1931 was the year of the gangster and Ashland was "little Chicago."

1931 was the year of the gangster and Ashland was "little Chicago."

Back east, Al Capone was taking a train ride to Alcatraz. On Ashland movie screens, Edward G. Robinson was falling into the gutter as the unrepentant Rico in "Little Caesar," while Jimmy Cagney, grapefruit in one hand and a machine gun in the other, was chewing up the scenery as the "Public Enemy."

Until that chilly Saturday morning in January, it all seemed so far from the Rogue Valley.

Sunrise was still a half hour away as Ashland police Officer Sam Prescott drove his patrol car up Siskiyou Boulevard. In the faint morning glow he saw a suspicious car traveling south on the other side of the road divider.

He made a U-turn, hit the accelerator and stopped the car between East Main and Union streets.

"Got papers for this car?" he asked the driver.

Not only did James Kingsley not have papers, he didn't have a driver's license.

Prescott told Kingsley he was taking him to the police station. Suddenly Kingsley pulled a .38 revolver from under his sweater and waved it at Prescott.

The 23-year-old officer turned and ran up the boulevard frantically fumbling for his own gun, but it was too late. Kingsley fired three shots and Prescott was dead.

Within two hours, Kingsley was captured and quickly confessed. After a trial and an appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, he was hanged Oct. 30. He was the last person hanged at the state penitentiary, which was converting to the gas chamber for executions.

Just two weeks after the hanging, in the middle of the night, while patrolling the warehouse district near the railroad tracks, Ashland Officer Victor Knott and his partner Roy Laymon saw some men "sneaking around in the shadows."

"Where are you fellows going?" shouted Knott.

"Stick 'em up!" answered the men, aiming revolvers and spraying the patrol car with bullets. Hit three times, Knott slumped in his seat and died instantly.

Only one of the men suspected of murdering Knott was captured and put on trial. Albert Reed denied that he was the killer, saying that two men who had been with him must have committed the murder. Reed was sentenced to life in prison and the other two men seem to have disappeared.

What was happening to this quiet little town? With the murder of two policemen in one year and an April bank robbery, where police had killed one thief on the sidewalk, the Tidings newspaper wondered where the next gangster would come from.

"With these major crimes being committed here, we are acquiring the reputation of being a 'little Chicago.' "

In 1932, the Southern Oregon Law Enforcement Officers Association commissioned a memorial marker dedicated to Prescott and Knott. Originally placed on the center divider where Prescott died, it was moved to the Ashland police station three years ago.

Last year, the names of Samuel Prescott (unrelated to George Prescott, the Medford policeman who was killed in 1933) and Victor Knott were added to the Law Enforcement Memorial Wall in Salem.

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com