When people think of Prohibition-era gangsters, they naturally think of Chicago and New York. The fascinating exploits of iconic mob bosses like Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky have provided endless fodder for articles, books and films. Even lesser-known mobsters such as Enoch Johnson, George Remus, Abe Burnstein and William “Dinty” Colbeck have taken tentative steps into the limelight with the beginning of the 21st century. Yet for every Capone or Luciano that plied their trade in the Dry Era, there are dozens of other hardcases from that period who remain unknown. These men did not get biographies and HBO series made about their lives, mostly because they did not deserve it and also because they slipped through the cracks of history.
During my research into the Detroit gangsters of old, I inadvertently discovered the existence of Joe Baktashi. I had never heard of him before, but as I gathered the fragments of his story together, I gradually grew intrigued. Baktashi’s career spanned two very different locales; the Eastern city of Detroit and the Western frontier of north-central Utah. What I found interesting is that this man seemed to have two separate identities, two criminal specialties and as it turned out, two separate sets of enemies. Bandit. Prison Escapee. Safe Cracker. Drug Wholesaler. Killer. This skel had seemingly done it all.
Only trouble was, there just was not a whole lot of information about him. Even after a modern research push with all the resources of the second decade of the 21st century at my disposal, Joe Baktashi’s life remains only partially known, at best. In fact, this author is not even certain of Baktashi’s birth name. Nevertheless, what can be revealed about him reveals a tough and violent yet imperfect hoodlum. While Baktashi’s career was not as Earth-shattering as that of a Capone or Luciano, assembling the pieces of his life paints a fascinating picture of a gritty underbelly of the Prohibition-era underworld that is seldom heard about.
Albania in the late nineteenth century was an isolated, mountainous nation that was increasingly chafing under the heavy-handed rule of the Ottoman Empire, which they had been subjected for well over three hundred years. The country was divided by the Ottomans into four districts known as vilayets (Kosovo, Janina, Monastir and Scutari). It was in the vilayet of Janina, in southeastern Albania, that our story begins. Like the rest of the country, Janina was a mixture of ethnic Albanians and Ottoman Turks. Due to its proximity to the border with Greece, the vilayet was also home to a substantial Greek population.[i]
The Albanian vilayets of the late 19th century. Joe Baktashi's hometown of Leskovik was three miles from the Greek border.
Amongst the Ottoman Turks who peopled the Albanian vilayet of Janina were a considerable number of Muslim settlers who adhered to the Bektashi Order, a Sufi dervish that base their faith on non-Orthodox and mystical interpretations of the Quran. The Bektashi occupied a considerable place in Ottoman culture; they were the primary conscripts of the Ottoman Army’s feared shock troops, the Janissary. Eventually, the Bektashi would be ostracized by other Muslims as practicing a non-traditional form of Islam that more closely resembled Orthodox Christianity.[ii]
According to his World War I draft card, the man whom American law enforcement would come to know as Joseph Baktashi was born on May 15, 1895 in the picturesque Janina mountain village of Leskovik, located a mere three miles away from the Greek border. It is uncertain what his birth name was or exactly who his parents were. Leskovik was a small town of a bit less than a thousand residents at the turn of the 20th century. Its inhabitants were about evenly divided between Bektashi Muslims and Greek migrants. Given his name and later American events, young Joseph and his family were almost certainly Bektashi Muslims. As Joseph was growing up in Leskovik, the main language of his home was Albanian with Ottoman Turkish being spoken in school and during religious ceremonies. Due to his hometown’s Greek community and its proximity to the Hellenic nation, Joseph also gained a decent knowledge of the Greek language in his youth; a proficiency that would serve him well in later years.[iii]
While nothing concrete is known of Baktashi’s childhood, it seems as if he grew up in turbulent times. By his eleventh birthday, opposition groups within the Ottoman-controlled sections of Albania had risen up in rebellion. They were known as the Committee of Union and Progress, or Young Turks. They favored replacing the Ottoman Empire’s absolute monarchy with a constitutional government. The Young Turks fostered insurrection both in civilian and military life. They successfully lifted the Ottoman ban on the Albanian language being taught in schools and replaced the Arabic alphabet with Latin script.
After the abdication of Sultan Abdul Hamid II in April 1909, the new Constantinople government sought to maintain control of the disintegrating empire by levying new taxes and outlawing guerrilla groups. The Young Turks responded by imposing the bastinado (foot whipping) on those who carried rifles, committed misdemeanors or demeaned the independent Albanian state. Separate violent revolts in 1910 and 1911 saw widespread clashes and executions between the Ottoman loyalists and Albanian nationalists.
It was in this rough, stressful period that Joe Baktashi passed through his formative years. His earliest memories would have been of his isolated hometown being gradually torn asunder by forces outside of their control. Baktashi would have seen and learned violence up close from an early age. Perhaps he witnessed Young Turks administering bastinado on a fellow Bektashi Muslim. Perhaps he saw kriminale victimizing his neighbors.[iv]
Whatever the cause, Joseph Baktashi followed the example of many of his countrymen by immigrating to America around the age of seventeen, right around the time that Albania was formally recognized as an independent nation. While it is unknown exactly when he arrived in the United States, Baktashi told a census taker in 1920 that he landed in 1912.[v] Upon his arrival in North America, the young Albanian journeyed two-thirds of the way across the continent to Utah. What exactly drew Baktashi the Beehive State is uncertain. It seems likely that he had either a familial or fraternal connection with the area for him to uproot there.
Utah in the early 1910s had been a state for just less than two decades and was still considered the frontier by many of their fellow countrymen. Long the home of practitioners of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, Utah is a contrasting state of craggy mountains, beautiful canyons and arid deserts. Many of Utah’s main towns are in close proximity to the Great Salt Lake in the north-central part of the state. Beginning in the late 19th century, Utah’s substantial mining boom attracted immigrants from all over the world to try their luck in excavating such diverse minerals as copper, gold, silver, molybdenum, zinc, lead and beryllium. Many get-rich-quick boomtowns sprung up virtually overnight and housed ambitious people who were looking to strike it rich in any way that they could.[vi]
It was into this new frontier that teenaged Joe Baktashi moved around 1912-13. He stood about medium height with a slim build and an olive complexion. Baktashi had brown eyes, black hair, and was noted as having a serious yet cool demeanor. Far from striking it rich in his new country, the 18-year old Baktashi was forced to walk great distances from town to town looking for work. Joe generally followed railroad tracks and hitched rides aboard freight trains. Walking with Baktashi in these first months was nineteen-year old Abdul Alli.[vii]
Like Joe Baktashi, Alli was from southeastern Albania and a Bektashi Muslim. Both men formed a close friendship, their age and their fraternal connection serving as a solid foundation as they attempted to make their way in the New World. Their nomadic existence was a harsh one of few creature comforts that was occasionally punctuated by grueling labor that brought them a plate of beans and a silver dollar at the end of the day.
