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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

Who Am I?

Which former Lawrence County resident had his obituary in the NY Times and now has his own Wikipedia article? He’s buried in Sumner Cemetery. Need another clue?  On August 13th, 1942, he sentenced the American writer and far-Right activist William Dudley Pelley to fifteen years in prison for aiding the German war effort and planting seeds of sedition among American troops. He presided over murder, bootlegging, and other cases, including the murder trial of George W. Barrett for killing an FBI agent (1935-1936).

Born in Lawrence County, Illinois, on August 15, 1879, Robert Clarice Baltzell was the son of Henry H and Margaret Rodrick Baltzell. He received his early education here and taught school for five years.  He attended Northern Illinois State Normal School (now Northern Illinois University) and then received a Bachelor of Laws from Marion Law School in 1904.

The same year, 1904, Baltzell passed the Indiana bar and began his practice with his brother Charles C Baltzell in Princeton Indiana.  He also married Vienna N “Vinnie” Calton, the daughter of a one-time editor of the Sumner Press. Robert and Vinnie had one son, Robert Carlton, who died at birth.

Baltzell opened a law practice in Princeton Indiana and was later elected judge of the Gibson Circuit court. There he presided over the trial of 100 persons indicted in connection with a riot at the Francisco mine in June 1921. Fourteen of them were convicted, and the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the convictions.

Commissioned as a Major during WWI in the United States Army Reserve from 1917 to 1919, Baltzell oversaw conscription in Indiana throughout the war. He then returned to Princeton to practice law.

Baltzell was nominated by President Calvin Coolidge on January 2, 1925, to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of Indiana. He served on the federal bench during the prohibition era and his docket was crowded with liquor law cases.

On his retirement April 15, 1950, Baltzell completed the longest period of service of any of the eleven judges who sat on the Indianapolis bench in its 133-year history- 25 years, 2 months, and 28 days.

Robert C Baltzell died October 18, 1950, age 71, in St Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis Indiana after being in ill health since his retirement. He had been hospitalized since September 11.  His funeral was held in Indianapolis with final services held in the Central Christian church in Sumner and burial in the Sumner cemetery next to his wife and son’s graves.  

Robert C Baltzell


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