Detroit was suffering a stifling heatwave on September 3, 1927 when William Gilbreath was driving home at ten p.m. Though somewhat late in the evening, the sidewalks were still teeming with pedestrians and the streets were full of cars. During his trip, Gilbreath remembered that he needed to pick something up from the drug store. Seeing one on the corner he pulled his car to the curb and hopped out. As he approached the store he heard a voice from behind, “Get back in that car and don’t make any fuss about it.” He turned to find a younger man brandishing a gun. Two other men turned the corner and closed in. They escorted Gilbreath back to his car and ordered him to get behind the wheel. One of the men climbed in the front seat with him and the other two hopped in the back. Once they were all in the car, the other two guys drew thirty-eights from their pockets. To Gilbreath’s shock, none of the numerous pedestrians who were walking or driving by seemed to notice the kidnapping.
“Drive around the block.” The gunman up front demanded.
Gilbreath followed the order. After a bit, the gunman jammed his thirty eight into Gilbreath’s side.
“All right, you, stop this car and climb in the back.”
Gilbreath switched places with one of the gunmen and for the next two hours they drove around searching for a place to rob. The bandits pulled up to a handful of drug stores with the intention of robbing them but, each time, decided that there were too many customers inside. At 11:15 they pulled into a gas station owned and operated by Ted Malm. The driver told Malm to” fill ‘er up” and, when the proprietor came around to collect payment, instead of cash, he found the business end of a thirty-eight.
“Get in.” the driver commanded. Malm climbed into the car as two of the gunmen walked into the station and helped themselves to the cash in the register.
With their new prisoner, the bandits continued to drive around looking for opportunities. After a while they decided to rob a pedestrian. Just then they saw a guy enter the court to an apartment building and two of the gunmen leapt from the car and approached him. One of them called out to the man, Edmund Weiner, a mechanic who worked for the Ford Motor Company, as he was about to enter the building. As Weiner turned to reply the gunman smashed him over the head with the butt of his gun. Weiner let out a scream and the gunmen proceeded to beat him as he tried to fight them off. Weiner’s yells filled the air as one of the bandits continued to beat him over the head with his pistol while dragging him from the courtyard out to the street. Weiner was pulled to the car and tossed in the back.
Inside the auto it was discovered that Weiner only had two nickels in cash. This, and the fact that he wouldn’t stop screaming, led all of the bandits to start wailing on him again. Pleading for his life, Weiner cried that he had a wife and two daughters to support. The hoodlums couldn’t have cared less. They continued to rain blows down upon him as he persisted in his screaming. A few minutes passed and one of the bandits jumped behind the wheel and pulled away while another yelled at the wounded man to be quiet.
After a short drive, the bandits pulled over and told their three captives to get out and lie on the ground. After searching them for anything of value, one of the gunmen warned the trio that if they got up too soon, they would “get their damn heads blown off.” The bandits got back in Gilbreath’s car and drove off. Gilbreath and Malm helped Weiner to a drug store where some citizens offered to drive him to the hospital. Unfortunately, Weiner took to many blows to his head; he died of his wounds the following morning.
With the brutal slaying of Wiener, the case became well publicized. All of the Detroit newspapers demanded police action, which was slow in coming. In an interview, Gilbreath mentioned that during the ride, they drove past a couple of beat cops standing on a corner. One of the gunmen said that they should bump them off, but another stated that he knew one of the cops. Detroiters wondered why a police officer would be friendly with a gun toting thug. Within a few days, six ranking police officers were walking a beat for being in “contact with the criminal element.” Around the same time, the front page of the Detroit Times quoted Weiner’s wife as saying, “May God punish the murderers of my husband. I don’t know what we can do. We are penniless now without his salary. My baby girl keeps asking where Daddy is but I cannot tell her for she is too young to understand.”
Through the Detroit Times, Gilbreath set up a fund for Weiner’s family and over the next few weeks donations came pouring into the Times. In all, Weiner’s widow was presented with over $5,400. Some folks offered their services. A cobbler offered free shoe repair for a year and a bakery pledged a free loaf of bread every day for the same amount of time.
On September 14, Detroit Police got their first break in the case. While searching for clues regarding a string of drug store robberies, detectives were canvassing the establishments that had been held up and walked into the Saylor Drug Store to question the clerks. When two of the detectives entered, (a third remained in the car) they noticed that no clerks were about. Assuming that they were in the back whipping up prescriptions, they waited. After a moment a guy walked out from the rear of the store. As he walked around the counter, he smiled at the detectives and said, “Well, goodnight boys!” before exiting the store. The detectives got a bad vibe from him but assumed that the drug store was doubling as a speakeasy and the guy simply had a drink or two. Moments later another guy walked out but this one had a gun in his hand and caught the detectives off guard. “Stick ‘em up, both of you.” He barked.