By the spring of 1914, the hungry Albanians had set their sights on the town of Spanish Fork, nine miles south of Provo. Located in the Goshen Valley with the Wasatch Mountains to the east, Spanish Fork was a bustling village that was near two key railroad lines that passed southeast through nearby Spanish Fork Canyon, up the steep Soldier Summit and passing by a small burg named Tucker before they hit the coal mines at Winter’s Quarters.
In the early 1910s, the powers-that-be had decided they wanted to reduce the steep 4% grade of Soldier Summit to a more manageable 2%. This task would entail rerouting rail lines and moving untold amounts of earth to improve the ease of train navigation. The work for this project was grueling and frequently dangerous for the men who blasted, dug and laid out new railroad tracks after the earth had been sufficiently altered. Baktashi and Alli appear to have been anxious to join this project. [viii]
The area around and south of Salt Lake City as it appeared in the 1910s.
The afternoon of April 8, 1914 was cold and blustery in Spanish Fork Canyon. Around noon, Joe Baktashi and Abdul Alli were observed following the railroad tracks out of Gilluly in the direction of Tucker. The Reynolds-Ely Construction Company was doing a significant amount of work in the area, and they may have been looking to shape up for work. Somewhere outside of Tucker, the two Albanians had an encounter that would change their lives forever.
Joe Lavella was an Italian immigrant who worked as a watchman with the Reynolds-Ely company. A former copper miner, Lavella made a point of sending the majority of his wages to his wife and two children in his native Calabria.[ix] By mid-afternoon, he was taking a break and warming himself at a fire alone while watching a steam shovel work. As he did, Baktashi and Alli approached and joined him at the fire. Despite their language barrier, the trio began talking with each other. Some later accounts suggested that Baktashi and Lavella had gotten into an ethnic dispute of some kind; with Baktashi taking offense to Lavella’s disparaging remarks about Turks.[x]
A Mexican laborer named Miguel Aguirre later testified he saw Lavella fighting with Baktashi and Alli from a great distance. While Aguirre was too far away to hear anything, at some point during the struggle a fatal bullet was fired into Lavella’s head. Both Albanians quickly fled the area, only to be arrested later in the small town of Thistle.[xi]
A headline from the Provo Daily Herald announcing the arrest of Joe Baktashi and Abdul Alli.
Once in custody, both men professed not to speak English and requested that an Albanian interpreter be sent down from Salt Lake City. Both suspects were recorded as being given the “third degree” in an effort to “sweat” a confession out of them. Authorities determined that robbery had been the motive for the crime and charged Joe Baktashi and Abdul Alli with first-degree murder. Both men pleaded not guilty and were scheduled to be tried separately. Baktashi, through his court-appointed attorney J.W.N. Whitecotton, claimed that Alli had done the actual killing during the fight.[xii]
While interpreter George Kypros translated his testimony, Baktashi claimed that Alli had asked Lavella for money to return to Salt Lake City with. When Lavella protested that he was broke, Alli allegedly knocked him down and killed him before stealing $2.45 from his person. The jury, however, was not convinced and found Baktashi guilty as charged. At Abdul Alli’s trial a week later, Baktashi insisted on taking the stand for the prosecution without the aid of an interpreter. Speaking in broken English, Joe reiterated his claim about Alli’s culpability. This jury believed his tale and found Alli guilty of murder. Both young men were then sent off to serve life sentences in a prison in a country they barely knew.[xiii]
The old Utah State Penitentiary, located in the Sugar House section of Salt Lake City.
The Utah State Prison was a 180 acre brick complex located in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City. Surrounded by 18-foot high walls, the current prison had been built in the 1890s to replace its crumbling predecessor. Joe Baktashi arrived in the spring of 1914 as an embittered 19-year old Albanian immigrant. Only able to speak a few words of English, Baktashi was delivered into one of the harshest prison systems in America. While the overall capacity of the Utah State Prison was small compared to those of other states, the prison had still not quite made the transition to the 20th century (electrical lighting would not be installed until 1920).
No details of Baktashi’s prison life survive, but if reports of other Western prisons of the era are any indication, Joe would have had to deal with back-breaking labor and callous discipline from the guards to accompany the threat of various forms of abuse from his fellow convicts. The scraps of evidence from this period show that Joe Baktashi and Abdul Alli were at each other throats from the moment they set foot inside the prison’s walls. Alli understandably had a beef against Baktashi for testifying against him in his trial. The two reportedly clashed multiple times.
Prisoners at the “Sugar House,” as it was colloquially referred to, made brushes, saddle niches and shoes. They also worked heavily in road construction.[xiv] The prison was also where inmates who had been sentenced to death were executed; during Joe Baktashi’s first year of imprisonment, Swedish-born labor activist and convicted murderer Joe Hill was put to death via firing squad. While inside, the young Albanian killer rubbed elbows with criminals of all stripes and learned the ins-and-outs of the underworld trade. While he may have been a foolish youth with self-destructive tendencies at the time of Joe Lavella’s murder, Baktashi’s prison experience transformed him into a career criminal.
Abdul Alli had undergone a similar metamorphosis. The afternoon of August 14, 1918 found Alli on a work detail outside the prison walls. While cutting the prison’s lawn grass, he and an inmate named William McVey took the opportunity to make a run for it and made a successful break from their captors.[xv] Both men were recaptured soon after. In a surprise move later that same year, Joe Baktashi confessed to prison authorities that it was he, and not Alli, who had fired the shot that killed Joe Lavella. The warden and state corrections officials believed the confession. As a result, Alli was subsequently pardoned and released from prison on March 22, 1919.[xvi]
Outside of the walls of the Sugar House, great change with sweeping not only Utah but the whole country in the form of the World War and the enactment of Prohibition. What little news Joe Baktashi got of the outside world most probably came from incoming prisoners. In November 1921, the now 26-year old Baktashi went before the parole board and claimed to be a changed man. Baktashi pointed to his love of birds and flowers as well as a letter of support from Wilford Giles, Chief of Police of the city of Provo. Despite his efforts, Baktashi’s petition for release was denied.[xvii]
Disheartened and embittered, Joe Baktashi focused his rage on his old frenenemy Abdul Alli, who had recently been convicted of armed robbery and sent right back to the Sugar House.[xviii] Their resultant fight netted them a predictable beating from the guards and time in “The Hole.” Unable to gain parole, Baktashi’s fertile mind began looking for other ways to effect his release.
