By ALLISON HARRELL
Texian Time Machine & Outreach Coordinator
Today's the day, super sleuths! Do you know who killed cashier Robert L. Kirby at the Blue Ridge Bank? Scroll down if you think you've solved the case and are ready to check your answer. If you haven't had a chance to check out the details of the case yet, click here for PART ONE, PART TWO and PART THREE before scrolling.
Fort Bend History Murder Mystery: THE FINALE
The following is a transcript from page 9 of The Houston Post; February 21, 1921.
Absolon Tells of Beating Cashier Kirby to Death
The perpetrator of the deed and the slayer of Cashier Kirby has confessed. He is Fred J. Absolon, the man arrested at the Milby Hotel at 4 o’clock Friday morning by Deputy Sheriff “Doc” Sammon.
“I picked up the crank to the door and hit him over the head with it several times, the exact number I do not remember,” was the way in which Absolon described how he finally killed Kirby in a confession made at 6 o’clock Saturday night to Deputy Sheriff “Doc” Sammon, later repeated to Assistant District Attorney Fred Switzer, who took the statement down in typewriting. Absolon confessed his guilt at police head quarters following a grilling lasting all afternoon. Efforts of local police officers to wring the confession from him were unsuccessful and Absolon made no statement of a compromising nature.
Sending for “Doc" Sammon who arrested him, the murderer stated that if he would send from the room police officers present, he would say something of interest to Sammon. This was accordingly done and Absolon, alone with Sammon, made a clean breast of the whole affair, also agreeing to make a written confession.
Cool and composed, his nervousness betrayed only by the frequency with which his cigarette found its way to his lips, Absolon slowly dictated his confession to Mr. Switzer, who sat at a typewriter at police headquarters, and took it word for word. Occasionally Absolon would smile when provoked or annoyed at some question put to him by the assistant district attorney, and his general demeanor was one of absolute indifference, as he described how he had entered the Blue Ridge State Bank at about 10 o’clock on the morning of February 15, and slew Robert L. Kirby, cashier of the institution, escaping through a rear window with $3,500 in cash. Absolon finally broke down after having stolidly denied for 36 hours that he was in any way connected with the affair.
Immediately after the crime, said Absolon, he went to his room in Mrs. J.H. Allison’s rooming house, three blocks from the bank, and lay upon his bead for 15 or 20 minutes thinking over what he had just done.
Mingled with Curious Crowd
Then, so reads his statement, he arose and after washing, returned to the bank where he freely mingled with the curious crowds gathered there to look over the scene of the murder. At that time he is said to have remarked, “the man who did that should be hung.”
Prior to his confession, Absolon had been in the office of George Lacey, fingerprint expert, and it was when confronted with these fingerprints that he broke down. Lacey casually questioned the suspect as he forged each piece of evidence and asked him if the finger markers should prove to be his own, how was he going to explain them. Absolon finally stated that he would take the consequences.
While undergoing the ordeal of fingerprint comparison, Absolon had asserted to Mr. Lacey that he had not gone into the bank after the crime, explaining the crowd had prevented it. As the tell-tale evidence began to assume proportions he made explanations of the fingerprints, saying he had picked up the crank later and that he had placed his hand on the window. About six o’clock Deputy Sheriff Sammon came into the room and asked the prisoner if he wanted to talk to him. Being told that the fingerprints had drawn tighter the web of evidence, Absolon agreed, the confession following.
With the pronouncement made Saturday evening by five physicians to the effect that the bullet wound in his right leg was only five days old at the most and could not possibly have been self-inflicted three weeks before, as Absolon accounted for the wound, the case was made all the stronger.
Confession to the Point
Absolon’s confession was made in approximately 900 words. It is free from superlatives and right to the point. He describes, over his signature, how it was that the three shots fired were not heard, having been fired within the vault, and in just what manner he did Kirby to death. He returned to the scene of the crime but shortly after its discovery, according to the confession, after changing his clothes and otherwise concealing traces of the crime. As the disposition of his blood-soaked garments, Absolon explained that he gave them to Mrs. Allison, saying, “For God’s sake, get rid of these!” Nothing in the confession implicates Mrs. Allison in any way other than for the part played in disposing of the man’s clothes. Absolon stated that the $790 found in the woman’s possession did not represent any of the spoils from the bank but was legitimately hers.
The confession follows:
“My name is Fred Absolon, I am 25 years of age. I have been staying at Blue Ridge for about five weeks. I am an automobile mechanic by trade and when to Blue Ridge to get into that business.
