Welcome back everyone, I hope you all are doing well. Today’s story has a lot to unpack, and it is something that is so relevant today, as it was almost a hundred years ago. If someone makes a mistake in the Criminal Justice system, it can very easily cost someone their life. For example, I used to work at my local jail. A guard went into a pod by himself, got into trouble, and an inmate broke both of his legs. The guard, thankfully, was ok. He recovered and kept his job. But then we were asked why on earth were guards entering pods by themselves? Why didn’t we bring someone with us? Our superiors asked this question when they knew the answer was that we didn’t have the staff. There were not enough of us to work safely. So we did what we could. It was the decision long ago by the staff at the county jail to turn a blind eye to the staffing problems and to let their officers place themselves in danger. That staffing problem led to that man having his legs broken and many other injuries and deaths that had happened in that place.
Another major decision that happens in the criminal world is that some inmates get put up for parole. This can be through a natural process or can also be selected by state governors to pardon or parole offenders for state crimes. For some states, it was not unusual to hear that several inmates were paroled or pardoned by the governor after reviewing their files. We had covered other cases in the past where this happened in Oklahoma. But what happens when you make a mistake in that process? What happens when you let the wrong person go? That is the basis for this episode, and here is that story.
When you rank outlaws from the 1920s, the Newton Brothers are always on the list somewhere. Willis, Joe, and Jesse will forever be known as those who robbed a train in 1924 for 2 million dollars. They were not the only ones in their family who aspired to take what was not theirs. The Oglesby’s, cousins to the Newtons, wanted to be outlaws as well. They were brothers, Cole, Louis, and Ernest Oglesby.
They were never destined to reach the same heights that their cousin counterparts would. Ernest would get caught early in his career. He stole a car in Breckenridge, Texas, and was captured shortly after. That joy ride cost him two years in the state pen.
He got out in 1929, and if you think he straightened up and did right, you’d be completely wrong. Ernest needed money, and so he did what he thought was best, and he conducted a string of robberies in Eastland, Texas. Altogether, he conducted five burglaries and also stole another car.
Someone realized what was going on, and they called the police. Officers searched the area and found Ernest driving the stolen car, and inside it was the stolen personal items. He was caught red-handed, and it was hard to argue otherwise. Ernest was sent to prison for another 10 years. But he would not serve all 10 years. You see, Earnest was noted as a model prisoner, never gave anyone any problems. He didn’t fight, cause problems or get in the way of day-to-day operations. So the warden and some staff wrote letters to the governor of Texas asking him to look into Ernest’s case and see if they could do anything.
It didn’t take long; the governor signed the papers and had Ernest and others out of prison. It was reported in the Austin American paper on Wednesday, May 3rd, 1933 – Paige 3.
“Eleven Inmates of the Texas penitentiary were recipients of clemencies from Gov. Miriam A. Ferguson Tuesday. Full pardons were issued to H. A. Jenkins, Kaufman county, burglary two years, convicted In October 1932, and to Ernest Oglesby, Eastland county, burglary and theft 10 years. Tom Davis, convicted In May 1932, In Shackelford county of murder and given 10. years’ imprisonment, received a conditional pardon.”
This was common practice at the time. If a governor believed that the inmate was ready to go back out into the world a changed man, they would let them out. No problem. Typically, there were some checks and balances. I know in Oklahoma, a committee would review each case with the governor. They would read updates about the prisoner from staff work see them first hand at the prison and from the warden. They also practiced some form of victimology. They would look at the impact that the prisoner caused on their victims’ lives and weigh each option of early parole or not.
While Ernest was in prison, his brothers Louis and Cole were still out practicing the family trade. In early 1932, Louis and Cole rob a bank in Mississippi. They get in an intense gunfight with the police, and as they make a run for it, Louis is shot and killed. Cole was able to get away.
Things were getting a little too hot for Cole in Mississippi, so he traveled to Oklahoma City. He started boosting cars in the city to make him some quick cash. A few months after Louis was shot and killed, Cole broke into a sedan near the state capital. An Oklahoma City Detective that specialized in finding stolen cars was quickly on the case. He was able to track and locate Cole, who refused to come in quietly. Cole reached for his gun, sitting next to him in the car. The Detective held him off and then fired 5 shots, all 5 either hit Cole in the face or chest. He died instantly.
So now Ernest is being let out of prison just a short few months later. If you look at all of this, it’s hard to justify the reasoning. But, they could not judge Ernest on the crimes of his brothers, and he was spending his time in prison, not causing any problems.
It didn’t take long for Ernest Oglesby to pick up his life of crime once again. He traveled to Oklahoma City and began boosting cars, much like his brother Cole was doing at his death. They must have had contact, or someone they knew worked within Oklahoma City because it seemed to be a point where they thought it was wise to do so.