On August 28, 1922, Joe Baktashi and a couple dozen other inmates were led outside the prison walls in order to be loaded onto a truck and driven to Parley’s Canyon, where they would work undermining a hillside in order to clear a path for a highway. Baktashi and several others spent the morning excavating a blast tunnel, which would eventually be stuffed with dynamite into order to blow out a section of the hill. At one point in the afternoon, Baktashi was sent by his guard to fetch something (accounts are uncertain as to what). After a full hour passed without his return, it became obvious that Joe Baktashi had put himself “into the wind.”[xix]
Whether Joe Baktashi planned his escape in advance or acted on impulse is unknown. With no money of his own and no transportation, it would seem that Joe had at least a little help on his way out of Parley’s Canyon. With Utah authorities on the lookout for him, Baktashi decided to leave for another part of the country where he was relatively unknown. The fugitive Albanian set his sights on the city of Detroit, nearly seventeen hundred miles to the east.
When the fugitive Utah murderer first arrived in the Motor City in the autumn of 1922, he encountered a growing metropolis of around one million residents from various walks of life and ethnic groups. The city’s now-bustling economy revolved around numerous automobile plants and other assorted factories. More appealing to Joe Baktashi was the fact that Detroit was the country’s major entry point for illegal alcohol. Like many criminals across America, the newly freed Baktashi was most likely drawn like a moth to the flame of Detroit’s immense booze business.
The only trouble was that men much more powerful than Baktashi ran the bootlegging rackets. The city’s growing Mafia family controlled a large piece of the action while extracting tributes from independents who wished to smuggle booze across the Detroit River to their landing spots. While the Mafia had the East Side and Hamtramck, a young yet volatile group of Jewish hoods called the Oakland Sugar House Gang were just starting to make noise in the North End (they wouldn’t become known as the Purple Gang for a few more years).[xx]
On the run and with little money available to him, Joe Baktashi gravitated to downtown Detroit’s Greektown neighborhood. Branching out for a few blocks in each direction from the intersection of Beaubien and Monroe streets, Greektown was the perfect place for the Albanian fugitive to lay low while he got his bearings in his new city. Introducing himself around town as Pete Milo, Baktashi began to ingrain himself with members of the local underworld.
While it was remarkably easy to get a drink in Greektown, the local hoods primarily made their money off of illegal gambling. While the local coffee houses acted as traditional gathering places for immigrant Greek men, their back and basement rooms often housed card and dice games for trustworthy individuals. Baktashi made the rounds, with his ethnicity and Greek language ability opening doors that may well have otherwise remained closed. Sipping strong coffee in the smoke-filled cafes and conversing with local hoodlums, Baktashi seems to have made a favorable impression; he apparently took great pains to not disclose that he was a prison escapee. Joe was soon introduced to the hidden gambling casinos.
While Baktashi seems to have supported himself through the occasional armed robbery or safe-cracking (he apparently learned the rudiments of the latter racket while incarcerated in Utah), he sought to enter the upper tier of organized crime. As Pete Milo, mysterious Greek-fluent Albanian hard case, he was befriended by Greektown gambling boss James Thompson sometime in early 1923.
About the same age as his new pal “Milo,” Thompson (real name Dimitrios Poulos) had emigrated from Greece as an adolescent. Around 1921, he had migrated to Detroit’s Greektown and set up shop in the neighborhood’s coffee houses. Known in the city’s underworld as “Jimmy the Greek,” Thompson was known as an expert card player and dice thrower who rubbed elbows with the cream of the Motor City underworld.[xxi]
While it is impossible to know what was going through Joe Baktashi’s head during these early Detroit months, it’s quite possible he saw in Jimmy Thompson what he could have possibily become if fate had dealt him a bit of a different hand. Baktashi began working as a capper/doorman for Thompson’s secret gambling den, which was then located in the 400 block of Monroe Avenue in the heart of Greektown. This was an entry level position for many aspiring Detroit gangsters of the era. Baktashi, hardened both mentally and physically by his years of incarceration, also acted as an armed guard when Jimmy the Greek went to other Detroit joints to gamble. While Thompson moved in a dangerous world, he himself was not a violent man. Thus, it was Baktashi’s job to ensure that no one tried to rob “The Greek” after he exited a game with thousands of dollars on his person.
Joe Baktashi as he appeared at the height of his Detroit underworld career.
Over the course of 1923 and into 1924, Joe Baktashi became a fixture in the Greektown gambling underworld. Making more money than he ever had before, Baktashi's days of grueling railroad work and hard prison time seemed to be receding into the past. Baktashi began dressing better and frequenting high-class restaurants and nightclubs. Moving through Jazz Age Detroit, the Albanian gangster must have felt like he had finally arrived.
One of Joe’s new pals was a tall, muscular Albanian Greek named Zero Puchi. At least ten years older than Baktashi, Puchi had a build and demeanor of a much younger man. Having migrated north to Detroit from Ohio, Puchi was known as the powerful “attitude adjuster” of Thompson’s gambling joint.[xxii] Between Puchi’s fists and Baktashi’s quick trigger finger, their Monroe Avenue casino seemed like a solid operation. By now, Baktashi had begun living in a decent apartment at 3632 Cass Avenue in midtown Detroit.
A fateful trip to Johnny Reid’s blind pig at Third and Peterboro streets in February 1924 put Joe Baktashi in the company of many former members of the St. Louis underworld. Reid had once been a member of the Gateway City’s premier gang, Egan’s Rats. Among those who frequented his joint in the winter of 1924 were notorious gangsters such as Robert Carey, Arthur Wilson, Isadore Londe and Fred “Killer” Burke. Joe Baktashi may well have made the St. Louisans’ acquaintance, but he specifically hit it off with a St. Louis hood named Harry Halloway. The two men, probably on Baktashi’s recommendation, decided to rob a wealthy Chaldean saloonkeeper named James George. While no details of the crime survive, they had gotten away clean for the moment.[xxiii]
As the year 1924 progressed, Joe Baktashi became intimate with another aspect of the Greek underworld that was seldom spoken of; the dope racket. Since the passage of the Harrison Narcotics Act in 1914, a large market for illegal drugs existed in America’s cities. In the city of Detroit, the primary commodities were opiates such as heroin, opium or pure morphine. There was also a market for cocaine, but like it is in modern times, the white powder tended to be a drug for the upper crust. The drugs of choice in Greektown seem to have been hashish and morphine. Whether or not Baktashi experimented with any of these substances is unknown, but he seems to have realized that a good deal of money could be made by selling them.
