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1940 It Happened in Cairo

Arranged for Publication by Anne West 1940

Chapter V

POOR, DARLING ELMER!

When closing the last page of Maud's Journal most readers immediately ask, "Well, what ever became of Elmer - the upright young fellow who could do no wrong in Maud's eyes?"

The answer is EVERYTHING . . . and nothing. But perhaps it would be best to let the yellowed newspaper clippings tell their own story . . .

Old "Judge" A. Comings (Elmer's father), readers will remember, had told Maud that his son was traveling through Europe with one "Thad Cannon." The exact places and times of his various wanderings aren't definite. But it's known that he spent considerable time in South America also, and that while there he married an Englishwoman, a widow with children. The story goes that "Thad Cannon" had also fallen in love with the widow, but that Elmer played the better Dan Cupid and won.

Just what brought him back to Cairo whether it was curiosity, a decision to face the music, or longing to see his father who was ill is questionable. But he DID return. And on March 15, 1894, the Cairo Citizen carried the following story.

After an absence of about five years in South America, Elmer Comings returned to Cairo yesterday to answer the charge against him by the New York Store Company for embezzlement and larceny. In the absence of a Circuit Judge, Sheriff Hodges fixed bail at $1500, which was promptly given by E. E. Comings, E. E. Ellis and Fritz Serbian. He left immediately for Chicago where he is now employed, but will return to plead to his indictment at the May term of the Circuit Court."

On March 24, 1894, Maud wrote of reading a sensational account of Elmer's arrest in a Chicago paper which had been sent to her. The following story appeared on page one of the Chicago Tribune, Thursday, March 15, 1894.

Came Back to a Cell
Elmer Comings Arrested
For an Old Crime

Embezzled Eight Thousand Dollars at Cairo, Ill., and Jumped His Bail - Wandered to South America and Married an Englishwoman with Whom he Traveled in Europe His Father's Illness Draws Him to his Home, Where He is Recognized - Arrest Follows.

Six years ago Elmer E. Comings embezzled $8,000 from Charles O. Patier of Cairo, Ill. Monday night he was arrested in this city. Comings was head bookkeeper and confidential clerk for Mr. Patier, President of the New York Store Company, wholesale grocers. In the discharge of his duties he handled large sums of money. For several years he occupied his position of trust, and when he resigned he became a speculator in real estate. Then, when Mr. Comings had closed his duties with Mr. Patier a suspicion arose that he had not been honest, and an investigation by an expert showed a shortage in Comings' accounts of $8,000.

Comings was at once located in St. Louis, arrested, and taken to Cairo, where he was indicted by the grand jury and released on bail. He at once went to South America. While at Buenos Aires he married an Englishwoman, and a year ago the two came to America. Six weeks ago Mr. and Mrs. Comings arrived in Chicago. The wife with her children went to Cairo a couple of weeks ago, and last Sunday morning Comings himself went to his old home to see his father and mother and bring his family home to Chicago.

DID NOT DISGUISE HIMSELF

It is said that Comings did not take any pains to conceal his identity while in Cairo, but at the same time it is related that, inasmuch as an indictment still rested against his name, he did not take any pains to renew old acquaintances. At any rate he was seen and recognized, and this is what stirred up the remembrance of the old crime. Comings left Cairo Monday morning, however, and with his father, ex-Judge Comings, came to Chicago.

Monday it became generally known that the man wanted for embezzlement had been in the town where the indictment still rested, and the fact that he had not been arrested created comment. It was decided to arrest him. The Chief of Police at Cairo telegraphed Chief Grennan in this city, asking him to detail a man to arrest Comings when he reached the city. Officers Bailey and Treacy were assigned to the duty, and when Comings alighted from an Illinois Central train Monday evening he was arrested and taken to headquarters.

Comings at once admitted his crime and told the romantic story of his wanderings in South America and the West and his marriage to the Englishwoman with whom he made a tour of Europe. Then, he said, he went back to South America, where he engaged in business. At one time since his first arrest he was in the real estate business in Wichita, Kan., and was a prominent figure there during the famous boom of real estate.

