‘MI Bad’ outs Michigan’s crooks

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Capital News Service

LANSING – From the robbery of a stagecoach near Lake Gogebic to pimping in Fayette to a bank heist in Mancelona, Michigan has been a hotbed for flashy crime over the decades.

Consider Reimund Holzhey, who had the guts to pull off the last stage holdup east of the Mississippi River. The year was 1889, the locale was the western Upper Peninsula, the getaway was by foot – he was scared of horses – and the outcome was prison.

Consider Jim Summers, who kidnapped, tricked and lured women to work in his brothel near Escanaba in the 1870s before an angry mob of local residents stomped him unconscious and ransacked his home. He disappeared after the beating, though it’s unknown whether he was dead or alive at the time of his disappearance.

And consider the brazen gang of four who robbed the Antrim County State Savings Bank in 1930, fled the scene while well-meaning civilians in Mancelona gave chase, sparked a search by vigilantes and the State Police, and ended up in prison with life sentences.

Their stories are part of a new true crime book, “MI Bad: Robbers, Cutthroats & Thieves in Michigan’s Past & Present” (Chandler Lake Books, $17.95). The author, 59-year-old Tom Carr of Buckley, is a former reporter who spent most of his 25-year newspaper career at the Traverse City Record-Eagle. His previous book, “Blood on the Mitten” dealt with Michigan murders.

“I’ve always been interested in history and true crime,” said Carr, who acknowledged that he likes “the seedy.”

“People love to hear stories,” he said. “History is fascinating if you look at what’s really happening. Whitewashed history is so boring.”

There’s not much boring about the Flint-area Tweety Bird Robber – a fifth-grade teacher whom police nicknamed for the cartoon character on her hat – who was nabbed in 2003 because a police officer spotted a piece of paper taped over her license plate. The paper was the note she’d shown a teller when she walked up to a bank’s drive-through window.

James Carr – not related to the author — and Maggie Duncan also fit the not-boring category. The couple used bribery, murder and arson in running their brothel in Harrison during the lumber boom of the 1880s. Their Devil’s Ranch was Clare County’s biggest taxpayer, but fortune faded and fate eventually proved unkind — and their frozen corpses were found in a shack near Meredith.

Carr the author describes Carr the felon this way: “If you’re looking for the worst person to ever grace the Great Lake State, James Carr would be in the running.”

Some of the baddies Carr writes about were dimwits, such as the robber who posted on his Facebook page a selfie matching surveillance photos at the banks he hit in Bay City and Pontiac.

So was the “Basement Bandit,” who burglarized the homes in Lansing, Albion, Kalamazoo and elsewhere and whose crime career went bust when he busted his ankle by jumping from a roof with police in pursuit.

The names of most of the book’s ne’er-do-wells and the crimes themselves have long faded from memory.

But “MI Bad” includes celebrity crimes and criminals as well.

For example, the infamous Baby Face Nelson masterminded a bank robbery – Carr describes it as a “colorful and flawed caper” — in Grand Haven. Al Capone used to chill at a club in Haslett and vacation near Leland. John Dillinger hid out in Sault Ste. Marie after robbing an Indiana police station. Dillinger crony Herbert Youngblood died in a shootout with police in Port Huron.

And “King” James Strang, the leader of a controversial Mormon faction on Beaver Island, ran a piracy ring that seized and burned cargo vessels in Lake Michigan. Disgruntled followers assassinated him in 1856.

As Carr wrote, “The Wild West is supposed to be where the shootouts and the bawdy houses and the colorful characters abounded in American lore.

“Yet train and stagecoach robberies also happened under cover of Midwestern woods, not just out on the lonely and rocky expanses of Wyoming or Arizona. The vice and corruption of the ever-moving lumber camps during the white pine boom were every bit as rowdy as the cattle drives and mining towns of the West,” he wrote.

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