Now, many of these following details come from officers’ sworn testimonies and eyewitness reports.
Ernest Oglesby had met a woman named Edna McElvany. She and Ernest stayed in a cottage in Camp Jackson, just a mile north of the state capital. Camps like these were homeless camps that were all over the city. This was in the middle of the great depression, and families were making hard decisions with how they lived and how they would provide for their families. If you would like to read more about the Oklahoma Camps. You can find it here. http://daysgoneby.me/oklahoma-city/
On December 3rd, 1933, at about 8 am, Oklahoma City Police Officers Douglas Gates and Webb Campbell had just pulled their patrol car into a filling station just outside of camp Jackson to get some gas. They had been working since 1 am and had a rough night. They worked a murder scene in the camp that happened overnight. Now, they were winding down by checking plates and looking for stolen cars.
It didn’t take them long to spot a car that matched the description of a vehicle that was recently stolen. Officer Campbell took down the plate number and checked it with his list of known stolen vehicles and their tag numbers. Sure enough, the tag on this car they were following had a stolen tag for another car. It was a sure sign that something was wrong here.
When they tried to pull over the suspect, the car sped up, and soon, they were in a chase. They sped through town until finally, they were blocked with traffic at 23rd Street and Robinson Avenue. Officer Campbell got out of the car and approached the suspect, but after a short exchange of words, the suspect again tried to speed off when the traffic was clear. As he did, Officer Campbell grabbed onto the car’s rear-wheel and stood on the bumper. As Campbell shouted for the driver to stop, an explosion of glass blew into his face. The car driver shot at the officer through his own rear window, causing it to explode outward.
Officer Campbell heald on to the back of the car with all he had, and then he pulled his own pistol and fired back at the suspect. When he did this, he had to remove one hand from holding on to the rear-wheel. The suspect took a sharp turn, side-swiped a car, and the resulting jolt knocked Officer Campbell to the ground.
Through all of this action, Officer Gates was still in the patrol car, following behind and trying to watch out for his partner. When Officer Campbell fell to the ground, Officer Gates quickly pulled up to protect his fallen partner. Before Officer Gates could even get out of his car, the suspect had already exited his and had his gun trained on Officer Gates. He fired several shots through the windshield and killed Officer Gates.
The stolen car was not in working order anymore. The wheel had jammed when he side-swiped the other car on the turn. So the suspect ran to a vehicle that was behind the patrol car. Inside was Mr. Case and his family. They were held at gunpoint and forced to drive the suspect to drive up Robinson. They let him out a few miles up the road, and the suspect let them go with no further issues.
The suspect was injured. He had been shot during the gunfight. He ran into camp Jackson and into a home on the outskirts of the camp. Mr. Case went straight to the police and let them know what happened and where they took the suspect. They could tell that he was injured and that they saw him run towards camp Jackson. It didn’t take Detectives long to find their suspect. Several people in the camp saw the injured man run into the house he had been renting. The suspect was, of course, Ernest Oglesby.
When Detectives entered the home of Ernest Oglesby, they found him dressing a wound on his arm. He was quickly taken into custody at gunpoint. They were not going to give him the chance to fight back again. When they got back to the station, Ernest was placed in an interview room where he was confronted by Detectives about the Murder of Officer Gates. Ernest acted as if he didn’t know what was going on and claimed that he had nothing to do with a stolen car or the murder of a police officer.
Ernest tried to explain to the Detectives that his own car was stolen that same morning. He had bought it for 400 dollars. He paid the owner $200 for the car and said they would sign over the title when he delivered the other $200. He said that the man, a Mr. McDonald, lived in Gutherie and when he tried to get ahold of him last, he could not find him.
By this time, Officers had a chance to search the car left at the scene of the murder. Inside it was an automatic pistol, sawed-off shotgun, a pinch bar, and a sledgehammer. They asked Ernest about these items in the car he supposedly bought, but he tried to fain innocence by saying that it all belonged to the previous owner.
Now, it doesn’t take a trained police detective to tell when someone is coming up with a thin story like this that they are not telling the truth. The Detectives here were well-trained and seasoned vets of their trade, and they knew that this was a poorly constructed story.
Ernest’s story began to change. He admitted that he was there at the scene. But he said that he had no idea that the people that were after him were police officers. He thought they were someone he knew from Texas, a man named Red Shores. Ernest said that they hated each other, and Red was out to kill him. When the officers began chasing him, he thought they were Red and his gang, coming after him. Ernest told police where they could find the pistol he used in the shootout. It was under the stove of the house he had been renting.