Hearing of the poor health of his father, Comings determined to come home on a visit. He had hoped time had softened the feeling against him, but his arrest has dispelled this idea.

WILLING TO STAND TRIAL

Comings told the Chicago officers he was willing to return to Cairo and stand trial. This was telegraphed to Cairo, and Chief Mahoney of that place got a bench warrant under the old indictment and came to this city Tuesday, leaving that evening for Cairo with his man. Comings was at once arraigned and a bond of $1,500 was required for his appearance at the next term of the Circuit Court.

This bond was furnished and Comings, after visiting some relatives and friends, came back to Chicago last night. It is said Comings has secured a position in this city and is making an effort to retrieve his reputation. The police here, however, said yesterday that Comings intended to return today to Central America where, it is said, he has a large coffee plantation.

Comings is 30 years old, dresses well, and is polished and well educated. He thinks public sympathy in Cairo is now in his favor and will help him materially in his trial. Through some technicality the bondsmen who secured his release when he was first arrested were released from responsibility and this fact, it is believed, will have a softening effect on the present prosecution."

Older residents of Cairo claim that while Elmer was awaiting trial he told his friends that he would never be prosecuted because he knew too much about Col. Patier, the owner of the New York Store. He evidently made good his boast, as records fail to show that the case ever came to trial. It is generally understood that old "Judge" Comings arranged some sort of settlement of the case against his son. At any rate, many of the gifts that he had presented to Maud were turned over to Col. Patier. These included her diamond engagement ring and the nude painting that Elmer had purchased for her at the art school in St. Louis. The story is told in Cairo that this painting later found its way into the home of one of Col. Patier's relatives, where it was displayed in the parlor. One day the owner had a visit from the local priest who, upon seeing the nude painting, was so shocked that he ordered it removed, claiming it was immoral. It was removed all right and found its way back into a packing case and in storage - where it remained, dust covered, until December, 1939, when it was uncrated and put on display at the "Maud Tea" (to be described later).

Elmer secured positions at various places in Cairo and finally entered the office of the Cairo Building and Loan Association as assistant to his father, who was secretary. Then, on Monday, June 7, 1915, this item appeared in the Cairo Citizen.

Judge Comings, Old Resident of Cairo, Dead

Alfred Comings, age 85 years, Civil War veteran, former police magistrate, notary public, school teacher and popular figure in Cairo, both politically and socially, died this morning. He was three times married. Founder of the Cairo Building and Loan Association 36 years ago, he was at that time elected secretary of the Association and acted in that capacity up to the time of his death."

But sensationalism wasn't through with the Comings family. Twelve days later the Cairo Citizen presented this information.

Big Defalcation in Cairo Building and Loan Association
Elmer E. Comings Charges His Father Manipulated the Funds

An audit of the books of the Association began Wednesday, following the revelation made by Elmer E. Comings, son of the dead secretary, on last Tuesday night to the directors, that his father was short many thousands of dollars. When a borrower paid off a loan, according to the son's statement, Judge Comings would satisfy the mortgage on the record at the Court House, but would retain the old mortgage in his office. He would take the money that was paid to satisfy the mortgage as "live" in his office, and when audit was made the old mortgage would be there to cover up the money he had taken.

Not until Elmer E. Comings, son of the deceased, revealed the true condition of affairs to the directors did they dream that anything was wrong. According to Mrs. Elmer Comings, her husband first told her of the condition of affairs last Monday, when he determined to tell the truth. It was twelve years ago, she said, that Judge Comings induced his son to come here and help him make his annual report. He kept up that practice for several years. Several years ago he took a position in the office with his father, which he has since held. His family moved down here from St. Louis soon after and have since lived here. During all this time, she says, Judge Comings promised his son to straighten the matter up, but never did so. Mrs. Comings declares that it was the knowledge of this defalcation, and the fact that he must say nothing about it or send his father to prison, that made her husband a physical wreck. Following a nervous breakdown a number of years ago he has been compelled since then to go about in a wheel chair."

A follow-up story appeared four days later, on June 23, 1915.