Around this same time Joe Baktashi got a brief taste of the gang violence that periodically swept through the Detroit underworld. Around 3 o’clock on the morning of March 12, 1924, the heart of Greektown was rocked by a tremendous explosion that startled residents from their beds and caused concerned citizens to spill out into the street. A large, battery-detonated dynamite bomb had exploded in the doorway of Nick Smerles’ coffee house at 579 Monroe Avenue, destroying much of the front part of the building along with two adjoining structures. A total of thirty people were wounded in the blast and required medical attention. Amazingly, no one was killed. Plaster, bricks and broken glass littered the street in front of the wrecked coffee shop. Police thought it may have been related to the recent beating of a Mafia associate named Frank Bommarito in the coffee house. Both Bommarito and his friend Pietro “Pete” Corrado were arrested and charged, but both managed to beat the rap.[xxiv]
On the night of April 2, thirty-year old John Deplaris emerged from the coffee house at 547 Monroe Avenue with his buddy Nick Mavros. As they began to cross the street, they were confronted by an angry looking man. Deplaris uttered an exclamation in Greek as he jerked a pistol from his pocket and opened fire. The hurried gambler missed while his adversary pulled his own gun and struck Deplaris twice in the abdomen. Another shot from the adversary hit a bystander named Chris Kolinsgos in the foot. As Deplaris fell screaming to the street, the winner of the duel vanished into the night. While bystander Kolinsgos recovered from his injury, Deplaris died of his wounds two days later at Grace Hospital.[xxv]
The Detroit police had two theories as to who the killer was. The first possibility was Fotios “Frank” Kokalaris, who was from the same Greek village as the victim and would go onto to an exceptionally violent career in the Greektown underworld.[xxvi] The other suspect was none other than Joseph Baktashi. No one who knew the temperamental Albanian would doubt his guilt in such a situation. Nevertheless, neither this shooting or the bombing that preceded it was ever solved.
Joe Baktashi’s newfound criminal career in Detroit showed just how much he had progressed since his original 1914 incarceration. Now showing a bit more polish in his dress and mannerisms, Baktashi made decent money working for Jimmy the Greek in the Greektown gambling business. Despite his status as a budding racketeer, Baktashi could not seem to resist dabbling in small-time crimes such as robberies and safe-cracking. The newfound money and status he had appears to have gone to his head. Perhaps emboldened by his success, Baktashi began to get careless. By the end of 1924, at least a half-dozen people knew of his status as a fugitive Utah murderer. Baktashi had reportedly boasted to fellow henchman Zero Puchi that he had escaped from the “Utah State Pen.” All in all, it was an incredibly foolish thing to do.
Joe Baktashi’s hubris came home to roost on New Year’s Day, 1925 when he was arrested by Detroit police along with his St. Louis pal Harry Halloway. Booked under his alias of Peter Milo, Baktashi clammed up under questioning. Detective Lieutenant Andrew O’Day grew suspicious when he received a tip that his prisoner “Milo” had busted out of a Utah prison. A national fingerprint check soon confirmed Pete Milo’s true identity. An extradition order was quickly filed, and detectives soon arrived from Salt Lake City to take Baktashi into custody. One can only wonder what was going through the Albanian gangster’s mind on his long train ride back to Utah. Baktashi held Zero Puchi responsible for his fugitive status being learned and vowed to kill him, but as the documentation from his arrest shows, he had no one but himself to blame.[xxvii]
Joe Baktashi had been flying higher than he ever had in his life, only to come crashing back to Earth because of his own big mouth.
The Sugar House Prison in Salt Lake City had changed little since Baktashi escaped over two years before. Closely scrutinized by the guards as a security risk, the re-imprisoned Baktashi re-assimilated into the daily grind of jailhouse life. With years of imprisonment, a successful escape and big city racket time under his belt, the Albanian gangster now occupied a pretty high place in the inmate hierarchy. Joe renewed his rivalry with Abdul Alli, who was still serving time for his botched 1921 robbery. Baktashi watched with envy and hatred as his former pal was granted parole in October 1925.[xxviii]
Baktashi focused his rage into chiseling his already wiry physique into a rock-hard machine with endless hours of calisthenics. Having learned long ago how to psychologically manipulate people, Baktashi went out of his way to keep a clean prison record and give the impression that he was a changed man. A year after his return to the Sugar House, the Albanian crook applied for the vacation of his original murder sentence. In a surprise move, Baktashi’s motion was granted. On October 16, 1926, thirty-one year old Joseph Baktashi walked out of the Utah State Prison a free man.[xxix]
The newly freed gangster immediately caught an east-bound train for Detroit. Baktashi was welcomed back into the Greektown underworld and resumed working for Jimmy “The Greek” Thompson at his Monroe Avenue casino. Joe seemingly displayed no enmity towards Zero Puchi, whom he held responsible for his return to prison. By late 1926, Thompson was the gambling boss of Greektown and had begun dabbling in the narcotics trade. While Baktashi was content to take orders from Thompson, he yearned to fashion his own criminal identity. The Albanian gangster saw his ticket to independence in the dope racket.
Through means that remain unknown, Baktashi (using his alias of Pete Milo) connected with a drug supplier that agreed to sell him large quantities of hashish and morphine. Joe may have made this connection through the Greek-Turkish underworld in order circumvent the local Mafia and their heavy-handed pizzu taxes. A lesser possibility is that Baktashi made his drug connection through the North End-based Oakland Sugar House Gang. The Albanian gangster took on an Italian-born drug peddler named James Carloze as his partner. Carloze (real name Albert Valento) had been operating on the fringes of Detroit’s Mafia family for a few years.[xxx] On the surface, this deal seems both bold and foolhardy. Such a large business would almost certainly attract the attention of both the Mafia and the Sugar House Boys.[xxxi]
Nevertheless, in January 1927, Joe Baktashi took his leave of Jimmy “The Greek” Thompson’s gambling joint and went into the dope business for himself. His new headquarters was the Afghanistan Coffee House, located on the eastern edge of Greektown at 742 St. Antoine Street. To the rear of the coffee house were a small tobacco shop and an apartment on the second floor of the building. Night after night, Baktashi and Carloze held court in the coffee house and did business with the low-level dealers who pushed their narcotics into the streets. Judging from a later investigation, Carloze seems to have been something of a front man while “Pete Milo” remained in the background pulling the strings.
For a few months, Baktashi’s new dope business went swimmingly. Money started flowing in for the Albanian gangster. In addition to establishing himself as a drug wholesaler, Baktashi appears to have fallen in love with a neighborhood waitress. This courtship, with a woman whose name is not known to history, may well have been the first serious relationship that Baktashi had ever been in. In hindsight, it seems that the first half of 1927 may well have been the happiest time of Joe Baktashi’s life; he headed a profitable drug wholesale operation in a major American city, made copious amounts of money and was in love.
