William Raymond Nesbit (June 1, 1899 –
August 1983) was a 1930s jewel thief, born in Marshalltown, Iowa. On
December 31, 1936, he killed fellow thief Harold Baker in a gunpowder
explosion in Minnehaha County, near Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He was
arrested 26 February 1937 and convicted on May 28, 1937 to life
imprisonment, which on 18 February 1946 was commuted to 20 years
Imprisoned in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, he
eventually became a "trusty" and the personal chauffeur of the warden.
On 4 September 1946 he failed to return from running errands, and on
26 December 1946 he was charged in absentia with unlawful flight to
On 15 March 1950 he became the third member of the
Federal Bureau of Investigation's first-ever FBI ten most wanted
fugitives list, and was arrested in a cave in Saint Paul, Minnesota,
three days later.
FBI Famous cases
On December 22, 1936,
William Raymond Nesbit, together with three other men, including
Harold Baker and his girlfriend, burglarized a wholesale jewelry
company at Sioux City, Iowa. The proprietor reported more than $37,000
worth of jewels had been stolen.
Later that month, all of
the participants drove into Minnehaha County, South Dakota, five miles
east of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in order to obtain some dynamite to
make nitroglycerin. After getting out of the car, three of the men
became involved in a fight. The girlfriend got out of the automobile
and attempted to stop the fight. As she did so, Nesbit struck her on
the head with a hammer several times and one of the other men shot her.
She was dragged into a powder house. Baker was lying in the powder
house apparently unconscious. One of the men lit a fuse to some powder
and fled the scene. Baker’s girlfriend, although severely beaten and
wounded, remained conscious and was able to crawl away.
The fuse exploded 3,500
pounds of dynamite and 7,000 pounds of black powder, killing Harold
Baker. The explosion rocked the countryside, shattering windows,
mirrors, and glassware in Sioux Falls, five miles away.
While the police were
conducting an investigation to determine the cause of the blast, they
were advised that a woman had been brought to the hospital and she was
suffering from bullet wounds, exposure, and shock.
revealed information concerning the three men, including Nesbit, who
had been responsible for the murder of Baker and for the shooting of
Baker’s girlfriend. Nesbit was apprehended in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma,
on February 26, 1937. He was returned to Sioux Falls where he was
tried and convicted for murder and received life imprisonment in South
Dakota State Penitentiary.
Nine years later, Nesbit’s
life term was commuted to 20 years. Nesbit, during this term had
become a trustee and eventually was allowed to leave the prison to
perform housework, landscaping, and duties as a chauffeur. On
September 4, 1946, when the night check was made, Nesbit was missing.
On December 26, 1946, a
federal complaint was filed before the United States Commissioner at
Rapid City, South Dakota, charging William Raymond Nesbit with
unlawful flight to avoid confinement and a warrant was issued for his
arrest. The FBI entered the search.
In March of 1950, a news
article, which carried a picture of Nesbit together with his
description and fugitive status was published in a St. Paul, Minnesota,
newspaper as well as in other newspapers.
On Friday afternoon,
March 17, 1950, a 14-year-old boy arrived home from school and noticed
a newspaper on the kitchen floor. As he glanced at the paper, he noted
a photograph of Nesbit and the accompanying article advising Nesbit
was wanted by the FBI.
The boy and his 13-year-old
friend spent much of their time playing along the Mississippi River
bank in St. Paul, Minnesota, with other boys from the neighborhood.
Over the past few months, they had become acquainted with “Ray,” a man
who lived in a cave in the river bank. They had visited “Ray” about
once a week for four months beginning in November of 1949. He allowed
them access to his cave, occasionally telling them stories about his
travels. Finally, in early March of 1950, “Ray” told the boys to stay
away from the cave because they were liable to get hurt.
The 14-year-old boy cut
the article out of the newspaper believing the man in the photograph
was “Ray.” The boy took the article to his friend who thought the man
in the photo was thinner than “Ray.” The next day the boys went down
to the cave to make sure “Ray” was indeed the man in the photograph.
They then telephoned the police and told them of their suspicion.
On Saturday morning,
March 18, 1950, just two days after William Raymond Nesbit was placed
on the “Top Ten” list, Nesbit was apprehended by the St. Paul Police
due to the ingenuity, intelligence, and courage displayed by two young
William Raymond Nesbit