Robert K. Webster
Sergeant, United States Army
Special Agent, United States Secret Service
RITES TODAY FOR R. K. WEBSTER, SLAIN U. S. OFFICER
August 11, 1927 – Robert K. Webster, crack United States Secret Service Agent, who was slain Sunday in a battle with rum runners off the coast of Florida, will receive final tributes of World War comrades in arms at funeral services at 2 o’clock this afternoon in the chapel of H. M. Patterson & Son, with Atlanta Post of the American Legion in charge.
Mr, Webster resided in Atlanta at 1122 Rosedale Road with his wife and two children, Mary Jo, aged 8 months and Ann, aged 2 years. He had been a member of the Atlanta Post of the Legion since coming to Atlanta and the post assumed charge of the ceremony at the request of Mrs. Webster. Rev. Hiram Smith will conduct the services according to the form of the Episcopal church of which Mr. Webster was a member.
The body will be sent Friday to Arlington Cemetery for interment beside other comrades of Mr. Webster’s war service. Members of Fredericksburg, Virginia and Washington, D.C. will assist in the burial service at Arlington.
Mr. Webster was serving on special duty on
the Florida coast Sunday, patrolling in a revenue cutter with a detachment
of Coast Guardsmen. Sighting a rum running speed boat, the revenue
cutter gave chase and finally captured the boat after a battle in which
Mr. Webster and a two Coast Guardsmen were killed and several others, included
the captured rum runners, were wounded.
August 12, 1927 – Reaching for the sky, six men stood on the narrow deck of a rum-runner with almost certain death staring them in the face from the muzzle of a gun which had already shot three of their comrades. Within a couple of minutes, hot lead would pour from that gun and one by one the men knew they would drop. So they had been threatened, and the man with the gun was preparing to put his words into effect.
Then the motor of the rum-runner skipped a little – the man with the gun cut his eyes toward the hatch of the boat and with one thought the six men, five of them Coast Guardsmen, and the sixth Robert K. Webster, Atlanta Secret Service operative, lunged forward to overpower Horace Alderman, the man with the gun.
The gun blazed and Webster, who had grabbed Alderman’s right arm, dropped dead, shot through the right lung – a hero whose brave act of attempting to save the lives of five Coast Guardsmen and his own will be memorialized by burial in the national cemetery at Arlington, Washington, D.C.
This is the story of Webster’s tragic death brought back to Atlanta Thursday by George H. Brodnax, Operative-in-Charge of the Atlanta District of the Secret Service, after a thorough investigation of the case. The shooting of Webster was one of the most brutal, outrageous and cold-blooded murders he has ever heard of, Brodnax declared. “It was Alderman’s intent to murder all six of the men and then destroy the evidence of the crime by burning the boat. And in my opinion, he would have killed his companion, Weech, before he landed in order to completely cover up the crime.”
As a result of the slaying of Webster and Commander Sanderlin of the Coast Guard Cutter, Alderman and Weech are in jail at Jacksonville charged with first degree murder on the high seas, which is a Federal crime punishable by hanging. The two prisoners were removed to Jacksonville from Fort Lauderdale because of a rumor that friends planned to rescue them.
Mr. Brodnax detailed Operative Webster to Florida to investigate a case involving counterfeit $50 gold certificates which were being used in the liquor importation business. Webster had practically completed his investigation at Miami, had direct information that the bogus money was handled in big liquor deals at Bimini and was seeking the source of the money so that the government could get a line on the man who was putting it out in the United States.
After communicating with Lieutenant B. Jordan, commander of Coast Guard Base Number 6 at Fort Lauderdale, Webster was furnished with a Coast Guard Cutter for transportation to and from Bimini. The commander of the boat discovered a rum-runner 40 miles off the coast and in the line of duty stopped the boat and went on board finding a large amount of dope and liquor.
Horace Alderman, the captain of the rum-runner, followed the commander into the cabin, and in some way unnoticed by Coast Guardsmen, smuggled two pistols from the rum-runner and secreted them on his person. Hit shot Sanderlin in the back; another Coast Guardsman standing nearby attempted to shoot Alderman but his automatic jammed and Alderman shot him in the head. Alderman then seized Sanderlin’s gun and tested it by shooting at the floor. He called Weech and gave the gun to him.
