Note: This is an encore post from 2006.
May 20, 1907
Night jailer O.L. Gilpin thought the man in the drunk tank looked familiar—and indeed he was. Despite passing himself off as George Thompson, it was our old friend James G. Fleenor, otherwise known as the “barefoot burglar,” who walked out of a San Francisco jail en route to serving a prison term at San Quentin and hopped a freight train to Los Angeles.
“I was fair about the whole thing,” Fleenor told The Times. “When the officers left here I told them I would escape, but they were not bright enough to realize I meant what I said. When they placed me in that cell in the San Francisco station, I walked about and inspected it. Awaiting my time, I pried open the door.
“Walking out, I met an officer and he stopped to talk. I was in an awful hurry but I did not let him know it and after he had talked to me for a minute I walked out of the driveway, took a car and went directly to the railroad yards. The first freight train I saw pulling out I swung onto.”
Fleenor denied that he returned to Los Angeles because of a woman, Mrs. B.J. Byres of 1669 Tennessee St. “She is attractive, but has figured in police circles before, they say,” according to The Times.
Officer Ray Robbins saw Fleenor at 1 a.m. Sunday on Santa Fe Avenue near 9th Street and found him carrying a roll of blankets and two iron bars. Fleenor pretended to be drunk, but Robbins ran him in for stealing the blankets.
Fleenor tried to escape from officers as the patrol wagon pulled into the Central Station on 1st Street, but he was captured at 1st and Broadway and offered no further resistance.
Placed in the drunk tank with 100 others, Fleenor attracted Gilpin’s attention. Gilpin pulled Fleenor’s mug shot and handed it to him.
“Did you ever see that man?” Gilpin asked.
Fleenor shook his head.
The Times said: “Gilpin grasped the Negro’s hand and shook it, saying: ‘You are pretty smooth, old boy; but I know you, Fleenor.’ ”
Upon being notified that Fleenor was in custody, Sheriff Hammel said: “I am the happiest man in Los Angeles tonight.”