December 24, 1927, William H Cannard was in his living room at 136 South Roosevelt Street, Green Bay, two blocks from the Packer stadium. He was opening his mail, with one letter featuring a hand-written address but no return address. Inside was a typed letter:
“Mr. Cannard, This is not a joke! In the next seven days, New Years Eve, you will deliver a sum of $1,000 to a location east of the city off of Highway 78 (today 54/57). It will be marked with a wooden box, placed on top of a fence post, which will have three white lights forming a triangle, with a red light in the center. Place the money inside the box by 9:00pm. Failure to follow these instructions will result in you being shot. Don’t get the police involved.”
Cannard did not know why he was a target. He was a superintendent at the Bay West Paper Company, which was more or less middle class. He was not rich, and wasn’t even well-known. Who would pick him?
William told his wife Marie, but they decided not to do anything – no payment and no police. The decision seemed to work, as days went by and nothing happened. New Years came and went. A week later, January 7, 1928, another letter arrived:
“Mr. Cannard, It is a shame that you didn’t comply with our first demand. We will give you one more chance before killing you. This time, you have only a few days to comply. The amount, $1,000, has not changed and neither has the location. By Monday, January 9 at 9:00pm place the money in the lighted wooden box on top of a post east of here off Hwy 78. No police, no problems. The Triangle Club.”
This time William went to the police, and spoke with Detective August “Gus” Delloye and Lieutenant Martin Burke. They had no idea what the “Triangle Club” was, but suspected the blackmailers had the wrong target. Maybe they wanted William’s brother Arthur, who was a cashier at the Farmer’s Exchange Bank. (A “cashier” is usually one of the directors and an important position. It is not the same as a bank teller as the word might imply to modern readers.)
A plan was devised: The officers would ride with Cannard to the drop spot and Cannard would throw a bag of dirty old newspapers in the box. A block up, one of the officers would get out and walk back to the drop in darkness to catch the blackmailers by surprise when they claimed the fake money. The plan was approved by Chief Thomas Hawley. Information was supposed to be kept need-to-know, but at least one other officer overheard part of the plan and wanted the credit for such an arrest.
Between the visit to the station and the time to launch the plan, multiple calls went to the Cannard home. Each time they asked if they had the Cannard home, and when told yes, said “tap tap tap” and hung up. The police later said the three taps might be symbolic for three points of a triangle.
That evening, Cannard drove out to the spot with the police hiding in his back seat. North on Roosevelt, east on Walnut, north on Baird Street. East on Willow Street into the Town of Preble and finally north on 78 until they saw the box, across the street from Shorty Van Pee’s Soda Parlor. Unknown to the detectives, another car was nearby in the dark. But first…
Officer Simon Delaney wanted to be one of the men who apprehended the blackmailers, but he couldn’t get a replacement to fill his spot on beat duty. He walked Main Street, checking to make sure businesses locked their doors. In an alley, he saw a figure looking in windows with a flashlight but couldn’t see who it was. “Freeze! Police! Hands up!”
The man did as he was told, but insisted he was police officer James Geyer. Delaney didn’t know the man, and he had no uniform on. Geyer said he was new and wasn’t given a uniform yet. This sounded like baloney, so Delaney arrested the man, removed a gun from the suspect’s belt, and the two walked to the city jail. Geyer was locked up and Delaney returned to an office to write his report. Now, back to Highway 78…
The drop box was on a farm fence post, with flashlights inside to light it up. The blackmailers were most likely at Shorty Van Pee’s, because it would be easy to monitor the box from the tavern window. Cannard dropped off the fake money, pulled ahead, and let out Detective Deloye to walk back to the box.
Unknown to Delloye, officers William Walters and Oran Wall were hiding in the brush, waiting for the blackmailers. Walters and Wall did not know the full plan, and did not expect Delloye to be walking back towards them. Seeing him poorly in the darkness, Wall yelled “Halt!” and Delloye – not expecting anyone – took the two shadows to be the blackmailers and fired his shotgun past them as a warning shot. Now, of course, the officers didn’t know a detective was firing at them, so they returned fire with their own shotguns, actually aiming for the target.
Delloye was hit several times and managed to work his way to a house, and busted in through the front door. Wall and Walters ran in behind, telling the residents to hide and eager to capture their criminal. In the light of the living room, they realized the man they had been repeatedly firing at was their superior officer. Delloye was loaded into a car and driven to St. Mary’s Hospital. The remaining officers checked Shorty’s and found no one who really stood out. They then got in Cannard’s car and returned to the police station.
At the station, they told Captain Holz what had happened. Night shift, including Delaney, was sent out to find the blackmailers while Burke was sent to the Delloye residence to tell his partner’s family what happened. Holz was left behind to oversee the jail, and when he walked down there he found Officer James Geyer in a cell. At this point, Holz realized the department had two cases of mistaken identity in the same night! Geyer was, of course, let out. Oddly, he quit the force that same year.
Detective Gus Delloye somehow survived. Over the next several days, he underwent several operations with Dr. DeCock, and 177 (!!!) pellets were removed from his body, including his face.
Maybe even more miraculous, Wall and Walters were not fired, despite going on patrol without permission and attempting to murder a fellow cop. Chief Hawley and Mayor McGillion believed losing these two would only make things more chaotic for the department. (I have no words.)
Police put out a $100 reward for information leading to the arrest of the Triangle Club. No one claimed the reward, no blackmailers were arrested and the letters stopped.
One last aside: when the crossfire debacle came to light, lawyers attacked the police department on what many would consider a minor point: jurisdiction. The police stakeout occurred in Preble, which was the jurisdiction of the sheriff and not the city police. Would any arrest there even be legal? The mayor said yes, because the crime started in Green Bay, so it was therefore a Green Bay crime. He also threw out a hypothetical – say an officer was standing in Green Bay, but a murder was visible one block away outside the city limits. If the officer in that situation did nothing, they would never be forgiven. I don’t know what the legal solution to this problem is, but I would suspect that in the Cannard case, at the very least they should have alerted the sheriff to their presence. But since no one was ever caught, the legality of this was never tested.