The Gun Girl

Submitted by Errin Clark Cain.

From the Wheeling Intelligencer, October 20, 1997
Written by Michelle Blum.

Benwood Woman Was 'Notorious Gun Girl' During the Gangster Era

     A Benwood woman became the second woman in the country to die in the electric chair after a cross-country crime spree that began in Butler, Pa. nearly 70 years ago, said a local historian.
      William A. Carney, an authority on Wheeling during the gangster era of the 1920s and 1930s, detailed the life and eventual death of Irene Crawford Shrader, her brother, Tom Crawford, and her lover, W. Glen Dague of Viola in Marshall County, during a meeting of the Wheeling Historical Society in West Virginia Independence Hall.
     "Irene Crawford Shrader was the most notorious gun girl of her day and yet was known by many people in Benwood as 'Goldilocks', a nice little girl," Carney said, adding that Shrader also used the aliases of Vera Williams and Irene Gates.
      Shrader, born on Feb. 17, 1909, the daughter of Joe Crawford, a fish peddler, was later dubbed by the newspapers of the time as "Iron Irene."
     Shrader attended Center Benwood School and Sennett School in Benwood, and McKinley and Ritchie Schools in Wheeling, dropping out of school in the eighth grade.
     At age 15, she married Homer Shrader and had a son, but the marriage lasted only 16 months.
     Dague, the son of a farmer, was a successful salesman after serving as an infantryman in World War I.
     Crawford was "pictured as a young man who managed as best he could to get by without working. When employed, he usually sought the easy way out and did not hold a job for any length of time. His home was where he hung his hat," Carney said.
     Shrader, then 18, and Dague, then 31, met in August 1927 at the Princess Restaurant in Elm Grove, where Shrader was working.
     A short time later, Shrader was struck by an auto driven by Dague. Dague took Shrader home and cared for her.
     Dague later left his wife and two children, who were then living in Valley Grove, Carney said.
     After Dague lost his job, the couple began pulling armed robberies in the tri-state area, Carney said, adding that several auto thefts were traced to them.
     On Dec. 26, 1929, Dague, Shrader, her 5-year-old son and Crawford traveled to Toledo, where they committed a robbery and stole a Chevrolet sedan. They drove to Butler, Pa.
     On Dec. 27, 1929, the three robbed Butler Brothers Chain Store. After the incident, Pennsylvania State Police set up roadblocks on all roads leading from town, Carney said.
     The Chevrolet was detained at a roadblock on the New Castle-Butler Road by State Police Cpl. Brady Paul and Trooper Earnest Moore, Carney said.
     Shrader and Dague got out of the auto as Moore, who was walking to the back of the auto, watched Tom Crawford, a rear-seat passenger.
      ".....He saw Cpl. Paul backing up with Irene and Glen pointing guns at him," Carney said.
      ".....Your gun, Moore", was the cry as he (Moore) reached for his. That's when Irene and Glen started to blaze away and Paul fell mortally wounded to the ground. "Moore pulled his gun but was shot at by Tom who was still in the car," Carney said.
     Paul died about 90 minutes later in the hospital.
     The trio fled, stopped at a nearby gas station, forced a man out of his car and headed south.
      "Later that day, they left Irene's son off at the home of his grandfather in Benwood and then spent the night. The following day, the old man, who had recently had a heart attack, took the boy to his aunt's house in Bellaire," Carney said.
     On Dec. 31, Pennsylvania State Police officers interviewed the boy in Bellaire about the Butler incident.
     "When the boy was asked who shot the policemen, he said, 'Mommy shot two cops.' Those words made headlines in a lot of large papers across the country and then the media frenzy started," Carney said.
     The trio then went to Parkersburg, where they stole another auto and then crossed over into Kentucky and stole a license plate.
     The vehicle the trio stole after killing Paul was found abandoned in a Wheeling Island garage on Jan. 3, 1930, by Wheeling Police Officer Albert Megale, Carney said.
     "They made their escape from here in another car the pair had stolen earlier from Canton, Va., that had been kept in the garage," he said.
     On Jan. 4, the trio were stopped in St. Louis, Mo., by Officer William Kiessling for alleged suspicious behavior. Dague got out of the auto and fired at Kiessling, but the bullet only grazed the officer's sleeve, Carney said.
     "They then wrestled for the gun until Irene faced him (Kiessling) with her revolver and fired two shots. This distracted the officer enough that Dague hit him in the jaw, knocking him out. They made their escape again," Carney said.
     During the next few days, the trio robbed 12 gas stations in Oklahoma and continued on to El Paso, Texas, where they committed three more armed robberies and may have been responsible for the death of a seputy sheriff in a bank robbery in Coleman, Texas, he said.
     On Jan. 13, they were stopped by Deputy Joseph Chapman in Florence, Ariz., but kidnapped him. The trio was involved in a gun battle with law enforcement officers who were trying to free Chapman in Chandler Ariz., Carney said.
     Chapman and Deputy Lee Wright were wounded, but the trio again escaped. Wright died from injuries suffered in the incident on Jan. 29, he said.
     "When Irene drew her gun on the deputy (Wright), he was reported to have said, 'I have 22 notches on my gun but I never shot a woman.' He died because of that refusal to shoot her," Carney said.
     The next day, a posse of 50 men on horseback found the trio's car abandoned in the desert on the Pima Indian Reservation. Chief Sandust led the posse to the trio's hiding place on one of the highest mountain peaks.
     "They made their last stand from inside a rock quarry. Another gun fight ensued with Irene being shot in the neck - but not fatally. Two hours later, after their ammunition ran out, the three came out waving a bloody handkerchief and surrendered." he said. The three were returned to Pennsylvania to face trial for the murder of Paul.
     "Prior to leaving Arizona, Irene told the wife of the sheriff that she was not human but was just an animal. She also said that if she got the (electric) chair, her only regret would be that she was not able to read of her death march the next morning in the newspapers," Carney said.
     Shrader's son was held as a material witness with a bail of $20,000, which Carney said was probably the highest bail ever set on a small child in this country. The boy was never called to testify, he said.
     Shrader was defended by former Youngstown, Ohio, Judge William P. Barnum. Charles J. Margiotti of Punxsatawney, Pa., who had been involved in 103 murder cases during his career, was named by Pennsylvania's governor as a special prosecutor in the case.
     Margiotti later defended Bill Lias in Wheeling in several of his "brushes with the law," Carney said.
     Shrader, who went to trial just after her 21st birthday, was executed a year later and was buried beside her mother in Rose Hill Cemetery in Bellaire. Dague was buried in Dallas, WV. Crawford was fatally shot by police in Cape Girardeau, Mo., during a 1930 gun battle, Carney said.

Note from ERRIN CLARK CAIN: Research done by my family suggests that Irene Crawford's married name may have been Shroeder instead of Shrader. My aunt says that Irene was either the niece or great niece of Alice Reed Richmond and research she has done indicates that the name may be Shroeder.