J. O. Smith, 74-year-old proprietor of a gun shop which bears his name at 510 South Main street, was shot and fatally wounded by Robert Long, 21, ex-reformatory convict, in what police declare was a holdup attempt in Smith's shop shortly before 8:30 o'clock today.
The wounded man, apparently shot twice through the abdomen and back, was rushed to a local hospital but died at 9:10 o'clock.
Paul Smith, 44, son of the bandit's victim, was beaten about the head by Long as he came to his father's rescue. Long snapped the gun, a 38 caliber automatic, at the son but the fact that the gun jammed saved the junior Smith's life.
The gun and cartridges used in the shooting are owned by the Smith shop. Long, it was charged, asked to see the gun on a pretense of buying it, slipped shells into the clip and without warning shot the aged shopkeeper.
Long fled from the store after the shooting but was captured about a block away by Owen Lentz, Swift & Co. employee and former high school football star.
The ex-reformatory inmate was taken to police headquarters and admitted the shooting but claimed it was accidental. Police scoffed at the accidental angle.
Long came into the gun shop shortly after opening time this morning and asked to look at some guns. The senior Smith was alone in the shop at the time. Long asked to see a .38 caliber automatic pistol which was lying in a show case. Smith handed him the weapon. They talked about the gun and Long asked for some cartridges for it. A box of shells was placed on the counter and Long slipped some loaded cartridges in the clip.
About that time another customer came into the shop and waited around the front part. Then Mr. Smith's son, Paul Smith, and the latter's daughter, Miss Margaret R. Smith, arrived after eating their breakfast at a down town cafe.
The other customer was waited upon by the junior Mr. Smith and departed. The son set down to read the morning paper and his daughter picked up a crossword puzzle.
Suddenly above the voices of the aged proprietor and his customer, a shot rang out. The senior Smith slumped behind the counter.
Paul Smith looked up from his paper to see Long whirl the automatic in his direction. As he leaped for his father's assailant, Long snapped the pistol with the muzzle pointed just above the son's heart. There was a hollow click and the two grappled. In the desperate milling Long smashed Smith twice on the head with the pistol before Smith managed to disarm him.
Bareheaded, Long fled out the door, having lost his cap in the scuffle. Dazed and weakened from the blows Smith attempted to follow but was quickly outdistanced.
Margaret Smith rushed into the street yelling for some one to stop the man.
Across the street at the Swift & Co. plant, Owen Lentz, a National Guardsman and former Hutchinson high school football star, heard the girl's screams. Alert to the situation in an instant, Lentz chased the fleeing convict. He quickly overtook Long and with a flying tackle smashed him to the sidewalk where he held him until Patrolman James Woodson arrived on the scene.
When police arrived at the shop just a few minutes after the shooting the senior Mr. Smith sat in a chair, his face white and showing intense pain. With one hand he clutched his side and could speak scarcely above a whisper to the officers. The first finger on his left hand was almost severed from the joint where one of the bandit's bullets had ripped through.
The younger Smith, his head covered with blood, sat in another nearby chair and told officers the story.
"I was reading the paper right there in that chair", he told Chief of Police Louis D. White, "Father was talking to the man at the counter. I heard the man keep asking for more shells and I guess he was loading the clip than. Without any warning whatever I heard a shot. I jumped to my feet and the bandit whirled at me, snapping the gun in my left side. I grabbed him and he struck me over the head twice with the gun. I finally managed to get the gun away from him but he ran out of the door. I yelled for help but people didn't seem to pay much attention to me."
"I am sure he intended to shoot father and take his roll," the son declared. "I believe he would have done it and got away before we come if it hadn't been for the other customer who came in just before me and my daughter got here."
The younger Smith declares that only one shot was fired before the bandit's gun jammed. However, an investigation of the senior Smith's body disclosed a bullet hole in the abdomen and another in the back about the shoulder high. As attending physician expressed the opinion that Smith was shot first in the abdomen and as he turned and slumped down the second shot struck him in the back.
Police said the two shots probably were fired so fast that the man's son failed to hear more than one explosion.
The senior Smith has operated a gun shop in Hutchinson for nearly a score of years and has many friends here.
When news of the shooting spread over the southside, a large crowd gathered quickly in front of the gun shop and there were frequent threats and murmurings heard against the ex-reformed convict.
At police headquarters, Long was brought from a cell for questioning before Chief White.
"What do you mean by going down there and shooting that old man?" demanded the police chief.
"I didn't mean to," was Long's reply.
"You went down there to hold him up and we've been checking up on you quite a bit lately," said the chief.
"No I didn't try to hold him up," was the youth's statement. "I was only going to look at some guns."
"What did you want with guns?"
"I was going out in the country and hunt."
"You didn't have any money on you, how were you going to buy any guns?" shot back Chief White.
"I wasn't going to buy them today." Long said.
He seemed unmoved by the shooting.
"How were you going to get any money tomorrow, next week, or anytime?" demanded the chief.
Just then the telephone at headquarters rang and the desk sergeant, taking the call, turned to Chief White and said:
"Smith just died at the hospital."
"The man you shot just died and you're wanted for murder." declared the chief.
Long stared, tried to say something but no words were forthcoming.
"That means about 20 years or more of coal digging in the state penitentiary for you," he was told.
Long said he was released from the state reformatory here Jan. 9th. He was up from here in 1929 for car theft. Since his release Long has been occupying a room at 1118 North Main street with his mother, Mrs. Louise Long. His mother does washings to provide for herself and son. Long has not worked since his release from the reformatory, it was said.
Chief White said Long has been under police surveillance for some time in connection with a number of local robberies.
Following questioning at police headquarters Chief White had Long removed to safer quarters at the county jail.
Police and county officers later visited Long's room at 1118 North Main street searching it for anything which might connect him with additional crimes. Long's mother was doing laundry work at the home of her daughter when police informed her that her son was being held for murder.
The elder Smith has made his home in the rear of his gun shop. Part of the money used to carry on his business was carried on his person, according to his granddaughter.
Paul Smith, the son, and his daughter live at 415 Last Acre street near Carey Park. The son said Long has been coming into the gun shop at different times for the past two years but that there had never been any trouble and he did not know him only as a caller at the gun shop.
Police were positive that Long intended to shoot down the senior Smith, rob him and flee. Smith's also subscribed to this opinion, he told police.
Chief White praised the quick thinking and alertness of Owen Lentz, who captured the alleged murderer.
Police said the elder Smith's keys were found in Long's possession when he was arrested and searched. Long is 21 years old, weighs about 140 pounds and is about five feet 11 inches tall. He gave his occupation as a laundry worker.
Paul Smith was taken to St. Elizabeth Hospital for treatment of his scalp wounds. His condition is not serious, Guy R. Walker, city physician, said.
In a statement to Max Wyman, county attorney, Long reiterated his story to police that the shooting was an accident. He said he went to the gun shop this morning to get a gun to shoot squirrels with.
After looking over the automatic revolver, loading it and examining other weapons, Long says he started to lay the gun down when it went off. Long says the younger Smith charged him and that he struck him over the head twice with the gun and then ran.
Mr. Wyman called an inquest for 5 o'clock this afternoon at the Johnson funeral parlors.
Smith, the slain man, was a cripple, having an artificial leg.
In order to prevent any possible violence on the part of southside residents against the accused youth, Sheriff Ed Cunningham issued orders that no one except officers be permitted to go to the jail on the fifth floor of the courthouse. However, no trouble was anticipated.
Hutchinson (Kansas) News, May 3, 1932.
See additional newspaper stories concerning the shooting.