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Oregonian/1906/March/27/Puter caught, but free again

< Oregonian‎ | 1906

PUTER CAUGHT, BUT FREE AGAIN

Stephen A. Douglas Puter 1906.jpeg

Land-Fraud Criminal Who Escaped After His Arrest in Boston
S. A. D. Puter

Breaks Away After Desperate Struggle.

FOUND BY BURNS IN BOSTON

Suddenly Draws Revolver and Threatens Death.

BURNS CLOSES WITH HIM

Leader of Land Swindles Slips Out of Grasp of Law Through Blundering of Hub Police in Misunderstanding Orders.

BOSTON, March 26.—Stephen A. D. Puter, of San Francisco, who in wanted by the United States Government as a witness in the land-fraud cases In Oregon, was arrested here tonight by United States Secret Service Agent W. J. Burns. of Washington. D. C., but, after being in custody less than half an hour, Puter drew a revolver and succeeded in escaping.

It is alleged that the Oregon state authorities want Puter, who was a broker, in connection with the forgeries of school certificates involving $70,000.

Police Make Bad Blunder.

Mr. Burns was detailed by the Government at Washington to come to Boston and search for Puter. He located him and waited at the Fenway branch where he learned Puter was in the habit of calling for mail addressed to "John H. Brownell." Puter agreed to accompany Mr. Burns to a private room in the postofflce. Mr. Burns understood that Superintendent Swift of the branch office had gone for the police, but it developed later that Mr. Swift understood that Mr. Burns wanted the assistance of the police.

Supposing that two officers were outside the building, Mr. Burns placed Puter under arrest and took him to the sidewalk. After asking a question or two about his removal to Washington, the prisoner suddenly drew a revolver, and, leveling it at Mr. Burns' head, exclaimed:

"I'll kill you, Burns, if you dare to move."

Struggle With Gun at Breast.

The crowd about the two men was quite dense, but fell back rapidly at the appearance of the revolver, but Mr. Burns, although considerably older than his prisoner, jumped at him and pushed up his hand. Puter struggled and succeeded at aiming the muzzle of the revolver at Mr. Burns' breast for a second time. Again the officer closed with his man, but he could not wrench the weapon away.

Puter finally got free from the grasp of Mr. Burns and gradually backed away, with the revolver still aimed at Mr. Burns. He suddenly turned and darted down the street, followed by the officer and many other persons. The fugitive, however, escaped.

HAD NO PLEDGE OF IMMUNITY

Heney Says Puter Is Dead Shot and Dangerous.

OREGONIAN NEWS BUREAU, Washington, March 26.—Francis J. Heney, special prosecutor in the land-fraud cases and Secret Service Agent W. J. Burns received a tip last week that S. A. D. Puter was in Boston, and Friday night Mr. Burns went north, promising Mr. Heney to bag his ban on Tuesday. We made the arrest one day earlier than he expected. Speaking of the case tonight, Mr. Heney said:

"Puter was the ringleader of that crowd of crooked timber thieves that operated so successfully in Oregon. After his conviction along with McKinley and others, these two men confessed to Mr. Burns and myself, on the understanding and agreement that they would not be prosecuted in the remaining cases, provided they told all they knew about the land frauds in Oregon and acted in good faith in aiding the Government to secure convictions. It was stipulated by me that they must suffer punishment in the case in which they had been convicted, and that I would not recommend leniency for them in that case, unless I subsequently concluded that their conduct was such as to entitle them to some leniency.

"Senator Teller stated in the Senate a short time ago that Senator Mitchell was convicted upon the testimony of Puter, whom he would not believe under oath. This seems to be a general impression, but the fact is that Puter was not a witness at all in the case in which Mitchell was convicted. The Senator was convicted upon the testimony of his own law partner, Judge Tanner. Puter was not sentenced on his first conviction, a postponement being made pending his use as a witness; he was released on bond. He acted in good faith with the Government. Prior to their disappearance Puter and McKinley kept myself and Mr. Burns posted as to their whereabouts, and had been willing to appear as witnesses for the Government. No trace of Puter was found until a month ago. He will be taken, whenever captured, to Oregon and sentenced for the original conviction in 1904. The penalty for which he is liable can be two years' imprisonment and $10,000 fine upon each count of the indictment, of which there are several. The chances are he will only get two years.

"Puter is a bad character. He is a hard nut and a quick man with a gun. He has a reputation as a dead shot; he is nervy, brave and reckless. When Mr. Burns went to Boston for him I started to warn him to be careful, for I believed Puter would fight if cornered. But I forgot to warn Mr. Burns. Puter once told me in Oregon, when he was first convicted, that he would never go to jail. I have always feared that he would do something desperate, if cornered."

CHARGES AGAINST PUTER.

One of First Land Swindlers—Evidence Needed Against Others.

S. A. D. Puter, Horace G. McKinley, Daniel W. Tarpley, Frank H. Walgamot, Harry Barr, Miss Marie L. Ware and Mrs. Emma L. Watson were indicted by the Federal grand Jury April 5, 1904, charged with conspiracy to defraud the Government out of a portion of the public domain in connection with illegal operations in township 11 south, range 7 east, Willamette Meridian.

Harry Barr was soon afterwards committed to the State Insane Asylum at Salem, from which he escaped before the cases against the alleged conspirators came to trial, and has never been apprehended.

The trial of the others commenced November 21, 1904, and lasted until December were found guilty, with the exception of Walgamot, who pleaded guilty just before tho case was submitted to the jury, and Miss Ware, who was acquitted upon the recommendation of Assistant United States Attorney-General Francis J. Heney.

There were additional charges of conspiracy pending against all the defendants, and their second trial under these indictments was set for December 12, at which time their attorneys made a motion to quash the same.

The next day Mr. Heney created a sensation by asking Judge Bellinger to postpone the cases against the accused, supplementing it with the request that the United States grand jury be convened without delay. Judge Bellinger consented, and the grand jury was convened December 19.

In the meantime, Puter, McKinley, Tarpey, Mrs. Watson and Miss Ware are known to have confessed their share of the frauds, and this fact actuated Mr. Heney in postponing their second trials and hurriedly summoning a new grand jury.

The confessions of the gang led subsequently to the indictment of United States Senator John H. Mitchell, Congressman Binger Hermann and J. N. Williamson besides a host of other more or less prominent politically and comercially. Both Mitchell and Williamson were convicted while the trial of Hermann on another charge is about to take place at Washington, D. C., the Oregon cases against him awaiting the result of that case.

Although the verdict of guilty was rendered December 6, 1904, none of the defendants was ever sentenced, Heney holding their convictions over their heads as a lash to make them aid him in the capture of what the Government regarded as bigger game. This phase of the situation is borne out by the subsequent active interest of the defendants in behalf of the Government, their information being looked upon as of vital consequence.

It developed later that Puter and McKinley had been carrying on their illegal operations in connection with the location and sale of state school land, and upon getting wind that the grand jury of Marion County had found indictments against them for these offenses, the pair fled for parts unknown. Their whereabouts have since remained a mystery, although at frequent intervals rumors of one or the other being seen at various points have reached the authorities, without anything tangible coming out of it until the episode of last night.