Tony Chebatoris

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Tony Chebatoris
Anthony Chebatoris mugshot, 1928.png
Chebatoris in 1928
Anthony Chebatoris

(1898-05-10)May 10, 1898
DiedJuly 8, 1938(1938-07-08) (aged 40)
Conviction(s)Bank robbery, capital murder
Criminal penaltyCapital punishment

Anthony "Tony" Chebatoris (May 10, 1898 – July 8, 1938) was a Russian-born bank robber and convicted murderer who is the only person to be executed in the U.S. state of Michigan since it abolished the death penalty in 1847.

Chebatoris was tried under the Federal Bank Robbery Act of 1934, enacted during a period of increased assaults on banks, that made bank robbery and its related offenses federal crimes.[1] His trial and execution were carried out by the federal government, and were beyond the jurisdiction of the state of Michigan.

Early life[edit]

Anthony Chebatoris was born on May 10, 1898 in the Suwałki Governorate of the Russian Empire, a predominantly Lithuanian area which lies in modern-day Poland.[2][a] His father, Michael Chebatoris ( Czebatorius) immigrated to the United States from Suwałki in advance of his wife Victoria and two sons in 1900; in 1902, the family settled in Treveskyn, an unincorporated area of South Fayette Township, Pennsylvania.[2] Michael worked as a coal miner and the family eventually grew to seven children.[7]

Chebatoris attended school through the eighth grade and worked as a laborer before moving to Detroit in 1919, where he found employment as a chauffeur. On March 30, 1920, he married 17-year-old Catherine Boyd, who was four months pregnant with their daughter Vera.[8] On July 20, 1920, Chebatoris was convicted of armed robbery of a Packard cashier in Detroit and faced a maximum sentence of twenty years behind bars,[9][10] but was paroled after serving six-and-a-half years at Jackson State Prison.[11] In 1927, he was arrested for violating the Dyer Act in Louisville, Kentucky, and was re-imprisoned at Jackson to serve his full sentence for armed robbery.[12] In 1928, Chebatoris and fellow inmate John "Jack" Gracey conspired to escape from Jackson and were consequently transferred to Marquette Branch Prison in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.[13][14] Chebatoris was released from prison in December 1935 and moved back to his hometown of Treveskyn, Pennsylvania, where he was quickly sought by police in Washington County on suspicion of burglary and assault.[15][16][17][18]

By 1937, Chebatoris had spent fifteen of his previous seventeen years incarcerated. He had not seen his wife since 1920 and had never met his daughter.[19][20][21] He had moved back to Detroit and become reacquainted with fellow ex-convict Jack Gracey, who lived in nearby Hamtramck and was formulating plans for a bank robbery.[22][23]

Robbery and murder[edit]

On September 29, 1937, Chebatoris and Gracey planned to rob the Chemical State Savings Bank on Main Street in downtown Midland, Michigan; the bi-weekly Dow Chemical payroll of $75,000 ensured the bank would be flush with cash. Gracey entered the bank at 11:30 a.m. with a sawed-off shotgun while Chebatoris guarded the door with a revolver.[24] Gracey approached bank president Clarence H. Macomber and shoved the shotgun into his ribs. Macomber and Gracey grappled for the weapon until Chebatoris shot Macomber in the shoulder. Paul D. Bywater, the bank's cashier, approached the counter after hearing the commotion, and Chebatoris shot him in the back above the hip, wounding him critically. Both Macomber and Bywater would survive their injuries.[24]

Aborting the robbery, the gunmen fled the bank, got in their black two-door Ford with Chebatoris behind the wheel, and began to drive away. Dr. Frank L. Hardy, whose second-floor dental practice was adjacent to the bank building, heard the gunshots and used a hunting rifle to fire at the getaway car from his office window as it sped towards the Benson Street bridge.[b] One of Hardy's shots hit Chebatoris's left arm; another hit Gracey's right leg. After the Ford careened into a parked car, Chebatoris and Gracey exited the vehicle, looking for the source of the shots. Truck driver Henry J. Porter of Bay City, a bystander whose cap and uniform were mistaken for those of a police officer, was shot and mortally wounded by Chebatoris. Hardy fired again, hitting Gracey in the elbow, and when Gracey tried to commandeer a truck, Hardy fatally shot him in the head from a distance of 150 yards (140 m).[25] Chebatoris fled along nearby railroad tracks and attempted to hijack an automobile, but was apprehended by road repairman Richard Van Orden and Midland County Sheriff Ira M. Smith.[25][24]

