About this time 100 years ago, a mob of an estimated 1,000 fully armed Iron Rangers — law enforcement officials, mining executives and civilians alike — took to the woods for a dayslong search for a fugitive described as a “Range bad man” who killed three police officers before taking off toward West Two Lakes dressed in a “shabby shirt sleeveless red sweater.”
The search party, which eventually grew to include a fleet of machine gunners from Duluth, lasted just less than a week, spanned the Iron Range and was for a while concentrated near the Canadian border.
John “Bad Jack” Webb ultimately shot himself in a hunting shack near Hibbing, reportedly surrounded by five police officers who would divvy the ever-growing reward for the runner who was wanted dead or alive.
Brandishing his carbine
On Sept. 8, 1921, Webb’s children Alice, 13, and Leonard, 17, went to authorities to report that their father, John Webb, had attacked Alice.
Hibbing Police Chief Daniel Hayes, with a fresh warrant for Webb’s arrest, reportedly went into the family’s home and started up a staircase. Webb came out of a lower-level bedroom with a sawed-off .30-30 rifle and shot Hayes through the heart.
Officers Gene Cassidy and William Kohrt were positioned outside, across the street from the house. Webb went to his porch and fired two shots, one that caught Cassidy in the heart. The other officer tried to get away, and Webb shot him in the back, the bullet “piercing his lung.”
The shooter then took off through the woods, seemingly toward his hunting shack, which was 4 miles from his home.
The next door neighbor, Mrs. Chuncovitch, a native of Austria who spoke through an interpreter, told the News Tribune that she heard Webb boast that he would “get anybody who tried to get him” as he brandished his carbine and disappeared into the woods.
A posse en route to his cabin, and led by his sons, was unable to immediately find him.
Back at the crime scene, six officers “armed to the teeth,” were stationed at the Webb home in case the patriarch returned.
“They propose to take no chances with Webb, who, it is believed, will now kill remorselessly to prevent his own capture,” the News Tribune reported. “They will shoot him on sight.”
“We want Jack Webb dead or alive — we want him” was reportedly the rally cry of the hundreds of pursuers in autos, motorcycles, railroad speeders, airplanes and on foot.
Who was 'Bad' Jack
Webb, 50, was described as having a knee injury and rheumatism, and a scar on his right cheek and eye.
He was well-known to Iron Range officers, and had in the past reportedly threatened to kill Judge Thomas Brady and game warden George Woods, after he was arrested for violating game laws. And his own daughter Ida May, who had left home two years earlier, hadn't visited home since because she was afraid he would kill her.
As news coverage unfolded, a story emerged that he had led his first wife to the altar at gunpoint.
Webb knew well the woods around his home and was a seasoned hunter with a handful of shacks and the ability to move without a trace.
“He shoots through the heart,” the News Tribune reported. “And his cronies say he can split the edge of an orange rind at 100 yards.”
He reportedly tailored his own gun.
Webb had eight children, including Edward, 20, who traveled in from Minneapolis and asked for protection for Ida May while their father was on the loose. His oldest daughter had, for a while, raised the younger children after the death of their mother in 1918 — a death that marked a change in Webb’s demeanor, Ida May told the News Tribune.
The rattle of the door of the lean-to
The search continued for days, “from Hibbing to DuPont, from Gust Maki’s farm to Forbes, from the signal tower at Keenan to the grocery store at Forbes; from the outlet of the Two Lakes to the police station at Chisholm — on and on and around and over the Mesaba range,” the News Tribune reported.
At the Maki Farm, the door of the lean-to rattled, but the family didn’t answer.
A limping man with a short rifle was spotted about 10 miles south of Ray, 40 miles north of Virginia. Officials expected that he might try to cross the border into Canada — but he didn’t. He was spotted in the Croston mine district, emerging from a clump of bushes near Gladke family farm.
Officials planned to raid moonshiner shacks within 25 miles of Hibbing.
Mourners, souvenir hunters, a sole undertaker
On Sept. 13, 1921, funerals were held for two of the slain officers. A “vast throng” of mourners gathered at Church of the Blessed Sacrament — including Webb’s oldest daughter.
“If the tears of a girl can atone for the sins of her father, ‘Bad’ Jack Webb, fugitive murdered, today felt a great burden lifted from his conscience as the sob-shaken form of Ida May Webb was half led, half carried from the” church.
Webb, circled by a handful of officers, killed himself the next day. Later a note, written with a soft-nose bullet on a board ripped from a cracker box, was found.
“I shot Hayes,” Webb allegedly wrote while on the run. “He and three others, seven or eight years ago, beat me up. … I have been arrested and my house searched for nothing.
“I hope this shooting will learn the officers of Hibbing not to go into a house without a warrant. They must knock at the door and have a warrant with them.”
Webb claimed that Gene Cassidy had been going through his kids’ pockets on the streets and that William Kohrt was no good.
The citizens of Hibbing made plans to care for his children. The boys would be given jobs, according to the News Tribune, and Ida May was asked to keep a home — provided by the village — for her siblings.
There were offers to adopt the kids, but Edward Webb refused them.
Souvenir hunters collected pieces from the Webb house and the shack where the killer was found and officers investigated a man they thought might have helped the fugitive.
“The blue mackinaw, raincoat, socks and the bread found in the shack are thought to have been given (to) the murderer by a farmer,” according to the News Tribune. “He is under surveillance and may be asked to explain.
“In the shack near where Webb was found were two pieces of Italian bread and a sack of sugar.
“The food was given to Webb by a confederate,” according to officials.
Widows of the officers were each given $7,500 by the village of Hibbing and the men were honored with a memorial.
Webb’s funeral was less ceremonial than the hubbub surrounding his chase and eventual death. No one attended the burial, aside from the undertaker.
“No minister preached the sermon,” the News Tribune reported. “No tears were shed.”