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Unkempt, rough and tough looking members of the gang, or lynch mob, or vigilantes, or posse riders, or cow herders. They had minimal or no dialog, not much screen time, and were generally not listed in the film credits. Some would show up as a face in the crowd, portraying townspeople, barflies, deputies, wagon drivers, ranch hands, etc. We tend to recognize some of their faces, but have no clue as to their real names.


Prologue: our B western henchmen, riders, etc. were occasionally involved in real life violence including gun and knife battles. Two such individuals are chronicled on this webpage - Tom/Tommy Bay and Jerome 'Black Jack' Ward. Bay was involved in the 1925 death of a western film extra. And in 1933, he was shot to death by his lady friend. 'Black Jack' Ward killed a movie cowboy bit player in a 1940 gunfight ... and he was involved in more violent outbursts.


Tom/Tommy Bay
Full name:
William T. Bay
1901-1933



1931

1931


Hailing from Texas, Tom/Tommy Bay was a henchman, rider, and stuntman in 1920s silent oaters as well as some early talkies.

He may have been the star (or a cast member) of DRIFTING ON (Hollywood Pictures, 1927), a lost/missing western listed in the American Film Institute (AFI) catalog of silent films (link below to more on that film). Whether it was ever made remains a mystery as there's no trace of that title in trade publications or theater advertisements in newspapers.

Bay had support or bit roles with silent sagebrush heroes Bob Custer (eight films), Buddy Roosevelt (six films), Wally Wales (four films), a few others. In sound westerns, he appeared in six oaters and one serial with Buck Jones. And he did a couple each with Ken Maynard, Tom Keene, Tim McCoy, and John Wayne (at Warners). He also was a double for McCoy.

Bay was involved in two shooting incidents. The first occurred in August, 1925, and he was accused - and acquitted - of the death of movie cowboy James 'Yakima Jim' Anson. On October 11, 1933, Tom Bay was shot and killed by his female companion, Mrs. Alta Lessert. Both incidents are highlighted below:

Excerpts from August-December, 1925 newspapers and tradepapers on the shooting death of James 'Yakima Jim' Anson:

"Tom Bay, a motion picture cowboy, was held to answer ... on a murder charge in connection with the death of James 'Yakima Jim' Anson ... who was killed ... in a Hollywood brawl."

Bay "... was captured by police after he had jumped from a second story window and led officers a long chase, claims the shooting was 'an accident'. It happened during an alleged free-for-all drunken brawl ..."

"Bay's defense is that while he and Anson were engaged in a drinking bout at the Hollywood Hotel last August, Anson shot himself ... in a struggle."

December 12, 1925 headlines read: "ACQUIT TOM BAY" and "MOVIE COWBOY IS FREED OF MURDER"
"Tom Bay, motion picture cowboy actor, today was acquitted by a jury ..."

In the book Tim McCoy Remembers the West (by Tim McCoy and Ronald McCoy; Doubleday, 1977), Tim mentioned Tom Bay and the Yakima Jim incident on page 233:

"Tom Bay, my double in many pictures, cooled a mean hombre named Yakima Jim with a slug from his pistol when Yakima had the gall to pull a knife on him in a Gower Gulch saloon."

Excerpts from October, 1933 - April, 1934 newspapers and tradepapers on the October 11, 1933 shooting death of Tom Bay and the trial of Mrs. Alta Lessert:

"The colorful and daring career of Tom Bay ... was ended last night by a bullet wound. The asserted slayer, Mrs. Alta Lessert, 36, was in the prison ward of the General Hospital ... suffering from two self-inflicted wounds. The shooting ... followed a quarrel between Bay and Mrs. Lessert, both of whom resided in the same house."

"Mrs. Lessert, the wife of Walter Lessert, said to be in Bartlesville, Okla. ..."

"Alta Lessert, film cowgirl and wife of a ... wealthy oil man ..."

"Mrs. Lessert had acted with Bay in film 'westerns' for some time. "

"She came to Hollywood three years ago from Oklahoma and ... is wealthy."

