Manhunt on for pinko smelt war shooter in Warren woods

By Daniel Dunkle | Apr 20, 2018
Courtesy of: Sue Thurston, South Thomaston A.C. McLoon is proud to have shot a 250-pound bear near Caucomgomoc Lake and brought it back to Rockland in 1930.

If you like westerns, you could do worse than the story of a shootout at a smelt-fishing camp that was followed by a massive manhunt in the woods between Warren and Waldoboro in the spring of 1933.

My time machine's still being in the shop for repairs, coupled with my desire to avoid bullets zinging past my head reduces me to reading all about it in the clippings of former local newspaperman Earl C. Dow.

The incident started with people fishing, unsuccessfully, on the Georges River below Warren village. One Albert Sullin, age 20, took a small boat downstream to investigate, suspecting someone had a net stretched across it to gather all the smelts (Advertising Slogan: "When you find sardines aren't quite bony enough for you, eat smelts!").

Sure enough, his boat gets hung up in a seine, but unexpectedly he starts taking fire from a shotgun on the shore. He fell, wounded. The shooting took place near the bridge and what was called Graveyard Point. (Does this not feel a bit like a Clint Eastwood movie?).

Sullin was able to describe his assailant and state and local police began a manhunt for Frank Sirean, aka Frank Hall, aka Frank Maki of Waldoboro. Between reports in the Portland Press Herald and the Courier, all of these are spelled at least two different ways.

"Sirean is described as about five feet and nine inches in height, weight about 190 pounds, light complexion, teeth poor, tattooed with anchor on one arm, blue eyes, red hair, head bald on top, and he is wearing gold-bowed eye glasses. He is said to have a dark sweater and rubber boots." He had a wife in Boston; oh, and by the way, "He is a Communist."

According to reports, police "cornered him" at a fishing camp on the Georges River in Warren. This was a row of rough huts, not unlike ice fishing shacks. I put cornered in quotes because normally once you have someone cornered, you catch them. Instead, the cops and Frank exchanged fire, perhaps a few dirty words and then he set fire to the camp and got away into the heavily wooded area between Warren and Waldoboro. Among those shot at were officers Daniel S. Pray and George I. Shaw of the State Police and Deputy Sheriffs William H. Robinson and Earl Ludwick.

They searched for him until 3 a.m. and then broke off. He then returned to the ruins of the camp and fixed himself a breakfast of peas and potatoes (I guess if you'll eat smelts, you can call that breakfast).

A "posse" was formed, including a company of artillery men, and the entire countryside was said to be in terror.

All of this hit the papers around March 30, 1933. I looked in the April 1 edition of the Courier at the library to see if there was any followup and if he was caught. He was still at large on the front page of that edition and the following papers make no mention of him.

He was 50 then, so even if he was never caught, my guess is that he's not still out there, at least not in a corporeal form. But perhaps there's a cabin somewhere out there in the woods where he left his old Communist Manifesto.

One of the statements in the papers that I find amusing is "The whole fracas is the outcome of a minor smelt war among the smelt fishermen on the George's River..." What does a major smelt war look like, I wonder?

It's interesting because the last time I had smelts was in Warren, given to me as lunch by Selectman John Crabtree. I'm thankful to him, but if I were to engage in a shootout with someone, it would have to be over lobster, or maybe a decent steak. If someone came after my smelts, I would gladly hand them over and wish them happy indigestion.

Something you don't see in newspapers today

There is a brief clipping in the venerable Dow's book that caught my eye, also from 1933.

"Mr. and Mrs. John Haines McLoon are receiving congratulations on the girth of a son at the Camden Community Hospital."

Another headline from the same scrapbook also grabbed me:

"Fodder For Fire Only Rabbit Feed."

"Rockland, May 24 -- The finding of two bags of hay, tucked under the rear of a barn adjacent to Main Street on Tuesday gave rise to a fire bug story that gained proportions as it spread. Investigation by the police revealed that two very small boys, on the way home with fodder for their pet rabbits had parked the bags, while attending to other important affairs. When they did call for it, the curfew, which is now in force, had rung, and when they found a policeman standing over the bags, their terror may be imagined. Their story rang true, however, and all the details checked up, so they were released, and the fire bug story is out."

Remember when kids wandered the streets in search of trouble? These days, you see more adults in yards and chasing each other around the neighborhood than kids.

I leave you with a final piece of wisdom from an old newspaper clipping:

"A viewpoint can be stated in so many ways that even folks who think alike can argue on for days."

Editor Daniel Dunkle of The Courier-Gazette lives in Rockland. Contact him via email at:; or snail mail to: 91 Camden St., Suite 403, Rockland, ME 04841.


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Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Apr 20, 2018 13:40

Good read!

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