Clarence Stierwalt, a young man with a purpose, stood at the “World’s Busiest Corner” State and Madison Streets, Chicago — in serious meditation.
It was twenty minutes past four o’clock on Monday afternoon, October 9, 1939.
The crowds swirled and eddied around him, but Clarence paid them no heed. Clarence was cogitating on a matter of grave concern. He had a small bit of money in his pocket and he needed a great deal more. But he was newly released from state’s prison and had arrived in Chicago from Paducah, Kentucky, only a few hours before, and among the countless thousands of persons streaming endlessly past him there wasn’t one that he knew. How, then, could he get this money?
He turned and stared intently at the nearest store. Then he walked inside and exchanged the money in his pocket for a small bright object of curious design. He thrust the object in the lower pocket of his vest, buttoned his coat over it and walked back to the teeming street.
He floated along with the milling crowd and stopped in front of another store a few doors farther south. This was Berland’s Shoe Store at 16 South State Street.
He went inside. The store was swarming with customers. The manager, Sam Bloomberg, stepped forward smilingly.
“Something in shoes, sir?” said Mr. Bloomberg.
“No,” said Clarence, unbuttoning his coat. “Something in cash.”
He pointed to the shining object protruding from his vest.
Mr. Bloomberg’s eyes widened at the object; a snubnosed automatic pistol.
“This is a stick-up. I want all the money you got in this joint,” said Clarence, speaking low from a corner of his mouth, “and I want it, quick.”
“Step this way,” said Mr. Bloomberg, and led him to the cashier’s cage.
“Miss Kay,” he said to” the cashier, “give this man what he wants. And please don’t alarm the other — customers.”
There was $250 in the till. Miss Rose Kay, the cashier, gave it all to Clarence.
Clarence shoved it into his pockets and buttoned his coat. Then he bowed to the cashier and lifted his hat, and turned and walked outside. Nobody else in the store was aware that it was being robbed. So it was as simple as that!
Emerging to the sidewalk, somewhat hurriedly, Clarence collided with another man.
“Hey!” exploded this man. “Can’t you watch where you’re going?”
“Sorry,” said Clarence. “I’m in a hurry.” He started to push on through the crowd.
But the man detained him. “Say,” he said, looking curiously at Clarence’s face, “haven’t we met somewhere before? St. Louis, I think it was.”
“I’ve never been in St. Louis,” said Clarence. “If we met at all it was in Paducah.”
“But I’ve never been in Paducah,” said the man.
Clarence had the vague feeling he had heard something like this before, and he was about to supply the last line to the gag: “It must have been two other fellows,” but now, suddenly, he heard a shout behind ‘him:
“Hold that man! Don’t let him get away!”
Clarence looked over his shoulder. Policeman Martin Sullivan, on traffic duty at State and Madison, was barging toward him through the crowd, elbowing people right and left, service revolver in hand. Following him was Manager Sam Bloomberg.
Clarence tried to run, but he hadn’t a chance. The stranger, who thought they had met in St. Louis, held him in a bearlike grip.
A moment later Officer Sullivan was clamping the handcuffs on him. The stranger, having performed his duty as a citizen, disappeared in the crowd without giving his name. Probably he was still pondering on how he could have met Clarence when he had never been in Paducah.
Mr. Bloomberg, watching excitedly, uttered a warning: “Take care, Officer. He’s got a gun in his pocket.”
Officer Sullivan, preparing to take his prisoner to the call box and send him to the Detective Bureau, jerked open Clarence’s coat and snatched the snub-nosed pistol from the lower vest pocket. Then he gave a hearty laugh. It was a toy cap pistol such as children use when playing “cops and robbers.”
Clarence had bought it with his last thirty-five cents.