Bandits in the Blizzard: The Schroeder Brother’s Crime Spree of 1937

Paul Schroeder was running through the repair shop, trying his best to avoid the hail of bullets flying his direction. He fired back blindly, trying to make the cops stop shooting long enough so he could get to his car.

To be fair, it wasn’t his car. He and his brother, Everett, had stolen it. But it was his now, and it was going to take him out of this mess they were in. If he had his way, Paul wasn’t going back to prison.

He fired a few more times, daring to glance around for Everett. Paul saw him shoot at the cops, and then fall as a shotgun blast took him off his feet. The world stopped just for a moment as Paul watched him fall, but then Everett sprang back up and kept running. There was no time for celebration, however. Paul collected himself and started running after Everett.

 

Paul and Everett Schroeder
Paul and Everett Schroeder. Courtesy of the Des Moines Register

 

He reached the drivers side door, jerked it open, and threw himself behind the wheel. He could hear bullets thudding into the car, into the walls. My god, was that a machine gun? What kind of cops were these?

Paul saw the passenger side door open and Everett got in. Almost before his brother had closed the door, he stepped hard on the gas, lurching the car forward. He ducked his head down and hunched his shoulders, instinctively trying not to get shot.

Paul could feel the big car getting away from him as he drove. In the next moment, he felt a jarring impact as he crashed into another car. All the while, the cops kept firing, not letting up for a moment.

Almost without thinking, he jumped out of his wrecked vehicle as fast as he could and began running again. Paul fired off a few more shots, but kept moving. Everett got out and did the same, fleeing with his brother into the downtown shopping district.

Convicted Criminals

The two brothers, Paul and Everett Schroeder, had good reason to run. They were wanted for robbing a drug store in the Oskaloosa, Iowa, a few days before. While no one had gotten hurt there, the Schroeder’s were also wanted for questioning in a local craps game robbery where a man had been killed. This was partly because it was similar to the crime that had sent them to prison eight years before.

They and an associate had robbed a card game in Peoria, Illinois. The Schroeders had been caught, sentenced to 10 years in prison, and then sent to Joliet, Illinois.

 

Joliet State Prison
Illinois State Penitentiary, Joliet Illinois. Courtesy of My Illinois State.edu

 

In December 1936, they were released after serving only eight years. They settled in Davenport, Iowa, for a few months, and found decent work at the Red Jacket Pump Company. Then, for reasons of their own, they made the decision to go to Oskaloosa and resume a life of crime.

   Taken by Surprise

Now, just a few short days later, they were running for their lives and their freedom down a snowy alleyway. As they ran, they have been re-thinking their decision to open fire on the police when they had come into the OK Repair Shop that afternoon. The police had asked them very nicely to surrender.

 

 

oskaloosa-iowa
Oskaloosa, Iowa. Courtesy of YesterYear Once More

 

It had definitely been a surprise to see the cops come through the door, but neither of the them wanted to go back to prison. So, in answer to the police officers request to give up, the brothers had drawn their revolvers and opened fire.

   Snowy Escape

At the end of the alley, a man had just gotten into his car and was letting it warm up. Without stopping, the Schroeder’s began to yell and swear at him to get away from it. The man was startled, and probably even more so when the brothers grabbed him and pulled him out of the car.

They got in and drove away as fast as they could, leaving the confused man standing in the falling snow.

They drove north, and as they went the snow got worse. What had started as a light drizzle that morning had turned into large, wet snow flakes. It was heavy and clung to everything, and was getting deeper by the hour.

In spite of the weather, the Schroeder’s didn’t have much choice. They couldn’t exactly hang out at a local diner in town and expect the cops not to notice them, or for someone not to turn them in. Their shootout had more than likely attracted a lot of attention, and had now forced their hand. They had to leave, and quickly.

But the deepening snow wasn’t going to allow that. The roads were becoming slicker and it was getting harder to drive through the growing drifts. The omnipresent danger of losing control of their vehicle and sliding into the ditch couldn’t have been far from their minds.

What was even worse was that Everett and Paul had both been shot. While escaping from the garage, Everett had taken not only one, but two solid hits of buckshot, both of which had actually knocked him off of his feet. He was going to need some medical attention, and probably soon. Paul hadn’t been hit as bad, but he had still been wounded.

The problem was that they were in the middle of rural Iowa, and there wasn’t much in the way of hospitals. Still, something needed to be done.

About four miles north of Oskaloosa, the storm decided for them. For the second time that afternoon, Paul lost control of his stolen car and slammed to a halt in the snow. Neither he nor Everett wanted to take the time to dig it out, and they began to walk.

   Rural Hospitality

They walked to the nearest farmhouse and knocked on the door. Before long, 33 year old Walter Lindley and his mother answered the door.

The brothers told them that they had just been involved in a car accident while driving through the storm, and that they had been hurt. The Lindley’s invited them in without question. The Schroeder’s thanked them and went inside.

They all talked as Mrs. Lindley bathed and dressed the Schroeder’s wounds. In spite of all that they had just gone through, the brothers were very polite. After she was finished, however, Paul and Everett drew their guns and rapidly changed their demeanor. They demanded a change of clothes and continually mocked Mrs. Lindley, daring her to go over to the telephone and call the police.

Once the clothes had been brought and they had changed, the Schroeder’s then demanded that Walter come with them. Their new plan was to kidnap the farmer and use his car to get to a relative’s house near Ottumwa, Iowa, north of Oskaloosa. It may not have been as far away as they would have liked, but it was a start.

