Saturday, November 20, 2010

Florida History: Before the age of mobsters, South Florida's Ashley Gang

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By Jane Feehan

The Wild West wasn’t the only region beset by a gang of outlaws akin to the James gang.  In the early 1900s, South Florida chronicles are laced with the doings of its own band of family-linked criminals: the Ashley gang.

Ashley brothers – Bob, Tom, Ed, Frank, and most notably John - were thought to be responsible for a series of robberies and a murder or two between Stuart and Miami and in the Everglades.  John first came to the attention of authorities for the 1911 murder of a Seminole, DeSoto Tiger. The crime, which occurred on the New River Canal, an Everglades dredging project, was committed for a load of otter skins sold in Miami.

John Ashley lived on the lam for a few years until pressure from the Seminoles forced his arrest when he surfaced near Stuart. He was sent to a Miami jail to await trial but broke out. Afterward he and a few of his brothers,  who came from Fort Myers and then settled for a time in Gomez, north of Hobe Sound, robbed a bank in Stuart. Captured and convicted, Ashley served a few years in Raiford prison before escaping with his gang’s help.  The outlaws took refuge in the Everglades not far from Fort Lauderdale. From there, they robbed banks, bootlegged and hijacked. On occasion they came into Fort Lauderdale seeking medical assistance from the city’s first doctor, Thomas Kennedy.

Ashley and three members (not brothers) of his gang  died in a shootout with the law at the Sebastian River Bridge Nov. 1, 1924, closing but one chapter of the history of crime in South Florida. Copyright © 2010. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

Check this blog's archives for more Florida history
Douglas, Margory Stoneman. Everglades: River of Grass. Miami: Banyan Books (1978)
Weidling, Philip J. , Burghard, August. Checkered Sunshine. Gainesville: University of Florida Press (1966)
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