Two Convicts, Two State Troopers, Tragedy on a Monroe County Road- Remembering Michigan State Trooper Richards F. Hammond

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Monroe and Monroe County Michigan are celebrating their 200th anniversary in 2017.  The Michigan State Troopers celebrated the 100th anniversary of their founding on April 19, 2017 with a Michigan State Troopers Day included in the celebrations. Fallen State Trooper Richards F. Hammond was killed in the line of duty 80 years ago on January 20, 1937. From its beginnings as a cavalry of 300 men to its growth to a police agency of more than 2,900 members, the Michigan State Police have a proven tradition of service and leadership in law enforcement. Along the way, more than 50 Michigan State Troopers have died in the line of duty. State Trooper Richards F. Hammond was the 10th  of more than 50 Michigan State Troopers to sacrifice their lives for their state and community.

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Like history, tragedies have a timelessness that transcend time and place. At first 2017 glance, the story of Michigan State trooper Richards Hammond and his assassin Alcide Benoit seems to be a 1937 tragedy that has faded into history except in the memories of immediate and descendant family members- a regrettable, but light years distant episode in a universe of galactic events.

But even though 80 years have passed, the Hammond-Benoit story underlines questions we still face today in the criminal justice system, questions about capital punishment and prison sentences, possibilities of rehabilitation, and the continuing social effects of violence. We face historical choices about the stories we retrieve and which we allow to disappear through disinterest, politics, or fear about the effect of the events on the families and descendants of the people involved. The story of Richards Hammond, Alcide Benoit, the Balogs, and the people of Monroe gathering in a mob at the Monroe jail is a story of human action and reaction – a story that is part of the entire historical picture and a reminder that Trooper Hammond’s service and sacrifice will not be forgotten.

Stumbling for Help Down a Country Road

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Her heart pounding with fear and exertion, Anna Balog stumbled along the sleet-slick road in Federman, Michigan in the early evening of January 20, 1937. She curled her fingers tightly around the lantern she was holding, squared her shoulders, and pushed her way up the road toward the Irving Karns farmhouse and help. The stranger who had appeared at their farm and told them he needed help getting his car out of a ditch had seemed furtive and desperate to her, but her father Paul Balog and her brother Steve had driven away with him in their farm truck. Although her mother Rose had begged and then ordered her not to go, Anna hurried out into the rain-sleet storm with the goal of reaching the Karns farmhouse and help.  She had to let the police know that her father and brother had driven away with a strange man who gave her an uneasy feeling in her stomach .  Telling her story later to the state police and family and friends, Anna said, “When they drove away, I grabbed a lantern and started up the road to the Karn’s place.” [1]

The lives of the Balog family, Alcide Benoit, Richards Hammond, and many others in Monroe County and Monroe converged in January 1937 to produce events that had a lasting impact.

 Alcide Benoit

The 1930 United States Federal Census records that Alcide “Frenchy” Benoit, 16 years old in 1930, was born in Toronto, Canada about 1916 to William and Regina Benoit. He immigrated to the United States with his family in 1920, and the 1930 Census shows Alcide living in Detroit with his mother, father, and siblings.

According to state police identification records, Alcide Benoit, also known as Frenchy, first collided with the law in Nashville, Tennessee on November 7, 1930, when he was charged with transporting a stolen automobile across state lines. Because he was just 16, Alcide Benoit was committed to the Michigan Boy’s Vocational School in Lansing for two years. In 1933, he was sentenced to the Michigan State Reformatory at Ionia after he was convicted in Detroit for carrying concealed weapons and receiving stolen property. He was released on parole on January 2, 1936.

Two Fugitives from Justice

During his stay at the Ionia Reformatory, Frenchy met John H. Smith, aliases Mike Delberto and Smitty, from Flint, who had been sentenced to serve 2 ½ to 7 ½ years in the reformatory for robbery. A year later, in January 1937, Alcide Benoit who had adopted the alias Joe LaRue and Frenchy became friends. They continued their lives on the wrong side of the law when they were released from prison and living in Detroit.  On January 19, 1937 they kidnapped a Detroit used car salesman, Fred Williams, took him to Toledo, Ohio, and left him there tied to a tree. They stole his $88.00 and his car and drove back into Michigan toward Detroit. Michigan State troopers and local police established roadblocks around Monroe and two Michigan State Troopers, Richards F. Hammond and Sam S. Sineni, stopped the two fugitives shortly before midnight on January 19, 1937.

