James Lane, “Stat Rape”, 10 June 1947

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James and his brother Lee were arrested for the statutory rape of a fifteen year old girl, which occurred on June 9, 1947, and dates prior. James, who was twenty-two, was fined $100 and given six months in the Lawrence County jail; Lee got off with only an $80 fine or forty-five days in jail.

The brothers appeared in court regularly throughout the forties and fifties. A few years before the statutory rape charge, Lee had been fined for following a couple down Moravia street with a knife in his hand and, a few years later, both were back in court on a highway robbery charge involving an attack on a labourer called Leo Kennedy, who had been walking down South Jefferson street just after midnight when James and Lee grabbed him and dragged him into a side street. One of them rabbit punched him, and he fell to the ground. When Lee took his wallet, with $42 inside, Kennedy told him, “I’ll know you,” and Lee kicked him in the teeth.

The police recognised the Lane boys from Kennedy’s description – they knew the brothers well – and sent four officers to raid their house. Lee tried to escape, but was caught at the front door, and James was found in the kitchen. They spent nearly a year in jail before their trial, at which they were found guilty and each fined 5-and-a-quarter cents (a strange sum; presumably there was a statutory requirement for at least a nominal fine) and sentenced to one to two years in the county jail.

A few years after that stretch, in 1955, James and Lee were jailed again for stabbing two other men in a Saturday night fight in George’s Lunch on West Washington street.

That seems to have been Lee’s last arrest. James still had one more to go.

On the morning of August 20, 1962, six miles west of Hancock, Maryland, a car driven by James pulled over at a telephone box beside Hoffman’s Inn on route 40. He and his friend, Robert Booker, were driving a third man, Lawrence Johns, to Washington, where he was going to hide out after pulling a $10,000 savings-and-loan robbery.

Johns obviously wasn’t sharing his loot with his drivers, as it seems that James and his friend were financing their trip by stealing coin boxes from pay phones along their route. They’d already robbed two that day – scoring $19.20 in small change from one of them – and were trying for a third, working busily with screwdrivers and crowbars, when a police car came up the road towards them. Johns ran out of sight, leaving James and Booker to surrender. The policeman, Corporal Robert Kirby, cuffed the pair, and was about to put them in his car when Johns came out of hiding and shot him down.

James later said, “I ducked when the shooting started, and I grabbed the car so tight with my free hand that I cut two fingers.” When he found the courage to check what had happened, he saw that Johns had run off, and that Corporal Kirby, although wounded in the hip and shoulder, was still alive and had his gun trained on him and Booker.

Kirby kept them prisoner until more cops arrived. A manhunt was organised to search nearby Sideling hill for Johns, who shot himself in the head when they caught up with him the next day. Or so we’re told.

James and Booker were found guilty of attempted larceny and of being rogues and vagabonds – a rare charge arising from the fact that they were officially of no fixed abode when they committed a crime on the highway – and were sent to the Maryland house of correction for two years. While there, they were found guilty of robbing the other telephone boxes, and were sentenced to another year, to be served after their first sentences.

James turned 40 in jail. When he got out, he returned to New Castle, but he’d only been home for a few years when, in the spring of 1972, he fell ill and died in hospital at the age of 47.

Sources: New Castle News (11 Jul 1947 “Held For Hearing”; 2 Oct 1947 “Sentences Passed”; 12 Aug 1950 “Highway Robbery Charge Against Two”; 14 Sep 1950 “Lee Lane and James Lane convicted with robbery”; 19 Dec 1955 “Two Jailed On Assault Charges”; 1 Jan 1962 “Phone Looter Connected To Big Robbery”; 12 Oct 1962 “Two Are Sentenced in Wounding of Maryland Trooper”; 18 April 1972 “Deaths Of The Day”);  Daily Mail, Md, 13 Sep 1962 “Friends Of Man Who Shot Kirby Indicted Today”; Morning Herald, Md, “Companions Of Johns Guilty On Two Charges”.


    • Hope you were pleased to find his picture, and not too upset by the story about him. If you want to know more about him, the New Castle Historical Society has a box of old “oyer and terminer” files from the court house, and one of them has a full transcript of one of James’s trials. It’s quite interesting. They’ll be happy to let you see the box and look through the files, I’m sure.

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