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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad Trial, 1946

A coroner's inquest was held Mar 7, 1946 in the killing of the two strikers in Gridley, IL. The coroner heard testimony from the engineer on the train, four of the strikers, citizens of Gridley, as well as the medical evidence. The slain men were shot in the back according to Dr. Markowitz, one 8 times and the other 5 times.

The engineer stated that the strikers were around a switch which needed to be thrown. Rather than send one man to throw the switch, the engineer sent all four guards to throw the switch. He claimed that Arthur Brown, one of the deceased men, was firing a pistol at the guards, and that the guards returned his fire. The four strikers testifying denied that any striker was armed and denied that any rocks had been thrown in Gridley. They were merely insulting the workers on the train when the guards began firing. A Gridley resident, Howard Yandell, had witnessed the shooting as well and testified that the guard in a marine uniform began the shooting and that no striker had been shooting. The coroner's jury made a finding of death by homicide.

The grand jury heard 49 witnesses for five days before indicting the guards for manslaughter on March 26, 1946. They had heard four local (non-union) witnesses who saw the shooting.

On May 8, 1946, two months after the deaths, the trial against the guards, for manslaughter, began. The jurors were Linden Cusey, Frederick Haning, Bonnie Barrow, Garrett W. Baker, C.Ray Ward, Jesse M. Wright, Mildred I. Harris, Leta G. Little. Mrs. Juel Luker, Mrs. Neil B. Parker, Gladys Umphress and Faye Guthrie. Judge William Radliff warned the audience in the courtroom that no outbursts would be tolerated. The newspapers were already reporting that angry statements had been made to the guards and that their lives had been threatened by people in Peoria. Naturally, the courtroom was full of people from Peoria.

Joseph W. DePew, of the State's Attorney's office made the opening statement. DePew stated the facts as revealed in the coroner's inquest, but added that some of the strikers were armed with clubs and side arms, but that none of their guns had been fired. His case would show that the guards fired on the strikers on the provocation of shouts and insults.

The guards were three veterans of WWII and a Peoria County deputy who had been fired from his job. On the date of the incident, they had been armed with a rifle, three shotguns and two handguns. They were young -- the Smith brothers were just 23 and 27, Everett Parks was 22 and the fired deputy, Roy Daily, was 35 or 46 (his age was not reported consistently.)

During the trial testimony the jury learned that the shots fired on February 6 were not the first shots fired on pickets in the TP & W strike. A few nights earlier, men in a shanty on picket duty were fired on by men in a car that sped away. Paschon received a phone call the night before his death threatening him and telling him that things would be worse than in the shanty. He had told another union member about the ominous call the morning of his death.

On the morning of the deaths everyone had been expecting trouble. The train was followed not only by the strikers, but by the state police. But when the train reached Gridley, the state police had parked their cars (four of them) more than a block from the crossing after seeing the train clear a switch outside the town. They were not aware of the shooting until a witness came to their car and told them two men had been killed. By the time the state police made their way to the crossing, the two dead men had been removed. The questioning by defense counsel was said to be "withering" and one does wonder just why the police were there. The officer in charge witnessed nothing -- he did not see the rock throwing in Eureka or the shots fired in Eureka -- he learned of that through a radio call.

Several Gridley residents gave testimony. Melvin Skaggs (a Gridley cheese factory worker) testified that he saw a picketer with a revolver point it at the guards, but he did not know if the gun was fired. Another woman said that about ten minutes after the shooting was over she went to her car and before she could drive away a man approached and asked if he might remove the guns he had placed in her car. Another woman said she saw a man standing near the tracks with a long gun under his arm before the train arrived.

Some of the Gridley residents must have been very close -- because Leroy J. Taylor, a local businessman, testified that he heard the guard in a marine uniform say "That bunch don't look tough to me. I think I can handle them alone." William Ahrendt, another cheese factory employee, said that most of the strikers had clubs, but that about half of them had laid the clubs down before the firing started.

On the third day of testimony Dr. Markowitz testified as to the cause of death. Paschon had been killed by a shotgun pellet that entered his body from the front, pierced his heart and killed him instantly. He had been shot four times in the back as well. Brown was shot eight times int he head shoulders and buttocks. His death was caused by a shotgun pellet that struck a large blood vessel in his back. In addition to the 13 shots that struck the two dead men, three other men had been injured in the shooting, so there was quite a barrage of gunfire in tiny little Gridley -- it is certainly curious that the state police, parked so close by, could not hear it. It was telling, however, that Dr. Markowitz saw that Arthur Brown had a holster strapped on over his overalls and a billy club in his jacket pocket.

The engineer of the train, Harry Schreeve, that after he backed away from the switch he saw Brown run up to the switch, pull out a revolver out of the bib of his overalls and shoot at Parks, who was walking along the side of the train as it moved backwards. The other guards were on the opposite side of the train out of Schreeve's line of sight. He also heard a striker shout at Brown to "Put that away." (How does he hear this inside an operating train?) Parks then wheeled around and began shooting. (Why would Parks turn his back on the strikers?) Schreeve was not a regular employee of TP & W, he was merely a strike breaker hired in 1942 and a second time in October of 1945, and only thought that Brown was the striker he saw with the gun because someone else told him it was Brown who shot first.

As the trial went on, witnesses who had told the State's Attorney they did not see any of the strikers firing guns testified that they had seen just that when the defense called them. One witness said he didn't want to get involved and that was why he told the State's Attorney he saw nothing during the initial investigation.

The guards had argued that they fired in self defense, but the fact that the men were shot in the back so many times seemed to mitigate against this. After hearing three weeks of testimony, the jury found the guards "not guilty," and the deaths of Brown and Paschon went unpunished.

The strike continued and a few months later a TP & W train was derailed and accusations of sabotage were made.

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