I discovered the story of the Lewis-Jones Gang while doing some research in Denver Public Library’s Western History Department. It was one of the happy happenstances of researching on microfilm. And, too, one of the pitfalls. It’s easy to get distracted when plowing through old newspapers. Some story, completely unrelated to your target research, will present itself and, like a child chasing a runaway balloon, off I go in pursuit.
So it was with the Lewis-Jones tale. I became obsessed with their story and found amazing primary sources in 11 different newspapers from Cleveland to Los Angeles, Kansas City to Denver. What emerged was a narrative of blood and violence, betrayal and vengeance.
Frank Lewis was from a family of misfortune. His father led all three of his sons into crime and their lives ended badly. A fourth offspring, Eva, tried hard to stay on the lawful side of the street, but love for her brother caught her in a downward spiral of crime.
Dale Jones was a hard case from early adolescence when he killed his first man. Robbery and murder became his calling card and once he hooked up with Margaret “Margie” Celano, the pair became an early version of Bonnie and Clyde.
Toss into this volatile mix the willful, violent robber Roscoe “Kansas City Blackie” Lancaster and the rebellious Roy Sherrill and you had the makings of what proved to be an amazingly dangerous and deadly as any Colorado had ever experienced.
THE BIG BLOW-OFF is 80 percent true and about 20 percent conjecture, extrapolated from the historical record. It is a story largely lost in a sea of Twentieth Century crime. The 1920’s and ’30s were so rife with gangsters that men like Frank Lewis, Dale Jones, and Kansas City Blackie became little more than bit players in a virulent drama. However, within the annals of Colorado crime, nothing before the Big Blow-Off so rocked the state.
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