It seemed almost too good to be true, and it was indeed. It wasn’t long before the Milo/Carloze dope operation attracted the attention of the local Mafia, headed by Salvatore “Sam” Catalanotti. Evidence suggests that Baktashi rebuffed the Mafia’s efforts to make him pay protection money for the privilege moving his drugs. By June 1927, it seemed that a violent confrontation of some kind was imminent. Joe Baktashi’s previously sweet world had suddenly turned rotten.
It was probably in this grim mindset that Baktashi left his coffee house headquarters and made the rounds in Greektown on the warm evening of June 15. The Albanian gangster visited several coffee houses and gambling dens, all while getting progressively drunker. While Baktashi was not known as a heavy drinker, the critical situation with his dope business and his increasingly rocky relationship with the waitress had apparently prompted his current binge.
Sometime after midnight, he wandered over to Jimmy the Greek’s place in the 400 block of Monroe Avenue. The menacing Zero Puchi was at his usual post at the front door, shooting the breeze with a local Greek gambler. Under normal circumstances, Joe Baktashi was as cool as a cucumber. Tonight his personal and professional crises, combined with his alcohol intake, caused his rage to erupt to the surface. Baktashi angrily accused Puchi of ratting him out to the cops back in late 1924. Some accounts also intimated that Puchi had informed Baktashi’s sweetheart of his ex-convict past. Puchi attempted to pacify the Albanian gangster with peaceful words, but Baktashi persisted. Inside the joint, Jimmy the Greek had been alerted to the situation brewing outside.
After seeing he couldn’t handle things peacefully, Puchi apparently prepared to settle things with his ham-like fists. In response, the much smaller Baktashi suddenly whipped out a pistol and fired two shots into Puchi’s abdomen. The bouncer crumpled in pain while a third shot missed him completely. Men inside the casino began shouting and a handful of passerby yelled as Baktashi ran east and rounded the corner north onto Beaubien Street. A crowd of Jimmy the Greek’s friends angrily chased after him.
After sprinting north for a block, Baktashi hopped on the running board of a yellow Checker Cab parked directly across the street from the Detroit Police Headquarters at 1300 Beaubien. With adrenaline pumping almost visibly through his system, Baktashi thrust the still-warm barrel of his gun against the left temple of cab driver Udo Andres and told him to step on it. The cabbie punched the gas pedal and sped his captor away into the night. Baktashi’s commandeered taxi was last seen speeding north on Brush Street with a dark sedan in hot pursuit. Baktashi managed to get away clean from both the police and Jimmy the Greek’s men that night.
Zero Puchi was rushed to Receiving Hospital, where he soon died from his gunshot wounds. Joe Baktashi was arrested a couple of days later and charged with murder. The Albanian killer claimed that he had acted in self-defense when Puchi had tried to attack him. Baktashi was housed in the Wayne County Jail until his case was adjudicated. After considerable deliberation, Baktashi was ruled to have shot and killed Puchi in self-defense.[xxxii]
A Detroit News article detailing the shooting of Zero Puchi.
While the Albanian gangster may have gotten off the hook with the law, he was now persona-non-grata in the Greektown underworld after having killed popular bouncer Puchi. Baktashi returned to his St. Antoine Street headquarters to find out that his dope business partner James Carloze had apparently cut a deal with the local Mafia in his absence. Baktashi seems to have had an aversion to dealing with Italian gangsters that probably dated to his original long-ago fight with Joe Lavella back in Utah.
Carloze’s contact appears to have been twenty-four year old Pete Corrado, an up-and-coming mafiùsu who was noted as the Detroit family’s unofficial liaison to the Greektown underworld. Carloze may have begun buying narcotics directly from the Mafia and/or paying a protection fee to move his product. Baktashi seems to have once again earned the enmity of the local Mafia; he may have refused to pay them tribute or otherwise insulted them. As the autumn of 1927 began, Detroit seemed to be growing increasingly unwelcoming to Joe Baktashi. Unwilling to directly lock heads with the Mafia and with Greektown closed to him, the Albanian gangster once again put himself into the wind.
This time is seems that Baktashi made the right decision to split. A month after his departure, on the night of November 11, agents Joseph Bell and Arnold C. Lachenauer of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics infiltrated the Afghanistan Coffee House at 742 St. Antoine Street. The two agents posed as drug buyers and ended up purchasing 440 grains of morphine for forty dollars. Once the transaction was completed, the raid was announced. As Bell and Lachenauer were walking three suspects to their car, a hidden assailant opened fire on them from a darkened doorway. Agent Bell was seriously wounded while Agent Lachenauer escaped injury.
James Carloze and one of his helpers, Joseph Elahia, were arrested and charged with the shooting. Police searching the coffee house found a stash of morphine in the basement as well as a cache of firearms. Both Carloze and Elahia managed to beat the assault rap but could not avoid being sentenced to federal prison for narcotics violations. While federal narcotics agents were confident that they had busted up the St. Antoine Street dope operation, they were frustrated that the mysterious “Pete Milo” had apparently slipped through their fingers.[xxxiii]
By his account, Joseph Baktashi stepped off the train in Salt Lake City on October 12, 1927. In a sense, it was a bitter homecoming. Just five months earlier, he had seemingly been on top of the world. His successful Detroit underworld career had been laid to waste by Mafia pressure and the killing of Zero Puchi. At thirty-two years old, Baktashi was a killer and ex-convict with an increasingly bleak future. Quickly burning through his traveling stake, he was apparently forced to borrow money from friends just to make ends meet. By late November, Baktashi had connected with members of the Salt Lake City underworld, most probably through a mutual network of fellow Utah State Prison alumni.[xxxiv]
Baktashi’s new partner was forty-four year old Hamilton “Harry” Daywalt, a grizzled yegg who had served prison time in Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.[xxxv] Baktashi and Daywalt almost certainly knew each other from the Sugar House, as they were both locked up there at the same time in 1922. Daywalt and two unknown accomplices proposed a safecracking job. The S.H. Kress & Co. department store reportedly had an $8,000 monthly payroll at a specific time at the beginning of every month. Joe Baktashi told them that he was in. The boys carefully staked out the store to see when the payroll money would be delivered. Once the money was in place, they would strike that very night. On the afternoon of December 3, their surveillance paid off when they saw the bank messenger visit the Kress store. The job was a go.
As it was a Saturday evening, all the men had to do was waiting for closing time, infiltrate the store and crack the “crib.” Around 7 o’clock that evening, however, an anonymous phone call to the Salt Lake City Police Department alerted them that thieves were planning on hitting the Kress department store that very evening. A squad of detectives and patrolmen took up surveillance positions inside the store at 257 Main Street and waited for their quarry to arrive.
