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5 Jul 1944
Death Ends Career of Gangster Ralph Sheldon
Death wrote finis to the career of the principal figure in one of Long Beach’s most spectacular crimes of the almost forgotten ear of prohibition racketeering, when Ralph Sheldon, one-time Chicago henchman of Al Capone and convicted kidnaper, died in San Quentin. His health, a United Press dispatch stated, occurred Sunday night following a heart attack. Sheldon was serving a 35 year sentence for the 1931 kidnapping of Zeke Caress, Tijuana and Agua Caliente track operator.
Sheldon was arrested in Long Beach after a spectacular gun battle between police officers and gangsters. In the hail of bullets exchanged by the officers and gunmen, Police Officer W. H. Waggoner fell shot through the spine. As a result he was crippled for life.
Waggoner and his partner, C. A. Jenks, were patrolling in the shotgun car, common in police work during the gangster era, when they noticed a car parker on Pico Ave., in the harbor area. They approached the car and were in the act of questioning the occupants when one of the men in the car began firing. In the exchange of shot that followed, Waggoner received a wound in his spine.
Sheldon was arrested at the scene of the crime with Less Bruneman, well known underworld figure who was killed by rival gunmen in Los Angeles several years ago. Bruneman at the time told officers that he had been forced into Sheldon’s car. Some time later, Louis Franks was arrested as a member of the gang and after one of the most extensive police investigations in the history of Southern California law enforcement, Sheldon was brought to trial on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon.
After a spectacular trial in the Long Beach Superior Court, Sheldon was acquitted but he was later charged in a Los Angeles court with kidnapping Caress. The prosecution contended that he, Bill Bailey, Louis Franks, Jesse Orsetti, and Ray Wagner had kidnapped Caress and held him for ransom in an Alhambra residence. Caress had written checks to pay the ransom and Bruneman had been picked up by the gang to identify them on an off-shore gambling boat, where they were going to cash the checks when they were questioned by the Long Beach police officers, the prosecution contended.
The trial of Shledon, Orsetti, and Franks at the time resulted in a kidnapping convinction for Sheldon, and Orsetti and Franks were convicted of a violation of the deadly weapon act. Sheldon and Orsetti were committed to San Quentin but shortly afterwards Sheldon was transferred to Folsom as a dangerous criminal. When he appeared before the board of prison terms and paroles for determining the term on his ten-year to life sentence, the board fixed his sentence at life, but this was later reduced.
Recently when Governor Earl Warren conducted his investigation of California prisons, the Governor’s committee reported that Sheldon and Lloyd Sampsel, former yacht bandit, were the political bosses of the prison and were largely responsible for the conditions which brought about a resignation of Warden Clyde I. Plummer. In the shake-up of the prison administration, Sheldon was transferred back to San Quentin where he died Sunday. Bailey and Wagner were later tried and convicted and both are in Folsom.