Examiners End Probe of Books of Cairo Building and Loan Association
Bogus Loans to the Amount of $90,000 Found

It is stated that bogus loans have been found to the amount of $90,000, but there is salvage that will bring the loss down to not over $60,000 it is believed. While the friends of the late Judge Comings were reluctant to believe that he was involved in the defalcation and were inclined to the opinion that his son Elmer was responsible and had laid the blame upon his father because he was dead and could not speak for himself, and while the books were kept by Elmer E. Comings and all the entries were in his handwriting, Judge Comings was secretary and handled the money and could not have been unaware of what was going on."

Sometimes there seem to be ways of "fixing things up" in small towns. Since the old "Judge" had been secretary of the Building and Loan and not Elmer, the affair just seemed to die out. Elmer in his wheel chair lingered around but a short time and left for the South where he died years ago. He left behind his wife and several children, one of whom was named Alfred, after the "Judge." "Thad Cannon," who had accompanied Elmer on his tour of the greater part of the world after his flight from the New York Store affair returned to marry Elmer's widow (whom, it is romantically argued in Cairo, he had loved in silence all those many years). Cannon died a few years ago, but his and Elmer's widow is still living.

And there the story should logically end. Even a first-rate melodrama could demand no more. But more there was ! For there was Elmer's son Alfred. And, if actions are any indication, Alfred was a "chip off the old block" - two old blocks, to be exact.

After holding various jobs around Cairo and marrying a Cairo girl (much against the wishes of her mother, it is understood), he evidently decided to do a little wandering around the country, and so left Cairo for the South.

Then, on January 10, 1931, the Cairo Citizen broke this news to its reading public.

Man Identified as Cairoite is Held as Bandit

A man identified by Memphis police as Alfred W. Comings of Cairo is being held in jail at Sardis, Miss., on a charge of being one of two men who robbed the Planters Bank of Como, Miss., at noon Friday of $1500 and escaped in a stolen car.

Comings and Thos. Holt drove the stolen car to a point two miles from the bank, where Gordon Stover, third member of the holdup plot, was waiting in a Chrysler coupe belonging to Comings, according to the Memphis police. Abandoning the stolen car, the three men sped toward Webb, Miss. where they were captured by Sheriff Dogan three hours after the robbery and following an exciting chase by Sheriff Dogan and Jailer Bob Walters.

Holt and Stover are reported by Memphis and Sardis authorities to have confessed to their part in the robbery. It was Comings who is reported to have gathered up the money as Holt held the gun on a woman cashier and a man in the bank. In his nervousness Comings overlooked several hundred dollars in a cash drawer, the cashier reported.

Memphis, Jan. 10 (AP). - Within three hours after the Planters Bank of Como, Miss., had been robbed of $1500 at noon yesterday the two men who held up the cashier, Mrs. E. B. Blaylock, and their "lookout" had been captured at Sumner, identified, the loot recovered and two of the three had confessed.

This morning Inspector Parker of the identification bureau and Lieut. Quianthy of the Memphis police went to Sardis, where the robbers were jailed last night, in the expectation of linking them with recent robberies of banks at Oakville and Collierville, and the Bank of Nesbitt, Miss., for the ringleader of the band, according to his pals, had been living in Memphis at least three months.

The three held at Sardis are A. W. Comings, 35, of the Gilmore Apts., Memphis; Thomas Holt, 24; and Gordon Stover, 20. Holt and Stover, after their capture, said Comings engineered the robbery. Holt said that Comings picked him up first in Memphis, and later they picked up Stover. Holt admitted that he held the pistol on Mrs. Blaylock while Comings gathered in the money. After the exciting chase from Webb, Sheriff Dogan's car blocked the Chrysler coupe of the bandits, and a curt command at pistol point resulted in the robbers' surrender. In the car was found $1566 in a sack on the floor and $100 in Comings' pocket. Comings had on him a .25 caliber automatic pistol, and a .45 automatic was found in the side pocket of the car.

Comings and Holt were identified in the jail at Sumner late yesterday by Chancellor Sledge of Como, who was in the bank at the time of the robbery. Information gathered at Como and Memphis showed the robbery was carefully planned, for it was in the stolen car of C. T. Lindgren, who also lives at the Gilmore Apts., Memphis, that Comings and Holt appeared in front of the bank of Como at noon. Meanwhile Stover, in Comings' Chrysler coupe, was parked two miles north of town. A negro saw Stover walking around the car nervously and told the Como police that the car remained parked on the road three hours, until Comings and Holt drove up furiously in Lindgren's car shortly before 1 o'clock and they all drove away in the coupe, abandoning the Lindgren machine.

