Friday, March 17, 2017

History Watch: “The Chase of the Footpads”

History Watch

"The Chase of the Footpads"

At the end of the 19th century, San Rafael was a pretty quiet place.  John E. Healy served as the Town Marshall from the 1890’s to 1915.  He was then elected as the San Rafael's first Police Chief and he served a four-year term in that position until 1919, earning a salary of $1,800 per year.

In early 1904, there was a series of armed robberies in the county that were committed by two young men known as Footpads.  The term comes from 17th century England and was used in the United States until the late 1900’s when it fell out of favor.  Footpads were thieves and/or robbers who specialized in robbing pedestrians.  They were considered low level criminals as they did not have horses and they faded into the night on foot after accosting their victims.

The most recent robbery took place at a saloon owned by A. Lawrence in Sausalito in early 1904.  Both men were described as young and well-dressed and they were armed with pistols.  They fled and were not caught, but that was about to change.

One of the constables who worked under Town Marshall Healy was a man named Louis Hughes.  He had a rather unique position with the city.  In addition to being a constable, he was the City’s Fire Chief. On a Sunday evening at about 6:00 PM, on February 21st 1904, Hughes was walking home traveling north on Irwin Street by the intersection of Fifth Avenue. Hughes, who was apparently not in any type of uniform, noticed two young men walking behind him.  Perhaps unaware of the robberies and the description given of the suspects, Hughes gave them a friendly greeting and he offered to have them walk with him.

Shortly after the greeting, one of the men ordered Hughes to put his hands up and he told Hughes that he was being robbed.  Hughes immediately reached into his pants pocket and he pulled out his revolver and he pulled the trigger five times while pointing it at the suspects, however all five rounds misfired.  The taller of the two suspects displayed a handgun and he fired at Hughes three times, striking him once in the lower abdomen. 

Hughes went down and the men ran north on Irwin Street. While fleeing, the suspect with the gun fired one more time at Hughes from a distance of about 50 feet.  They then ran to Belle and Irwin Street and into the entrance of the majestic Hotel Rafael where they disappeared.

Several witnesses were nearby who ran to the aid of Hughes.  He was taken to Dr. Howitt’s sanitarium on Fourth Street where he was treated for a serious wound, that did not prove to be fatal.  Marin County Sheriff Taylor was advised of the assault and he did what law enforcement would have done today.  He put out an alert on the suspects giving a description that was provided by Hughes and all deputies and constables started to look for the two perpetrators.

At 11:15 pm, that same evening, one of the suspects walked into Billy Shannon’s Villa, a less than reputable saloon and boxing club, located at Second and Fourth Street in the west end of San Rafael next to where the International House of Pancakes is today. It was a quiet night at the villa and only Shannon and two customers were present.  The young man ordered everyone to put their hands up advising them it was a robbery.  Shannon and one of the patrons complied, but the second patron refused, not seeing any weapon. 

A second later the second taller suspect entered the bar with a revolver in each hand and at that point the patron threw his hands up in the air.  The Footpads took money from the two customers, cash from the till and they also took Billy Shannon’s wristwatch, however they returned it to him prior to fleeing.

The alarm went out and a short time later, Marin County Sheriff’s Deputy George Martin, who was patrolling in the San Anselmo area, observed two young men walking down the street who matched the description given by Constable Hughes and Billy Shannon.  He stopped them for questioning and both of them refused to identify themselves.  During questioning, the deputy observed that one of the suspects had a gunshot wound to his thigh, perhaps inflicted by the suspect’s partner when the last shot was fired at Constable Hughes.

Both suspects were taken into custody and booked at the county jail located at the Court House at Fourth and A Street.  Thus, another crime series came to a successful conclusion for Marin law enforcement.

Attached is a photo of Billy Shannon’s Villa where the suspects robbery spree came to an end.

Copyright 2017 Harry Barbier – All Rights Reserved

Billy Shannon's Villa - Circa 1912