The 1930s were particularly tough years in the United States. The era known as the Depression left many families hard-pressed to put food on the table. One young man in Wilmington felt that he could be of better service to his family if he left. So in September 1938 he hit the rails, the most common way for poor folk to travel.
Mrs. Hannah Ryder, twice a widow and the mother of five children, was heartbroken when she found a note from her son. Officer Paul Chalifour recently found it in an entry in the police log book. It had been copied into the book by Chief Harry Ainsworth
“Mother: Don't worry about me. I’m not worth it. Tell Mrs. Norman I am sorry to leave so abruptly. No one has any use for me. I am going to wipe the slate clean and start all over again some place where no one knows me. Yours lovingly, Lester.”
Gary Lester Ames had just completed the eighth grade at the Buzzell School in Wilmington. His teacher, Margaret Delaney, described him as a kind and sympathetic boy who had been helpful in bringing up his younger sister and brother. She said he was just like a father to his two-year old sister.
A few weeks later, he was in prison. Not just in jail, he was in prison for second degree murder. At age 14, he was given a life sentence.
He and a companion had jumped a freight train in Nebraska on Oct. 14, 1938. Entering a box car, they came face to face with a middle-aged transient, Edward Billings. They beat him with a large sugar beet and then Ames’ companion, Dan Galloway, shot him. After going through Billings’ pockets, and only finding $1.25, they allegedly stabbed him in a rage, then threw him from the train.
Galloway and Ames were arrested the next day by railroad police in Kearney, Nebraska. Lester Ames was 1,600 miles from home with no money and no lawyer, facing a charge of second degree murder.
Galloway and Ames both told the same story, that they were afraid Billings would attack them. After questioning, though, they admitted that robbery was the motive. Ames admitted stabbing Billings in a rage after finding such a small sum. In an Associated Press story, Sheriff George Sears quoted him saying, “I guess I was so mad I didn’t know what I was doing,”
His teacher wrote that he was a good student. He also had a letter of support from the Wilmington Chief of Police Harry Ainsworth. None of that helped, though. Sears described him as a shrewd youth with a good education who thought he was tough.
The pair both pled guilty to second degree murder and were sentenced to life in prison. Three weeks later, the Boston Globe said that Fr. Edward Flanagan would try to get Ames paroled and into Boys’ Town in Lincoln, Nebraska. That evidently did not come to pass, as the 1940 census listed him as an inmate at Nebraska State Prison.
The 1930 census had listed him as six-years old, living with his mother, Hannah and stepfather, Raymond Ryder. Lester was born in Virginia in 1924. His father was Oliver E. Ames. The name Oliver is common in some Ames families but is not found among those living in Wilmington.
He eventually returned to Wilmington and was living with his mother and half-brother in 1955 and 1956. There is no record of him after that. She was later listed on Clifton Street, off Forest Street. She died in 1977.