Research Thoughts

Auto Theft

Elisabeth Fassbender was admitted to Appleton’s St. Elizabeth Hospital in late March 1937. Her daughter, Anna, had passed away on February 2nd at the age of 71, and at 97, Elisabeth herself was beginning to slow down. 

Monday afternoon, March 23rd, Henry and Ida drove from their home in Hollandtown, Brown County, to Appleton to visit his mother. They made the approximately 13-mile drive in the company car, a “1935 model Ford sedan, dark green, with the 1937 Wisconsin license plates No. 198-968,” registered to the Fassbender Brothers.1 Parking in the lot, they entered the hospital to spend time with Elisabeth. I would like to think that they met Henry’s sister, Elizabeth, and brother, Hubert in the room so that it was a nice family visit. 

Upon leaving his mother’s bedside at approximately 8:30 p.m. they were shocked to discover that the car was missing. It had been stolen. 

How did they return home that evening? A call may have been made to Elizabeth’s son, Arthur Ellenbecker. After filling out the police report, it was very late, and the 37-year-old was the perfect person to make the trek out to Hollandtown and back to Appleton.

Elisabeth was released from the hospital and returned home where she passed away peacefully on Wednesday afternoon, 14 Apr 1937. She was survived by four sons, one daughter, 34 grandchildren, and 34 great-grandchildren. The oldest grandchild was 41, and the youngest, Henry’s daughter, Rosemary, was just 11 years old.

But what about Henry’s car? What happened to it?

Tuesday afternoon, March 24th, the car was recovered at the St. Mary school grounds in Menasha, Winnebago County, by the Menasha police.2 “Apparently” the car had been taken for “transportation from Appleton to the basketball tournament under way” at St. Mary’s.3

“Four Plead Guilty Of Car Theft” read the Appleton Post-Crescent headline 26 Mar 1937. “Four youths plead guilty of operating automobiles without the owners consent.” Two of the youths 17 and 18 years of age were from Kimberly, Outagamie County. They were arraigned on two warrants, one dating February 25th, and the second being Henry’s car.

The other men, 19 year old residents of Appleton, were on probation when they drove to Menasha in the Fassbender vehicle, returning to Appleton in a second stolen car, as the previous October they had been convicted of taking two nickel slot machines from a Menasha tavern. They were arraigned on three counts of operating a car without the owners consent.

A total of eight vehicles had been stolen and used for “joy-riding about the country” by the young men; five cars from Outagamie and three from Winnebago County. One of the boys told the Outagamie county sheriff that one of the cars “was nearly new, with less than 500 miles on the speedometer. The sheriff said he boasted that he had ‘had it up to 90 miles an hour.’”4

The two 19-year-olds were charged to “three years in the state penitentiary [in Waupun] on each of the four counts on which they were arraigned. The sentences will run concurrently.” 

In December a judge canceled the probation of the two younger men, and they were sentenced to serve three years in the state reformatory at Green Bay, Brown County.5 The paper doesn’t give a reason for this, but it may have had something to do with the fact that “a loaded automatic was found on” one youth’s “person when he was picked up,” and “police reported finding a revolver under the mattress” at the other youth’s home.”6

So as the newspaper reported: “The Court Closes Crime Career.” I am sure that Henry was happy to have the car returned with only a few extra miles put on the speedometer, and without being damaged. 

Sources:

  1. “Report Auto Theft,” Appleton Post-Crescent, 23 Mar 1937, Tuesday Evening, p. 13, col. 4; digital images, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 4 Feb 2022).
  2. “Car Is Recovered,” The Daily Northwestern, 25 Mar 1937, Thursday, p. 17, col. 4; digital images, NewspaperARCHIVE (www.newspaperarchive.com : accessed 18 Nov 2015).
  3. “Car is Recovered” The Daily Northwestern, 25 Mar 1937, Thursday, p. 17, col. 4; NewspaperARCHIVE (www.newspaperarchive.com : accessed 18 Nov 2015).
  4. “Youths Are Held While Car Thefts Are Investigated,” The Daily Northwestern, 23 Mar 1937, Wednesday, p. 4, col. 1; digital images, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 18 Feb 2022).
  5. “Cancel Probations of Two Kimberly Youths,” Appleton Post-Crescent, 2 Dec 1937, Thursday Evening, p. 12, col. 6; digital images, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 19 Feb 2022).
  6. “Youths Are Held While Car Thefts Are Investigated,” Wednesday, p. 4, col. 1.
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