South Dakota

Explosion after argument between gangsters ends in death of one, large crater

December 31, 1936
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Two members of a robbery gang are attacked and left in a powder house before it explodes

The victims were Floyd H. Parker (alias Harold Baker) and his girlfriend Helen Sieler. It was originally speculated the pair were attacked to silence them about a recent robbery, though it was later revealed an insult led to an argument, then a fight, and ultimately murder.

Sieler was beaten with a hammer and shot eight times: six times in the back, once in the face with the bullet lodging near her right eye which blinded it, and once in the leg. Despite her extensive injuries, Sieler never lost consciousness which was critical in her survival. Baker was shot as well, though it could not be determined if he died from the shot or was only unconscious. Afterward, the victims’ former robbery partners William Nesbit and Lee Bradley lit a fuse and made their escape, allowing the powder house’s supplies — reported as “more than a ton and a half of dynamite and nearly four tons of blasting powder,” “10,800 pounds of explosives,” or “nearly 8,000 pounds of blasting powder and 6,000 pounds of dynamite” — to explode.

The blast left a crater 50 feet (15.25 meters) in diameter and 25 feet (7.6 meters) deep.

Sieler managed to survive her ordeal thanks in part to the long fuse used which enabled her to crawl far enough away from the blast to not be fatally injured by it, though she was nevertheless thrown some 150 feet by the explosion. The only recognizable remnant of Baker was a piece of skin from his thumb, though it proved enough to identify him. While recovering, Sieler told police of the incident, leading to the arrest of the men.

Nesbit was originally sentenced to life though his sentence was commuted to 20 years. He eventually became a trusty for the prison, which allowed him more freedom than the typical inmate. He used this freedom to walk way from jail in 1946 and remained on the run until a pair of friends, ages 13 and 14, recognized him in the newspaper in 1950. The man they knew as Ray was more gaunt than the man in the photograph so the pair folded the newspaper to make the likeness appear thinner. When they were satisfied the slimmer version was “Ray,” a man who had been living in a cave, they informed police. Nesbit was apprehended without incident. Despite his original first-degree murder conviction and his prison escape, Nesbit was still released early after serving 14 years in jail. Bradley was pardoned after serving 20 years.

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