It would not have been surprising if Armon Stovall had wished his only brush with fame had been as batboy for the champion 1934 Philadelphia Stars. Instead, 18 years later, he was the subject of a brief news item printed coast to coast over many months because his strong attraction to a certain model of powerful automobile had landed him in trouble more than once. In contrast, his legal victory about 20 years later, in a ruling by a Coast Guard vice admiral, may have received no media attention.
Armon Stovall was born on July 28, 1919, in Newark, New Jersey, to Armon Stovall Sr. and Marie (Paul) Stovall.1 Though this date of birth is confirmed in New Jersey birth records, he was not listed with his parents when they were visited for the census in January of 1920 as they were living with Henry and Anne De Mund, his uncle and aunt.2 In the 1930 census, he was the only child listed, though his father apparently was remarried to a woman named Theresa by then.3
In mid-August of 1934, the Baltimore Afro-American noted that the younger Armon had been serving as batboy for the Philadelphia Stars but was days away from returning to New York City to live with his aunt, Mrs. De Mund. For one year he had been living with another aunt, Mrs. Florence Crawley, in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood. This news item was not on the sports pages; thus, the paper offered no further insights into his time with the ballclub.4
Alas, the former batboy was presumably the Armon Stovall listed in the 1940 census as imprisoned at Rikers Island jail in New York City and who was 20 years old, Black, and born in New Jersey. When the former batboy completed a military registration card on January 3, 1941, he was once again living with his aunt Florence (and unemployed). His middle name was reported on that card as Benedict. He stood 5-feet-7-inches tall and weighed 137 pounds, though later government documents listed him as 5-feet-5.
His obituary said he was survived by a son named Boyd Scarberry. That could have been the Boyd Scarberry who was born on February 1, 1943, and who died in the same city as Stovall just six years after. However, Scarberry’s obituary identified a different father, also with the surname Scarberry, and a federal document identified Boyd as White.5
International travel records show Stovall serving as a seaman on several ships from October 1944 to mid-1946, between East Coast cities and such places as Liverpool, England, the Mediterranean island of Malta, and Naples, Italy. During the summer of 1946 he arrived in Galveston, Texas, from Naples. Late that same year he was convicted in Texas of burglary and sentenced to two to five years in prison.6
Stovall was released by early 1950 and likely was the Armand Stovall who was among several employees of a New York City nightclub who were held up at gunpoint on January 23 of that year.7 It was definitely the former batboy who broke into a car dealership in Connecticut two months later and stole a model valued at a hefty $3,525.8 He was sentenced to spend one to six years at the Osborne State Prison Farm and by May of 1952 he had thus picked up the nickname “Cadillac.” At that point, he and another prisoner escaped and walked seven miles along nearby railroad tracks to Springfield, Massachusetts. When they passed an automobile showroom, they decided to take a Cadillac, which they drove toward New York City. They did not resist arrest as they were surrounded at East Hartford. The police succeeded much more quickly than in 1950, when Stovall had remained at large for more than a week.9
Stovall’s latest arrest led to his nationwide brush with fame, when his saga was condensed to a single sentence that was printed in newspapers over many months, including in Canada: “Armond [sic] (Cadillac) Stovall, whose fondness for high-powered automobiles landed him in a prison farm, escaped but was caught three hours later, driving a stolen Cadillac.”10 About two weeks after this news item started spreading via wire services, the two perpetrators were each sentenced to an additional term of four to eight years.11
By the early 1960s, Stovall’s life entered a long period of stability. Around 1959 he settled in San Francisco, where he lived for 30 years. He married Constance Tyler in March of 1968, back in New Jersey. They were married for 26 years, until his death. At some point Stovall became “a Seafarers Union steward [and] a member of the “U.S. Merchant Marines and Seafarers Union (International).”12