Two Michigan State Troopers

Michigan State Trooper Richards F. Hammond and Michigan State Trooper Sam S. Sineni’s World:

Part I – Michigan State Troopers, 1937- You Tube Video, Michigan State Troopers Website

Part II- Michigan State Troopers, 1937- You Tube Video, Michigan State Troopers Website  

Michigan State Trooper Richards F. Hammond was born November 5, 1911 in Hanover, Michigan the only child of Dora Richards and Frank Hammond. The 1930 United States Federal Census lists Richards as living with his parents on their Hanover farm. In 1937, he had been a Michigan State Trooper for 18 months and he was engaged to be married.

Michigan State Trooper Sam S. Sineni, was born in Chicago on January 30, 1911 to Frank and Josephine Sineni. After being discharged from the U.S. Naval Reserves, he enrolled in and graduated from the Michigan State Police Recruit School in East Lansing, Michigan. In 1935 he was assigned to the Michigan State Police Post in Rockwood. In 1937 he was a newly-wed.[2]

A Fugitive From Justice  Brags His Story

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While waiting in the Monroe County jail for his arraignment, Frenchy bragged about his skill as a kidnapper and told Monroe County Sheriff Joseph Bairley how the state and local police captured him and his accomplice “Smitty.” Frenchy bragged that since his release from the Ionia Reformatory, he had made his living kidnapping people, taking them for a ride, stealing their money, and other types of robberies. “Why say, I’ve done holdups in almost every city in this country…Chicago, Detroit, Toledo, Grand Rapids, Cleveland. O, I can’t remember where they are were. Detroit was easy.” [3]

Still in a talkative mood, Frenchy told Captain Lawrence (Laurence).A. Lyon of the Michigan State Troopers that he and Smitty left Toledo and headed for Detroit. They stopped at a gas station in Monroe and the two troopers in their scout car came over and questioned them. “One of them put Smitty in our car and Hammond put me in the police car,” Frenchy said. “He frisked me, but I had my gun dropped through a hole in my coat. I had bought the .44 in Chicago.”

Frenchy said that he and Trooper Hammond were behind Smitty and Trooper Sineni and just as soon as Trooper Hammond started the car, he pulled his gun and told Trooper Hammond to hand over his gun.  As Trooper Hammond gave Frenchy his gun, he began to speed up.  Frenchy continued his story.  “I socked him and told him to do as I said. Then he drove like the devil and tried to wreck the car, but I made him turn around.”[4]

Trooper Sam Sineni shot at the car, but Frenchy and Trooper Hammond had a head start. Frenchy knew the other trooper and his backup were following closely because he had turned on the police radio. “The trooper and I argued and he kept trying to pull the car into the ditch. I could see the other car coming toward us and I tried to make Hammond turn around. That’s where we almost got stuck. “[5]

Now about ten miles from Monroe, Trooper Sam Sineni following in the stolen car with Smitty, approached the police car blocking the highway. Frenchy and Trooper Sineni exchanged shots. Frenchy turned off on the first road he could see and he stopped the car, near Erie, Michigan. He put the handcuffs on one of Trooper Hammond’s wrists and pulled him out of the car. Fighting furiously, the two men rolled around in the dirt. Frenchy said,  “That was when I shot him, because he was getting the best of me.  I didn’t fasten him up to the mailbox and then shoot him. After I shot, I looked up and somehow his handcuffs had got around the post. I could hear the police radio going full blast about them hunting me, so I got back in the car and drove like the devil.”[6]

Turning down a slippery country road, Frenchy couldn’t prevent the stolen police car from sliding into a ditch. He turned off his lights and hunkered down to wait for awhile. Three hours before state troopers found Trooper Hammond’s body, two Monroe county deputies Joe Dansard, and Robert Navarre came upon the hunted car near Lulu, Michigan, and again a gun battle ensued with Frenchy finally abandoning the patrol car.  He escaped on foot into the nearby woods.  The two deputies found Trooper Hammond’s blood saturated uniform coat inside of the abandoned patrol car which also was stained with blood. At 5:00 a.m., the officers patrolling roads in the area came upon the body of the missing trooper who had been shot through the head. His body was slumped against a rural mailbox, and his wrists were shackled with his own handcuffs to a steel post.

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In the meantime, Frenchy hid in a barn and lay there for hours. Eventually he got up and found a farmhouse, demanding a car from its occupants. The people told him they didn’t have a car, so he moved on to the village of Federman where he found the farm of Paul Balog. Frenchy forced Paul and his son Steve into the Balog farm truck. He drove down the slippery roads, trying to run the extensive police barricades.

