Freaky Flint History with Joe Schipani : The Gun Trap May 12th, 1933

Flint is well known for its modern violent crimes but Flint's history is filled with little known stories that read stranger than fiction. Gruesome murders, weird accidents, and violent deaths. Join us every Thursday as Joe Schipani details some of the odd but true deaths he found in Flint's archives.

The Gun Trap May 12th, 1933

James Aleff was a dock foreman at Buick Motor Plant Number 2.

His wife Mary was a line worker at AC Spark Plug.

The couple had struggled during the depression and had taken in boarders here and there to make up for lost wages during layoffs. On the morning of May 12th, 1933 the couple had finally settled into morning routine without a boarder in their home. Mary got up first, got ready for work, then made breakfast and sack lunches while James got ready for work. The two sat down for breakfast and discussed starting a family soon. After breakfast, Mary cleaned the dishes as James went to feed the chickens and pull the car out of the garage.

James unlocked the small door to the garage and opened it when a shot fired, hitting him dead center in the heart. James staggered a few steps back, fell on the walkway, and died.

Mary screamed and ran to James. A neighbor phoned the police. When they arrived they found Mary sitting on the ground with her husband’s head in her lap. One of the detectives took Mary inside so the others could investigate. When the other detective entered the garage he was stunned by what he saw. There was a shotgun taped to a ladder with a string tied to the trigger. The string ran through a pulley system that was installed and tied to the door. It was set to go off as soon as the door opened.

During their investigation, the detectives found that James had no enemies in the city, and was very well-liked. While interviewing the neighbors the police learned that one of them had seen a sedan parked in front of the house in the middle of the night. The plate to the sedan matched the one involved in a chase earlier that morning.  Later the sedan was spotted in front of a restaurant on St John Street.

The police arrested Pano Golgonoff, who recently rented a room from James and Mary. When questioned about his whereabouts that evening, Pano claimed he was in Battle Creek celebrating 3.2 percent beer, the loophole in prohibition.

The police detained Pano while checking his alibi in Battle Creek.

They discovered Pano had left the bar before midnight. Sources said he had ties to the Russian Mafia. With this information, the detectives returned to Flint to search the room Pano had rented from the Aleff’s.

During the search, they found a hidden compartment in the built-in closet that housed several guns. Guns similar to the one used to kill James. All with the serial numbers filed off.
Pano was tried and convicted of murder in the first degree.    

         ~ Joe Schipani is the Executive Director of the Flint Public Art Project and the FFAR Project Assistant at the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.  Find him on Facebook at

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