Trial and execution[edit]

The Federal Bank Robbery Act of 1934 made it a federal crime to rob a federally-organized or federally-insured bank.[26] It also made it a federal crime to cause the death of a person during the commission of such a crime.[27][c] Chebatoris was initially charged with bank robbery and the assaults on Macomber, Bywater, and Porter, but when Porter died from his gunshot wound twelve days after the robbery, prosecutors indicted Chebatoris for murder. Chebatoris was the first person to be tried for murder under the newly-passed bank robbery law.[28] The trial was held in federal court in Bay City, with Judge Arthur J. Tuttle presiding. On October 29, 1937, Chebatoris was found guilty of murder under section 588c of the Federal Bank Robbery Act, and the jury, which had the option to bestow a death sentence, did so.[29]

Because capital punishment for murder in Michigan had been abolished in 1847—the first English-speaking government in the world to do so—Governor Frank Murphy sought to prevent Chebatoris's execution, despite considerable public opposition.[30][31][32] "Everyone knows [Chebatoris] is guilty," Murphy said. "I'm trying to prevent the federal government from erecting a scaffold and hanging a man in my state, where it hasn't been done in 108 years."[33] Murphy appealed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, requesting Chebatoris's sentence be commuted to life imprisonment. Sympathetic to the situation, Roosevelt consulted Assistant Attorney General Joseph B. Keenan, who saw no justification for commutation, but said the Justice Department would not object if Judge Tuttle found legal means to move the execution to another state.[34] However, a federal law passed in June 1937 required that federal executions take place in the state where the offense occurred for all states that allowed capital punishment,[35][d] and at the time, Michigan formally retained a death penalty statute for treason against the state.[36][37][e] Tuttle, therefore, said he had "neither the power nor the inclination to change the sentence."[34] His legal avenues exhausted, Murphy stated that the execution was "a blot on Michigan's civilized record."[38]

Chebatoris was subsequently hanged at the Federal Detention Farm outside Milan, Michigan, on July 8, 1938. He left his cell at 5:04 a.m. and began the walk to the purpose-built gallows accompanied by Rev. Fr. Lee Laige, who recited prayers. Chebatoris plunged through the trap door at 5:08 a.m. and was pronounced dead thirteen minutes later.[39] Chebatoris was interred at Marble Park Cemetery in York Township after a Catholic ceremony attended by two brothers and a sister.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The 1910 U.S. census accurately lists Chebatoris's birthplace as "Russian Lithuania."[3] In later years, Chebatoris (and his father) would falsely claim on census forms and other official documents that he had been born in Pennsylvania in 1899 or 1900.[4] His claim of being American-born was likely due to his fear of deportation due to his anarcho-communist political leanings, and later his criminal record; and his younger age to avoid military service in World War I.[5] After his arrest in 1937, a federal immigration official revealed that Chebatoris was a non-citizen alien and thus, pending the criminal charges against him, subject to deportation to Poland.[6]
  2. ^ Hardy kept a loaded .35 caliber deer rifle in his office specifically as a contingency for a bank robbery next door.[22][24]
  3. ^ The statute, 12 U.S.C. § 588c, read: "Whoever, in committing any offense defined in section 588b of this title, or in avoiding or attempting to avoid apprehension for the commission of such offense, or in freeing himself or attempting to free himself from arrest or confinement for such offense, kills any person, or forces any person to accompany him without the consent of such person, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than 10 years, or by death if the verdict of the jury shall so direct."[26]
  4. ^ The statue, 18 U.S.C. § 542, read in part: "The manner of inflicting the punishment of death shall be the manner prescribed by the laws of the State within which the sentence is imposed... If the laws of the State within which sentence is imposed make no provision for the infliction of the penalty of death, then the court shall designate some other State in which such sentence shall be executed in the manner prescribed by the laws thereof."
  5. ^ In 1963, Michigan outlawed capital punishment for all crimes upon the adoption of its new state constitution.[36] During the period the previous law was in effect, no person was executed for treason against the state of Michigan.[37]


