(1898 – 1938), was the only person executed for a capital crime in
Michigan since it became a state in 1837.
Chebatoris's first conviction for a crime was in 1918
for armed robbery in Detroit, and in 1927 he was arrested for violating
the Dyer Act in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1928, he went to prison at
Marquette for armed robbery.
In 1937, Chebatoris and fellow prison inmate, Jack
Gracy, made plans to rob the Chemical State Savings Bank located in
downtown Midland, Michigan. On September 29, Gracey entered the bank
first with a sawed-off shotgun hiding under his long coat. Chebatoris
followed Gracey into the bank.
Gracey approached bank president Clarence Macomber
and shoved the shot gun into his ribs. Macomber and Gracey grappled with
the weapon. Macomber forced the gun down while trying to push Gracey
towards the front of the bank.
Chebatoris, who was standing back from the fight,
aimed his revolver at Macomber, wounding him in the shoulder. Paul
Bywater, the head teller, came to the front counter to see what the
commotion was about. Chebatoris took aim and fired at Bywater, shooting
him in the stomach. Chebatoris and Gracy fled the bank in their black
Meanwhile, when Dr. Frank Hardy, a dentist on the
second floor of the bank building heard the gunshots, he grabbed a deer
rifle he kept by the window in case of a bank holdup and fired at the
getaway car as it sped towards the Benson Street Bridge. One of Hardy's
shots hit the driver and the car careened into another parked car along
Chebatoris and Gracey got out of the car and started
looking for the shots firing at them. Mistaking Henry Porter, a truck
driver from Bay City, as a police officer, Chebatoris fired his gun and
seriously wounded him. When Gracy tried to commandeer a truck, Hardy
shot him in the head, killing him instantly. Then Chebatoris ran along
some railroad tracks and tried to get away by stealing a car, but was
stopped by Sheriff Ira Smith.
Trial and execution
Chebatoris was charged with attempted bank robbery,
and then murder when Henry Porter died 12 days later from his gunshot
wound. His trial was held at Federal Court in Bay City, Judge Arthur C.
Tuttle presiding. Chebatoris was found guilty of murder on October 29,
1937, and sentenced to death under the National Bank Robbery Act of
Since capital punishment in Michigan was abolished in
1846, Governor Frank Murphy tried to get Chebatoris's sentence communted
to life imprisonment or move the execution to another state, arguing
Michigan had no capital punishment.
However, a loop hole in the law stated that the crime
of treason was punishable by execution. After Murphy appealed all the
way to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Judge Tuttle refused to
change the location of the execution, Anthony Chebatoris was hanged at
Milan Federal Prison at dawn on July 8, 1938. In 1963, the Michigan
Legislature abolished capital punishment for treason.
Files of the Midland Daily News, 1937 and 1938; "Butcher's
Dozen," by Lawrence Wakefield
60 years ago, the end of Anthony Chebatoris' life
became a chapteer in the state's past
The Saginaw News
July 13, 1998
The 38-year-old Hatramck man--the only person legally
executed in Michigan since it became a state in 1837--was hanged on July
8, 1938, after a jury convicted him of shooting and killing Henry
Porter was a truck driver whose uniform cap looked
like a police officer's and made him a target during a botched bank
robbery attempt in Midland.
Chebatoris' execution was not allowed under state law.
Capital punishment was outlawed at the time, except for treason.
However, his crime fell under federal jurisdicition.
The reason: the Chemical State Savings Bank he
attempted to rob was a depository for federal money. Chebatoris
became the 1st person executed in the USA under the National Bank
Decades later, the robbery remains a black day in
Gary Skory, executive director of the Midland County
Historical Society, said that "anytime you have that dramatic, very
unfortunate incident, people are not going to forget it."
Sept. 29, 1937, Chebatoris and 28-year-old cohort
Jack Gracey of Detroit, who had met in prison, began a bullet-strewn
path that would end with Porter's and Gracey's death and set the state
for Chebatoris' date with the gallows.
Chebatoris and Gracey, armed with a sawed-off shotgun
and pearl-handled pistol, planned the robbery of the Dow Chemical Co.
payroll for months.
Skory said that "what they didn't count on was that
Midland may have been a small town but it was not a pushover town."
During the holdup, 1 of the gunmen pointed a shotgun
into the ribs of the bank president, C.H. Macomber. Macomber
pushed the weapon's barrel down. He was shot in the side.
Bank cashier Paul Bywater, who tried to help Macomber,
was shot in the
back; the 2 eventually recovered from their injuries.
In the chaos, both bandits jumped in a car and fled
down Main Street without any maoney.
