Friday, January 16, 2009

The Ashley Gang of Florida

If you like to hunt for outlaw loot and prefer something a little more recent then you might want to check out a few spots in Florida.

Back in the 1900’s the “Ashley Gang” was running wild up and down the east coast of Florida and even in the Bahamas robbing just about everything you can think of. They even took to the high seas to do a little pirating, arghhhhhh. Sorry, you know I just can’t help myself! The gang was notoriously ruthless and seemed to enjoy what they did. They were involved in the robberies of banks, trains and motorists and they also operated at least one still, making moonshine and they did a little bootlegging. The gang terrorized the area for fifteen years before meeting their own violent death.

The gang is supposed to have hidden several stashes of loot in several different “secret” campsites they kept in the area they operated in. One of these campsites is supposed to be near the old Ashley homestead that was located north of Gomez, Florida, about two miles north of what is now Hobe Sound. The homestead was located on a dirt road about half a mile from the old “Dixie Highway”. This was where the parents of John Ashley, the leader of the gang lived. The original Ashley house was burned to the ground after the John Ashley and his cohorts robbed a bank in Stuart and the posse came looking for them. The gang wasn’t at the house but the posse drug John’s parents out of the home, beat his father for information and then set the home on fire. I guess the posse wasn’t much better than the outlaws themselves.

John Ashley was said to have at least $100,000 of his own money, his shares from the many robberies, buried somewhere around Hobe Sound and the rest of the gang, which included John Ashley’s bother Bob and a nephew named Hanford Moberly, were said to have cached some loot at the different campsites as well.

One of these campsites was supposed to have been near St. Lucie Inlet on one of the islands just inside the entrance to the inlet and it is said they may have hidden $250,000 at this campsite. This hideout camp was located at a spot called “Peck’s Lake”. This today is Corset Isle. They were supposed to have used this camp for many years.

Another of the campsites is supposed to be located about a mile and a half southwest of the old homestead on a piece of high ground in the swamp. This was supposed to also be the location of their still.

They had two other campsites located south-southwest of Hobe Sound a mile or two and near the old “Dixie Highway”.

Why would any of this loot still be left in the ground? Well it seems that John Ashley had a talent for annoying the local sheriffs, one in particular by the name of Sheriff Baker. It seems that after a robbery Sheriff George Baker sent a couple of deputies to collect John Ashley and his brother Bob but the deputies were ambushed and sent back to the sheriff with a message; “Tell him not to send any more chicken-hearted men or they might get hurt”.

The feud was on! Sheriff George Baker chased after the Ashley gang for years until his death, unrelated to the Ashley gang, but then George Baker’s son Bob Baker was elected sheriff and continued the chase. I should mention that John Ashley killed a sheriff’s deputy named Fred Baker, who was related to the sheriff, during a shootout when the sheriff was trying to capture the gang at one of their hideouts.

John Ashley was actually captured a couple of times but managed to escape which continued to irritate Sheriff Baker.

On November 1, 1924 John Ashley’s luck ran out. He and three members of his gang, Hanford Moberly, Ray “Shorty” Lynn and a man named Middleton were stopped at a roadblock on the Sebastian River Bridge. They were surrounded and had no choice but to surrender.

It seems once they were out of the car and handcuffed Sheriff Baker and his deputies had to shoot the criminals when they “attempted to escape” even though a deputy from another county stated the criminals had been handcuffed together. The official version is they weren’t handcuffed and those “marks” on their wrists were “made by the coroner” during his autopsy. A story told by one of the deputies to a friend many years later said that the four criminals had been handcuffed, John Ashley by himself and the other three cuffed together, when Ashley tried to make a run for it. Ashley was shot and then the other three tried to run away and were gunned down also.

Maybe the sheriff just got tired of chasing them!

I haven’t found any information that indicates any of the money the gang was supposed to have hidden has been found. I did find where the sheriff and his deputies destroyed several of the “secret” camp hideouts before the gang was killed. Old sheriff department records of those counties, St. Lucie County and Palm Beach County, may hold the locations of where those camps were.

Good hunting!

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

John Ashley is my greatx3 uncle. John and the rest of the boys were murdered that night on the bridge. As for the money John always gave it to a family member in need. Of course, he and the gang would have hidden the money. My grandmother has talked about it once or twice. But it is a touchy subject so.... we don't bring it up often. Most of your information was incorrect. There was a book made of my uncle John's life. I have a copy, I think you'd like it.
Larissa, 15yrs.old

okie treasure hunter said...

Larissa, thank you for the comment and we'd like to know the title of your book. Most of our info is taken from old newspaper accounts and is only as accurate as those reporting.

Moon Pie said...

The title to the book is "The Notorious Ashley Gang" by Hix C. Stuart. Abe books has a few of them listed but, they are expensive. Some of the libraries in central and south Florida still have copies of the book. My parents had a copy for decades. I grew up in Stuart, Fla. and have been to the grave sites near Hobe Sound.

Anonymous said...

