THE SHORT VERSION OF THE STORY

On December 30, 1932 my great-grandfather, Franklin Crosby Bearse, was murdered. According to newspaper accounts, at about 8:30 that evening, 34 year old Frankie led a group of 6 men through the woods off “the new” Route 28 between Hyannis and Marstons Mills on Cape Cod. Under the cover of a thick fog, they intended to steal a truckload of contraband liquor from a garage used by gangsters who were smuggling it in along the coast. The youngest member of the group, 25-year-old Johnny Lewis, brother-in-law to Frankie, stayed behind with the car to act as get-away driver. Frankie, his other brother-in-law, Truman Lewis, and one Manuel J Robello were ahead of the other three men: Ned Ashley, of the Cotuit-Osterville area; Jimmy Mendes, an amateur heavy-weight boxer; and a man referred to variously as Joe Correia, Joseph Correa Bothello and Joseph Correira. Frankie, Truman and Manny had broken a lock to enter the garage before the night was suddenly illuminated by spotlights and bullets were flying. Ned, Truman, Jimmy, and Joe somehow escaped, fleeing in different directions. Manny was shot but managed to get to the highway where he flagged down a passing motorist who took him to the hospital. Frankie was hit from behind in the leg and fell forward. He was then shot at close range in the back with a .32 pistol. The gunmen dragged him to the waiting car, where Johnny Lewis was still waiting behind the wheel. They threw the dying Frank Bearse in the back seat and with a violent warning to Johnny not to talk to authorities, ordered him to get Frank to a doctor. Frank was dead by the time they arrived at Cape Cod Hospital.

The Boston Globe coverage immediately following the crime was hopeful, declaring that all efforts were being made to apprehend the gunmen. The Hyannis Chief of Police, William H. Pratt, was said to have “thorough knowledge…of his territory…which has made him greatly feared by liquor gangs attempting to operate within his district.” The police had recovered the murder weapons from the cottage next to the garage and they had Frankie’s 6 companions, witnesses to the crime, who were cooperating with authorities.

The local paper, the Barnstable Patriot, however, was not as optimistic reporting that: “There seems to be a current belief that the killers will never be found. Rum running on the Cape has been reduced to such an organized business that it can cover its tracks on almost anything it might do. The rum running traffic is declared to be strongly entrenched [sic] with wide ramifications extending to people entirely above suspicion....so well entrenched that it will be extremely difficult to dislodge it, so the public believes.”

The criminal investigation into Frankie’s murder reverberated throughout the small community, leading to what was, at the time, the longest Grand Jury proceedings in Barnstable County history. The court called over 50 local witnesses, including businessmen, farmers, baseball heroes, fishermen, attorneys, police officers, and the president of the Hyannis Women’s Club. The investigation was exhaustive, involving law enforcement and government officials all the way up to the federal level.

The media’s sensational coverage of the events provided a detailed version of the circumstances surrounding Frankie’s murder but also left open a myriad of questions. Reading between the lines, it seemed that it was well known who was responsible for the crime. Yet, in April of 1933 the Barnstable Grand Jury “returned no bill” in the killing. The case might have disappeared altogether if not for Hyannis attorney John D.W. Bodfish who was leading a crusade to rid the Cape of the criminal element brought in by rum running. In August of 1933, a high-profile raid of a swanky speakeasy in Yarmouth discovered local police officers employed as guards and Barnstable County court officials on the business license. Outraged at the flagrant disregard for the law, Bodfish wrote an open letter to the governor demanding justice and citing Frankie’s unsolved murder as another example of corruption that was infecting the Cape. Bodfish’s letter prompted a second Grand Jury hearing that filed a “secret finding” on October 19, 1933. On December 7, 1933, nearly a year after his death, the Barnstable Patriot reported that attempts to solve murder of Franklin Bearse had ceased and the inquest was closed.

Over 80 years later, the case remains officially unsolved.

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