BANGOR — Oct. 12 marks the 74th anniversary of the Brady Gang shootings in downtown Bangor. On Columbus Day 1937, as America’s most wanted fugitives returned to Dakin Sporting Goods to buy a machine gun, the trio drove into an FBI trap.
Senior member James Dalhover was captured inside the store, while leader Al Brady and driver Clarence Shaffer Jr. were shot dead outside on Central Street, triggering twilight for the gangster era.
Inspired by my late mother, who as a 23-year-old student saw the bandits soon after they died, I’ve spent years probing their Indiana roots, three murders and 150 holdups.
With the help of fellow actors and City Councilor Gerry Palmer, I portrayed Brady in a 2007 re-enactment witnessed by 4,000 spectators and former special agent Walter R. Walsh, who was wounded in the original 45-second bloodbath.
Now 104, Walsh is the FBI’s oldest living former agent and the oldest Olympian, having competed with the U.S. shooting squad in the 1948 Summer Games in London. Mysteries remain in my narrative. Someday I hope to solve them all.
1. Who’s the girl whose picture was in Al Brady’s pocket? According to the FBI, among the items recovered from the John Dillinger wanna-be’s dead body was a photo of an unidentified girl. A “girl” in 1930s lingo ran the gamut from a child to a mature woman. Perhaps it showed Alicia Frawley, Brady’s innocent 20-year-old lover, whom he met while living in Bridgeport, Conn.
2. What happened to the Brady Gang’s Buick? Skowhegan insurance agent G. Allan Wentworth acquired the stolen 1937 Roadmaster and drove it until the novelty wore off in late 1938. After that the trail grows cold. Sketchy reports claim it ended up in junkyards. Collectors value vintage Buick parts, so, like a transplanted heart, perhaps the 8-cylinder engine ticks on in another vehicle.
3. Does anyone know Brady’s last words? “I’ll come. Don’t shoot!” was his reported farewell after being ordered from his car at gunpoint. But one FBI agent recalled back-seat cursing as the defiant thug tried to shoot his way out. Blasphemy seems fitting for a man about to collapse under the weight of two dozen bullets.
4. Who tipped off newspapers? FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover claimed an absence of media leaks, but one or more people apparently alerted the Bangor Daily News and Bangor Daily Commercial about an impending story. Commercial reporter Bud Leavitt plus News Managing Editor John O’Connell and photographer Dan Maher said they spent the night in chilly cars awaiting a pre-Facebook scoop. Dakin’s owner Shep Hurd and Police Chief Tom Crowley may have whispered the news, minus sensitive details.
5. Why was Brady’s brain removed? Nurses and visiting G-men viewed the gangster’s brain in a glass jar at Eastern Maine General Hospital, now EMMC, where after autopsy it may have been studied for genetic differences. Perhaps “justifiable homicide,” the official cause of death, allowed for such measures. And since no family members claimed Brady’s body before interment at Mount Hope Cemetery, a final viewing was unnecessary. So what did it matter if it lacked a vital organ?