Mrs. Lindley begged them not to take Walter, telling them that he was her only son. She plead with them to just take the car. But the Schroeder’s didn’t care. They were wanted, and the storm would only slow down the police for so long. They had to get as much distance between them and Oskaloosa as they could.

Waving his gun at the terrified woman who had just helped him, one of the brothers told her not to tell anyone that they had been there. Then he got into the car, and with Walter behind the wheel, drove off into the night.

Mrs. Lindley didn’t care what the clean-cut young man had said. She wanted her son back. The older woman went straight to the telephone and called the police.

   Blizzard

The storm was bad when the Schroeders had arrived at the Lindley farm, but now it was worse.

The snow was nearly a foot deep in some places. Temperatures had plummeted to around 5 degrees, and the biting winds had picked up to nearly sixty miles per hour. The gentle snowfall had turned into a raging Iowa blizzard.

All over the state, roads had become impassible due to drifting snows that the snow plows could not tame. Several people, their cars stuck or unable to proceed any further, had abandoned their vehicles and sought shelter wherever they could for the night.

 

Highway 6 1937 Iowa Blizzard
A stretch of Highway 6 in Central Iowa after the February Blizzard of 1937. These are very similar conditions to the ones Walter Lindley and the Schroeder’s would have driven through. Courtesy of the Des Moines Register

 

But Walter Lindley, held by gunpoint by Paul while Everett lay in the back seat, drove straight into the worst part of the storm.

For hours, Walter pushed his car through deep drifts and slick roads. When he couldn’t get through, the trio would turn around and find a different way.

Probably by luck as much as anything else, Walter, Everett, and Paul finally reached Ottumwa. By then, they had driven nearly 100 miles in some of the worst weather that the Midwest can summon.

A few miles from their destination, they let Lindley go. They told him to call his mother and let her know that he was alright. Then they got out of the car and walked off through the night.

Walter watched them go, then decided to heed their advice and make that call. He drove to the nearest phone he could find and immediately contacted the police.

   End of the Road

For the next several miles, the Schroeder’s walked across snow-covered fields and roads through deep drifts. The wind cut through their clothing, and the pain from their wounds along with the furious cold must have been nearly unbearable. Finally, they took shelter in a barn and tried their best to sleep.

At daybreak, they set off again, heading toward their destination. Through force of will and dogged determination, they finally made it there.

The battered men walked up to the door and knocked. The relatives were home, and agreed to help them, but they had to throw away their guns first. Everett had long-since lost his, but Paul had kept his. Desperate to get into decent shelter after their ordeal, he threw the gun into the snow and went inside.

They were given a change of clothes, which they gladly accepted. The brothers changed into them, then curled up on the living room floor, too hurt and exhausted to do much of anything. Soon after, they fell asleep.

Later that day, five policemen came to the farm. Walter Lindley, now safely back at home, had told them that the robbers were in the area. Authorities had then concentrated their efforts there, and had found them on the farm. After the gun fight in the garage in Ottumwa, they were taking no chances. All of them, armed with machine guns, advanced on the house and knocked.

Paul and Everett were spent. They had no fight left in them. The brothers were frostbitten, exhausted, and still suffering from their gunshot wounds. When the police came in and told the brothers they were under arrest, neither of them gave any protest. They were so weak that the officers didn’t even bother to handcuff either of them.

A doctor was sent for, who treated their various ailments and assured the local sheriff that they would make a quick recovery. Without any ceremony, the brothers were taken away. Their short-lived crime spree had come to an end.

      Aftermath

Over the next few days, it was discovered that the Schroeder brothers had nothing to do with the craps game robbery. They hadn’t even been there, let alone killed anyone. However, the drug store owner from Oskaloosa was willing and able to identify them as the ones who had robbed his store. Soon, they were sent back to prison in Joliet.

Paul and Everett Schroeder had made a mistake in their youth, but had paid the price. Set free, they were given a second chance with honest employment during the Great Depression, something that not everyone had.

Instead of being grateful, the brothers chose to return to a life of crime in the region of Iowa they had grown up in. After a series of bad choices, they survived a deadly winter storm came out the other side. Even with all that they did to evade capture, they still ended up back where they started: broke and in prison.

 

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Sources

Held for Murder of Fellow Crap Shooter.’ Dixon Evening Telegraph, 4/23/1930

Bandits Flee With Hostage After Battle.’ The Courier, 2/21/1937

Pair Held in Ottumwa for Kidnapping, Shooting, and Robbery.‘ The Daily Times, 2/22/1937

Wounded Pair Taken Early at Ottumwa.’ The Des Moines Register, 2/22/1937

Oskaloosa Gunmen Captured on Farm Near Ottumwa, IA.’ Davenport Democrat and Leader, 2/22/1937

Hold Two For Investigation In Shooting Case.’ Carroll Daily Herald, 2/22/1937

Two Held in Inquiry Into Iowa Slaying.’ Iowa City Press Union, 2/22/1937

Carroll Persons View Shooting Suspects.’ Carroll Daily Herald, 2/23/1937

Pair Held at Ottumwa After Brief Crime Wave.’ The Daily Times, 2/23/1937

Clear Schroeder’s in Heider Killing.’ The Courier, 2/24/1937

Schroeder’s Will Be Returned to Prison.’ The Mason City Globe-Gazette, 4/9/1937

1920 Federal Census Records

1940 Federal Census Records

 

 

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