The Infamous Mainard Brewster

There is a saying that good news doesn’t sell newspapers. And that is why you are likely to find more information about a troublemaker and his encounters with the law than you will about a regular law-abiding person. In fact, the actions of the notorious generate all sorts of records.

Each person chooses his or her path through life. Some take the wrong path but we still try to find the records they left behind and accurately record the stories of their lives, which may be quite colorful.

If you watched this past week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? you learned that Tricia Yearwood had ancestors with a criminal past. It happened. And there is one such ancestor in my family tree.

I remember that my dad mentioned several times that we had a relative that had been in trouble with the law. My dad thought that he may have even been involved with the Dillinger Gang, but I have found no evidence of that.

Mainard Brewster, my first cousin twice removed, is that infamous distant relative. Mainard, sometimes spelled Maynard, was born 24 June 1906, the oldest son of Charles William “CW” Brewster and Maude Marsh. Daniel Brewster was CW’s father and Daniel is the common ancestor of Mainard and me.

CW (1871-1943) and Maude (1885-1920) had a family of 12 children: Clara E., Frieda Ora, Mainard, William Harold, Melvin Ora, Irene, Jennie “Dorothy”, Ray, Robert, Hulda, Alica, and Florence. They lived just across the state line in Jefferson Township, Adams County, Indiana.

Brewster brothers, Mainard, Melvin, and William. (Photo courtesy of T Perkins)

Brewster brothers, Mainard, Melvin, and William. (photo courtesy of T. Perkins)

According to family accounts, when their mother Maude died in 1920 the boys were sent to an orphanage and the girls went to live with relatives. The boys learned the trade of furniture making and upholstery while in the orphanage. Melvin O.  Brewster eventually owned an upholstery shop in Waynedale, a suburb of Ft. Wayne. Mainard considered upholstery and furniture his occupation and likely worked with his brother. Even though Mainard worked in the upholstery business off and on, he always returned to a life of crime.

Family legend also says that CW Brewster tried to find a bride who would care of all the kids but she took one look at the situation and took off. That may actually be true. Research shows that CW did remarry after Maude’s death. A couple times, in fact. And fairly soon after Maude died.

CW’s second marriage was to Sarah E. (Finch) Washburn, 50, of North Carolina. This was her third marriage and they were married in Decatur, Indiana, on 26 June 1922. [1]

That marriage apparently did not last long and CW married a third time to Minnie E. (Fancher) Watson on 1 July 1924 in Fort Wayne. This was Minnie’s second marriage and they were still married when CW passed away in 1943. Their marriage license indicates that CW was a “draw wire” in Fort Wayne. I am not sure what occupation that was.  [2]

But what about our subject, Mainard? Family members recall that Mainard was “a character” and a real good time guy. He was fun to be around and he had a soft spot in his heart for his family. In fact, Mainard took the rap to protect his younger brothers who were involved in a robbery with him. This was during the depression era. Times were hard and this was Mainard’s way putting food on the table for his family, albeit not the most ethical or honest way.

Mainard Brewster. (photo courtesy of T. Perkins)

Mainard Brewster. (photo courtesy of T. Perkins)

Over the years Mainard was arrested for various criminal activities. His first run-in with the law appears to have occurred in 1923 in Bluffton, Indiana, when he was charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors. [3]

In 1926 he was fined on a fraudulent check charge in Decatur. [4] Over the years the offenses piled up: forgery, drunken driving, petit larceny, burglary, bank robbery, stealing bank safes, safe cracking, blowing up safes, looting an automobile…

In 1935 Brewster admitted to committing a series of 39 burglaries in several Indiana counties: Adams (17), DeKalb (5), Noble (2), and Allen (15). [5] Soon after that he was sentenced for 2-5 years at the Indiana State Prison on the single charge of robbing the Old Time Religion Tabernacle in Fort Wayne. [6] Newspaper accounts report that Brewster often boasted about his crimes during his confessions. When arrested he gave his occupation as upholsterer.