The officers also arrested Edna, who was also in the home when Ernest was arrested. She was in a state of shock when she found her boyfriend Ernest shot and hurt. When the officers told her who he was, she said he had lied about his identity, and she had no idea that Ernest was a thief and now a murderer. She told officers that she did wonder how he earned his money but knew better than to ask.
One sad fact about this case is that Officer Gates had a brother J. D. Gates who also worked for the police department. J. D. Gates had been killed in the line of duty just a year earlier and died just a few blocks up the road from where his Brother would later be shot and killed.
On December 5th, 1933, this was reported in the Oklahoma News and was the front-page article.
“Guard Suspect in Police Slaying with Machine Gun – Ernest Oglesby, accused slayer of Police Scout Douglas Gates, today was chained to his county jail cell here on reports he has connections with the Clyde Champion Barrow outlaw gang.”
“He will face a preliminary hearing on the murder charge Monday before Justice of the Peace J. Will Laws. Reports of the man;’s alleged outlaw affiliations saw the county jail again turned into a fortress, as it was when the Charles F Urschel Kidnappers, Harvey Mailey, Albert Gates, and George (Machine Gun) Kelly, were there.”
“A machine gun guard was stationed in the jail hospital to guard the main entrance and office, while chains held Oglesby fast to his cell on the floor above.”
The article then details the funeral for Officer Gates and then explains that Ernest Oglesby was taken in front of Judge Law and Ernest pled not guilty for the crime of murder.
This article is pretty essential because it really shows the seriousness that they placed on this case. Ernest Oglesby was a danger, even in jail. It was not unheard of for gangs to come back to save their own, especially when they were facing a murder charge. So they wanted to known that a guard with a machine gun was standing guard at all times. I also wonder if they wanted it known to all of the officers that they were taking this seriously and that they were not going to take any chances to let a cop killer have any chance of getting out.
The police conducted Ballistic tests and identified the revolver found in Ernest’s home as the one that shot and killed Officer Gates. They were ready for the trial that was set for January 9th, 1934.
With the Jury set, the trial started right on time and started off on the attack. The prosecution demanded the death penalty for Ernest. They opened up by stating that Ernest would admit to his crimes but pretend that he thought someone else was after him. They brought several eyewitnesses to the crime that indicated they saw what had happened and that it would be impossible for Ernest to mistake who was after him. The most damming testimony would come from Officer Campbell. Officer Campbell had spoken to Ernest when he stopped on 23rd street. Ernest knew that at that time that they were police officers. They were both in uniform, clearly had badges on, and were driving a patrol car. It was hard to mistake otherwise. They also brought Ernest’s girlfriend to the stand, who stated that he lied to her about his identity, and they then brought Mr. Case to the stand, who said to the jury that when they were taken by gunpoint, Ernest clearly stated that he was being chased by the police.
When the prosecution rested, the defense called Ernest Oglesby to the stand. Ernest was well-spoken and tried to explain to the jury that this was all just a misunderstanding gone horribly wrong. He knew that he did wrong, but in his eyes, he was only defending himself. When Officer Campbell was holding onto the back of his car, he was scared that he thought he would shoot him. So he fired first. He claimed that he had no idea that the burglar tools and weapons were in the trunk. They belonged to the man from whom he bought the car.
When the jury received the case, they deliberated for 35 minutes and then announced that they had a verdict. This was an ominous sign that they had quickly decided, and it could be a surprise win for either side.
The jury was brought back into the courtroom, and they pronounced Ernest Oglesby guilty of murder. They recommended death as the penalty.
After the verdict, Earnest was removed from the courtroom. On his way to death row, he spoke to a reported who followed him to the car. He said, “I don’t think I got a fair trial. In fact, I know I didn’t. I’m going to fight this to the finish. They didn’t convict me of that shooting. That want to burn me because I had those guns and that stolen car that belonged to someone else and because I went to the pen in Texas.”
Ernest fought the verdict but lost all his appeals. On January 4th, 1935, Ernest Oglesby was brought into the death chamber in McAlester State Prison. He was greeted by a large crowd of over 200 people. He stated to the crowd, “I hope God will forgive everyone who helped put me here.”
Ernest Oglesby was then strapped to the electric chair, the electrodes were put into place. When the switch was flipped, Ernest was dead just a short few minutes later.
This was an interesting case. At one time, all of the Oglesby brothers were ended by their outlaw ways. They never had the same success as their cousins, but they had quite the impact, especially here in Oklahoma. If Earnest had been kept in prison, all of this would have been avoided. But the lax laws and practices at the time resulted in one of the most significant mishaps in the state’s history. Ernest should have never got out of prison so quickly.
Newspaper Clipping and more will be added shortly.