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Published: 5/29/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

New museum captures Toledo’s criminal history

BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The loading docks at the back of the post office where the robbery took place. The building at 1220 Jefferson now houses the Toledo Public Schools’ Jefferson Center. The loading docks at the back of the post office where the robbery took place. The building at 1220 Jefferson now houses the Toledo Public Schools’ Jefferson Center.
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There’s a simple message written in script on the outside of an aging, crumbling folder that holds dozens of fragile and yellowed documents — newspaper clippings, fingerprints, mugshots, and letters from police departments across the country.

“Shot and killed at Bon Air Supper Club, Woodville Rd., Toledo, Ohio. R.I.P.”

Joseph Urbaytis’ felony file is impressive, the largest of more than a dozen that lined a shelf on the third floor of the Safety Building.

Some of the Urbaytis’ criminal file and a video about a mail truck robbery he and his gang committed will soon be on display at the Toledo Police Museum, ready for its grand opening on Thursday. The Toledo Police Museum is in the former Nature Center at Ottawa Park, 2201 Kenwood Blvd. The museum will be open to the public for tours shortly after the grand opening, which is an invitation-only event.

If Urbaytis isn’t Toledo’s most notorious bad guy, he’s certainly up there.

The then 21-year-old Urbaytis, with some of his closest pals, robbed a mail truck at the Central Post Office on Jefferson Street on Feb. 17, 1921. The gang got away with about $1.6 million — worth more than $17.8 million in 2010 — in nine sacks of mail. It’s the largest robbery in the city’s history.

The gang plotted the robbery at an Adams Street tavern after reading about a post office robbery in Illinois.

Before police and post office investigators started rounding up the involved crooks, money was stashed — Wanda Urbaytis, a sister, got away on a train to Chicago and was “believed to have carried considerable loot with her.” Police later found money hidden in the walls of a vacant home in North Toledo. Wanda was arrested on March 24, 1921.

A former Toledo priest, the Rev. Anthony Gorek, was given and concealed some of the Liberty bonds, telling authorities “he succumbed to a mighty temptation to thwart the government and use the bonds to buy food for his starving parishioners,” according to a May 13, 1921, Blade article. Father Gorek, who was the priest at St. Hedwig’s Church prior to 1921, was assigned to a church in New Chicago, Ind., at the time of the robbery.

Father Gorek told police he cashed $1,140 in coupons from the stolen bonds, which led officials to the father’s parish home.

Money was found in Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Toledo.

Throughout the course of the investigation and trial, which spanned several years, more than 30 people were arrested — tough guys with nicknames like “Split Lip,” “Two Gun,” and “Rat Face” — connected, in some way, to the crime

But Urbaytis was the mastermind.

Urbaytis grew up in Toledo’s Polish neighborhood, in a home in the 2900 block of Lagrange Street that no longer exists.

In his police file he is described as a man with good teeth and dark chestnut-colored hair. He was just a few inches shy of 6 feet, weighing only 154 pounds.

He was no small-time crook — he started early with his first arrest on Sept. 4, 1917, for throwing pepper in a man’s eyes and robbing him of $150.

He was an impressive criminal. Urbaytis, Charles “Split Lip” Schultz, and George Lewis, all involved in the robbery, escaped from the Lucas County jail and remained at large for years. It wasn’t until 1924 when Urbaytis was shot twice by a Columbus police officer and arrested again.

Toledo’s bad man was shipped off to federal prison in Atlanta in 1928 where he would have served a 60-year sentence if he hadn’t escaped again. Urbaytis was then sent to Alcatraz Island on Nov. 12, 1934. In 1943, Urbaytis was freed from the prison and headed back to Toledo.

The ex-con opened a night club, Bon Air Supper Club, in the 2100 block of Woodville Road, but at 5:10 a.m. on Nov. 5, 1946, Urbaytis was shot and killed by Frank Burns, a 69-year-old ex-con. Burns reportedly confessed to the slaying.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at: tdungjen@theblade.com or 419-724-6054.

 

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