Murder and Manhunt in March 1930

Murder and Manhunt in March 1930

Officers and vigilantes search the hills of Honor

By Mark Ketz
Current Contributor 


A good number of residents in Benzie County and beyond have heard of or read some historical account of the late 19th-century murder of then-Undersheriff Neil Marshall. On August 10, 1889, Undersheriff Marshall was gunned down—along with the county treasurer—by a lumber mill owner in the town of Aral, a small lumber town which once occupied the area near Lake Michigan at the end of Esch Road, between Honor and Empire.

Growing up in Benzie County, I, too, had learned of the murder of Undersheriff Marshall—I had come to find that this bit of history was almost common knowledge in our neck of the woods. 

So, imagine my surprise when, roughly seven years ago, I stumbled upon a piece of Benzie County history that I had never known about: the murder of another man who held the title of Undersheriff for the Benzie County Sheriff’s Office. Even after serving for 15 years as a Deputy Sheriff for that very same office, I had never heard of the murder of Undersheriff Edward Rarey and the massive manhunt that brought his killer to justice.
This month marks 91 years since that murder and manhunt.  

The year was 1930. Herbert Hoover was president of the 48 United States of America. A gallon of milk cost you 26 cents and a gallon of gasoline 20 cents. Twinkies and Scotch Tape had just been invented and, for the State of Michigan, Fred W. Green was the governor.

Here in Benzie County, in mid-March of 1930, hints of spring had brought about the return of seasonal residents to open their cottages for the upcoming summer season. Around the north shore area of Platte Lake, several returning “snow birds” had discovered that their cottages had been broken into, and reports were made to Sheriff James Crawford. After investigating these reports, the sheriff had information leading him to suspect a local man of the break-ins. This suspect—whose real name will not be used here, out of respect for family still living in the area—was well known to use the alias “Theadore Allen.”

Theadore Allen was a 36-year-old man from Honor who had been paroled two years earlier from the Marquette Prison after serving a term for burglary.

In the afternoon of Saturday, March 15, a woman called the sheriff to report that someone appeared to have been living in her cottage on the north shore of Platte Lake.  

Some time later, Sheriff Crawford—along with Undersheriff Edward Rarey and special deputies Ralph Amidon, Calvin Carpenter, Ralph Mead, Joe Vinson, and George Weaver—responded to the Platte Lake area and began a systematic search looking for the suspect in cottages surrounding the lake.

Late in the evening, Undersheriff Rarey and Deputy Mead were approaching the cottage of Mrs. Mary Phoenfeldt, located on the southern shore of Platte Lake. As they neared the cottage, the men split up. While Mead approached from the west side, Rarey approached from the east. Just then, Deputy Mead heard a single gunshot ring out from the darkness.
 
Deputy Mead quickly notified Sheriff Crawford and the other deputies. Believing that the shooter was now hiding in the cottage and was ready to shoot anyone who approached, the sheriff and his deputies surrounded the building.  

For several minutes, the men could hear Undersheriff Rarey calling out to them for help. Believing that any man attempting to render aid to Undersheriff Rarey would also fall victim to the shooter, the sheriff made the decision to keep the remainder of his men behind cover. After 10 to 15 minutes had passed since the sheriff had arrived at the scene, the calls from Undersheriff Rarey stopped and all was quiet.

A short time later, around 11 p.m., Sheriff Crawford telephoned Lieutenant Earl J. Hathaway of the Michigan State Police post in Manistee to request the assistance of all available troopers from that post.

Lieutenant Hathaway, along with Corporal Munger and Trooper Niedzielski, responded immediately—they made the trip in just under an hour, arriving in Honor around midnight.

After arriving at the scene, the state police officials made contact with the sheriff and soon devised a plan to approach and enter the cottage, where it was believed the shooter was still hiding. After crawling up to the cottage, the officers made their way to the porch, where they found Undersheriff Rarey dead—he was lying flat on his back with his revolver on the porch next to his right hand.

Trying both doors, the officers found that one was locked from the inside and the other was locked from the outside with a padlock and hasp. The officers then used a screwdriver to remove the screws from the hasp, in order to open that door. 

