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Two Teenage Girls Help German POWs Escape, 1944: Owosso, Michigan

During WWII Michigan had approximately 25-32 Prisoner of War camps set up throughout the state. One of these many camps was in Owosso, set in a dirt race track at the corner of M-21 and Carland. Open from 1944-1945, it was on May 30, 1944 when 200 German prisoners of war arrived at the camp. These captured soldiers were from Field Marshall Rommel’s Afrika Corps, the majority of them in their twenties.

The camp was double-fenced and topped with an ample supply of barbed wire. Signs along M-21 alerted motorists that it was against the law if they stopped to look, and could be arrested…but that didn’t necessarily mean escape was impossible. It was a common practice to allow some prisoners-of-war to work as inexpensive labor in select local businesses – and that’s where the tale of escape begins.

Thanks to two teenage Owosso girls, two of the German prisoners escaped. Kitty Marie Case and Shirley Ann Druce were employees at the Roach Canning plant; also working at the plant were two of Camp Owosso’s German prisoners, Eric Classen and Gottfried Hobel. Working together in the same environment brought the four closer and soon – for Eric and Gottfried – it seemed the friendships were about to pay off.

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On the night of July 20, 1944, Kitty and Shirley were sitting in a car on Monroe Street, waiting for Eric and Gottfried. The two prisoners were able to sneak out of the factory unseen; they met the girls and the four sped off. Eventually, the disappearances were discovered, and a massive manhunt was underway…and it didn’t take long. Authorities found the men and the girls hiding in a dense growth of bushes near Colby Lake, looking very worn out and tired.

The Germans were returned to the camp, but the girls didn’t get off easy either. They were prosecuted and ended up spending time in prison.

When the war ended in 1945, Camp Owosso closed for good and the speedway was re-opened.

Kitty Case spent one year and three months in prison – Shirley Druce did time for one year and one day. Because of their deed, the girls were never able to vote or get passports throughout their lifetime. Shirley passed away from liver failure in 1975. Kitty passed away at a young age but no details on her death were found.

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