In November 1937, Mainard, age 32, was sentenced to life in prison. He was arrested for burglary but got a life sentence because of his habitual criminal record. Although the jury recommended leniency Judge Harry H. Hilgemann sentenced him to life. [7]

1940 census enumeration, Mainard Brewster, Indiana State Prison.

1940 census enumeration, Mainard Brewster, Indiana State Prison. [8]

Brewster’s Indiana State Prison record is available on-line, but his record is brief and no mug shot is available. The record indicates that he was prisoner no.19084 at Indiana State Prison North, from Allen County, receipt date 19 Nov 1937. [9] 

Mainard was paroled in August 1954 but his freedom did not last long. He ended up back in the Adams County jail in Decatur for a parole violation. And then he decided to break out of jail:

Decatur, Ind., Aug. 24-Mainard Brewster, 47-year-old life-termer, was back behind prison bars again today after 21 hours of freedom which he spent hiding along river banks or railroad tracks.

Brewster staged a one-man jail break from the Adams county bastille Monday about 3 a.m. by prying the bolted lid from an old hot air duct and tunneling trough four layers of brick. He left bound in the cell behind him, Richard E. Clark, 26, of Celina, Ohio, who refused to join in the escape.

Brewster’s freedom lasted only until midnight when he was captured without resistance… [10]

Another account of this jailbreak indicates that Richard Clark, Celina, charged with holding up the Berne bank on 29 May 1954, was also incarcerated at Decatur. When Clark refused to join the jailbreak Brewster bound him with wire and gagged him and left Clark behind. …Clark said Brewster tried to get him to join the escape at Decatur but he refused. He said Brewster threatened him with a knife while applying the bonds and gag… [11]

Rumor has it that Mainard was the last person to break out of the Adams County Jail in Decatur.

During all of this, Mainard Brewster somehow found the time to establish a relationship. Mainard married Ellen Murray on 15 March 1930. They were married by E.A. McClintock, the DeKalb County, Indiana, Justice of the Peace. [12]

Mainard Brewster/Ellen Murray marriage license, 1930.

Mainard Brewster/Ellen Murray marriage license, 1930.

Their marriage license indicates that Mainard was living in Auburn and his occupation was laborer. while his Application for Marriage License lists his occupation as “Furniture Co.” It also indicates that Ellen was born 19 August 1911 in Auburn, the daughter of Charles and Jennie (Ettinger) Murray. [13]

Mainard Brewster/Ellen Murray marriage record, 1930, DeKalb Co., Indiana.

Mainard Brewster/Ellen Murray marriage record, 1930, DeKalb Co., Indiana.

Mainard’s wife Ellen was involved in at least one crime. The incident below was a family affair that involved not only Mainard’s wife but his sister Jean and two of his brothers. I guess you could call them the Brewster Gang.

Fort Wayne, Ind., July 10—With three men and two women in jail today under high bond in connection with a wave of safe-crackings, the police took a breathing spell. The women held were Mrs. Maynard Brewster, 20, and Jean Lough, 22. Mrs. Brewster’s husband escaped the police when he drew a revolver and forced Detective Sergeant T. Harry Gibson from the running board of his car while making a getaway from his home. The men arrested are John O’Neal, 25, of Detroit and Melvin Brewster, 24, and his brother, William, both of this city. [14]

Did Mainard ever meet up with the Dillinger Gang? Maybe. They may have crossed paths in Indiana at one time or another. Robert Howard of St. Marys, Ohio, published a book a couple years ago entitled Fat Charley Makley and the Dillinger Gang. “Fat” Charley Makley, from St. Marys, did run with the Dillinger Gang and Howard’s book details many of the robberies committed by the Dillinger Gang from 1933-34. Dillinger and his men, along with Makley, robbed a bank in St. Marys and Makley later helped break Dillinger out of the Allen County jail in Lima, Ohio. Mainard Brewster was not mentioned in the Fat Charley Makley book but their crime stories sound very similar. [15]

Mainard Brewster died October 1970 in Allen County, Indiana, at the age of 64, this from the Social Security Death Index. I do not know the circumstances surrounding Mainard’s death or where he is buried. That will take some additional research or help from readers out there.

