The Bungled Extortion Attempt

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By: Mike Simmons

We have all seen on television or read in books about a mastermind villain that plans an audacious, but lucrative caper that only a genius could conceive. Then, as we return to the real world, we hear about the guy that contrives a plan, seemingly failproof, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. Here is an example…

Gillis Douglas

In 1937, Gillis Douglass was a well-respected member of the DeFuniak Springs, Florida community. He was a city councilman and also owned a car dealership in town. Given his success, he was probably no stranger to circumstances of jealousness from others. But this was different.

On Sunday night, March 21, 1937, Mr. Douglass found a note in his car. After reading it, he immediately went to Sheriff Clayton Adkinson and showed him the note. The note said…

Mr. Douglass: We have chosen you as our victim. We are going to kidnap one of your family and if you would call the law we kill the kidnaped one but we are giving you a chance to pay us without kidnaping if you do not pay us we will use a machine gun on one of the cars the family drives and kill those in the car. We have been in your house in the night to see how to plan to kill anyone of the family if you do not pay us. We want $10,000. We want it in $5 and $10 bills. When you have the money ready let us know by putting a red cloth on the fence then we will give you the instructions how to get the money to us. Do not call in the law or it may cost you one of your boys or girls. We are experienced criminals. If you want to write past your letter on your fence post the corner post next to your neighbor the one that lives by himself –. The letter was unsigned.

Besides the inconsistencies in the note, like the threat of machinegunning one of the cars and killing everyone in it, but going into the house during the night to see how to kill them(?), they left instructions regarding the fence post next to their neighbor, as if the action wouldn’t garner his attention.

His nearest neighbor, Walter Pokorny, was a 38-year-old wealthy German/Bohemian farmer who lived ¼ mile from Mr. Douglass. It seemed strange that the bad guy wanted the cloth left behind the neighbor’s house. Unless…

Sheriff Daniel Adkinson

After reading the note, Sheriff Adkinson instantly sent deputies to watch (at a distance) the Douglass home and the Pokorny home. Then he had Mr. Douglass obey the instructions and place a red cloth – indicating that he had the money ready – on the post by Pokorny’s house.

DeFuniak Springs, Florida

The sly sheriff then went to the bank and counted out how big a package should be with that much money in those denominations. He made up a package that size. Now the only thing to do was to wait for the bad guy to make his next move.

On Wednesday, March 24, 1937, he did.

“Sheriff Adkinson, I need to see you!” said Walter Pokorny as he came into the Sheriff’s office front door. A little surprised to see the possible suspect show up at his front door, the sheriff now had all doubts removed as to who was behind this. When he let Pokorny into his private office, the brilliant suspect showed him a piece of paper. “This was left at my home,” Pokorny said. “I thought I should deliver it at once.” The letter said:            

Mr. Douglass: We want $10,000 in $5 and $10 bills. Wrap in paper and tie well with string. Put in culvert which runs across paved road it is by your neighbor it is right where he goes over fence when he goes to town he will never know it is there and no one else goes over fence there. W will not call for the money ourself but will send your neighbor for it. He will not know us or what is in package we may call for it right away when it is put there or any time after we are making it look like your neighbor is in on this. We using him to help without him know it. When you have money in culvert let us know by putting red cloth by your gate.

Mr. Douglass did as he was instructed, placing the package in the culvert and the red cloth by his gate. Then the deputies watched and waited. But not for long. On the evening of March 25, Pokorny eased out of his house with his shotgun. Then he thought twice and went back to put the shotgun away. When he reached the culvert, he made sure no one was around and went down to get his loot. As he reached for the package, he heard the famous words, “Stick ‘em up.”

Pokorny, surprised and startled, said, “Why, what does this mean?”

Right out of a gangster movie, the sheriff said, “Stick ‘em up or I’ll plug you!” Pokorny’s hands went up, but he denied any involvement. In his pockets, deputies discovered two notes. One directed Pokorny to get the package. The other was directed at Douglass and said, “We sure had your scared…And did we laugh.”

Pokorny was found guilty on May 20, 1937. Judge Fabisinski sentenced him to ten years.

Judge Fabisinski

From that point on, every time the sheriff would tell the story, it began with, “You’re not going to believe this, but….”

Special thanks to the Pensacola News Journal for the articles and photos.

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