Note: Many thanks to Bob and Patricia
Skabla for putting on a featured display at the November
meeting. Members enjoyed hearing how this 35 year life member
tracked down the provenance of the .38 Cal Smith & Wesson that
Bob exhibited. In case you missed the meeting, following is a
story that appeared in the Aug. 29, 2005 Springfield News-Sun.
BY TOM STAFFORD Community News
Editor. Reprinted through the courtesy of the Springfield
In 1972, retired Springfield
policeman Ray Sagraves was asking $92 for a new revolver at his
gun shop out on West Main Street.
So when he offered Bob Skabla an old
.38-caliber Smith & Wesson Springfield Police model for $7 less,
Skabla, as avid a collector of bargains as he is of police and
military guns, agreed. "I bought it because it said ‘Springfield
Police Department’ on it,” Skabla said.
Eighty-five dollars later, he became
the proud owner of a firearm he soon discovered was involved in
one of the most infamous shoot-outs in Clark County history.
Now 76, Skabla remembers as an
8-year-old hearing his parents talk about the gun battle that
broke out Sept. 3, 1937, at Harry Dingeldine’s cottage in
The exchange that took place 68 years
ago this Saturday ultimately snuffed out six lives. Chief Clark
County Sheriff's Deputy Edward Furry died in the kitchen of the
cottage where he and Springfield police chased four men who had
abducted a man headed from Lagonda National Bank to a
Springfield drug store with nearly $1,300 to cash customer
Springfield Policeman Martin
Randolph, who, like Furry, was gut-shot, died in the arms of
carpenter Hugh Hemphill during a desperate drive to City
Hospital that was interrupted by a car crash at Lowry and Main
Although robber Robert Cornette of
Portsmouth made it to the hospital, he also succumbed to his
wounds that day - the same day the stolen money was recovered.
Shot through the shoulder,
Springfield police officer Martin Donnelly recovered from his
wounds at City Hospital, as did robber Harry Chapman of Chicago,
who had crawled into some nearby weeds after the gun battle.
Springfielder Harry Dingeldine, who
escaped the scene, was apprehended at a Marshall, Mich.,
hospital where he sought treatment for a bullet-shattered arm.
His father, Henry Dingeldine the
owner of the cottage, got away unscathed and, after leaving his
son at the hospital, was apprehended in Royal Oak, Mich., after
a two-week manhunt.
Nineteen months later, Chapman and
both Dingeldines died within a half hour of one another in the
electric chair at the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus -the only
time a father-and-son duo were executed for capital crimes on
the same day.
A man and his gun
Irresistibly friendly, Skabla said he got his gift of gab from
his father, Serbian immigrant Nicholas Skabla, who plied his
trade in a shop between Main and Spring streets “just down from
the Shawnee Hotel.”
“My dad was a barber. Barbers talk. I
learned that from him.”
Skabla was 13 when his father died at
age 42. “He left four boys, and I was the oldest.”
Two years later, Skabla picked up his
first shotgun at Slack's Sporting Goods store and would carry it
with him, broken down, on the city bus.
It was the beginning of a collecting
career that's still going on. Skabla said that as soon as he
bought the police revolver from Sagraves, he told the guys at
Vernay Labs in Yellow Springs, where he worked for 30 years:
“Wouldn't it be something if it was involved in the Dingeldine
And after Sagraves was unable to find
the time to track down the gun’s history for him, “I went down
to the Springfield Department to see who carried it,” Skabla
That eventually led to a July 3,
1973, letter from then Assistant Chief Bill Schlagle that made
Skabla's Fourth of July that year.
The letter starts with the biggest
news about the Smith & Wesson .38 special revolver serial number
“The above revolver was purchased by
the Springfield Police Division in the year 1929 and issued Oct.
16, 1929, to a newly appointed officer, one Martin Randolph. The
revolver was carried by this officer until he was killed in a
gun battle at Crystal Lake with bandits who had abducted and
robbed a Springfield citizen.”