"... movie actress, Mary Frances Miles testifed ... she saw Tom Bay, screen cowboy, kiss his sweetheart, Mrs. Alta Lessert, several times just before she killed him and tried to kill herself ..."

"Mrs. Miles, known on the screen as Frances Martin, is the daughter of Oscar Martinson, former head of the Minneapolis police department."

March 10, 1934: "Unable to reach a verdict, the jury trying Mrs. Alta Lessert, an actress, on a charge of murdering her sweetheart, Tom Bay, film cowboy, was dismissed today. The jury reported it stood 6 for conviction and 6 for acquittal."

April 13, 1934 headlines read: "SLAYING CHARGES ARE DISMISSED BY COURT" and "MOVIE COWGIRL FREED IN SWEETHEART KILLING"
"Charges of murder against Alta Lessert ... who was accused of killing her sweetheart Tom Bay, were dismissed today ... on motion of the district attorney's office. In asking for dismissal, District Attorneys ... said it would be impossible to gain a conviction since a recent jury failed to agree in the case."

I have about twenty newspapers articles on the two shootings. If anyone wants copies, send ye Old Corral webmeister an e-mail.

  Although some of the data may be incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on:
Tom Bay: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0062869
James 'Yakima Jim' Anson: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1730925
Mary Frances Miles, screen name of Frances Martin, and a witness to Bay's death: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3797309

The American Film Institute (AFI) catalog of silent films has Tom Bay in DRIFTING ON (Hollywood Pictures, 1927): http://www.afi.com/members/catalog/DetailView.aspx?s=1&Movie=8762

Wes Clark and Mike McDaniel did an article on the Tom Bay homicide. It includes photos of Alta Lessert and the house where Bay was slain: http://wesclark.com/burbank/tom_bay_murder.html

The Google Newspaper Archive has an article on the October, 1933 shooting and death of Tom Bay: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1983&dat=19331013&id=0ftKAAAAIBAJ&sjid=QSENAAAAIBAJ&pg=1008,1020193


More on Tom/Tommy Bay
The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), ProQuest obituaries, and death certificate provide more on Tom Bay:

  • 1910 census - living in Clark, Dewey County, Oklahoma are 28 year old John Q. Bay (born Texas), his 29 year old wife Mattie E. (born Texas), 8 year old son Willie Bay (born Texas) and two daughters and one son (Mildred R., Ivy S. and Otis L.): https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MLQ6-5N5
    Ancestry had the 1910 census takers worksheet and there are two differences with the information above from Family Search. The Bay family is renting in Grant, Dewey County, Oklahoma (while Family Search has Clark, Dewey County, Oklahoma). Father John's occupation is "Farmer". Family Search shows our Tom Bay, movie cowboy, as Willie J. Bay. However, the census takers worksheet on Ancestry has him as Willie Bay with no middle initial of "J".
  • September 13, 1919 Caddo County, Oklahoma marriage license of 19 year old William Bay to 18 year old Ethel Hudson. Both are from Gracemont, Caddo County, Oklahoma. His father is John Q. Bay: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1-9722-24799-42?cc=1709399
  • 1920 census - living in Gracemont, Caddo County, Oklahoma are 38 year old John Bay (born Texas), his 39 year old wife Mattie (born Texas), 18 year old son William Bay (born Texas) and his 18 year old wife Ethel (born Oklahoma). There are four other children in the Bay family - daughters Mildred and Ivey and sons Otis and Raymond: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MJMQ-4GK
    Ancestry had the 1920 census takers worksheet - the Bay family is renting a farm and/or farm land in Gracemont, Caddo, Oklahoma. Father John's occupation is "Farmer - General farm", and son William's occupation is "Farm laborer - Home farm".
  • Death certificate: 32 year old William T. Bay was born February 22, 1901 in Travis County, Texas. His parents were John Bay and Mattie Robbins, and both were from Blanco, Texas. His occupation was "Actor - Pictures"; he was divorced from Pearl Bay; and death certificate informant was his father, John Bay of Anadarko, Oklahoma. On October 11, 1933, Tom Bay died from "gunshot wounds of the chest" at 602 N. Lincoln Street, Burbank, California. There was an autopsy. An inquest was also held and his death was ruled a homicide. Burial at Valhalla Cemetery.
    (Note that "gunshot wounds" is plural - Bay was shot twice or three times by Alta Lessert.)
  • California, Death Index for years 1905-1939 has a record on William T. Bay with a death date of October 11, 1933.
  • The Los Angeles Times newspaper carried (brief) funeral notices in their October 16 and 17, 1933 editions, and no survivors were mentioned. Excerpt: "BAY, Tom ... aged 32 years. Funeral ... from the chapel of A. C. Fillbach, Burbank."

Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website confirms that Tom Bay is interred at Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood, California: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=132063188


There's a Vivian Bay that worked in some Bob Custer silents ... and Tom/Tommy Bay was also in the cast. Vivian's mother was Pearl V. Bay. Could she be the "divorced from Pearl Bay" on Tom Bay's death certificate? Probably not as Pearl V. Bay was born about 1891 in Canada, and was about ten years older than Tom Bay. But this is an interesting coincidence ... or is there a family tie-in? Inquiring minds want to know.

Reviews in 1929-1930 issues of Film Daily and Motion Picture News - as well as the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) - have Tom/Tommy Bay and Vivian Bay (sometimes spelled Ray) in three Bob Custer silents: THE OKLAHOMA KID (Syndicate, 1929), CODE OF THE WEST (Syndicate, 1929) and THE PARTING OF THE TRAILS (Syndicate, 1930).

The Family Search website (free) and Ancestry.com (subscription) have info on Pearl V. Bay and daughter Vivian A. Bay:

  • 1930 census - 39 year old Pearl V. Bay (born Canada; married), her 19 year old daughter Vivian A. (born Michigan; single), and 22 year old lodger Lucile Murray (born U.S.; married) are living in Los Angeles: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XCJ1-2K6
    Ancestry had the 1930 census takers worksheet: Pearl V. Bay is the head of household, and is renting at 2518 1/2 North Highland Avenue, Los Angeles. No husbands are listed for either Pearl or Lucile. All three woman - Pearl, daughter Vivian A. and lodger Lucile Murray - have occupations of "Actress - Motion Pictures".

  Although some of the data may be incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on:
Pearl Bay: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1197599
Vivian Bay: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0062871


In search ... of Alta Lessert and Walter Lessert
In the various newspaper articles on the shooting, Alta Lessert is often referred to as an actress. While I was able to find census and other records on Alta and her husband Walter, there are no mentions of "Alta Lessert" at the Internet Movie Database, in old 1920s casting directories and tradepapers, etc. Good probability is that she used a screen name which is lost in Hollywood history.

The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), California Death Index, and the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) have information on Alta Lessert and her husband Walter Lessert:

  • 1900 census - 43 year old Hugh Steiner (born Ohio), his 35 year old wife Martha (born Indiana), and three daughters and one son live in Arkansas City, Cowley County, Kansas. One of the daughters is Alta Steiner, born about October, 1890 in Kansas: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MMTZ-6Y6
    1900 census takers worksheet: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-11598-23626-64?cc=1325221
  • World War I draft registration - 33 year old Walter Lessert was born June 22, 1885; race is Indian; he's a self employed farmer living and working in Ponca, Osage County, Oklahoma. Nearest relative is wife Etta Mary Lessert: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-25083-116790-47?cc=1968530
  • 1920 census - 34 year old Walter Lessert (born Oklahoma) and his 27 year old wife Etta Lessert (born Nebraska) reside in Ponca, Kay County, Oklahoma: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MJMV-QV8
    1920 census takers worksheet - Walter and Etta Lessert own their home in Ponca, Kay County, Oklahoma. His occupation is "Farmer". No occupation listed for Etta.
  • 1930 census - residing in Los Angeles, California are 44 year old Walter Lessert (born Oklahoma) and his 34 year old wife Alta (born Kansas): https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XC83-6TY
    Ancestry had the 1930 census takers worksheet for Walter and Alta Lessert. They are renting at 10617 Landale Street, Los Angeles. His occupation is "Extra - Motion Pictures" and he responded "No" to the are you a military veteran question. No occupation is listed for Alta.
    (Perhaps the census taker incorrectly recorded that "Extra - Motion Pictures" under Walter when it should be for Alta?)
  • Ancestry had several Indian Census Rolls for the Osage Indian Reservation, Oklahoma. Walter Lessert, born about 1885, is on those rolls. April, 1930 and April, 1931 records have the 44 and 45 year old Walter Lessert living "Elsewhere", and "Hollywood, Los Angeles, Calif" is his location.
  • 1940 census - 54 year old Walter Lessert (born Oklahoma; race is Indian), 35 year old wife Della (born Oklahoma), and newborn daughter Julia Ann are living in Hominy, Osage County, Oklahoma: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VBK7-YMX
    1940 census takers worksheet - the Lessert family is renting, but the address was unreadable. No occupation is listed for Walter or his wife:
    https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1971-27774-3853-41?cc=2000219
    https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1961-27774-4143-29?cc=2000219
  • Death certificate: 58 year old Alta A. Lessert was born October 10, 1892 in Kansas; she was widowed; and parents were Hugh Stiner and Marie Conway; and her home address was 11243 Tuxford, Los Angeles (Sun Valley). She passed away from cancer on May 10, 1951 at the Los Angeles County General Hospital. Burial at Glen Haven Memorial Park.
  • California Death Index has a record on: Alta A. Lessert, born October 10, 1892 in Kansas, mother's maiden name of Conway, father's last name was Stiner, and she passed away May 10, 1951 in the Los Angeles area.
  • Social Security Death Index (SSDI) has a record for 76 year old Walter Lessert, born June 22, 1885, and he passed away July, 1961 in Oklahoma.

Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website has Alta Lessert (1890-1951) interred at Glen Haven Memorial Park, Sylmar, California: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=97457500

Find A Grave has Walter Lessert (1885-1961) interred at Pawhuska City Cemetery, Pawhuska, Osage County, Oklahoma: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=83224027





Blackjack Ward

Real name:
Jerome Ward

Middle name may be:
Bonaparte or Bolton

Nickname:
"Black Jack" or "Blackjack"

1891-1954

appeared in at least 144 westerns and 17 serials.


Black Jack Ward's Hollywood career began at the tail end of silents. In sound films, he became typecast as a gang member, rustler, ranch hand, etc. Most of his work was uncredited.

In February, 1940, Ward was involved in a real gunfight with western movie bit player John Tyke (sometimes spelled Tyacke).

Newspaper reports indicate that 45 year old western bit player John Tyke was shot and killed in Los Angeles by Jerome B. "Blackjack" Ward, age 49 or 50. The shooting occurred on or near Sunset Boulevard close to Columbia studios and bystanders initially thought that a movie was being filmed. Ward said that Tyke had been threatening him for many months. At the time, police said they were hunting for Tyke for questioning in a recent gas station robbery. After the shooting, Ward drove away in his car, but was apprehended by police. Police said that he "fanned" the hammer of his gun at them, but it was empty and Ward was captured. On July 18, 1940, Ward was acquitted as it was determined he had shot in self defense. A few months earlier, when the 1940 census was taken, Ward was a resident of the Los Angeles County jail.

Appears that Ward had a temper. There's newspaper reports from April, 1942 in which he was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon which occurred in a December, 1941 altercation with bit player Henry Isabell/Isabelle at the Roundup Cafe drinking establishment. During the brawl, Ward pulled a gun on Isabelle.

There were other violent incidents, and you'll find a link below to some 1951 police booking photos of Ward who was arrested for assault ... with a meat cleaver.

If anyone wants a bunch of newspaper clippings on Ward, Tyke, Isabelle and the incidents, e-mail the Old Corral webmaster.

The Family Search website (free), California Death Index, and the death certificate provide more information on Ward. Note the Bonaparte vs. Bolton middle name variations in his World War I and II draft registrations vs. the death certificate. Also pay particular attention to the 1930 and 1940 census.

