A double life ends in double murder

The afternoon editions of Houston newspapers sold out in minutes on Aug. 31, 1931 as readers hungry for the facts behind the whispered rumors of a shocking double murder bought up every copy.

Early that morning, frightened tenants in an upscale apartment building reported hearing the sound of gunshots to the landlord. He in turn called police, who rushed to the Montrose address southwest of downtown.

With a pass key provided by the property owner, officers gained access to the blood stained premises. Chester Jones, 35, and his 25-year-old wife Jane were still in their pajamas, when unknown intruders surprised them at the breakfast table. 

The husband was shot where he sat – once in the head, four times in the chest and once in the hip. The missus must have tried to run but was knocked to the floor by a second shooter, who finished the helpless woman off with four bullets from a pistol of a different caliber. 

Chester Jones was at first glance an above reproach executive with a respected oil and real estate company.  Five years earlier, he had married the boss’ daughter and received a junior partnership as a wedding present from his new father-in-law.

But a routine check of the murder victim’s fingerprints revealed he was in reality a career criminal by the name of “Keggy” Jones, whose specialty was bank robbery. He had done three short stretches in prison in his teens and twenties prior to popping up in Houston all squeaky and clean. 

The chain of events that climaxed in the killing of the couple started that May in Memphis with the armed robbery of Union Planters National Bank.  Three men were caught and charged with the high-profile heist:  Herbert Scales, “a socially prominent young Dallas sportsman,” Ralph Arnold and John “The Greek” Cherris.

After “Keggy” posted Cherris’ bail, the pair met with two other members of the loose-knit gang to divvy up the proceeds from the Memphis job.  Cherris demanded a larger share than “Keggy” Jones, his brother Jack and Barney McGanagel that he felt he had coming.  The trio settled the dispute with two slugs in the head and dumped Cherris’ body weighted down with wagon hubs in the Brazos River near East Columbia.

The bank robber’s widow was not one to forgive and forget.  When her husband did not come home from the secret rendezvous with “Keggy” Jones, Lola Cherris recruited two trusted triggermen to take her revenge.

She waited in the car while Del McGabe and Shiloh Scrivnor did her deadly bidding. When it was over, the threesome drove away without any eyewitness catching so much as a glimpse of the killers or the license plate.

Even with the discovery of “Keggy” Jones’ criminal history, the double homicide might have gone unsolved if “The Greek” had stayed at the bottom of the Brazos. But dead bodies have a funny way of floating to the surface, and that’s what happened to Cherris’ remains which authorities quickly identified.

But the last and most important piece of the puzzle came in late September.  Houston investigators learned Lola Cherris had died in a car crash in St. Louis, but her companion – none other than the wife of hit-man Del McGabe – was recovering from her injuries in a local hospital.

To the detectives’ delight, Mrs. McGabe turned out to be quite the blabbermouth. They left her hospital room with a complete picture of the Jones murders including the names of the killers.

It was just a matter of time until the nationwide search for Del McGabe and Shiloh Scrivnor uncovered their whereabouts. Oct. 10 was the day and Des Moines, Iowa was the place the cops caught up with them.

Tipped off that the fugitives were registered under their real names at a downtown hotel, two detectives waited for them to return to their room on the sixth floor. The first to appear was McCabe, who broke free of the plainclothes policeman’s grip and ran toward the stairs. He suddenly spun around with a loaded pistol in each hand, but the dead-eye detective dropped him with a single squeeze of the trigger.

Scrivnor chose not to repeat the fatal mistake of his traveling companion. He meekly surrendered and did not even bother to fight extradition back to Texas to face two counts of murder.

Scrivnor was tried in Houston for the slaying of Jane Jones, but the jury came back with a stunning acquittal. Instead of putting him on trial for the murder of “Keggy,” prosecutors transferred him to Galveston where a ten-year prison term was waiting for a 1927 bank robbery in Texas City.

Shiloh Scrivnor served half of that mandated decade before his release in 1937. He managed to stay out of jail until the winter of 1941, when he was pulled over with a trunk full of illegal firearms and every tool on a burglar’s wish list.        

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