A Shootout with the Foster Gang in Shelby

In November of 1883, some of the most notorious bandits in the area came through Richland County.  Five Members of the Foster Gang, who terrorized northern Ohio and southern Michigan, had just attempted to blow a safe in New Washington, Crawford County, Ohio the night of November 29, 1883.  The Foster Gang was based in Parma, Cuyahoga County, Ohio and was well known by authorities in that area.  Before the day of November 30 would be over, two men would be dead, another dying and one in jail in Mansfield.

bloody deeds

After the men’s unsuccessful attempt at blowing a safe, they were scared off.  They broke into a shed, stole a hand cart and made their way to Vernon Junction.  From there they walked to Shelby to await a train.  It was believed the fifth man, who was shot in the burglary attempt, was Jim Turner of Shelby and that he was secreted away at the home of Martin Post, four miles from Shelby, but this was only speculation.  Too many rumors to count circulated about the identity of the fifth burglar.  Marshall Sutter of Shelby received word form New Washington to be on the lookout for the men.  Sutter made his way to the depot, near the American House, and found the men waiting for the train.  He informed them he would like for them to come downtown with him.

The men insisted on going to the American House instead and, while walking toward the hotel, one of the men turned and fired their revolver at Sutter, striking him in the chest.  The Marshal quickly returned fire with deadly effect striking his assailant in the middle of the forehead.  This man was believed to be Eddie Roche.  Roche was believed to be the killer of Theodore Patton, son of the ex-mayor and ex-sheriff of Detroit, Michigan, a few years earlier.  Another man fired, barely missing Sutter’s left hand, leaving a blister.  One of the men picked up the revolver of the dead man and fired striking Sutter in the right thigh.  The three remaining men threw off their coats and satchels and ran north along the tracks, with a nearly unconscious Sutter still firing at them.  Sutter would recover from his wounds.


The depot baggage-master, John Longnecker, and several others began pursuit of the three runaways into the nearby woods.  Longnecker was ahead of the other men and, getting to within firing distance, lowered his revolver.  Just before firing, Longnecker was hit just under the right arm with a fatal shot.  Longnecker would die a few days later on Monday morning.  While some men stayed with Longnecker, others continued in pursuit of the criminals.  By this time, word had spread through town and nearly every able-bodied man was in pursuit of the criminals.  One of the men was captured without incident about two miles north of Shelby; the man surly would have been lynched if not for the cooler heads of a few townspeople.   The captured man was Robert Johnson or Burns, he had many aliases.  He was successfully taken to Mansfield, while the mob viewed the body of the dead man, Roche.  This quick thinking by Sheriff Gates probably saved the man’s life that day.

The mob continued to chase the remaining two burglars.  The older, believed to be the leader of the gang, and a younger man, who was never captured.   The leader of the gang turned out to be Thomas Rowland, Roughland, or Rosmund.   Thomas was once a Confederate soldier and thought to be associated with the infamous Jesse James, who was killed two years earlier.  The 1880 U.S. Census shows a Thomas Roland boarding with the Foster family in Parma, Ohio.  Thomas was believed to have also married one of the Foster daughters.  Thomas stole multiple horses in his attempt to escaped capture.  Finally, the mob caught up with him and, when firing on him, scared the horses which overturned a wagon onto his body.  Thomas died of a gunshot wound to the femoral artery on the right leg.  A $400 reward was offered for information on the fourth burglar.


Robert Johnson remained in the county jail for over a year until the trial began on January 9, 1885.  He was charged with the murder of John Longnecker.  Johnson was eventually convicted of murder in the second degree and sentenced to life in prison at the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio.  On January 7, 1890, Johnson was one of the many who were pardoned by Ohio Governor Foraker before leaving office.  It was cited that because Johnson was a Union soldier and had a good prison record that he would make a “good citizen if pardoned.”  The news, obviously, was not reported well in Mansfield papers.  The Daily Shield and Banner called it “the most diabolical outrage ever perpetrated upon a law abiding people” and that it was a “fitting close to Foraker’s public career.”  What happened to Johnson after his release from prison is a mystery.

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