Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Leslie Wotton, Motorcycle Cop

Perhaps boredom inspired Leslie Wotton, a motorcycle cop in the Boston police force, to compose a droll list in 1928 of "the reasons why a driver sticks out his left arm."  (The Boston police's "Speed Squad" of motorcyclists had only been formed sixteen years earlier, in 1912.)  He was probably surprised when his tabulation was picked up nationally by newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, which ran the story as follows:


Leslie Wotton in uniform, with cycle
(courtesy Ron Bouvier)
Long and close observation, according to Leslie B. Wotton of the Boston traffic police, who keeps things moving smoothly in the congested environs of Governor's Square [today Kenmore Square--The Passing Tramp], has convinced him that when motorist see an arm protruding from a car ahead they should understand instantly that the drivers is:

1. Dusting ashes from his cigaret.
2. Going to make a left turn.
3. Telling the youngster to keep quiet; it's too hot to eat more ice cream, and there isn't any place to park around here, anyway.
4. Going to turn to the right.
5. Feeling for rain.
6. Going to back.
7. Pointing to something.
8. Saluting a friend in another car.
9. Assuring his wife for the fifth time that the kitchen door is locked.
10. Going to stop.
11. Wondering if it's getting any hotter.
12. Resting his arm.

The humorous patrolman Wotton did have his more exciting moments on the force, however, when he was stationed in Hyde Park District.  There was that time in 1923 when he and Officer Fallon arrested George Cowan of 866 Main Street, Charlestown for the theft of four hens from the premises of Robert Finn at 93 Washington Street. 

Okay, well, maybe not that one so much.

However, there was also the time in 1924 when Wotton helped avert a catastrophic fire at the Masonic Temple on Fairmount Avenue (today Riverside Theater).  In the early morning hours of March 13th, his brother in blue Sergeant Edward J. Murphy was walking along Fairmount when he discovered the fire and telephoned the police station, reaching Patrolman Wotton, whom he dispatched to the engine house on Winthrop Street.  The sergeant and patrolman then devoted their time to awakening the residents in the vicinity, alerting them to their peril. 

Deliberately indulging in a pun, one assumes, the Boston Globe confided to its readers that Murphy and Wotton "were showered with their many friends, and Captain Grant personally commended the officers...."

Riverside Theater (formerly Masonic Temple)

engine house on Winthrop Street

It was also in 1924 when Wotton had to deal with the affair of the runaway boy.  On September 10, a lad aged ten who gave his name as Edwin Boudreau and his residence as the city of Worcester, was turned over to the police police by a Hyde Park woman, who had discovered him crying on her piazza and given him supper.  Young Edwin snifflingly told the men at the station that he had been sleeping in porch hammocks for the past week, having run away from the home of Mrs. Clark at 152 Quincy Street, Roxbury, where he had been placed with seven other boys.  The boy was entertained by the kindhearted police offers, who made up a collection on his behalf.  Then Patrolman Wotton carried him back home on his motorcycle, allowing the thrilled youngster to ride in his side car.

Patrolman Wotton standing before Trinity Church
at Copley Square, Boston
(courtesy Ron Bouvier)
This touching 1924 affair launched what proved Edwin Boudreau's relationship of at least sixteen years duration with New England law enforcement authorities.  By 1930, Edwin, along with his younger brother Conrad, was residing at Lyman School for Boys, a reform school near Worcester.  Two years after that Edwin, then eighteen, had been paroled for three weeks from the Massachusetts Industrial School for Boys at Shirley (formerly a Shaker village), when he was arrested for larceny. 

It was proving hard for legal and moral authorities, it seems, to instill habits of industry--or more accurately legality--in Edwin.

What of Edwin's parents, you may be asking.  Well, Edwin was one of at least nine children (seven sons and two daughters) of respectable Canadian Catholic immigrants, John and Emma Boudreau.  John was a watchmaker, which may help explain Edwin's particular criminal interests.

