On the afternoon of April 21, 1949, a man checked into the Washington Hotel at 32 East Washington Street. He was a long way from home. He was even farther away from the Dade County Jail in Miami, Florida, an institution from which he had staged a daring escaped on March 1 of that year after being jailed for his role in a Memphis robbery which netted him and his associates $43,000. The man was Clyde Milton Johnson, recently crowned with the dubious honor of being declared the most wanted man in the United States by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. His escape from the Dade County Jail was described as being done in nearly “Houdini like fashion” since his cell was located on the 15th floor of the facility.
Accompanying Johnson at the Hotel Washington was his wife, or as she was described by a federal court in later legal proceedings, his paramour (there were doubts whether they were legally married), who was variably known as Billy Glaze, Frances Louise Johnson, or “Butcher Knife Billy.” She was suspected to have played a role in the escape from Miami, although her exact contribution was unclear.
Following the escape from the Miami jail, Johnson’s face was displayed prominently in post offices and banks throughout the country and newspapers covered the search for the new Public Enemy No.1. Johnson and Glaze began to work their way across the country. Hold ups and robberies in Atlanta, then Pittsburgh, then all the way out in California, and then Chicago were attributed to the couple as they remained on the run.
With the couple possibly in the Midwest, the FBI focused its searches on the cities in that area. One of those was Indianapolis and as described by the Indianapolis News, on April 22, 1949, agents were conducting routine checks of hotels in downtown Indianapolis on the evening of April 21 to see if Johnson had checked in at any of the hotels during the previous days. During this process, agents received a tip that Johnson had possibly been seen at the Hotel Washington, on the northside of Washington Street, in between Pennsylvania and Meridian Street.
Tracking the couple had been difficult, as both had changed their appearances, hair color, and occasionally agents would receive tips of a robber who thanked his victims, as Johnson often did, or a disturbance at a bar where a women would become loud and profane, as Billie was known to do when she drank. The tip at the Hotel Washington came from a clerk who identified some similarities between the images the agents were showing, and a couple who had recently checked in to the hotel. According to the Indianapolis Times, while the agents were speaking to the clerk, Johnson and Billie sent down a room service order for whiskey, lemons, and a mixer. The agents apparently recognized the unidentified mixer, which was described as a “particular brand,” of mixer that Johnson was known to use. As the Times described it, Johnson came downstairs to pick up his order, at which time he and the agents spotted each other, and the chase began.
The Indianapolis News reported a slightly different story. According to its report, agents were conducting routine checks at downtown hotels, when they somehow learned Johnson had been spotted at the Hotel Washington. Upon arriving at the hotel, the agents spotted Johnson in the lobby. Johnson also spotted the agents and ran for the exit while reaching for a pistol.
Whatever the events which lead up to the foot chase, Johnson’s attempted escape took him west on Washington Street with agents in hot pursuit. An initial exchange of gunfire occurred on Washington Street, followed by Johnson taking a right onto Meridian Street and headed for the Circle. Upon running into the Circle, Johnson fired another shot over his shoulder at pursuing agents. The agents returned fire, although Special Agent in Charge Harvey Foster told the News that the agents fired “after making sure no one else was in the line of fire. At no time in the ensuing shooting was there any wild firing into the crowd.”
No one was hit in either volley, and Johnson ran around the Circle and attempted to commandeer two cars which were being driven around the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. He was unsuccessful, and again turned to loose a volley at the agents who were still in hot pursuit. Still seeking transportation, Johnson made a beeline for a taxicab parked outside the Circle Tower. Johnson jumped into the cab and the vehicle began to pull away, but he had been sufficiently slowed that one agent caught up to the cab and fired point blank into the passenger compartment, hitting Johnson with a shot which went into his back and out his chest. The cabbie, who was coincidently named George Milton Johnson, later told federal agents that he drove away with Fugitive Johnson because he feared for his life. The Times quoted him describing the moment Johnson (the fugitive Johnson) jumped into the cab: “All of a sudden a man opened my cab door and pointed a fun at my face and said, ‘get goin’. I looked around and it stunned me. I says ‘git goin’ where?’ He says ‘git goin’ and shoved the gun forward.” After Cabbie Johnson pulled away, Fugitive Johnson gave him random directions to make several quick turns to throw off pursuit. At this point Fugitive Johnson realized he had been shot and demanded that cabbie Johnson take him to a doctor.
The cab took Johnson to a nearby doctor's office, helped the fugitive to the door, and then shoved him into the office and ran to find the police. While the doctor checked on Johnson’s condition, a nurse in the office also called the police to report the badly wounded man with a firearm who had just arrived by taxi. A pair of police officers arrived and took charge of Johnson and his firearm. The badly injured Johnson was transferred to the city hospital where he underwent surgery to address the G Men inflicted gunshot wound. Charles W. Myers, the superintendent of the hospital, told newspapers that Johnson “probably won’t die,” while a photo of a badly injured, and very much in pain, Johnson at the hospital (photo above) appeared on the front page of the Indianapolis News.
Some sources reported that Johnson was shot twice, once in the taxi as noted above, and another time as he was running across Monument Circle. However, only one bullet was removed. The FBI were not the only one’s shooting at Johnson on the Circle. A passerby who also carried a pistol also opened fire although his shots missed. While no one else was injured on the Circle, bullets had been flying all over the place, and several vehicles in the area sported broken windows and bullet holes, as shown below.
Billie Glaze, who had remained at the Hotel Washington, was also arrested on suspicion of assisting with the Miami escape. As she was being arrested she called out to an Indianapolis News photographer “Bud, get a good picture of me.” The Times quoted her as yelling about Johnson and the mixer giveaway, “[t]he big bum. Why couldn’t he drink plain water with his booze?”
When she appeared before a United States Federal Commissioner a few days later, she told the court that “[i]f I get 20+ years it will be worth every day of it,” and that she was “proud” of Clyde. She also claimed that at first Johnson had threatened her with a gun to accompany him after his escape, and she did not go willingly. Later, she told the court that after they had been on the road she decided to stay with Johnson because she was in love with him. It was also revealed that Johnson's escape from the Miami jail had been accomplished through a bribe that Glaze provided to a trusty who facilitated the escape. Glaze was later returned to Florida to face charges related to the bribe and the escape.
Johnson was later returned to Memphis, the scene of the original bank robbery, was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to 40 years in prison. He was sent to Alcatraz to serve out his sentence, although his penchant for escape continued. In 1958 he and another inmate bound and gagged a guard and escaped the infamous prison. However, unlike his escape and time on the run in 1949, this escape was short lived. Johnson and the other inmate had prepared for the escape, with improvised wooden swim fins which they slipped on their feet, and plastic bags that they attempted to inflate to use as flotation devices. However, the rough waters of San Francisco Bay proved too much and Johnson retuned to shore and was captured amongst the rocks along the shoreline. His compatriot attempted to swim and was unsuccessful. His body washed up on the shoreline of the island a few weeks later. Johnson received an additional 5 years for the escape attempt, was later released, returned to prison for later crimes, and died there in 1995.
Clyde Milton Johnson, Appellant, v. United States of America, Appellee, 239 F.2d 698 (6th Cir. 1956)
Indianapolis Times: March 30, 1949, April 22-25, 1949, September 1, 1952
Indianapolis News: April 22, 1949, April 23, 1949, May 6, 1949, May 7, 1949
Indianapolis Star: April 22, 1949 (top photo)
Daily Banner (Greencastle): April 22, 1949
The GREAT ESCAPE - from 'the ROCK', https://www.alcatraztherock.com/post/untitled