Bob Skabla and the Lucky Shot

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 News-Sun.

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 Crystal Lake.

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 paychecks.

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 streets.

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 case?”

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 said.

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 575297.

“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 & Wesson.

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 service.)

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 execution.

“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’ funerals.

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 about parole
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 Cornette.

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, 1928.

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 conviction.

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 deputies.

His list included rifles, a machine gun, bullet proof vests, shields, cartridges and automobile radios.

Condemned men blamed one another to the end
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 suicide.”