Yes, indeed, Mugshot March is back! Here to kick it off for us are Harry and Arthur Defenbaugh, of Peoria, Illinois.
The brothers had been in and out of trouble. Burglary was their specialty. After serving some time, they were paroled in 1922, and finally seemed to be settling down. Arthur, age 23, and Harry, age 27, had taken up carpentry work. Harry also got married to a woman named Ruth. But appearances can be deceiving; the brothers had also joined a small gang that was committing a series of burglaries in Benton County, Missouri.
On September 21, 1924, the brothers were back at it in Warsaw, Missouri. They and three other gang members successfully robbed the Missouri Pacific station, before moving on to Luttman Hardware. But things went awry.
While the gang was in the store, Sheriff Garrett Groomer entered and called out to the men, stating his intention to arrest them. That seems like a very dangerous approach, and it didn’t work out so well for the sheriff. Some gang members responded to the sheriff’s orders by opening fire on him — who specifically fired was in dispute. It didn’t matter to Sheriff Groomer, who had been killed.
The gang managed to flee the scene but they were apprehended on September 23. The police were startled by their clothing: the men were dressed like characters in an old western! The press was allowed in to photograph the gang in their costumes, and the picture was subsequently run on the front page of the paper.
As the local paper explained:
“When the five youths were picked up here, four wore green or white sombrero hats with wide brims, colored flannel shirts, and snake belts to which they had strapped their revolvers. They said they had made a trip to Colorado, and had brought the cowboy outfits in order to startle their friends when they returned to Peoria.”
While awaiting trial, the Defenbaughs managed to briefly escape from jail, which did not endear them to authorities.
The brothers were tried and convicted of Sheriff Groomer’s murder together, and received life sentences. Their mugshots were taken the same day and show how closely they resembled one another. Even their inmate numbers are sequential: Harry was 27462 and Arthur was 27463.
The Defenbaugh brothers were extraordinarily close. They were not twins but they may as well have been conjoined because it seems to have been impossible for one to do something without the other. They committed crimes together, went on the run together, broke out of jail together, and finally served hard time together. They were in for a long stay at the Missouri State Penitentiary. They were paroled together by Governor Donnell on April 2, 1942. They left prison after serving seventeen and a half years for Groomer’s murder.
In a heroic little side note, after her husband’s murder, Mrs. Groomer took on the duties of sheriff. Their oldest son, Alvin, was deputized. You have to admire that kind of spirit and courage!