  1. ^ "Death Penalty Sought by U.S. in State Killing". The Detroit Free Press. October 19, 1937. p. 1.
  2. ^ a b Hobey 2012, p. 17.
  3. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 20.
  4. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 18.
  5. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 28.
  6. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 167.
  7. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 23.
  8. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 31.
  9. ^ "Packard Theft Bandits Guilty: Admit Charge of Robbery While Armed; Given 7 1/2 to 20 Years by Keidan". The Detroit Free Press. July 21, 1920. p. 1.
  10. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 45.
  11. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 105.
  12. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 107.
  13. ^ Bryant, Roger (January 28, 2013). "Former Midlander writes book on 1937 Main Street bank robbery". Midland Daily News. Hearst Newspapers. Retrieved January 5, 2021.
  14. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 118.
  15. ^ "Death Penalty Sought by U.S. in State Killing". The Detroit Free Press. October 19, 1937. p. 1.
  16. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 120.
  17. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 160.
  18. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 115.
  19. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 33.
  20. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 169.
  21. ^ "Trap Is Sprung on Chebatoris". The Detroit Free Press. July 9, 1938. p. 3.
  22. ^ a b The Associated Press (September 30, 1937). "Dentist Shoots From His Office Window, Felling Bandits Fleeing After Raid on Bank". The New York Times. p. 10.
  23. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 132.
  24. ^ a b c d Veselenak, Aaron J. (May–June 1998). "The Execution of Anthony Chebatoris" (PDF). Michigan History: 35–39. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 5, 2009.
  25. ^ a b Chardavoyne, David Gardner. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan: People, Law, and Politics. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 214. ISBN 978-0-8143-3720-2.
  26. ^ a b United States Code. 1 (1940 ed.). Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. 1941. p. 840.
  27. ^ Bolomolny, Robert L.; Kahan, Dan M. "Bank Robbery - Bibliography - United, Cir, Federal, and Act - JRank Articles". Law Library: American Law and Legal Information. Jrank. Archived from the original on August 15, 2017. Retrieved June 11, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  28. ^ Parker, Ross (2009). Carving Out the Rule of Law: The History of the United States Attorney's Office in Eastern Michigan, 1815-2008. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse. p. 189. ISBN 978-1438937359.
  29. ^ "Chebatoris Must Pay with Life, U.S. Jury Rules, Setting State's First Death Penalty since 1830". The Detroit Free Press. October 29, 1937. p. 1.
  30. ^ "Governor Hit for Attempt to Save Life of Murderer". The Detroit Free Press. July 6, 1938. p. 6.
  31. ^ "Midland Wants Slayer to Hang". The Detroit Free Press. July 3, 1938. p. 9.
  32. ^ Hobey 2012, p. 227.
  33. ^ "Roosevelt Dooms Chebatoris to Die". The Detroit Free Press. July 6, 1938. p. 5.
  34. ^ a b "Chebatoris to Be Hanged at Dawn Today in Milan; Murphy's Plea Refused". The Detroit Free Press. July 8, 1938. p. 1.
  35. ^ United States Statues at Large. 50 (1934 ed.). Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. 1937. p. 304.
  36. ^ a b "Michigan: History of Death Penalty". Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved January 5, 2021.
  37. ^ a b Frohm, Stuart (February 28, 2004). "Michigan death penalty history questions answered". Midland Daily News. Hearst Newspapers. Retrieved January 5, 2021.
  38. ^ The Associated Press (July 9, 1938). "Chebatoris Dies on the Gallows as Scheduled". The Michigan Daily. p. 10.
  39. ^ "Trap Is Sprung on Chebatoris". The Detroit Free Press. July 9, 1938. p. 3.
  40. ^ "Chebatoris Buried After Simple Rites". The Detroit Free Press. July 10, 1938. p. 8.
  • Hobey, Jack (2012). Lawless Years: The Tony Chebatoris and Jack Gracey Story. Boyne City, Michigan: Harbor House Publishers. ISBN 978-1-58241-452-2.

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