Only Chancellor Sledge and Mrs. Blaylock were in the bank when the two bandits entered, "Throw 'em up and be quick about it" was the best Holt could think of as he pulled the pistol. Comings was in a hurry. He scooped up all the cash that he could find, but overlooked several hundred dollars in a drawer in the cage. They both rushed from the bank and drove off in the stolen car.

In Memphis meanwhile, Detective Raney traced Comings to the Gilmore Apts., where he had lived three months. The license on the Chrysler coupe was issued to Mrs, Isabelle Comings in Chicago. He had told the management of the Gilmore that he was a salesman for an ornamental iron works. Comings got Mr. Lindgren's car by a clever ruse. He left his car, which he ordinarily kept in the Gilmore garage, out in front on the street on Thursday night. Then he stayed up until 3 o'clock Friday morning, spending most of the time talking to the night manager of the Gilmore. Then early in the a. m. he went to the garage to get "his car." It was Mr. Lindgren's that he got, and presumably Stover drove Comings' car from Memphis to Como."

Two days later the Citizen published this information.

Cairo Man is Held Under a $25,000 Bond

Alfred Comings, 38, well-known Cairo man, is being held in jail at Jackson, Miss., on a bond of $25,000 on a charge of complicity in the robbery of the bank at Como, Miss., last Friday. Oscar Winters and Gordon Stover are also held in $25,000 each. Winters and Stover at first told the authorities that Comings had taken part in the actual holdup, but later admitted that they were the ones who went to the bank and took the money. Their story is that Comings was the brains behind the robbery, and that he first broached the subject after he had taken them to a cafe and given them clothes, after they had stopped him on the street in Memphis and begged him for something to eat.

The three men were captured three hours after the robbery. They were in Comings' Chrysler coupe. Comings is reported to have stolen at Memphis the machine in which the two bandits drove to and from the bank.

Police say that Comings got a plan of the bank when he called there two weeks previous to the robbery and reported himself as a salesman of refrigerator boxes for the Holcomb and Holt Manufacturing Company in Indianapolis. He had wanted the bank officers to give him the names of customers and had spent considerable time at the bank on his visit."

And then the Associated Press sent out this story of the verdict on March 28.

Found Guilty of Robbery by Mississippi Jury

Memphis, Tenm (AP). - A verdict of guilty was rendered today in the trial of Alfred Comings, former Memphis and Cairo salesman, charged with bank robbery in connection with the holdup of the Planters Bank in Como. The case went to the jury late yesterday. Comings was charged with having furnished Gordon Stover and Oscar Winters, youths who pleaded guilty to the robbery, with transportation to and from Como. At the time of the holdup Comings denied that he was involved in the robbery, Comings, Stover, and Winters were each sentenced to seven years in prison."

When Alfred's cellmate was released Alfred sent him to Cairo, where his wife and friends made it extremely pleasant for him. Eventually Alfred got a divorce and Mrs. Comings married again. Maud necessarily left readers hanging on a limb about many things at the close of her Journal. In this instance It Happened in Cairo adopts the same tactics. Whom did Alfred's former wife marry? Three guesses ought to do it . . .

Such is the life story of Maud's Elmer, his father, and his son. Except for one little item which should be noted in passing. It appeared in the Cairo Bulletin on a long ago September day in 1879, even before Marchal Niel roses began to proclaim his sterling qualities in the Rittenhouse home on Walnut Street.

Elmer E. Comings' stock for his book, news and stationery store arrived yesterday. He has taken the room on Eighth Street temporarily and will open today. On the first of November he will move into the store now occupied by Barclay Bros, next to Phil Saup. Elmer is full of enterprise and Yankee pluck and is bound to be successful."
Continue to Next chapter

Extracted 25 Aug 2018 by Norma Hass from It Happened in Cairo, arranged by Anne West, published in 1940.


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