the six convicts responsible for the riot, Cretzer, Coy, and Hubbard were found dead, with guns in hand; Thompson and Shockley were convicted of first-degree murder and executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin Federal Penitentiary on December 3, 1948; Carnes, age 19, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri on October 3, 1988.

Edna May (Kyle) Cretzer claimed her husband’s body and had it cremated. The urn containing Cretzer’s ashes was interred in a columbarium niche at Cypress Lawn Memorial Cemetery, 1370 El Camino Real, Coloma, California.

The Continuing Life of Arnold Kyle

On Thursday, January 16, 1958, a motion was filed on behalf of Arnold T. Kyle to set aside his conviction for Marshal Chitty’s murder. The motion argued that Kyle was serving a life sentence for a crime that he never committed. Chitty’s death occurred after the altercation and Kyle was in no way connected with it. Cretzer alone attacked the marshal without warning and Kyle just happened to be handcuffed to him. The U.S. District Court denied the motion without hearing on June 30, 1958.

Kyle filed an appeal, and on February 16, 1959, the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit referred the case back the U.S. District Court for a formal hearing. When the motion was denied once again on August 3, 1959, another motion was filed for reconsideration and rehearing. This time the Court of Appeals reviewed the entire record, including the court reporter’s transcripts of the testimony of witnesses who testified at the hearing. The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court judge who found Kyle’s testimony incredible and the government witnesses reliable and worthy of belief. The motion to set aside and vacate Kyle’s life sentence was denied on December 5, 1960

Most of the inmates doing time on Alcatraz were men who were considered violent and dangerous, escape risks, or troublemakers from other federal institutions. And Kyle fit into all three categories. Alcatraz was a highly structured environment designed to teach prisoners to live in a socially acceptable manner and every privilege had to be earned. Once prison officials were convinced an inmate no longer posed a threat and had learned to follows the rules, he could be transferred to another federal prison to complete his sentence and be eligible for release. The average time a prisoner spent at Alcatraz Island Penitentiary was five years. Arnold Kyle spent 20 years there.

In 1961, the Bureau of Prisons transferred Kyle back to McNeil Island Penitentiary where he participated in self-improvement groups and was on his best behavior. The West Seattle Chamber of Commerce was interested in sponsoring Kyle as a parolee and the Office of Probation and Parole eventually decided to give him a chance at freedom. But first, he was required to go to Wichita and plead guilty to robbing the Kansas State Bank in October 1938. Kyle was finally released on parole in August 1963. He died in Lynnwood, Snohomish County, on November 30, 1980, at the age of 71.

Sources: "Marshal Dies After Attack by Prisoners," Centralia Daily Chronicle, August 23, 1940, p. 1; "Convicts Are Indicted for Chitty Death," Ibid., August 29, 1940, p. 1; "Marshal Dies After Attack," The Oregonian, August 23, 1940, p. 1; "Pair Admits Killing Marshal, Ibid., October 22, 1940, p. 16; "Oregon Man’s ‘Break’ Fails," Ibid., May 22, 1941, p. 1;"Two Gang Leaders on Trial," Tacoma News Tribune, August 23, 1940, p. 1; "Call Death of Chitty, Murder," Ibid., August 24, 1940, p. 1; "Own Sense of Duty Led to Chitty’s Death," Ibid., August 24, 1940, p. 2; "Last Rites for Chitty," Ibid., August 25, 1940, p. 4; "Western Bank Raids Confessed," The Seattle Times, May 20, 1939, p. 8; "Seattle Man, Wife Held as Bank Robbers," Ibid., August 29, 1939, p. 7; "Posses Comb Mainland for McNeil Prison Desperadoes," Ibid., April 12, 1940, p. 17; "McNeil Fugitives Found on Island," Ibid., April 15, 1940, p. 17; "Chitty Plans Heavy Guard for Prisoners," Ibid., April 26, 1940, p. 119; "Orting Suspect Indicted by Jury," Ibid., June 27, 1940, p. 23; "McNeil Prisoners Plead," Ibid., July 21, 1940, p. 2; "Yankwich Ends ‘Commuting’ of Tough Convicts," Ibid., August 14, 1940, p. 17; "Chitty Autopsy Blames Heart," Ibid., August 23, 1940, p. 15; "Mandery Named Acting Marshal," Ibid., August 26, 1940, p. 19; "Two Indicted in Chitty Death," Ibid., August 29, 1940, p. 19; "Chitty Slayers to Get Hearing," Ibid., September 20, 1940, p. 2; "Cretzer-Kyle Trial Is Set for Oct. 22," Ibid., September 30, 1940, p. 4; "Guards From McNeil Sent to Give Aid," Ibid., May 3, 1946, p. 1; "Rioter Tried in Tacoma Court," Ibid., May 3, 1946, p. 12; "US Marines Withdrawn from Island," Ibid., May 4, 1946, p. 1; "Inmate Seeks Setting Aside of Conviction," Ibid., February 17, 1959, p. 10; "Freed Convict to Seek New Life Here," Ibid., August 7, 1963, p. 53; "Marshal Artis J. Chitty," The Officer Down Memorial Page website accessed June 27, 2010 (www.odmp.org).

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