However, once inside the cottage, the officers soon found that the suspect was not there.  

After further surveying the scene, officers found tracks in the snow, indicating that the suspect had jumped over a porch railing and then had run down an embankment toward Platte Lake. Following the tracks to the lake, the officers surmised that the suspect had made his escape across the ice-covered lake. 

After the body of Undersheriff Rarey was removed from the scene of the crime, a search of every building in the immediate area was arranged by Benzie County Prosecutor Kenneth Fewlass. As this initial search was being conducted for the killer, Sheriff Crawford and Lieutenant Hathaway traveled to the nearby home of the suspected killer’s father. They were told by the father that he had not seen his son in two days.

Throughout the night and into the next morning, a search was conducted of all cottages around both sides of Platte Lake. Deputies and state troopers were assisted in this search by officers from the State Conservation Department (now the Department of Natural Resources), as well as members of the American Legion post and local businessmen and farmers. This search went on throughout the morning, with no sign of the suspected murderer being found. Around noon on Sunday, the searchers returned to the Village of Honor to take a break and to have lunch.

After some rest and a meal, search parties were organized by Lieutenant Hathaway and Prosecutor Fewlass. As time went by and news of the murder of Undersheriff Rarey spread across the region, more volunteers arrived to assist with the search for the murderer. Officers from every surrounding city and county law enforcement agency joined in the search, accompanied by armed citizens. Roadblocks were set up, and the countryside was searched extensively around the Honor area. Lieutenant Hathaway even requested more uniformed troopers to respond from Lansing. 

One report estimated the number of men searching for the suspect at 200.

Searching continued throughout the day and night of March 16, 17, and 18. Searches extended into areas of Beulah, Frankfort, Thompsonville, and Interlochen, as possible sightings were reported.

Finally, around 11 p.m. on the night of March 18, the suspected murderer, Theadore Allen, was captured at a home located at 217 Ninth Street in Traverse City by members of the Traverse City Police Department, the Fire Department, and the then-Sheriff of Grand Traverse County, Fred Johnson. After learning of the arrest, three state troopers promptly drove to Traverse City to take custody of the accused murderer.  

Because Allen had once escaped from the Leelanau County Jail—and officers were not confident that the Benzie County Jail was secure enough to hold him—he was transported to the Manistee County Jail, instead. Another concern with holding Theadore Allen in the Benzie County Jail was referenced in a state police report as “a fear of mob violence.”  

On the morning of March 19, Lieutenant Hathaway and Corporal Munger of the state police went to the Manistee County Jail to interview Theadore Allen. At first, Allen denied breaking into cottages around Platte Lake and refused to answer questions about the murder of Undersheriff Edward Rarey. Later that morning, as the interview continued, however, Allen gave a full confession about the shooting.

In his confession, Theadore Allen described entering into a cottage on the north shore of Platte Lake with some clothes and food. After leaving the items in one of the bedrooms of the cottage, he walked down to the lakeside to relax. A short time later, Allen described hearing an automobile drive up to the cottage and then quickly drive away again, only a few minutes later: this was the owner who had called the sheriff.

Certain that his activities in this north shore cottage had been discovered, Allen decided to leave that area in such a way as to try to throw off any authorities who may be trying to track him down—he walked in the tire tracks until he made it to the plowed roadway along the north shore of Platte Lake, now known as Deadstream Road. He then described crossing the “Dead Stream Bridge” and then continuing east through Averytown, a small settlement that once stood along the Platte River, just west of the current intersection of Deadstream Road and Indian Hill Road. 

After crossing the bridge over the Platte River at Averytown, Allen described changing his direction of travel back to the west, toward the south shore of Platte Lake. Walking through the moonlit darkness along the roadway on the south side of Platte Lake—essentially Platte Road today—Allen decided to sit down and rest for several hours, before continuing west along the roadway. 

Upon reaching a red barn that was situated close to the woods, Allen decided that he would stay there for the night. But as he started to cross the road a short distance from the barn, Allen said that he was surprised by the headlights of an approaching automobile. Rather than try to make an escape across the frozen lake, Allen initially decided to stop at a nearby cottage instead. However, as he approached the building, he was surprised by two men who were already near the cottage—one man on each side of it.

