Laura Upthegrove

Laura Upthegrove is one of my favorite local historical characters. I was surprised that such a surname existed but I found that the Upthegroves were early Floridian settlers; the name has Dutch origins. Laura was often described as a ‘moll’ and it was frequently implied that she was no better than she ought to be but she remains a firm favorite.

Laura became well-known in Fort Lauderdale and throughout Florida as the ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ style companion of notorious bank robber and super-criminal in the 1920s. Which was nonsense. The newspapers made a great thing of it at the time but the fact remains that the ‘notorious Ashley Gang’ as they were called was actually composed of rather bumbling youngsters.

Laura had already been married twice when she met the rather dashing John Ashley. He wore a somewhat glamorous eye patch which was the result of a bungled bank job some years before; either John himself or one of his gang, had shot out his eye in their borrowed getaway car. (You see what I mean? What self-respecting bank robber forgets to take a getaway car and then shoot themselves in the eye?)

John Ashley and Laura UpthegroveIn those days, Fort Lauderdale was on the edge of the Everglades and that’s where the gang used to hide out. John Ashley was often seen on Las Olas Boulevard and Andrews Avenue stocking up on groceries – another thing you don’t really expect a gang of desperadoes to do. The newspapers of the day greatly exaggerated the gang’s activities but John was regarded as a Robin Hood type folk hero and there seems little doubt that Laura and John were truly in love.  See the photograph on the left. She had left her husband and children; no-one knows why. My suggestion is that her husband was abusive towards her – it takes a lot  for a mother to leave her children. We have to remember that we can’t judge people by today’s standards too. In those days, Florida was a lawless place and even law enforcement officers were guilty of bootlegging, smuggling, robbery and even murder. People in rural areas in those days survived by hunting and trapping (and making their own booze – think Beverly Hillbillies)  and this is how John grew up. John’s ‘life of crime’ began when he killed a Seminole in self-defense but that will be the subject of another article – if not an entire book 🙂


I’d love to say that the story has a happy ending but, like Bonnie and Clyde, it’s actually quite tragic. John, along with three other ‘desperadoes’ were killed when the police ambushed their car at Sebastian Bridge. One of the victims was John’s nineteen year old nephew. Laura was distraught.  She tried to take her own life on several occasions and three years after John’s death, she succeeded. She was helping her mother run a gas station and general store in Canal Point. Accounts vary – some stories say that she was in an argument with a customer and others say that the police were there to arrest her. Whatever the situation was, she grabbed a bottle of a toxic liquid (disinfectant or something similar), drank it and died almost at once. She was just thirty years old.

Posted by Las Olas Boulevard in : News,

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    Set midway between Fort Lauderdale Beach and the fabulous Las Olas Boulevard, this quiet and secluded complex is right on the waterfront and enjoys charming Mid-Century Modern features. Fully moder...
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    Las Olas Boulevard - there's no other place quite like it. Las Olas offers you the very best in dining, antiques, shopping, fashion, the arts, history and much more.

    Las Olas Boulevard is located just seconds from the beautiful Fort Lauderdale beach and enjoys the wonderful South Florida weather. When you visit us on the boulevard, why not come by boat? The Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi will bring you right here.

    We have lots of special events which take place throughout the year and some of the nicest people you'll ever wish to meet are right here. If you're planning a destination wedding, there's no better place.

    The boulevard has a lot of history too. Stay at the Riverside Hotel - built in 1936, or visit the Stranahan House Museum and see where Fort Lauderdale itself began. Enjoy breakfast, at any time of day or night, in the historic Floridian diner. See the Elbo Room, the place featured in Where the Boys Are - the iconic Spring Break movie made in 1960.

    Las Olas Boulevard has something to suit all tastes, all ages and all budgets. Dance the night away or enjoy a quiet drink in a relaxing bar. Experience fine dining in one of our many restaurants, or grab a pizza, sandwich, panini or salad. Enjoy cuisine from all over the world right here. And don't miss the treats we have for you - chocolates, ice creams, frozen yogurts, candies, pastries - all made right here on Las Olas. Eat at a sidewalk café, people-watch, visit our world-class museum of art, take the kids to the science museum for a day of fun, sit and watch the water traffic go by on the New River ... there's so much to do.

    Shop for the finest goods - and bargains too. Our stores sell everything from diamonds to dresses, from gowns to garlic bread!

    We have all your needs taken care of on Las Olas. We have a pharmacy, dry-cleaners, a deli, dressmakers, gifts, quality cigars ... in addition to pampering services if you're looking for a massage, a manicure or a magnificent haircut. We even have our own Sunday farmers' market.

    We haven't forgotten the business traveler. If you're in Fort Lauderdale for business, you'll find every service you need on the boulevard and what better place to work? Many of our restaurants have free wifi so you can check your email and write your blog as you sip an Italian coffee and enjoy a snack in a sidewalk café.

    We'll look forward to seeing you on Las Olas!