On April 2, 1928, the Pan American Petroleum Company in Los Angeles, California, was held up and robbed of $27,000. Two months after the crime, Vincent Meile and newsboy William Dyer were arrested. Dyer had come to the attention of the Los Angeles Police Department after a police officer on the LAPD robbery squad had noticed Dyer’s wife taking interest in the court proceedings with regard to the recent robbery of a nearby bank. When police further investigated Dyer’s wife, they learned that she had purchased a new automobile and made a deposit of several thousand dollars a few days after the Pan American Petroleum Company robbery. Police searched the Dyers’ apartment and found other items they believed were evidence that Dyer had been involved in the April 2 robbery. Their reason for suspecting Vincent Meile is unknown.
Following their arrest, Dyer and Meile were each held in jail under a bail of $10,000. The men had a joint trial in September 1928. Their attorneys called as a witness Mrs. Evelyn De Fillipo, who testified that her husband, a gangster who had died between the time of the crime and the time of this trial, had been one of the three people responsible for the Pan American Petroleum Company robbery. De Fillipo claimed that her late husband – James De Fillipo – along with her brother-in-law, William “Red” O’Brien, and their associate, George Costello, had committed the robbery. Costello was said to bear a striking resemblance to William Dyer. At the time of the trial, both O’Brien and Costello were in San Quentin State Prison awaiting execution for the murder of a bank teller.
The warden at San Quentin refused to allow O’Brien and Costello to testify at the trial of Dyer and Meile. Instead, Dyer’s and Meile’s attorneys were permitted to take depositions of the two convicts, who both admitted having been involved in the robbery and stated that Dyer and Meile were not involved in the crime. On September 26, 1928, the jury returned verdicts of guilty for William Dyer and not guilty for Vincent Meile. Dyer was sentenced to five years to life in prison.
In September 1929, Dyer’s attorney brought with him to San Quentin one of the eyewitnesses who had identified Dyer as the robber. When this witness was presented with George Costello, the witness admitted he had been wrong in identifying Dyer and agreed Costello was the true perpetrator. Costello was executed shortly thereafter.
By February 1930, William O’Brien was just weeks away from execution when he sought out prison officials to voluntarily confess to the Pan American Petroleum Co. robbery. Based on the confessions of O’Brien and Costello and the new statements from the eyewitness, California Governor James Rolph, Jr. pardoned Dyer on January 10, 1931.
- Meghan Barrett Cousino
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.