“Well, I guess you know the rest,” he told Captain Lyon. [7]

Hunting a Policeman’s Killer

Michigan State Police Captain Lawrence (Laurence) A. Lyon knew the rest and he knew what to do. He identified Alcide Frenchy Benoit as the killer of Trooper Richards Hammond. He said Trooper Sineni brought Smith to the Erie Barracks after the gun battle and then joined the search for the former convict. Paul Stear, another farmer, had witnessed the two Balogs being captured and reported their abduction to the police and reported seeing Frenchy force Paul Balog to drive him westward. Warrants charging Frenchy Benoit with murder and with violating the Lindbergh Kidnap Law were issued at Monroe and at Detroit. Frenchy’s accomplice, John Smith, was also charged with kidnapping.

Captain Lyon directed a posse of 300 officers from Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan and city and country police throughout southeastern Michigan to capture Frenchy Benoit, ordering them to “shoot to kill,” because Frenchy had two pistols, one belonging to Trooper Hammond. Detroit and Indiana State police joined the search and Michigan State police issued radio appeals for farmers to arm themselves and search their outbuildings for the fugitive. Sleet covered highways hampered the search and grounded airplanes which were to have assisted in locating the fugitives. Newspapers and law enforcement officials called the manhunt one of the most extensive in Michigan history.

Harold H. Reinecke, head of the Detroit office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, reported that his agents had also joined the investigation because of the information that Frenchy and his companion John H. Smith, Smitty, had kidnapped a Detroit salesman and driven his car across the state line into Ohio.

Taking Hostages and Capturing a Wanted Man

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Several newspapers across the country reported the capture of Alcide Frenchy Benoit  with varying details. One story read that Frenchy found a deserted barn about three miles from the road in Lulu where he had shot State Trooper Hammond , hiding there all day while posses searched the area. That night he decided to attempt another escape and he made his way to the farmhouse of Paul Balog, south of Lulu in Federman village. He told Paul Balog and his son Steve that he needed help to start his car which had been stalled on a nearby road. Paul and Steve Balog offered to go with him in their small truck. As they started to leave, Frenchy drew a gun, poked it into Paul Blog’s ribs and said, “I’m a gangster and have been for 15 years. You’re going to drive me to Monroe.”

Depending on the version of the story, Paul Balog’s daughter Anna either telephoned the police from her home or slid down the slippery road to the neighboring Irving Karns farm to let the police know that her father and brother had been kidnapped. The police assigned more than 50 patrol cars to scour the highways. Four officers encountered the Balog truck at the intersection of State Highway 50 and Telegraph Road about three miles southwest of Monroe. The state troopers ordered Frenchy to surrender. One version of the story said that Frenchy ordered the Balogs out of the truck at gunpoint, trying to use them as shields to escape, but when he saw how many policemen had guns trained on him, he put his arms above his head and surrendered. The state troopers found that he carried two guns, one of his own and the other that he had taken from Trooper Hammond.

After he and his father Paul were safe, Steve Balog commented on Frenchy’s capture. “I was scared. The state police seemed to be all around the car. They pulled him out and, boy was I glad!”[8]

Later, in the Monroe County jail,  Frenchy told police that he didn’t think he had killed Trooper Hammond, but had reasoned that handcuffing him to the mailbox would keep him from getting help. “After shooting him, I took his gun,” Frenchy said.

A Chicago Daily Tribune Story noted that “The capture once again demonstrates the efficiency of the Michigan State police force which constitutes a law enforcement body second to none in the country. Its famous highway blockade system was put into effect so quickly that Benoit was prevented from leaving the vicinity of his savage crime.”[9]

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Surviving a Monroe County Jail Mob and Two Trials

More than 100 policemen and state troopers guarded the Monroe County jail after Alcide Frenchy Benoit’s capture and imprisonment on January 20,1937. A crowd estimated at more than 2,000 men and women surrounded the jail after Benoit’s capture, muttering threats against the young gunman. Frenchy confessed to firing one shot into Hammond’s brain, and then handcuffing his body to a rural mailbox. The crowd had thinned out early on the morning of January 21, but police took precautions to prevent any demonstrations when Frenchy appeared at his arraignment in municipal court later in the day on a first degree murder charge.

Escorted to court by heavily armed officers guarding him from an angry crowd incensed at the brutal murder of officer Hammond, Alcide Frenchy Benoit, accused of having murdered State Trooper Richards Hammond pleaded “not guilty” in his arraignment at municipal court. The 24-year-old paroled convict waived preliminary examination and was held for trial.