Completely unaware that they were heading into a trap, Joe Baktashi, Harry Daywalt and their two accomplices set out to pull the job around ten-thirty that night. From his position in the shadows of the Kress store, Detective Martin McGinness watched as two figures darkened the skylight of the main room and carefully entered the building. After dropping to the floor, the two intruders hurried to the rear door of the store. They then let in a third man who was carrying a heavy iron jimmy bar and other burglary tools. Once the trio began to make their way to the office that held the safe, Detective McGinness and his men sprang from their hiding places with aimed pistols, “Throw up your hands!”
Baktashi, Daywalt and their accomplice momentarily froze like deer in headlights. One of them loudly cursed before the three bolted for the back door while pulling pistols from their pockets. A frantic, close-quarters gun battle erupted between the trapped thieves and the police. Baktashi later said a bullet passed so close to his eye that he felt its passage; yet another slug passed harmlessly through his pants leg. Daywalt had just made it to the back door when a .45 ACP slug slammed into his back, eventually lodging in his right lung. Although wounded, he managed to make it outside and stagger away from the scene. Three of the officers tackled Baktashi and subdued him with fists and gun butts. The unnamed accomplice dashed up a stairwell and crashed clear out a second-story window to the alley below. This individual managed to make it to his feet and disappear into the night; his identity remains unknown.
While Baktashi was cuffed and led away, police spread out through the neighborhood looking for the other suspects. Harry Daywalt was found lying on the sidewalk outside the nearby American Theatre. A witness said he had been led there by a mysterious man in a leather jacket. Another suspect named John Pirtle was arrested, but he was soon released.
After keeping his mouth shut for about twenty-four hours, Joe Baktashi admitted his true identity and confessed to the attempted burglary. The Albanian gangster explained his past criminal history (while carefully omitting his Detroit adventures) and the events leading up to the burglary. Baktashi also made a point of saying that he had lied to Utah prison officials back in 1918 on Abdul Alli’s behalf. Joe now said that Alli had been Joe Lavella’s actual killer, all along. While refusing to name his accomplices in the Kress store job, Joe had harsh words for the anonymous tipster, “I know the fellow who got away is the bird who squealed to the police before we started to work on the crib,” he was quoted as saying. Baktashi’s eyes blazed as he said, “If he is caught he will be sent to the State Prison and I will be there and I will kill him.”
By December 6, Harry Daywalt had recovered enough to be moved to his arraignment. As they sat together, Baktashi looked Daywalt in the eye and said point blank, “I wish when they had fired at me that they had of killed me.” It seems from the beginning that Joe Baktashi had no illusions about how things would turn out. In his final comments about the case, the Albanian gangster pled guilty to burglary and stated his desire to begin serving his sentence at once. The state of Utah obliged him by pronouncing a sentence of 5 to 20 years imprisonment. Salt Lake City officials commented favorably that Baktashi had saved the taxpayers the expense of having a trial. For the third time in his life, Joe Baktashi was on his way to the Sugar House.[xxxvi]
After going through the standard in-processing, Baktashi was reintroduced to prison life. The Sugar House had not changed at all since he had walked out its gates just fourteen months earlier. Back then, he potentially had a clean slate in front of him. Nowadays, Joe thought of little else but getting even with those he believed had wronged him. Joe Baktashi was labeled as a discipline problem right off the bat. To make matters worse, Bureau of Immigration officials let Baktashi know that they planned on commencing deportation proceedings against him upon completion of his prison sentence.
Despite the odds stacked against him, Baktashi found an unlikely ally in Chief Deputy Warden Wilford Giles. The former chief of police of Provo, Giles remembered when police had beaten a murder confession out of then-young and scared Joe Baktashi back in 1914. The Deputy Warden figured that Baktashi had turned down the wrong path in life due to being given a raw deal in the Joe Lavella case. Far from the frightened kid he was when Giles first met him, the sociopathic Baktashi promptly began to manipulate Giles by speaking of the rotten luck he had encountered while working as a “mechanic” in Detroit. Joe often talked with the Deputy Warden about his love of flowers and birds. Largely through Giles’ efforts, Baktashi was designated as a trusty in the spring of 1928 and charged with maintaining the prison’s garden just outside the walls.
During the spring and summer of 1928, the Utah State Prison was rocked by a number of disturbances that included numerous fights; several escape attempts, and one near riot. One of the escapees, Bert Sorenson, managed to make it all the way to Indiana before being shot and killed by police. Warden R.E. Davis and Deputy Warden Wilford Giles attempted to isolate troublemakers by putting them in positions where they could not stir up trouble amongst the other inmates. Joe Baktashi, in his trusty position as a gardener, spent most of his days outside of the wall away from the pressure cooker atmosphere of the cell house.
After supper was served on August 15, Joe was allowed outside the walls to water the prison’s flower garden. The activity seems to have had little to no supervision. By 8 o’clock, the guards realized that the Albanian convict had not yet returned. When he was still missing at the final head count before lights out, the prison administration realized that Baktashi had done it again.[xxxvii]
An Ogden Standard Examiner headline announcing Joe Baktashi's second prison escape.
Joe Baktashi’s second successful escape from the Utah State Prison made headlines all over the state. Authorities in both Utah and neighboring Nevada were put on alert. Deputy Warden Wilford Giles took full responsibility for the escape, as he had put Baktashi in the trusty position that allowed him outside of the prison’s walls. Warden R.E. Davis spoke in his colleague’s defense, “It’s just a case of misplaced confidence…I realize we are open to censure by the press and the public for letting a man like him outside the walls. But we figured it was the easiest way to handle him. He was a disagreeable prisoner inside.”[xxxviii]
As with his first break in 1922, its unknown if Baktashi planned this escape in advance or acted on impulse. Unlike his previous escape, there were few places where the Albanian gangster could go. With police all over Utah on the lookout for him, staying put was not advisable. In retrospect, Baktashi’s best bet would have been to leave the country, perhaps heading north for someplace like Calgary or Vancouver. To this day, no one knows his exact motivation. Baktashi had always been a temperamental criminal, and perhaps he still desired to exact revenge on the man who ratted him out.
There is no exact information, then or now, about Joe Baktashi’s whereabouts in the ten days or so after he escaped from his gardening detail. On August 27, twelve days after his break, Baktashi was seen in Detroit, renting a room at 3163 Meldrum Street. One can only guess why he decided to return to the Motor City, which had become even more inhospitable to him than Salt Lake City. The Greek underworld still wanted revenge against him for Zero Puchi, while the Sicilian mob was still angry about their dope racket beef. Some investigators would postulate that the target of his vengeance was in town. Unconfirmed reports even stated that his old nemesis, Abdul Alli, was now living in Detroit as a racketeer. Perhaps Joe was indeed in town to get revenge, or perhaps he was looking to pick up the pieces of his drug business. Maybe, when all was said and done, Baktashi simply did not know where else to go after his prison break.