Alderman then shot another Coast Guardsman he saw attempting to get into the hatch after a gun, and then rounded up the remainder of the Coast Guardsmen and Webster. Meanwhile, he ordered Weech to tear out the gas pipes and fire the boat, which Weech attempted to do, but failed because the waste he tried to fire refused to ignite. Weech found a wounded Coast Guardsman in the engine room and after kicking him in the side, forced him to produce a wrench.
Alderman forced the five Coast Guardsmen and Webster onto the rum-runner, with the threat of death at the slightest move. Lined up facing Alderman with their hands in the air, the six men were told that they would be shot, one by one, and that if they wanted to say their prayers they would be given a few minutes for that purpose. One of the Coast Guardsmen called Alderman’s attention to the fact that if we wanted to burn the cutter, he had better move his own boat, and Alderman then directed Weech to start the motor of the liquor boat.
Weech could not start the motor so Alderman left him on guard while he worked on it. Alderman started the motor and then directed Weech back to the engine room.
Alderman raised his pistol to shoot the first man, the motor skipped. Alderman cut his eyes toward the engine room hatch, and all six of the government men, with a common impulse, jumped. Webster grabbed the right arm while another man caught Alderman’s left. But Alderman was able to pull the trigger and Webster fell dead headfirst into the engine room.
A Coast Guardsman succeeded in obtaining a short iron pipe and he struck Alderman in the head and this stunned the slayer while another Coast Guardsman got in effective work with the handle of an ice pick. Weech, coming out of the engine room, met the brawny fist of a Coast Guardsman, fell overboard and then begged to be rescued. While one Coast Guardsman covered Weech with a gun, another threw him a rope and pulled him in. The men then returned to Alderman and found him coming to. One of the Coast Guardsmen grabbed a gun and attempted to shoot Alderman but the gun failed to fire and he was then directed not to shoot the prisoner.
Handcuffed and shackled and fastened so that they could not move, Alderman and Weech were then held until Lieutenant Jordan, scenting trouble when Sanderlin’s radio message was interrupted, arrived at the scene in a fast boat and assisted in bringing the party to the base hospital. The run runner back-fired and blew up, sinking.
Webster proved himself one of the highest type of men, a most loyal and efficient servant of the government, always courteous and kind, even to his prisoners, Brodnex said.
Funeral services were held for Webster Thursday
afternoon at the parlors of H. M. Patterson & Son. The body will
be sent to Arlington accompanied by Brodnex and Mrs. Webster. Webster
will be given military honors at the Arlington funeral.
JACKSONVILLE, Florida – September 20, 1927 – A special federal grand jury here today indicted Horace Alderman, twice convicted rum runner of the lower east coast, and Robert Weech, an associate, on charges of murdering a Secret Service Agent and two Coast Guardsmen August 7 when the Federal officers were reported to have frustrated plans to make them “walk the plank” in true pirate fashion.
The government expects to try them in Miami in November.
Alderman, the indictments charged, murdered Robert K. Webster, of Atlanta, the Secret Service Agent, and the Coast Guardsmen, Sidney Sanderlin and Victor A. Lamby. Weech was named in other murder indictments as an accessory.
Testimony before the jury, District Attorney William M. Gober said, disclosed “one of the most amazing episodes ever enacted on the high seas. It beat any dime novel ever written in color and brazen defiance of the law.”
Alderman, accompanied by Weech, it was charged, was transporting a boat load of liquor about 40 miles southeast of Fort Lauderdale when the Coast Guard patrol boat on the way to Bimini with Webster as a passenger stopped him.
The government will bring up testimony, it was said, that Alderman seized and opportunity to shoot Sanderlin from behind as he sat at his radio key reporting the capture to Coast Guard headquarters at Fort Lauderdale. Lamby was slain as he sought to assist Sanderlin. Then the crew of the patrol boat was lined up on deck, prepatory to what the government had been told was a scheme to force all survivors to walk the plank.
Webster, survivors of the boat’s crew said,
led a bare-handed attack on the rebellious captive as he menaced the crew
with a gun in each hand. The Secret Service Agent had seized one
gun but a bullet from the other gun killed him. Other members of
the government party secured the killer and brought both men to mainland.
Posted: 21 November 2007