1934 Raid at 116 Brookfield Road
Four New Neighbors at Richfield Farms
While Bonnie and Clyde’s time was running out in Louisiana and John Dillinger’s new gang was on a four-state bank robbing spree in the Mid-West, fugitive bank robbers Lonnie Parish and Harry Gainey were hiding out from the Georgia police and settling in with their wives, at their rented house, at 116 Brookfield Road, in Mattydale, NY.
The neighborhood didn’t stay quiet for long. Based on a tip, four local police officers raided the Mattydale headquarters of the self proclaimed “Dillinger the second,” on Friday afternoon, April 13, 1934. It was definitely an unlucky day for some people. In the house they found four individuals, an active still in the basement, at least three pistols, a sawed-off shotgun, a blackjack, a Secret Service badge and a quantity of ammunition. [1934-04-14a]; [1934-04-14b]
Upon questioning the four suspects, the wives quite easily gave up information on their husbands. The local authorities learned of the Georgia bank robbery, Parish’s Florida bail jumping and Gainey’s parole violation. A few specifically targeted teletypes to several southern police departments were quickly answered and they were all very interested in learning more about Parish and Gainey.
They Were All From Jacksonville
Eva Prevatt Gainey, 27, was from Jacksonville, FL and had married Harry Gainey, 30, also from Jacksonville, eight years ago, at the age of 19. She knew that Harry was engaged in bootlegging and petty crime. He had been paroled a few years ago, by the governor, after serving 28 months of a 10 year sentence in Raiford penitentiary. The sentence had resulted from a shoot out with the chief of police in Stark, FL, in Harry’s speakeasy, during which Harry was wounded.
In February, Eva had met Harry’s friend, Lonnie Parish, 22, at a church function. Two days later Lonnie and Harry disappeared. Eva read in the paper about the bank robbery and Lonnie’s arrest. After he got out of jail on $2000 bail, Lonnie rejoined Harry and Eva in Orlando. Together they set out for Washington by car to pick up Lonnie’s wife. They eventually wound up in the Mattydale area because Parish had an uncle in Syracuse.
Virginia Phillips Parish, 20, had lost her parents at a young age and was raised by an aunt and uncle in Jacksonville. After spending some time with her sister in Washington, D.C. she returned to Jacksonville and was living with a friend when she first met Lonnie Parish. Virginia said that she didn’t love him but he had talked her into marrying him. The marriage was not a happy one. Lonnie beat her and never gave her any money. According to Virginia, “(t)he only time, while I was married, that I was happy was when Lonnie would be in jail. He was in jail a lot of times, but he always managed to get out.”
What Went Wrong?
They should have been OK after they had settled into their Mattydale rental house. The authorities in Georgia and Florida didn’t know where they had gone. No members of law enforcement from those states were going to show up at the door. So where did it all go wrong? According to Lonnie, “After we located in Mattydale Gainey got a still and we started making whiskey. We made about 13 gallons before we got caught.” [1934-04-15] Someone might have noticed the smell and turned the newcomers in. But why not just call the police? Why did the tip go through former State Trooper William J. Blackburn, Jr.? Perhaps they were turned in by someone who didn’t want to be identified them self. Possibly Parish and Gainey had unknowingly been crowding an existing illegal distillery operation in the area.
Two officers from Georgia rushed to Albany where the governor was eager to sign the extradition papers for the pair. B. J. Dixon, the cashier from the Patterson, Georgia bank, that Parish and Gainey were accused of robbing, accompanied the police officers to New York and was able to positively identify them both. After being identified, Parish decided not to fight the extradition but Gainey did not want to wind up on a Georgia chain gang and was ready to fight it. The fight was quick and in the end Gainey lost and he followed his friend Parish to Georgia the next day.
Finally Justice Prevails
In late May of 1934, Parish and Gainey were in jail, awaiting their turn in a Georgia courtroom, when the news of the deaths of Bonnie and Clyde reached them. This was another example that law enforcement was finally catching up with the outlaws that seemed to be running rampant around the country. However, Lonnie didn’t need another example, he had his own, very personal, example that he was working his way through.
In the end there was no trial, both Parish and Gainey pleaded guilty to bank robbery. Lonnie got 12 to 20 years for the robbery and 3 to 6 years on two other counts. Lonnie was sent to Big Creek prison camp in Pierce County, in southeastern Georgia, which ironically was very close to his hometown of Jacksonville, FL.
The Great Escape
On July 22, 1934, it was a hot summer evening in Chicago when John Dillinger was gunned down outside a movie theater by agents of the FBI. Three days later, on the same day that John Dillinger was buried in the family plot at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, “Dillinger the second” escaped. “After crossing Lightsley bridge over Big Creek in the Bristol section, Parish, whose legs were bonded in chains, slipped from his guards and jumped into the stream.” “Making his way through the shallow stream for nearly a mile, Parish disappeared in the underbrush, only to be sighted two hours later by a woman getting some water.” [1934-07-26]
Lonnie Parish was able to escape the chain gang, even though he was in leg irons, and successfully eluded the police. During the search that followed his escape, he had been sighted by a witness and so it was known that he hadn’t drowned in the swamp. But that was the last time that he was seen. After three days of intensive searching, which included the use of blood hounds, it was decided that Lonnie had gotten through their lines and was probably outside the county. The search was called off.
There might have been a connection between Dillinger’s death and Lonnie Parish’s escape. Perhaps by escaping from his prison guards Lonnie felt he was, in some small way, striking back for what law enforcement had done to the man he idolized.
There is no record that anyone identified as Lonnie Parish was ever re-captured. He had finally one-upped his idol. Perhaps Lonnie is still out there, although he would be moving a bit slower now, he would only be 102. As this is being written, the 80th anniversary of Lonnie Parish's escape from the Georgia chain gang is less than a week away.
[1934-04-14a] - Part 1 "Two Held in Raid Wanted in Bank 'Job'," The Syracuse Journal, Syracuse, NY, Saturday, April 14, 1934.
[1934-04-14b] - Part 2 "Two Held in Raid Wanted in Bank 'Job'," The Syracuse Journal, Syracuse, NY, Saturday, April 14, 1934.
[1934-04-15] “Captive In Mattydale Raid Faces Bar of Justice," The Syracuse Journal, Syracuse, NY, Monday, April 16, 1934.
[1934-07-26] "Georgia Posses Hunt Lonnie Parish, Fugitive Bank Robber," The Syracuse Journal, Syracuse, July 26, 1934.
[1934-07-28] - "Abandon Hunt For Parish," The Syracuse Journal, Syracuse, NY, Saturday, July 28, 1934.
Updated: November 1, 2014