Word quickly began to filter through the Detroit underworld that Pete Milo was back in town. On the evening of August 30, Baktashi was observed making the underworld rounds in Greektown. Moving through the smoke-filled coffee houses and gambling dens filled with hard men speaking in rapid-fire Greek, Baktashi may have felt soothed by the familiar environment. While he does not appear to have been making waves, he almost certainly would have noticed the chilly reception he was getting. At some point in the night, Baktashi encountered a familiar face that was actually somewhat glad to see him. Who this individual was is unknown, but this man was in Joe’s company by no later than midnight.
By two-forty that morning, Joe Baktashi and his buddy were walking east on East Lafayette Avenue, leaving Greektown and heading into Little Sicily. The street was largely deserted at this time of the night. Baktashi’s business in the Sicilian district is unknown. Perhaps he was going to meet someone. Joe and his companion were about a quarter-block past Hastings Street when a dark sedan pulled to the curb and noiselessly slowed behind them. A man hopped out of the passenger door and was on the sidewalk before the vehicle had come to a complete stop. Baktashi did not even notice the car behind him, or the man with the .45 automatic in his fist. Eight bullets ripped into Baktashi’s head and body, the muzzle blasts from the .45 staining the back of Joe’s neck with powder burns. The Albanian gangster was killed instantly.
John Lichenberg turned his automobile into Lafayette Avenue from Hastings Street just as the attack concluded. The motorist was able to see the killer return to his car, the dead form of Baktashi lying on the sidewalk and his companion running apparently unharmed into the darkness. Lichenberg slowly pulled forward as the killers’ car accelerated east on Lafayette. Lichenberg noted that the rear of the auto was so slathered with mud that he could not make out the license plate.
A Detroit Free Press headline detailing Joe Baktashi's murder.
Joe Baktashi’s murder made the national news wire; the only time in his career that he would rate such coverage. Detroit police investigating the homicide were confounded by the fact that the victim apparently lived two lives; known in the Utah underworld as Joe Baktashi while he sold dope in Detroit’s Greektown as Pete Milo. Since the victim’s double life and produced a double amount of enemies, it was difficult to know where to go for suspects. The Greek underworld may have finally exacted revenge for Zero Puchi, while the fact that Baktashi had been killed in Little Sicily indicated to some that the Mafia had eliminated Pete Milo as a potential rival in the dope business. Members of the Purple Gang were also considered as possible suspects, as they were major players in Detroit’s narcotics racket. Maybe the quasi-mythical Abdul Alli had finally ended their longtime feud. Whoever was responsible, it seemed likely that Baktashi’s unknown companion had decoyed him to his death.[xxxix]
Any and all of the aforementioned reasons were plausible motives for Baktashi’s murder. After all his years and miles of scuffling, Joe had finally run out of options, out of places to hide and out of time. No one knows if his family members, if he had any remaining, were notified. On September 4, 1928, thirty-three year old Joseph Baktashi was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Roseland Park Cemetery in the suburb of Berkley, Michigan.
Meanwhile, in the dog-eat-dog Detroit underworld, the deadly cycle of life continued unabated.
[i] Miranda Vickers, The Albanians: A Modern History, London: I.B Tauris, 1999.
[ii] H.T. Norris, Islam in the Balkans: Religion and Society between Europe and the Arab World, London: Hurst & Company, 1993, pgs. 92-96.
[iii] World War I draft card; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leskovik
[iv] Stavro Skendi, The Albanian National Awakening, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967.
[v] The 1920 U.S. Census recorded Joe Baktashi as being an inmate at the Utah State Prison.
[vii] According to his World War I draft card, Abdul Alli was born on May 15, 1894 in Korçë, Manastir, Albania to unknown parents. Like Joe Baktashi (with whom he apparently shared a birthday), it is unknown when Alli came to America; he told the census taker in 1920 that he immigrated in 1912.
[ix] Giuseppe La Vella was born circa 1879 in Pedivigliano, Calabria, Italy to unknown parents. He told the census taker in 1910 that he had immigrated to America in 1904. Once in the U.S., Joe Lavella (as he was known to English speakers) began working in a copper mine in Salt Lake County, Utah. Sometime in 1910, Lavella returned to his native Italy and reunited with his family. A year or so later, he returned to Utah and began working for the Reynolds-Ely Construction Company. Lavella and his wife Maria had two children, Francesco (b. 1899) and Antonietta (b. 1911); State of Utah: Death Certificate, No. 120 (1914); 1910 U.S. Census; Utah, Utah County, Probate Estate Files, Case No. 23125-2370, 1914.
[x] Ogden Standard Examiner, August 29, 1922.
[xi] Provo Daily Herald, April 13, 1914.
[xii] Provo Daily Herald, April 20, 1914.
[xiii] Ogden Standard, April 21 and 29, May 2, 6, 8-9 and 12, 1914; Provo Daily Herald, May 7, 1914.
[xv] Salt Lake Telegram, August 15, 1918.
[xvi] Salt Lake Telegram, December 21, 1918 and March 24, 1919.
[xvii] Ogden Standard Examiner, November 6 and 21, 1921.
[xviii] Abdul Alli, along with Toy Smith and another man, was convicted of robbing J.L. Jordan in Ogden, Utah on September 6, 1921. The Albanian bandit was given a sentence of five years. Why Alli had another falling out with Joe Baktashi is unknown. It seems that Baktashi had taken the blame for Joe Lavella in return for something from Alli. Perhaps Alli was to have assisted Baktashi in his own 1921 parole hearing and failed. The answer is lost to history. Details of Alli’s robbery case can be found in the following Ogden Standard Examiner issues; September 26 and October 22, 1921; January 16, 18 and 25, 1922.
[xix] Ogden Standard Examiner, August 29, 1922.
[xx] Daniel Waugh, Off Color: The Violent History of Detroit’s Notorious Purple Gang, Holland, MI: In-Depth Editions, 2014, pgs. 73-83.
[xxi] According to his death certificate, Dimitrios Poulos aka James Thompson was born on May 15, 1894 in Stemnitsa, Greece to Thomas and Maria Vlachogiannis Poulos. It is unknown exactly when he immigrated to America. Poulos would eventually anglicize his name to William James Thompson, but he was primarily known in the Detroit underworld as “Jimmy the Greek.” Michigan Department of Health, Certificate of Death, (1933), No. 984.