Mainard D. Brewster
Mainard D. Brewster, 64, of 1920 1/2 Broadway died at 11:45 p.m. Thursday in Lutheran Hospital.

Survivors include three brothers, William and Melvin, Fort Wayne, and Robert, Warsaw; and four sisters, Mrs. Nelson Hillock, Lansing, Mich., Mrs. Hulda Blocker, Marion, and Mrs. Clara Gunder and Mrs. Florence Niggemeyer, both of Fort Wayne.

Services will be at 2 p.m. today at D.O. McComb & Sons Funeral Home, the Rev. Benjamin Antle officiating. [16]

[1] “Indiana, Marriages, 1811-1959,” index and images, FamilySearch (  : accessed 2 September 2013); Charles W. Brewster and Sarah E. Washburn Finch, 1924; citing Vol. 1919-1923:141.

[2] “Indiana, Marriages, 1811-1959,” index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 2 September 2013): Charles W. Brewster and Millie E. Watson, 1924; citing Vol. 59: 148.

[3] “Four Ossian Girls Accuse Bluffton Lads,” The Huntington Herald, Huntington, Indiana, 17 July 1923, p. 3; digital images by subscription ( : accessed 1 September 2013).

[4] “Cracked Six Safes and Now Confesses,” The Waterloo Press, Waterloo, Indiana, 23 September 1937, p. 1; digital images by subscription ( : accessed 1 September 2013).

[5] “Taken at Ft. Wayne,” Tipton Tribune, Tipton, Indiana, 11 July 1935, p. 4; digital images by subscription ( : accessed 1 September 2013).

[6] “Fort Wayne Bandit Meted 2 to 5 Years,” Logansport Pharos-Tribune, Logansport, Indiana, 27 July 1935, p. 7; digital images by subscription ( : accessed 1 September 2013).

[7] “Burglar Gets Life Term,” The Kokomo Tribune, Kokomo, Indiana, 20 November 1937, p. 7; digital images by subscription ( : accessed 1 September 2013).

[8] 1940 US Census, Michigan City, LaPorte, Indiana, Ward 7, Indiana State Prison, ED 46-34, p. 24A, line 14,  Mainard Brewster; digital image by subscription, ( : accessed 1 September 2013); from National Archives Microfilm T627, Roll 1069.

[9] Index to Life Prisoner’s Statements: State Prison at Michigan City,, accessed 4 September 2013; Mainard Brewster record, .

[10] “Captured,” Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, Indiana, 24 August 1954, p. 1; digital images by subscription ( : accessed 1 September 2013).

[11] “Two Prisoners Escape in Separate Jailbreaks,” Logansport Pharos-Tribune, Logansport, Indiana, 24 August 1954, p. 3; digital images by subscription ( : accessed 1 September 2013).

[12] “Indiana, Marriages, 1811-1959,” index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 2 September 2013); Mainard Brewster and Ellen Murray, 1930; citing Vol. 16:550.

[13] “Indiana, Marriages, 1811-1959,” index and images, FamilySearch ( :accessed 2 September 2013); Mainard Brewster and Ellen Murray, 1930; citing Vol. 23:135. [note by kmb: Further research has shown that Ellen was born in 1913 and that her mother’s maiden name was Hettinger.]

[14] “Police Think They Are Busy,” Hammond Times, Hammond, Indiana, undated clipping, c1932.

[15] Robert Howard, Fat Charley Makley and the Dillinger Gang, The Great American Crime Spree of 1933-1934 (St. Marys, Ohio : Buzan Books, 2010).

[16] Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Saturday, 3 October 1970, p. 2A.


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    • Waldo on September 6, 2013 at 10:27 pm
    • Reply

    Apparently one way to leave a lasting “family history” is to have a prison record. You clearly were able to put some very firm time and place data together from a multitude of prison records as noted in your excellent references.