“In the forenoon of February 15, 1921, I went by the Blue Ridge State bank. I walked into that bank, and saw one man in there. He was there in charge of the money and behind the counter of the bank. I walked around behind the counter of the bank where he was writing on a typewriter or doing something, and I pulled my pistol and held it on him and told him to ‘Stick ‘em up,” and he held up his hands, and stood there. I went then to the drawer of the counter of the bank and got all the paper money that was in the drawer. When I went in there and saw he was a little man, I thought I could make him stick them up with my pistol and if he did not I could overpower him, and get the money without hurting anyone. I was just finishing getting the money out of the drawer, when he moved from his position at the desk, where he was when I entered, and went to the safe and went into the safe and pulled the door of the safe to after him. I turned around with the money on me. I then thought it was a foolish thing for him to do. If he had've stood there and had not gone into the safe, I would have given all the money back to him and called the matter a joke. I then went over to the safe door and tried to open it, because I was afraid if I left him in there he would perish or I would have to tell someone to come and open it. I tried to open the door for a minute or two, and when it finally opened, and the man stood there with the crank of the safe door in his hand, and he made a pass at me with it and I shot him with my pistol. After I shot, he dropped down. I then went into the safe and fell; and I was just starting out when he got up and came towards me again and I again shot at him while he was still inside of the safe. I do not know whether I hit him that time or not. He seemed to be coming at me with the crank off the safe door and I shot at him again. All of the shots were fired while he was in the safe, and I was in the safe when I fired the last two shots. After the third shot he and I scuffled, and I was shot in the leg. I do not know whether he had a gun or he pulled the trigger of my pistol in the scuffle. I then tried to shoot him for the fourth time and my pistol hung and would not fire. I then picked the crank to the door up and hit him over the head with it several times, the exact number I do not remember.
“I then took the money, which I got when I first went into the bank, and went out the back window of the building.
“I then went to my room in the rooming house known as Coleman’s Place, which was about three squares from the bank building. I laid down on the bed for about 10 or 15 minutes. I then washed up a little and went down on the street and went over to the same bank where the people were looking the situation over, and I looked it over myself. I then went and ate lunch, and later went back to the rooming house and was sitting there playing cards, when Waldell Pitts came by and said he was going to Houston and I came to Houston with him. Went to the Milby Hotel and got room No. 222. I got some whisky from a negro about 6 p.m. and was still putting up at the Milby when I was arrested about 4 a.m. February 18, 1921.
“At the time of my arrest Doc Sammon and some other officers came to my room where I was staying at the Milby, and I heard Doc Sammon say, “Fred, open the door.’ I got up out of bed and threw a roll of paper money that I had gotten from the bank into the toilet and pulled the string and it went down into the sewer. I had been carrying the money in a grip, and I took it out of the grip when I threw it into the sewer.
“Doc Sammon then took some money out of my coat pocket, about $50; I do not know just how much there was."
Witnesses: J.J. Settegast, Jr
Absolon verbally reaffirmed the above statement to the effect that he fell inside the vault from fright, and that he was panic-stricken after he realized what he had done.
“I entered the place without the slightest intention of injuring anyone,” he explained in the presence of a Post reporter, “and when Kirby slammed the vault door shut upon himself, I became frightened and realize that I could not go off and leave him there to stifle to death. I wrestled with the door for a minute or two, but it refused to yield; then, it suddenly swung open and Kirby appeared with the crank, which he raised menacingly, I shot.”
Concerning one point, Absolon was very vague saying that he could not explain it. This was in regard to how he came by the wound in his right leg. He could not recall when pressed to do so, whether it was he or Kirby who had fired the shot that inflicted the wound. Absolong supposed it occurred while they were scuffling.
$600 Thrown in Toilet
The money thrown in the toilet at the Milby Hotel just preceding his arrest is estimated to have amounted to $600.
Deputy Sammon is credited with the opening and closing chapters dealing with establishing the identity of the man who slew Kirby, since it was Sammon who discovered the man hiding in the hotel just off Main Street, Houston, at a time when the city police here and county police throughout the country were conducting extensive searches.
Sammon had previously unearthed certain clues at Blue Ridge which led him to search for Absolon, who was found to have left town on the same afternoon of the crime. Mrs. Allison, in whose house Absolon resided at Blue Ridge, was found living at the Milby and a watch was thrown over her with the hope that she would drop some clue as to Absolon’s whereabouts. Looking back over the hotel blotter, Absolon’s signature was found entered thereon by deputy sheriff. The arrest followed.
