mid-1800s when William Hendry
Upthegrove of Pennsylvania
came to the Gainesville area.
A few years after Laura’s birth,
the family was living in Island
Grove in Alachua County,
where John was a farmer.
When Laura was just 14, she
married Calvin Carlton Perry,
a man 12 years older who was
a driver for Standard Oil Co.
and a fisherman in Fort Myers.
A year later, she gave birth to a
son, Wilson Conrad, followed
by a daughter, Vera Elsa, in
1915; two children and she wasn’t even 19 years old.
The couple divorced in 1916 and Laura married Earnest
Adair “Buck” Tillman, a marine engineer. In July 1917, a son,
Clarence, was born to the Tillmans, followed by a second
son, Sidney, in February 1919. By this time, Laura’s family
had moved to Long Beach on the eastern shore of Lake
Okeechobee, which eventually was named Upthegrove
Beach, just north of Port Mayaca. Laura, Earnest and the
children, all under the age of 5, lived next door to the Upthegrove
It was evident by early 1920 that rebellious and carefree
Laura was not content to be married with children. Suddenly
one day she announced she was leaving, with plans to
join the notorious Ashley Gang on the east coast of Florida.
Finding Ashley was fairly easy for Laura, who would meet
up with him at a mangrove region called Peck’s Lake near
Manatee Bay in Salerno, although other accounts indicate the
two may have already known each other.
To join the gang, Ashley wanted to know if Laura could
handle a gun. She obligingly demonstrated, shooting off
rounds with a .38 revolver, hitting every target. It was decided
that she would scout banks and other establishments
for potential robberies and she often drove the getaway car.
Laura proved to be brilliant in planning the gang’s activities
in executing bank robberies, hijacking illegal liquor and
figuring how gang members could escape when jailed. She
wore a .38 on her right hip and was ready to use it.
The gang was extensively involved in rum-running activities
including hijackings, and Laura played a vital role in
Although never considered a real
beauty, Laura was attractive
in some ways, taller than
most women, with piercing
black eyes, dark hair
and tanned skin. She
and Ashley were soon
lovers and devoted to
each other, but Laura’s
innocent flirtations with other men made him
In April 1922, Laura cased the Bank of Stuart,
which had been robbed seven years earlier by Ashley,
his brother, Bob, and a young man called Kid Lowe. Eventually,
Laura’s daughter, Jimmie D. Rebecca Padgett, died after swallowing an
open safety pin and was buried in West Palm Beach.
Ashley was caught, tried, sentenced to 17½ years and
sent to Raiford State Penitentiary. In June 1918, he escaped,
but was recaptured in June 1921 and returned to Raiford.
However, Ashley was still able to provide instructions for
holding up the Stuart bank a second time.
In spite of being a member of the Ashley Gang, it appears
Laura was not completely faithful to Ashley and the gang.
She began seeing Hugh Bub Padgett, a strikingly handsome
fellow, after Ashley returned to prison. Laura knew Padgett
because his brother, Noah, was married to her sister, Lola.
In early November 1921, while still involved with the
gang, Laura became pregnant. During the later months of her
pregnancy, she stayed at her mother’s Canal Point home and
on July 31, 1922, gave birth to a daughter, Jimmie D. Rebecca
Laura never married Padgett, although he was named the
father on the baby’s birth certificate. Tragically, nine months
later while living in West Palm Beach, the child swallowed
an open safety pin. The pin lacerated her stomach and the
child went into shock and died. She was buried at Woodlawn
Cemetery. It is unknown if Padgett was ever notified of his
daughter’s death. >>
Ashley was prisoner No. 12501
at Raiford State Penitentiary.