In 1966 Stovall had another run-in with authorities, but he had to be satisfied with the ultimate ruling on the matter, even though it came many months later. While serving on the SS San Juan in March of 1966, he was charged with marijuana possession at sea, and then was charged again when the vessel docked six days later at Port Elizabeth, New Jersey. It took more than three years for the resulting legal process to unfold, and on May 13, 1969, an examiner of the US Coast Guard revoked Stovall’s seaman’s documents. At one point in the process, on August 12, 1968, Stovall’s attorney was excused and the sailor acted on his own behalf. A major scheduling complication occurred that year because Stovall was serving on the SS President Jackson during a round-the-world voyage.13
Stovall’s seaman’s documents were reinstated in March of 1971 when the 1969 revocation order was vacated and the original charges were dismissed, in the Armon Stovall vs. U.S. decision by Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thomas R. Sargent III. Sargent did not blame Stovall for all of the process delays, thought it was plausible that Stovall had not been properly notified along the way, and considered the incomplete record of proceedings to be “embarrassing” for the Coast Guard. Near the end of his written opinion, Sargent’s expression of sympathy for Stovall included evidence he had submitted which indicated that, over the course of the year after his marijuana possession, he had served on four other ships on seven voyages without additional misconduct. “I am mindful of the fact that Appellant [Stovall] does not appear innocent of inducing errors in this case,” Sargent concluded. “But to prolong this case further because of procedural errors made by Coast Guard personnel, even if induced by Appellant’s own wiles, would appear to be harassment.”14
Stovall relocated from San Francisco to Reno, Nevada, around 1989 and died there on May 25, 1994. He was survived by his son, Boyd, and his wife, Constance. He was to be cremated; no funeral was scheduled at the time of his obituary.15 All told, his life might not have been a particularly remarkable one, but it had its moments. Still, it is natural to wonder how different Stovall’s adulthood might have been if he had spent a few more years befriending members of the Philadelphia Stars.
1 “Armon Stovall,” Reno (Nevada) Gazette-Journal, May 28, 1994: 2C. Common misspellings of his first name included Armond and Armand.
2 See New Jersey birth records for 1901-1929, accessible via familysearch.org.
3 In Newark’s 1937 city directory, his father’s wife was also identified as Theresa, making it seem unlikely that the 1930 census listed Mrs. Stovall’s first name incorrectly.
4 Joseph A. NcNeal [sic, McNeal], “Germantown,” Baltimore Afro-American, August 18, 1934: 16. Mrs. De Mund’s first name was spelled differently elsewhere, such as in the 1915 New Jersey census, in which she was called “Ann.” After suffering “a slight stroke on Christmas morning” of 1933 she was called “Anna” in “Newark, N.J.,” Pittsburgh Courier, January 20, 1934: 4. The latter also mentioned Florence Crawley. One reason Stovall resumed living with her in the early 1940s could have been his other aunt’s uneven recovery from that stroke in late 1933.
5 “Boyd Leon Scarberry,” Reno Gazette-Journal, December 17, 2000: 19C. See also Note 1 and the US Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, accessible via genealogical websites.
6 Texas Convict and Conduct Registers, 1875-1954, accessible via ancestry.com.
7 John Martin, “Hold Up a Night Club at Noon, Grab $0.00,” New York Daily News, January 24, 1950: 5.
8 “It Happened in Connecticut,” Hartford Courant, April 13, 1950: 3.
9 “Stovall’s Love for Fine Cars Betrays Him,” Hartford Courant, May 4, 1952: 2; “Court Shows Leniency for Good Record,” Hartford Courant, June 7, 1950: 5.
10 For example, see “Likes That Car,” Montreal Star, June 12, 1952: 23. For a much later instance, see “Likes That Car,” Huron County Tribune (Bad Axe, Michigan), January 30, 1953: 2.
11 “Two Escapees Sentenced to 4 to 8 Years,” Hartford Courant, June 25, 1952: 2.
12 See Note 1, and the New Jersey Marriage Index, 1901-2016, accessible via genealogical websites.
13 See Note 1 and the Armon Stovall vs. U.S. decision, March 2, 1971, accessible at https://media.defense.gov/2017/Dec/27/2001861245/-1/-1/0/1834%20-%20Stovall.pdf.
14 Armon Stovall vs. U.S.
15 See Note 1.
July 28, 1919 at Newark, NJ (USA)
May 25, 1994 at Reno, NV (USA)
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