    • Waldo on September 9, 2013 at 9:43 am
    • Reply

    Family history is so intensely interesting and amazing (at least to those in the family). Even the black sheep type story is gripping and exciting. However, there would appear to be one step further that would be a rich opportunity but seldom developed. What about a family epidemiology? A table, chart or just a list of the causes of death (pehaps coupled with age) of former family members. This could easily become a genetic crystal ball for living members of the family to forcast their own ailments and hopefully treatments. Such data could easily remind folks of the risks and challenges ahead of them so that they could be more prepared.

    For instance, my father, my father-in-law and my brother-in-law all were heavy smokers and all died prematurely of hideous, long drawn out pancreatic cancer. This has given our immediate family cause to emphasize the risk of smoking to our children and grandchildren who have not experienced the same exposure to smokers that we did as children where are fathers smoked constantly and nearly everywhere.

    1. Some do research that aspect of family history specifically, hoping to learn about health issues that might run in the family. One could chart ages at death and causes of death by using death certificates and obituaries and other records. One could very easily use family histories for that purpose.

    • Mary Stegman on April 27, 2015 at 11:38 am
    • Reply

    Hi Karen, I’m searching for my cousin Judy Brewster, daughter of Ruth and Harry Brewster, Harry’s father’s name was William Brewster and wife kathelene Hill, daughter of Mary Frances Hill, my Grandmother.
    Harry had many siblings and they all lived in Indiana, I don’t know what county. My Dad was from Anderson I believe Madison co. He was the son of Mary Frances by second marriage to William W. Shott he also had a sister Opal Agnes Shott, They had a family home on Poplar st. in Anderson.

    191George W Brewster
    1916 –
    Nellie E Brewster
    1918 –

    Harry T Brewster
    1920 –

    Ernest E Brewster
    1921 –

    Robert K Brewster
    1922 –

    Donald A Brewster
    1923 –

    Opal F Brewster
    1928 –

    Allred L Brewster
    1933 –
    so my question is do you know if your Brewsters are from the same family? Also I’m searching for a tree that may be connected to my Brewster. I do have one on with them in it but only found two tree connections that have about three people. so that won’t help. Any ideas? Thanks mary

    1. I do not believe this is the same family. Mainard’s father was Charles William and I believe he went by the name of CW. CW had a son William Harold, who was born in 1908. That date does not match yours. The other siblings do not match either. I have not done a lot of research on the other siblings of my Daniel Brewster or of their descendants. Your family could be in there. I will do a little more looking and get back with you if I find any relatives in common. Thanks for writing.

    • Mary Stegman on April 27, 2015 at 11:41 am
    • Reply

    Karen, I also forgot to mention that Mainard and his brothers look like my Brewster line. Mary

    • william schaefer on October 25, 2019 at 11:11 pm
    • Reply

    cazy mainard brewsters wife was my grand mother.. Ellen was born 19 August 1911 in Auburn, the daughter of Charles and Jennie (Ettinger) Murray. [note: DOB later corrected to 1913]

    1. Thank you for that information. Nice to hear from you and thanks for writing!

    • william schaefer on October 25, 2019 at 11:14 pm
    • Reply

    Ellen was born 19 August 1911 in Auburn, the daughter of Charles and Jennie (Ettinger) Murray. her middle name was zorua..she was my grandmother [note: DOB later corrected to 1913]

    • Paul on February 4, 2020 at 3:27 pm
    • Reply

    Do you have any record or indication of Mainard and Ellen divorcing?

    1. No, but they likely divorced within a couple years of their marriage. She was very young when they married. It appears she was married to a Lincoln by 1940 and that she died with that surname.

    • David Blocker on May 29, 2021 at 2:09 pm
    • Reply

    Hello Maynard was my uncle Hilda brewster was my mother That was a story I never heard thanks. Was there more info you had on the Brewsters

    1. Yes, it seems Maynard was quite a character. Did you ever meet him? I have written several posts about the Brewsters. I suggest searching for the name “Brewster” in the upper right corner of the website home page. That should bring up a lot of blog posts. I also have some Brewster photos in the Gallery. In fact, there is a whole page of Brewster photos there.

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