They did not get far.
Dr. Frank Hardy, a dentist with an office above the
bank, heard the gunfire. Hardy was deputized and kept a deer rifle
in his office.
The rifle was insurance in an era when bank robberies
were relatively common, said 85-year-old Henry Hart, a cousin of Hardy's.
Hardy fired at least 3 shots, 1 of which smashed
through the car's rear window and struck Chebatoris in the arm as the
car sped down a street. The car crashed into a parked vehicle at a
Both men jumped out and tried to commandeer a truck.
Hardy took aim again.
Skory said that Hardy "drew a bead and shot over 200
feet." Gracey fell dead from a bullet wound to the head.
Many people lauded Hardy as a hero. The Saginaw
Army-Navy Club later gave him a medal for marksmanship; the Midland City
Council bestowed a gold medal.
Skory added that "it was somethin Dr. Hardy was nver
proud of." Hart said it was not something the family ever
Chebatoris shot Porter when the 50-year-old truck
driver tried to intervene as Chebatoris walked toward a car with a woman
The gunman could not drive the vehicle because it had
a gear shifter Chebatoris did not know how to operate. He ran off
on to some railraod tracks, and Midland County Sheriff Ira Smith
arrested him a short time later.
It was the beginning of the end for the criminal who
had spent much of his life in prison.
Chebatoris faced trial before US District Judge
Arthur Tuttle in Bay City. US District Attorney John Lehr, who
argued for the death penalty, labeled Chebatoris a "brutal" and "sly"
Lehr told the jury of 7 men and 5 women that "this is
not time for sympathy. You have the responsibility of protecting
innocent American citizens against bandits, gangsters and ruthless
Defense attorneys James Brooker and Dell Thompson,
both from Bay City, never refuted the government's case or called a
single witness to rebut testimony. Chebatoris never testified in
his defense at the trial.
His attorneys did argue against capital punishment as
"a holdover from the Middle Ages."
Nearly a month to the day after the attempted robbery,
the jury unanimously found Chebatoris guilty Oct. 28, 1937, of Porter's
murder. The jury voted for the death penalty on the 7th ballot.
Judge Tuttle said that "there won't be any hesitancy
on my part in imposing the sentence, and I will always know, as long as
I live, that no injustice has been done by the sentence."
For security reasons, deputies took Chebatoris to the
Saginaw County Jail where guards kept an around-the-clock suicide watch
over him. Chebatoris told them they had no reason to stand by.
"You don't have to worry about me killing myself," he
said hours after the verdict. "To hell with 'em. Let 'em
It turns out, they had reason to watch.
Chebatoris attempte dsuicide by slashing his left
wrist and throat with a razor blade. Officers wrestled the blade
out of his hand. Near death, they rushed him to Saginaw General
From the hospital, authorities transferred him to the
federal detention farm in Milan, the prison where the U.S. government
would build a temporary gallows to execute him.
Michigan voters' 1846 decision to outlaw capital
punishment for murder - the 1st English speaking government in the world
to make the decision - would not save him.
Gov. Frank Murphy's last minute plea to President
Franklin D. Roosevelt to move the execution to another state failed.
The morning of July 8, 1938, was Chebatoris' last.
Chebatoris, an avowed atheist who consumed socialist
writings, had ignored a priest who walked with him and chanted prayers
in Latin the night before the gunman's execution.
Once he arrived at the gallows, Chebatoris turned to
speak to Phil Hanna, the man who brought the hanging equipment to Milan
and was known as an expert in its use.
Chebatoris asked Hanna, "are you paid for this?'
Hanna said "No, I am just here to make it easy for
you. I am here to give you an easy death, and may God have mercy
on your soul."
Chebatoris smiled before a black hood was placed over
his head at 5:07 in the morning.
Smith - the same man who arrested the convicted felon
immediately following the robbery - pushed with both hands on an iron
lever. A trap door sprung open. Chebatoris dropped 9 feet.
Doctors checked his pulse 4 times, then pronounced
him dead at 5:21 a.m. 23 witnesses had waited for the news.
Gov. Murphy condemned the execution as "uncivilized."
He added that "it's always the poor man who has no money or power who
pays with his life, while another criminal may have committed an
identical crime, but who is wealthy and powerful and escapes the chair
Minnie Porter, widow of Henry Porter, did not want to
see Chebatoris put to death. She said that "I don't feel that we
have the right to say whether people could be killed. It isn't up
to us. There is a greater judge."
Smith, a death penalty proponent, had no such qualms
about pulling the lever. In a 1968 interview, he said that "I did
it for my county. It was my duty."