That further killing was narrowly averted is contained in a statement made Saturday night by Absolon to the effect that only Sammon’s presence in the raiding party at the hotel early Friday morning prevented him from shooting. That such was true seems to be borne out by the fact that a 38-caliber pistol, cocked, loaded and ready for business, was found in the man’s bed when Deputy Sammon, Sheriff Collins, and others forming the posse, entered.
Circumstantial evidence directed to Absolon as Kirby’s slayer, was one of the strongest kind since the time that suspicion was first thrown upon him.
The room occupied by Absolon at Mrs. Allison’s developed into a rich store of circumstantial evidence when searched by Sheriff Collins, and Deputies Sammon and Sparks. Besides bloody fingerprints upon the window shade, washstand, washbowl, bureau and other articles of furniture, blood was found on a talcum powder tin and the sweatband from a cap. A towel with particles of human cuticle and hair still adhering to it, was also uncovered. In addition to this, three empty cartridges of .45 caliber – the same caliber as that used in the killing when three bullets were found in the bank the next day, their cases gone – were discovered upon the upper ledge of the window frame in the man’s room.
All But One Room Searched
Commenting upon this feature Saturday evening, a prominent banker recalled how he and Mr. Robinson, president of the bank, had searched the Allison house, entering and examining every room but one, which afterwards was known to have been Absolon’s. They were about to enter this room, according to the banker, when they were informed that an oil field worker who had been at work all night was asleep there. Mr. Robinson’s party then left the place, without examining the room.
Only through accident was Absolon’s presence in Houston discovered, for Deputies Sammon and Sparks were planning to catch an early train for San Antonio the same morning on which the arrest was made at 4 a.m. They had been watching Mrs. Allison and were about to abandon the search here for Absolon when his name was discovered upon the hotel register.
Contributions to Downfall
Contributions to the man’s downfall were the following:
- Fingerprints found at the bank and his room, shown to positively agree with his own
- The combined opinion of five Houston physicians that the wound in his leg was not more than five days old, disproving his own story that it had been self inflicted while hunting on Green’s Bayou three weeks before
- His friendship with Kirby and intimate knowledge of the bank
- His known indolence and probable need for money
- His liking for Deputy Sammon and the latter’s reputation for “getting his man.”
“Hunch” Leads to Arrest
It was a mere “hunch” that started Deputy Sammon upon the trail which grew warmer and warmer almost hourly, culminating in the arrest at the hotel. The surrounding countryside was astonished at the manner in which Kirby was killed. On Absolon’s arrest and publication of evidence against him, feeling commenced to run high both here in Houston and in Blue Ridge and Richmond. When Mrs. Allison and the man were taken to the latter town upon their arrest here, a mob formed and talk of a lynching was heard. Sheriff Collins whisked his man out of town, leaving Mrs. Allison there, and hurried him back to the county jail at Houston, making a wide detour of Blue Ridge where, rumor had it, another large mob had congregated, bent upon doing violence.
August De Zavala, vice president of the Blue Ridge State Bank and of the Houston National Exchange Bank, upon being informed Saturday of the man’s confession, expressed his satisfaction.
In Favor of Quick Trial
“And now I am in favor of a quick trial,” stated Mr. De Zavala. “The men who brought this man to book are to be especially commended for their intelligence and speedy work.
“Absolon’s failure to get away with his deal should serve as a warming to others who might be contemplating trying the hazardous game of bank robbing.”
All efforts to link Absolon with the robbery of the Citizen’s State bank have, thus far, failed. That institution, located at Washington Avenue and Heights Boulevard, was looted on the afternoon of January 20 and about $23,000 taken by two men. City police have not yet found any clue which might lead to the identity of the men who perpetrated that affair, and working upon the theory that Absolon might have played a part, city police officers grilled him with that end in view. Three officers of the Citizen’s State Bank were brought face to face with Absolon, two of them asserting that they were “positive” he was one of the two who held up the bank, basing their opinions upon the man’s accent (Absolon is a Czecho-Slav and speaks with a slightly foreign accent), the appearance of his jaw and chin, etc. One of the officials of the bank who saw Absolon stated that he did not think him the man because of his prominent ears.
No Application for Counsel
Up to late Saturday night Absolon had not yet made application for counsel. It was announced that Judge Llewellyn of Liberty would defend Mrs. Allison.
The first hearing has been set for Tuesday morning in Richmond.
Sheriff Collins stated on Saturday that he would countenance no attempt at lynching and that the law should be permitted to run its just and proper course.
So far as known, Absolon, who came to Texas nearly a year ago from Baltimore, Md., has never been convicted of any crime.
Fort Bend Museum Staff