My Grandmother was the sister to Hanford....we used to go to Stuart all the time to visit my Great Grandma.....she lived in a litte ol' house on a dirt road not far from the inlet.....just up the road from the family cemetary....my Grandmother used to tell me the stories of her Uncle John.....they were ambushed just like the deputy said.....they were handcuffed and then shot down by the sheriff....as far as we all knew...there was no money hidden....they spent it all.....my Dad used to tell me about the stills though in the woods...if you didn't know your way....you stepped on bear traps......have many more stories......grew up in WPB and Stuart...my Dad was born in Stuart....he was two yrs old when his Uncle Hanford was killed.......

Anonymous said...

I don't have a copy of the book but would like to read one. I believe one of John Ashley's firearms was recently donated to the 1916 Palm Beach County Courthouse by a local Police Chief, recently deceased. Many years ago, there was a book that told the tales of the Ashley Gang. I have not ever found another.
Greg

Anonymous said...

I am very distantly related to John and Hanford. I too own a copy of "The Notorious Ashley Gang". It is very informative, as most old posts were simply police doing damage control. Since then, only one deputy has come clean saying they did in fact murder my cousins. It would be interesting if really any of their belongings were found, up to and including John's glass eye, that was stolen from his grave.
Sasha, 21.

Anonymous said...

There is also a movie, although I don't know how accurate it is as I have yet to see it. It is entitled "Little Laura and Big John" and stars Frankie Avalon.

ginnylynn said...

Ray "Shorty" Lynn was my great-uncle. There are pictures of him and the gang on The Florida State Website. He was never discussed in the family until I discovered the link and all those people are now dead. Makes for an interesting genealogy conversation. He was disowned in his father's will, John Catlow Lynn.

Ginny Lynn-Hooper

Anonymous said...

The 1971 movie is called "Little Laura and Big John" and was the worst B movie ever recorded. I think the movie makers were trying to ride the coat-tails of the then recently successful "Bonnie & Clyde" movie. "Little-Big" was terribly written and full of misrepresentations, awful costumes, terrible acting and worse music! It starred Fabian as John and Karen Black as Laura (even Karen, who is normally a decent actress, couldn't save this movie). A real insult to the family, in my opinion, as well as to the film industry in general. FYI, just to be fair to the above comments, this is my first post, not to be confused with the Anonymous' posts above.

Riley S. said...

John A. is my sixth or seventh cousin. His cousin, Annie Ashley, is my great, great grandmother. I think its cool they were outlaws. It wasn't fair what the press did to the rest of the family. My cousins had to change their last name just so they wouldn't be harassed. That would be the third time the press has made fun of or done something to my family. I agree with Larissa, most of your info is incorrect. I also have a book about my cousins life. It is a short book entitled "Ashley Gang". I can't remember the authors name but it was a woman.
Riley S. 13yrs. old

orangemoose_01 said...

Hello to all.I grew up in the Florida panhandle and seem to recall a story by Jack Anderson about the Ashleys.I must have been about 10 at the time.According to the Anderson version,if I recall correctly after 40+ years,The sherrif took the glass eye but a woman,can't recall what relation she was,is supposed to have threatened him if he didn't return the eye.maybe one of yall can say if this was true or not.

Anonymous said...

Ada Coates wrote the Ashley Gang. I know where the campsite is in the swamp. It is on private property and the owners will shoot to kill, or at least that is what they told me when we tried to get an archaeological visit to the site. The Ashley attorney, Alto Adams, Sr., records still exist on the Adams Ranch in Fort Pierce. Good luck!

reneeharper2 said...

I am also related to the Ashleys. The books say he is buried at the Family plot. But out at Raiford Prison (Union Correctional) they have a grave site for him also. I am sure that the State of Florida would not give him this site if his body was not buried their. Im sure for the ones that is seeking all the information could find this at the facility. The phone Number for the prison is location on the website "Florida department of corrections".

Renee

reneeharper2 said...

I am related to the Ashley Family also. The books say that John is buried in the Family Plot. Out at the Raiford Prison (Known as Union correctional) They have a grave site for him. I am sure that the State of Florida would not spend the money to have a headstone put in place if he were not buried their. Anyone seeking this information, I am sure that the facility would have it. Information and phone number for Union correctional can be found at the Florida Department of Corrections web sit.

Renee

Anonymous said...

Laura Upthegrove, The Queen of the Everglades, supposedly hid some of their loot behind her filling station at Canal Point.

Anonymous said...

Another book about the Ashley gang is "Red Grass River". It's historical fiction and a really good read.

Anonymous said...

As a kid my father and I hunted in the Florida everglades in the 1960's and early 1970's. We owned property off the Loop Road and knew alot of the Glades people who lived there. There were rumors of hidden loot from the Ashley Gang to outlaw Hermits buring there money in the Glades. I was on the Loop road watching some older kids riding there dirt bikes around and kicking dirt up as they cut into there turns. One of the kids turned around and got off his dirt bike and picked up a bunch of silver coins out of the dirt. I walked over and there was a bunch of broken glass with coins every where. The kid handed me a few of the silver coins and they where all from Canada with King George on the front. All the coins where the size of a quarter. I did not put much thought to the pile of coins intill later in life as I was reading about the Ashley Gang robbing a bank in Canada. I am sure there is more jars buried around there as the kids did not have much intrest in foreign coins that the could not spend.