Louisa’s unwelcome resident

Posted on Friday, May 31, 2013 at 9:28 am

Walter Legenza

Cars drive by Lacy’s Funeral Home on Rt. 522 every day, unwittingly speeding past the final resting place of a notorious gangster who terrorized the area in the early 1930s.  The serenity of the tiny Louisa County community of Orchid is a far cry from the murderous life Walter Legenza lived during his reign of terror.

Legenza’s remains lie in a far corner of the funeral home property, almost in the right-of-way of Rt. 522, where his defense attorney, Haley Shelton, who was the great-uncle of longtime Louisa County resident Lisa Bailey, had Legenza buried.

According to Bailey, many said that after he was buried on the property, her grandmother became very nervous and it was a taboo subject to discuss.

Bailey said she would sit at the window and watch, because it was rumored that the mob was coming to get Legenza’s body and kill the people who had anything to do with putting him to death.

During the 1930s gangster era, G-Men were chasing down the likes of well-known gangsters such as John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde and Al Capone.

Robert Mais and Legenza, of the notorious Tri-State Gang, weren’t as glamorous, but these unlikely characters became the best-known gangsters in Richmond during the mid-part of the 1930’s, leaving a blood spattered road behind them wherever they went.

The five-foot-four-inch Legenza was a thin and haggard-looking man of 40 with cold blue eyes.  His partner-in-crime, Mais, 29, was considered dapper-looking, but with a thin-squeaky voice and had “Mother” tattooed on his arm.

They obtained their name, the Tri-State Gang, because they operated out of the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia. They led raids on cigarette trucks in southern Virginia, hijacking several in 1933.

On an overpass in Richmond at approximately 6 p.m. on March 8, 1934,  Mais and Legenza’s gang robbed an unarmored postal truck that was supposedly carrying money from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. Legenza let himself into the back of the truck, shooting in cold blood Ewell Huband, the 42-year-old truck handler.

The other employee, Ben Mead, hit the floor and remained quiet as the gang slung the mail sacks into the trunk of a waiting Plymouth, only to later learn they had made off with bags of cancelled checks and worthless mail.

To read the entire story, see the May 30 edition of The Central Virginian.

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