The letter goes on to trace the gun's
use by policemen Charles Abele, Herbert Worthington and William
McCutcheon through the 1940's and 1950's and its eventual
trade-in for the purchase of new guns in August of 1965.
“Very few guns you can trace that's
got a history,” Skabla said. “The gun that shot Lincoln - you
can say it, but you've got to have documentation.”
Wanting more, Skabla, a lifetime
member of the Ohio Gun Collectors Association, wrote to Smith &
Then product manager R.G. Jinks wrote
back, describing the gun as a .38 hand ejector military and
police model that was introduced in 1899 and produced until 1942
with a total production run of 758,297. Skabla's model has the
modifications of the fourth design change in 1905, and the
asterisks next to the serial numbers show that it was returned
to the factory once for refinishing and twice for service. (The
service dates correspond with times the letter from the
Springfield Police Division listed the gun as being out of
By today's standard Skabla's cost for
getting the Smith & Wesson report is highway robbery.
“When I got this, they didn't charge
for a copy of the history, “Skabla said with a smile." "Now they
charge 30 bucks.”
Reason to smile
He paid less than that for the handcuffs Deputy Robert Jones
used on Harry Dingeldine when he transported him from the Clark
County Jail to the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus for his
“I knew him personally,” Skabla said.
“One of my guns I got from him.” The display case for the cuffs
was a bargain, too.
“I bought it up at the Urbana flea
market for $2,” Skabla said.
After buying the handcuffs at a sale
and getting a note from the owner that he had obtained them from
Jones, Skabla got a copy of Jones' statement about what he saw
when he arrived at the scene of the shooting from Clark County
Sheriff's Deputy Carl Loney.
In addition to a description of a
bloody kitchen and a wounded suspect in the front yard, the
account describes Sheriff's Deputy Frank Haerr running across
the yard to tell Sheriff George Benham of Deputy Furry's death.
“They got Eddie,” Haerr said.
“Eddie's gone. He's dead.”
At yard sales in the Sunnyland
neighborhood and in Yellow Springs, he later snatched up copies
of the newspapers of the day, including the evening paper that
carried the initial reports, the next morning's follow up news
and the edition that had coverage of the slain officers’
In all, Skabla has about $115 in 1972
dollars invested in his Dingledine collection. And although he
won't talk specifics about what the gun and its story are now
worth, it does make this naturally good-natured man smile even
more broadly than usual.
Shoot-out touched off controversy
The aftermath of the Crystal Lake gun battle led to a startling
revelation: that three of the criminals involved in the
shoot-out were at the time on parole from Ohio prisons.
Robert Cornette, who died the day of
the shoot-out, had been released by Gov. Martin L. Davey on
“sick parole” the previous December and was scheduled for a
review hearing of his parole in June of 1938.
A cast he was wearing from injuries
sustained in an automobile accident helped authorities identify
Robber Harry Chapman's parole also
was a point of controversy, as investigators focused their
attention on why Chicago authorities had not returned Chapman to
Ohio on a parole violation after his arrest on suspicion of
robbery there. Chapman was on parole after being sentenced to 25
years in the Ohio Penitentiary for robbery beginning Dec. 15,
Dingeldine, who, like Chapman, had
served his time at the London Prison Farm, had been paroled Nov.
27, 1935, after serving two years and three months on a burglary
The shoot-out produced one other
surprising turn of events: the loosening of purse strings.
Clark County commissioners asked
Sheriff George W. Benham to submit a list of equipment purchases
that might help to better ensure the safety of Clark County
His list included rifles, a machine
gun, bullet proof vests, shields, cartridges and automobile
Condemned men blamed one another to
Father and son Harry and Henry Dingeldine and Harry Chapman had
a falling out after their murder trail and did not speak to one
another for the eight months before their execution.
The two factions went to their April
19, 1939, deaths each accusing the other of the fatal shootings
of the officers.
Puffing a cigar before his execution,
Harry Dingedline, the father of the father-and-son duo, bitterly
said he was dying “for a crime I didn’t commit.”
Chapman told the press gathered for
the execution his side with these words: “You can say I didn't
do any shooting and that I don't think those coppers committed