The detectives complied but since there was about six feet distance between them, the gunman had to swing his pistol back and forth to cover each man. At one point his eyes fell on one of the detectives’ pocket watch. Seizing the opportunity, the other detective drew his gun and fired. The first bullet hit the bandit under the arm and pierced his chest. The bandit turned and fired a wild shot as three more slugs slammed into his body. The hoodlum staggered, reached out and grabbed the pocket watch he had been eyeing and dropped to the floor. He gave his name as Robert Meyers and died a half hour later at the hospital. Gilbreath and Malm were brought to the morgue where they identified Meyers as both the leader of the desperadoes and the driver of the car, the night of Weiner’s murder.
Gilbreath (L) and Malm (R) Identify Meyers
A week after Meyers got his, police received a tip that two questionable men were living in a cottage in nearby Gross Pointe Park. After staking out the joint for the better part of the evening, detectives went in and arrested both men and their girlfriends. One of the guys arrested turned out to be the man who exited the drug store saying, “Well, good night boys!” the other was the getaway driver (Police were unaware that there was a driver that day. During his confession he stated that, when he saw the detectives pull up to the drug store, he honked the horn as a warning and took off.)
Both men admitted to being accomplices of Meyers but denied being in on the Weiner murder. Gilbreath and Malm were brought in and both stated that neither bandit was involved. The gunmen told detectives that Meyers worked with a handful of different bandits but they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, give any names. It didn’t matter because the next day another one of the hoodlums fell to police bullets.
At three-fifteen the following afternoon, a patrol was standing on the corner when a pedestrian came up and told him that he had been robbed on September 12, and that he just saw the man who did it. The citizen pointed him out and the officer started for the suspect. Seeing the officer approach, the suspect dodged behind a tree and drew a pistol. The officer did likewise and both men started shooting at each other. After a few volleys the desperado let out scream and fell to the ground. His cheek had been pierced by a bullet. Assuming his man was down for good, the officer approached and went to disarm him. The gunman had some fight left in him however, and the two began to grapple for control of the cop’s gun. The bandit wrestled it free and shot the officer in the stomach. As the policeman crumpled to the ground, the gunman ran off. Two citizens rushed the officer to the hospital where he made a full recovery.
Meanwhile, cops began combing the neighborhood looking for the gunman who had ran into a nearby garage. Inside was the homeowner and the hoodlum forced him into the house at gunpoint. The desperado told him to hide him in a closet. The homeowner opened a door, “Get into the closet with me.” The gunman ordered. As the gunman hid himself behind some clothes, a police officer entered the house. The homeowner jumped from the closet doorway and the cop pushed the clothes out of the way and fired into the gunman. With a bullet in his belly, the hoodlum dropped to the floor and began groaning for his mother.
At the hospital the hoodlum identified himself as nineteen- year- old Joe Subko of Akron, Ohio. Gilbreath and Malm were brought in to take a look at him. Without hesitation, Gilbreath identified him as the man who had assaulted Weiner. Although Malm was reasonably certain that Subko was the man, he asked if he could see him dressed in street clothes to make sure. During this time, Subko died of his wounds, so they dressed him in his clothes and let Malm take another look. Once this was done Malm declared him the man.
Subko redressed for identification. Note bullet hole in cheek.
It turned out that Subko was also a mini-crime wave of his own independent of Meyers. Victims of, who the police called, the “Hitch Hike Bandit” an armed man who robbed numerous motorist that picked him up, were also called in and identified Subko as the bandit. Though Gilbreath, Malm and Mrs. Weiner received some satisfaction in the wiping out of Meyers and Subko, unfortunately for Justice, the third man involved in the kidnappings and robberies was never found out.
“Snaring Detroit’s Kidnapping Killers” True Detective Mysteries November 1934
“3 Thugs Kidnap W.S. Gilbreath, Slay Another” Detroit Free Press, September 5, 1927
"Familiarity Of Thugs And Cops Under Inquiry"St. Joseph Herald Press September 6, 1927
“Officer Defies Robber’s Gun, Kills Bandit” Detroit Free Pres, September 15, 1927
“Crook Mental Test Failure Blow To Police” Detroit Free Press, September 17, 1927
“Hat Identifies Leader of Weiner’s Slayers” Detroit Free Press, September 18, 1927
“Man Slain, Second Dying After Battles With Policemen”, Detroit Free Press September 24, 1927
“Second Weiner Slayer Killed By Policeman’s Bullet”, Detroit Free Press September 25, 1927