Allen jumped up onto the porch, which faced the lake, and then called out to the man on the east side of the building. He recalled shouting to the man—who ended up being Undersheriff Rarey—and asking what he wanted there, and the man responded by telling Allen that he “would soon know” and to throw up his hands.

Allen explained to the state police that he did throw up his hands, but that he had a 9mm German Luger in his right hand as he did so. He then explained seeing the man starting to reach for his right coat pocket. 

“And at that instant, I knew that it was either him or I to get hurt. My gun was the first one to fire,” Allen said in his official report.

After the shooting, Allen jumped from the porch of the cottage and ran onto the ice on Platte Lake. He quickly found that the lake ice was beginning to break up, though, so he made his way back to the shore and then across Platte Road and into the swamp. After trudging south through the swamp, Allen walked up into the hills to the south before turning east. He continued walking east—without stopping—until daybreak, ending up nearly four miles east of the Village of Honor, on the east side of “Bailey Hill.” There he hid in the woods and rested all day, until evening came.

Allen went on to describe walking from there toward Thompsonville but then changing direction just north of Thompsonville to walk toward Wallin, along the “Pere Marquette” railroad tracks. He told the officers that he traveled through Bendon, Interlochen, and Grawn before making it to his destination in Traverse City.

Not long after arriving at the Traverse City home of an acquaintance by the name of Cyrus Doty, Allen briefly described being arrested there—three days after the shooting in Honor; 20 miles away, as the crow flies—by the Traverse City Police and the sheriff of Grand Traverse County. He also mentioned that he was not armed at the time of his arrest, but that the German Luger that he had been carrying had been left in his bed at the Traverse City home and was recovered by police.

The German Luger was later identified as one that had recently been reported stolen from Frank Conklin at the Honor Hardware.

On March 20, 1930, Theadore Allen was brought before Justice A.L. Rockwell for his arraignment and waived examination for the formal charge of murder. A special session of the Circuit Court was immediately convened and presided over by Circuit Court Judge Parm Gilbert of Grand Traverse County; Benzie County’s Circuit Court Judge Fred S. Lamb was out of town at the time.

Theadore Allen entered a plea of guilty, and—after hearing testimony on the case—Judge Gilbert defined the case as murder in the first degree and sentenced Allen to serve the rest of his natural life at the Marquette State Prison.

In 1949, Theadore Allen petitioned the court for a new trial but was denied.

According to the Department of Corrections, Allen was transferred to Jackson Prison in 1963, and he was paroled in April of 1964. He was nearly 70 years old.

Michigan State Police Lieutenant Earl J. Hathaway—who had coordinated the State Police involvement in this investigation—wrote two reports covering that investigation, as he had experienced it. He closed his second report with the following paragraph:

“In closing, I will state that this closes one of the most intensive man hunts this part of the country has ever seen. The wholehearted support of all of the officers in North Western Michigan was given at all times. All of the officers in the surrounding counties were very active. This included the Sheriff of Wexford County, the City Police of Cadillac, the City Police of Traverse City, Sheriff Johnson of Grand Traverse County, the officers of Leelanau County, the officers of Manistee County, the officers of Benzie County, the American Legion, the Vigilantes, and all the citizens of Benzie County who were armed with guns of all kinds. And last but not least, the State Conservation Department in the persons of Mark Craw and Rex Joslin who were indispensable.”

Not much is known about Edward M. Rarey, other than he was 58 years old when he was killed. He was born in Kenton, Ohio, and was married to his wife, Anna. One of the newspapers of the time described Undersheriff Rarey as having: “a quiet unassuming disposition and, in carrying out his duties as an officer of the law, he was fearless.”

Mark Ketz is a sergeant with the Benzie County Sheriff’s Office and a first-time writer for The Betsie Current. 

Featured Photo Caption: A Michigan State Police car and officers in 1930, the same year that Benzie County’s Undersheriff Edward Rarey was gunned down while on duty. Some reports estimated that 200 law enforcement officers—including state police officers—and townspeople aided in the three-day man hunt for the murderer in the area surrounding Platte Lake. Photo courtesy of StateTrooperPlates.com.

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