Edwin stood accused in March 1932 of having entered Swanson's Bakery in Fitchburg, Masachusetts and purloined three dollars from the office of splendidly named baker Knute Cedarholm.  It was contended that Edwin displayed the stolen bills to another boy, querying him as to the cost of a fare to Boston.  When Patrolman Fitzgerald, who had been given a description of the boy, arrested Edwin, the bills were not to be found upon his person, but it was later discovered that they had been picked up off the street by a girl, Edwin--no fool he--evidently having dropped them there when he saw a policeman approaching.

photo taken from the derelict
Lyman School for Boys
(Brendan OConnor)
See this evocative collection of photos
at the Lyman School for Boys
Facebook Page
In court Edwin proved defiant, insisting that "the stories told by the [prosecution] witnesses are not true."  The judge did not agree and he told Edwin so: "In the absence of any explanation I will have to find you guilty."  Judge Gallagher found Edwin guilty of one count of larceny and ordered that the young man promptly be returned to the Industrial School from which he had so recently been paroled.

Edwin was soon out again and on something of a spree--a crime spree.  In July 1933 he was arrested while hitchhiking in Hampton, New Hampshire, with two bags of allegedly stolen jewelry worth $1200 (about $22,500 today) in his possession.  Claiming to be seventeen (though he was actually nineteen), Edwin was arraigned in Portsmouth on three charges of breaking and entering.  Inspector B. H. Flaherty of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, who was investigating Edwin's extra curricular activities, claimed that Edwin had stolen watches and jewelry from:

  • Theodore A Couch, optician, of 48 Sayles Street, Pawtucket, Rhode Island
  • William H. Savage, commercial traveler, and his wife Inez, of Wilder Road, Leominster, Massachusetts, from whom $3000 worth of property was stolen
  • Whalom Park, Massachusetts, an amusement park where over $2500 worth of jewelry was stolen
  • Stanley Sawyer Smith, mail carrier, of Athol, Massachusetts
  • two houses in Worcester
  • a house in Pawtucket
  • two houses in Portsmouth
Leslie Wotton (1892-1971)
(courtesy Ron Bouvier)
Edwin was convicted and sentenced to a term in the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord, from which institution he was released on July 15, 1936.  The day after his release, he was again arrested, this time charged with thefts of jewelry from two homes in Worcester.  The newspaper reporting these details noted that Edwin had "a long police record...starting his career of crime when he was a young boy."

In Fitchburg Edwin plead guilty to five counts of breaking and entering and larceny, and was sentenced by Judge Walter Perley Hall to five years in prison.  He had been released by 1940, when he registered for military service at Worcester.  He then was employed by the Wiley Bickford Sweet Shoe Company and resided at 6 Chrome Street. 

At under 5'5" and weighing 140 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes, Edwin must have made quite the cat burglar.  (He was too big for a jockey.)  Over five decades later, he died in Florida at the age of 81.

Patrolman Wotton could not have known that he was taking a criminal prodigy for a ride in his side car back when he crossed young Edwin's path in 1924, but in service as a Boston policeman he did encounter some active adult criminals (besides the chicken thief), if in a minor key.

Boston police with seized casks of liquor during the era of Prohibition (1920-33)

Armed with search warrants Patrolman Wotton, along with two other policeman, in January 1925 raided the fruit store of Pietro Zampella, where they discovered and confiscated two gallons of alcohol in seven bottles.  With four other policeman, Wotton the same day participated in a raid on the home of Patsy DelGrosso, where two-and-a-half gallons of liquor were discovered and confiscated.

Ethel Mae Sanborn Wotton
(courtesy Ron Bouvier)
Not exactly Al Capone "Untouchables" stuff, you may say, and that's true.  However, I think these incidents influenced a central plot thread in Murder by Jury (1932), a detective novel by author Ruth Burr Sanborn, (1894-1942), who was a cousin of Ethel Mae Sanborn, the wife of Leslie Wotton.  Ethel Mae and Leslie had met at Logan's supermarket in Hyde Park, where Leslie was working in the meat department and Ethel Mae in bookkeeping.

Ethel's cousin Ruth published two detective novels, both of which are being reprinted by Coachwhip, but between the two world wars Ruth was one of the most prominent writers of lucrative romance fiction for so-called "slick" magazine like The Saturday Evening Post.  (She might have written a story about her cousin Ethel and Leslie: "The Butcher and the Bookkeeper.")

Ruth knew "slick" romance writing down to the ground, but when it came to writing her murder mysteries, especially her first, I think she took good advantage of a little inside knowledge from her cop in-law, Leslie Wotton.

Copley Square and Trinity Church today

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