The following is excerpted from The California Snatch Racket: Kidnappings in the Prohibition and Depression Eras
In no time at all, Harold and Irene identified Sena and Daly from mug shots. Consequently,
they inadvertently revealed the three Baby Bandits' identity, and police grudgingly
acknowledged that this fearful gang was tiny in number and short on age.
After considerable questioning, they drove the couple in a police cruiser to the Bank
of America. The kidnapper's did not keep their part of the bargain — Harold's automobile
was nowhere in sight.
They drove about the city for several hours hoping to spot the car or the bandits. It
Later that morning, anxious family members greeted Harold and Irene at the Oakland bus
terminal. While the weary kidnap victims were none the worse for the wear, they had come
to realize how lucky they were to return home unharmed.
Descriptions of the wanted teenagers circulated to every police agency in California. Duped
for days by a trio of kids, the law enforcement community was in a sour mood. Subsequently,
they issued an astonishing "shoot to kill" order.
While the kidnapping played to its conclusion, yet another drama was set to open at
When Olga Pla learned that her errant son Ernest was wanted in connection with the
San Francisco tavern slaying, she sought to find him. Determined to "rescue" him from
his "evil companions," she reasoned that he had holed up with friends in Merced, the
former family home.
Traveling more than a hundred miles to this small agricultural community in the San
Joaquin Valley, the resolute mother set upon her task. Her effort succeeded when she
found her son in the company of friends. As only a mother could, she pleaded with the
boy to surrender. At last, he agreed.
Spending money she could ill afford, Olga contacted San Francisco attorney Alexander
Mooslin by long distance telephone. The lawyer listened to her story. Then he made
his intentions known to San Francisco police detectives, and set out for Merced to
connect with Olga's son. That afternoon, Mooslin accompanied Pla to the Merced police
station where the boy surrendered to authorities.
It was Mooslin's call that placed San Francisco Chief of Detectives Charles Dullea
in Merced when the most dramatic chapter in the Baby Bandit saga unfolded. Dullea
had gone to the police lockup to claim Pla when "all hell" broke loose.
"We didn't know what was happening when we heard the sirens and saw all the excitement
in the streets," he told a reporter for the Modesto Bee & News Herald. "We thought at
first it was an accident."
In another moment, Dullea heard gunfire and knew it was no accident.
Unbeknownst even to Pla, Sena and Daly were in Merced.
Acting on a tip, Merced Chief of Police Fred Zunker and Officer James Turner went
across town to the Square Deal Café. At the bar were Sena and Daly drinking beer. Zunker
sat down beside Sena. Turner stood behind Daly.
"What is your name?" Zunker asked Sena. The young man handed him a stolen union card.
"And what is your name?" Turner asked Daly.
Daly was not inclined to answer. Instead, he reached into a shoulder holster for a
pistol while Sena burst into action with flailing fists to keep the officers at bay.
The Fresno Bee Republican takes up the story: "In the melee Daly backed toward the front
door. Zunker leveled his gun at him but the officer's arm was struck by Sena. Daly
gained the sidewalk just as Officer Turner opened fire. The first shot was placed at his
feet, the second knee high. As the bandit ran, Turner fired two more shots but thought
he had missed since Daly did not stagger."
Daly ran around the corner of the café building, across an open lot and through a
garage. Rather than give chase, Turner rushed back into the Square Deal where a fierce
fight raged. Zunker and the bartender struggled mightily to subdue Sena.
"Sap him!" hollered the chief.
Turner's nightstick came down over the bandit's head — to no avail. With remarkable
endurance, Sena continued to fight. Not until Turner had struck half a dozen blows
did he immobilize the young man.
After Sena was cuffed and in custody, all available Merced County sheriff's deputies
and highway patrolmen were called into town to help track down Daly. Deputy Sheriff
Rex McBride and Highway Patrol Captain William A Burch went to the garage in which Daly
disappeared. From there they followed a trail of blood across two streets, through a
lumberyard and the backyards of several homes. Then, at the Second Baptist Church, the blood
Through an opening in the side of the building, the two officers entered a crawl space beneath
the church. McBride lit a match. What appeared to be a body lay at the opposite end of
the structure partially obscured by a low cement retainer.
The officers crawled on all fours until they reached the site. There they found Daly — dead. A bullet
hole fringed by powder burns was visible in his head, and a pistol lay across his chest.
Refusing capture, Daly shot himself to death.
Sometime later, Charlotte Daly, the suicide's mother, said, "He won't get into anymore trouble
now. After his release from the Preston School a short time ago, he told me he would never go back
to a reformatory. He would kill himself first. It seems best that it is all over."
The police transported Sena and Pla to San Francisco to await charges of first-degree murder. They
held them on the heftiest bail ever fixed in the bay city —
$l-million on multiple charges of armed robbery. Nevertheless, the staggering sum was a mere
formality. There was no bail for a capital murder charge.
Talkative, the teenagers confessed to ten armed robberies and admitted their participation in the
killing of Daniel O'Connell. Not surprisingly, however, they named the dead Daly triggerman in the
When the brash Sena was led to his cell, he asked officers, "When are you going to put a rope
around my neck?"
No rope was necessary. The next morning they found his body dangling by the neck from a pair
of suspenders attached to the ceiling of his cell. Sena was dead.
Just a few yards away, Pla slept soundly through the night.
"All my life and all my money have gone to keep my boy out of trouble," said Emma Crone, Sena's
mother. "Now it is all over and I don't care. Yes, I do care, I guess. But it has never been
As prosecutors eyed the gallows, Ernest Pla, sole survivor of the Baby Bandit triumvirate, turned
contrite. Noting the suicides of his two companions, he told authorities he had no intention
of "taking the easy way out." Then he begged for mercy. He would, he said, provide authorities
with "all the information they asked for" to clear up robberies and other crimes.
On March 1, Harold Nickle and Irene Bird, Baby Bandit kidnap victims, sent their parents telegrams
announcing their elopement to Reno. The California press was uniform in its congratulations.
Nothing was uniform about press reaction when newspapers learned that the prosecutors and Ernest
Pla cut a deal with Superior Court Judge Sylvain J. Lazarus nodding his approval. In return for
a guilty plea, they removed the potential for hanging Pla. There would be no trial. There
would be no story for hungry reporters. The young man was sentenced to life in prison.
"I am opposed to capital punishment," Lazarus told the press. "My own investigation of this
case disclosed that the defendant was a victim of poor health, poverty in his family, and
a weakness that caused him to succumb to the temptations of other young criminals."
The kindly judge named Folsom Prison as the place of confinement. Pla bridled. He argued
that San Quentin possessed better educational facilities. Impressed by the lad's apparent
ambition to become a scholar of sorts, Lazarus dispatched the young man to the penitentiary
of his choice — to live out his life.