John H. Smith, alias Mike Delberto, 29, of Detroit, pleaded guilty to the charge of carrying a revolver. He also was bound over to Circuit Court under a bail of $10,000.[10]

At his trial on January 22, 1937, Alcide Benoit changed his plea to guilty and the trail lasted only 40 minutes. During the trial he confessed to about 40 robberies and the murder of Michigan State Trooper Richards F. Hammond and he received a life sentence at hard labor. The life sentence saved him from facing many federal charges, including one involving the death penalty.

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After Frenchy Benoit had served ten years in Marquette Prison, Judge Clayton C. Golden awarded him a new trial, because he “did not have counsel and he was not advised of his constitutional rights” before sentencing. Judge Golden based his ruling on a U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring that a confessed murderer must have counsel before being sentenced and that a quick trial where a defendant pleads guilty without benefit of counsel is unconstitutional. Once again a jury found Frenchy Benoit guilty of first degree murder and he was sent back to prison.[11]

The Final Chase and Capture

On March 10, 1950, about three years after his second trial, the prison doctors at Marquette told Alcide Frenchy Benoit, 36, that despite an operation to attempt to stop its progress, he was dying of cancer. They recommended that he be transferred to the penitentiary at Jackson, Michigan, for further treatment.

Doctors heavily drugged Frenchy with morphine to manage his pain during the trip and law enforcement officials placed him in the rear seat of a passenger car with two guards, more to monitor his condition than any anticipated dangerous behavior. Two other guards rode with a busload of prisoners who were also being transferred. The caravan stopped for a light meal near Gaylord, Michigan. The guards left Frenchy handcuffed in the back seat and by all appearances unconscious from the sedation the doctors had given him, and stepped outside to refuel the car.

As soon as they had gotten out of the car, Frenchy revived. Despite his weakened body and his handcuffs, he managed to crawl into the front seat, ease himself behind the wheel, and speed away. Later, he explained his actions. “I said to myself, Frenchy, this is your out, so I got out. I knew I was going to Jackson to die. It was a funny feeling. I had not been at the wheel for 14 years.”

Frenchy drove a wild ride over Northern Michigan back roads at speeds up to 80 miles an hour, handling the car as coolly and carefully as if he were in the best of health and not impended by morphine and cancer. He even managed to stop, break into a shed, and steal two axes that policemen later found in the car.

The police guard radioed the news of Frenchy’s escape, and state troopers from other posts converged on the area and set up the blockade system. After an hour and a half chase, State Troopers Casimer Szocinski and Lambert Rayner recaptured Frenchy without incident on U.S. Highway 27. They quoted him as saying, “Shoot me coppers. I know you want to. Go ahead and shoot me. I’m going to die anyway.”[12]

Alcide Benoit died July 9, 1951 at age 37 of abdominal cancer.

Remembering

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Michigan State Trooper Richards F. Hammond is buried in Hanover Cemetery, Hanover, Michigan.

His Civil War veteran grandfather, Alpheus and his grandmother Esther are buried with him in Hanover Cemetery and so are his father Frank and his mother Dora.

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Fallen Troopers Memorial, Lansing, Michigan

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Click here to view Names on the Fallen Troopers Memorial  

Notes

[1] The Daily Mail, (Hagerstown, MD), Jan. 21, 1937, Pages 1, 2.; The Balog family name is spelled differently in the Census Records, Paul and Rose Balogh’s tombstones where it is spelled Balogh, and in the newspaper accounts of the time where it is mostly spelled Balog.; Irving Karns, Ida, Michigan. Irving Karns is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery, Petersburg.

[2] Sam S. Sineni was a Michigan State Trooper for 25 years, serving as the Post Commander in Erie, Michigan. He retired in July of 1959 as a Detective Sergeant at the Jackson State Police Post. He is buried in St. Joseph Cemetery in Monroe.

[3] Indiana Evening Gazette, Thursday, January 21, p. 1

[4] The Daily Mail, (Hagerstown, MD), Jan. 21, 1937, Pages 1, 2

[5] The Daily Mail, (Hagerstown, MD), Jan. 21, 1937, Pages 1, 2

[6] The Daily Mail, (Hagerstown, MD), Jan. 21, 1937, Pages 1, 2

[7] Chicago Daily Tribune, Friday January 22, 1937, p. 5

[8] The Daily Mail, Hagerstown, MD, Jan. 21, 1937, Pages 1, 2

[9] Chicago Daily tribune, Thursday, January 21, 1937, p. 2

[10] Middletown Times, Middletown, New York, January 21, 1937, p.1

[11]Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Michigan, March 10, 1950,p1

[12] Long Beach Independent, Long Beach, California. March 11, 1950, p. 1

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