  • 1900 census summary and census takers worksheet - living in Ward 3, Lamar Village, Franklin County, Louisiana are 47 year old Daniel Ward (born Louisiana), his 33 year old wife Annie (born Louisiana), 9 year old son Jerome B. Ward (born May, 1891 in Louisiana), 4 other children (all daughters) and a boarder: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MS5Q-4KG
    1900 census takers worksheet: Daniel Ward is listed as a "Landlord": most of the other Heads of Households on this census sheet are either a "Farmer" or "Farm Laborer": https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-11842-131057-63?cc=1325221
  • World War I draft registration: 26 year old Jerome Bonaparte Ward was born May 3, 1891 in Winsborough, Louisiana. He is single; lives in Whitewater, New Mexico; and is a "Cow-puncher" working for Robt Royal at White Signal: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-26275-37571-28?cc=1968530
  • 1930 census summary and census takers worksheet - 40 year old Jerome B. Ward (born Louisiana) and 34 year old wife Madeline J. Ward (born Georgia) are renting at unit 228a, 11912 Moorpark Street, Los Angeles. Ward's occupation is "Actor-Motion Pictures" and he was a World War I veteran. Wife Madeline J. is "Housekeeper-Private Family". Also living with them are 22 year old Marcos F. Torres, occupation "Chauffeur-Private Family": https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/XC84-D6N
    And now it gets a bit interesting: owning their home at 11912 Moorpark Street, unit 228, Los Angeles are actor Noah N. Beery, his wife Marguerite and 16 year old son Noah L. Beery. Was Ward's wife the housekeeper for the Beery family ... and Marcos F. Torres was the Beery family chauffeur?
  • 1940 census: Jerome B. Ward is residing in the Los Angeles area: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K9H5-G6H
    1940 census takers worksheet from April 2, 1940 lists Jerome B. Ward as a prisoner in the Los Angeles county jail (while he was awaiting trial for the death of John Tyke/Tyacke): https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1961-27794-245-40?cc=2000219&wc=MMYH-NDX:254522949
  • 1940 census and census takers worksheet for Ward's wife - living alone at 1219 Tamarind Avenue, Los Angeles is 48 year old Mickey M. Ward (born Georgia). She/they own their home: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K9CX-7FY
  • 1942 World War II draft registration: Jerome Bonaparte Ward is living with his wife Madline [sic] at 1219 Tamarind Avenue in Los Angeles. His birth date and location is May 3, 1890 in Winnsboro, Louisiana, and his employer is the Screen Actors Guild: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1-16389-52946-52?cc=1861144&wc=MMRW-1R1:n1009056979
  • Death certificate: 63 year old Jerome Bolton Ward passed away on August 29, 1954 at the Los Angeles County General Hospital. Cause of death was cerebral thrombosis, arteriosclerosis, and pulmonary turberculosis. He was born May 3, 1891 in Louisiana; parents were Daniel W. Ward and Annie E. Rapp (both born Louisiana); occupation was "Actor-Stage & Screen"; he was widowed; not a military veteran; and his home address was 1219 Tamarind Avenue, Los Angeles. Death certificate informant was W. A. Hawkins. Pierce Brothers Hollywood was the funeral director and cremation at Chapel of the Pines.
  • California Death Index mirrors the death certificate info: Jerome Bolton Ward was born May 3, 1891 in Louisiana, mother's maiden name of Rapp, and he passed away August 29, 1954 in the Los Angeles area: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VGRS-7S7

The University of Southern California (USC) Digital Library has two Los Angeles Examiner newspaper photos of an old and well worn Jerome Bonaparte Ward being booked as a suspect in a meat cleaver assault in August, 1951:
http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/search/controller/view/examiner-m4333.html#
http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15799coll44/id/15656/rec/1

  Although some of the data may be incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Blackjack Ward: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0911413/



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above from L-to-R are Black Jack Ward, John Alexander, Blackie Whiteford and youngster Bobby Nelson in THE GHOST RIDER (Argosy/Superior, 1935) which starred Rex Lease.


(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above - Fuzzy Knight (left) has a banana on Black Jack Ward (right) in this scene from THE MAN FROM MONTANA (Universal, 1941), one of the Johnny Mack Brown series. In the left background is the bearded Tex Phelps in one of his many barfly roles. The other two background players are unidentified.


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