[xxii] Zero Puchi was born in Gjirokastër, Albania to Nazif Puchi and an unknown woman. While his death certificate gives an approximate birth year of 1885, Puchi’s World War I draft card gave his birth date as September 22, 1874. The same draft card gave his address as 8 N. Howard Street in Akron, Ohio, with a relative living in Detroit at 180 Brush Street. After he moved to the Motor City, Puchi lived at 2215 Fifth Street; Michigan Department of Health, Certificate of Death, (1927), No. 8099.
[xxiii] Detroit Free Press, January 3, 1925. The author was unable to find any further information on Harry Halloway and believes that this name was most probably an alias. James George was noted as running a Greektown blind pig at 347 Monroe Avenue. The fact that Baktashi victimized a respected saloonkeeper on his boss Thompson’s turf pointed to the Albanian gangster’s wholly unpredictable nature.
[xxiv] The bombing was thoroughly covered in Detroit newspapers, notably the March 12-14, 1924 issues of the Detroit Free Press and the March 12, 1924 issue of the Detroit News.
[xxv] Ioannis (John) Deplaris was born on either September 7, 1893 or July 5, 1894 in Filatria, Greece to Dionysus and Helen Christopoulos Deplaris. By the time of his death, Deplaris was noted as living in a suite at the Hotel Tuller and operating a Greektown coffee house/gambling den at 347 Monroe Avenue. Michigan Department of Health, Certificate of Death, (1924), No. 4003; World War I draft card. Details of his murder from the April 3, 1924 issues of the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News.
[xxvi] Fotios (Frank) Kokalaris was born on March 18, 1891 in Filatria, Greece to Petro Kokalaris and an unknown woman. Kokalaris would be noted as the prime suspect in several unsolved homicides in and around Greektown during Prohibition, including one 1929 case when he and Detroit gangster Pete Corrado were acquitted of killing gambler Tom Serenotes in front of his Hastings Street laundromat/gambling den. Michigan Department of Health, Certificate of Death, (1931), No. 8374; additional information from the July 11, 1931 issue of the Detroit Times and the October 29, 1931 issue of the Detroit Free Press.
[xxvii] While the information surrounding Joe Baktashi’s capture is sparse, my account was derived from the following sources; Salt Lake Telegram, January 2, 1925; Detroit Free Press, January 3, 1925; Detroit Times, August 31, 1928.
[xxviii] Salt Lake Telegram, October 18, 1925. Abdul Alli appears to have faded into obscurity after his release. Unconfirmed accounts in contemporary Utah newspapers claimed he moved to Detroit and went into the rackets, but this author was unable to find any confirmation for that hypothesis.
[xxix] Salt Lake Telegram, October 17, 1926. All told, Joe Baktashi had served a total of ten years and twenty days in prison for the murder of Joe Lavella.
[xxx] The author was unable to discover much about James Carloze other than that his real name seems to have been Albert Valento (or Valente). He was apparently born circa 1905 and began selling dope in Detroit around 1924. After serving a two-year term in Leavenworth, Carloze would be confined in New York’s Sing Sing Penitentiary. Contemporary news accounts often spell his alias as “Carlozzi.”
[xxxi] Little is known for certain about Joe Baktashi’s dope business other than he operated it under the Pete Milo alias and was considered enough of a threat by the Federal Narcotics Bureau that they continued to hound him until the day he died. Some fragments of his dope business can be found in the following articles; Detroit Free Press, November 12, 13 and 15, 1927; August 31 and September 1, 1928; Detroit News, November 12, 1927 and August 31, 1928; Detroit Times, August 31, 1928.
[xxxii] Details on the Zero Puchi killing and its aftermath were drawn from the June 16, 1927 and August 31, 1928 issues of the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News and Detroit Times.
[xxxiii] Detroit Free Press, November 12, 13 and 15, 1927; August 31, 1928; Detroit News, November 12, 1927 and August 31, 1928.
[xxxiv] Salt Lake Telegram, December 5, 1927.
[xxxv] The son of a Civil War veteran turned gold miner, Hamilton Daywalt was born on November 12, 1883 in Breckenridge, Colorado to David and Frances Ready Daywalt. Hamilton, or Harry as he was called, was in constant trouble from an early age; he was noted as having run away from home more than once and hitching a ride on freight trains. Daywalt’s extensive criminal career began when he was sentenced to serve time in Colorado’s Canon City Penitentiary in April 1908 and paroled three years later. Daywalt married Anna Elizabeth Welch in Pueblo, Colorado on November 1, 1911. After working as an iron worker for a number of years, Harry struck back out on the outlaw trail. In the autumn of 1919, he would be incarcerated in the Idaho State Penitentiary for burglary for one to five years; he was released on October 9, 1920.
Daywalt headed south to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he was arrested after burglarizing a house on June 1, 1921. During his six-month term for petty larceny in the Salt Lake County Jail, he was thrown into solitary confinement for the last eight weeks of his sentence for using his position as a trusty to smuggle drugs to fellow inmates. Free again during the winter of 1922, Daywalt was busted yet again for burglary and sentenced to a longer term at the Sugar House Prison. It was at this point that Daywalt almost certainly met Joe Baktashi before the latter escaped that August. Daywalt walked out the gates of the Sugar House in December 1924 into the arms of federal officers, who laid in wait to bust him for altering the name on a $50 Liberty Bond he had stolen in his June 1921 heist. After serving a two-year term in Leavenworth Federal Prison, Harry Daywalt headed west again to his rendezvous with Joe Baktashi.
Aspen Daily Times, April 4, 1897; Salt Lake Telegram, June 2 and December 15, 1921; February 13-14, 1922; December 23, 1924 and December 7, 1927. Idaho, Old Penitentiary Prison Records, 1920, Harry Hamilton Daywalt; World War I draft card; Colorado Steel Works Employment Records, Hamilton Daywalt; Colorado State Census, 1885; 1910 and 1930 U.S. Censuses.
[xxxvi] My recreation of the ill-fated Kress store safecracking was drawn from the December 4-8, 1927 and February 29, 1928 issues of the Salt Lake Telegram.
[xxxvii] Salt Lake Telegram, August 16 and 31, 1928; Ogden Standard Examiner, August 16, 17 and 31, 1928.
[xxxviii] Salt Lake Telegram, August 16, 1928.
[xxxix] While differing on some minor points, I recreated Joe Baktashi’s final days and death from the following articles; the August 31, 1928 issues of the Detroit News, Detroit Times and Salt Lake Telegram. Supplemental material from the September 1 and 5, 1928 issues of the Detroit Free Press.