Bird City Times - July 2, 1931

 

Lone Bandit Robbed the Security State Bank Monday

 

A lot of excitement was created Monday morning when it was heard that the Security State Bank had been robbed at 9 o'clock that morning. At that time and for about a half an hour before, people were standing near the bank waiting for the front door to open so that they could make their deposits or buy drafts, but nobody even suspicioned that a robbery was being pulled off.

It seems that a lone bandit crawled in thru the bank window sometime during the night and waited inside the director's room, which is toward the rear of the bank until the officers and employees came to work. E. L. Bacon, President of the bank, came in at five-thirty to open the windows but he was only in the waiting room or lobby and so the bandit let him go back out, since he did not come into the director's room. Cashier J. A. Hanley came in at seven-fifteen and was whistling while going thru the lobby. He started for the director's room to hang up his hat in the clothes closet. At the door he received a very unpleasant surprise because a fellow was standing about the middle of the room pointing two revolvers at him, one an automatic, the other a double-action six-shooter. His mask was a folded white handkerchief with a hole cut out for his nose, and he wore a light colored cap with the bill pulled well over his eyes, light trousers, white shirt and new brown shoes. In a low voice he commanded Hanley to come in and not make any noise. He asked him a few questions about how many worked there, the vault and safe, and then ordered him to lay down on the floor with his face down. On the table he had baling wire cut up in about two foot lengths and some new handkerchiefs. He tied Hanley 's hands and feet together with some of the wire, holding one revolver in his right hand continually and the other he put in his pocket. He then gagged him with a handkerchief and tied another over his mouth.

Edgar Robertson, Assistant Cashier, came in at seven­ thirty, going through the lobby into the back room for a broom. He came back and started to sweep the President's office which is in front. When thru with this he started to sweep the big banking room and when he got so far, he heard the command of "hands up" and then "put them down." Looking to the rear toward the director's room, he saw two revolvers pointed at him through the bars. The bandit took him to the director's room and did the same thing to him that he had to Hanley, Edgar lying in the east part of the room, Hanley in the west. E. L. Bacon, the President, came in at eight o'clock, going thru his office into the bankingroom where he dropped some letters into the mail box. He then went part ways along the counter when a command came and looking up he saw the same thing Edgar had seen. The bandit took him and treated him the same as the other two except that he did not gag him but tied a handkerchief around his mouth. The bandit knew about Bacon's boy, LeRoy not having a key, so he went to the front door and left it unlocked. LeRoy came in at ten minutes after eight and walked right into the director's room, where he also got a very unpleasant reception. The robber told him not to run but to lay down, which he did. He also was treated like the others.   Having all four tied, the masked bandit would walk around the bank, peeking outside at times, then he would come back to the director's room where he would smoke cigarettes and eat some candy. He was very cool about the whole thing and was waiting for nine o'clock when the time clock would allow the safe to be opened.

At nine o'clock sharp, he untied Edgar's hands and feet and placing the two revolvers against his back, ordered him to open the vault and then the safe. This done he took a package of currency and stuck it into his shirt. Then he took two bags of silver and placed it into a large envelope box outside the vault. The currency amounted to $726.00 and in his hurry he overlooked several other packages. All this money was insured and so will be paid back to the bank by a bonding company. He then marched Edgar back to the director's room where they untied the others feet. All four were then marched into the vault and the vault door closed. Whether the robber went out thru the front door or the rear nobody seems to know but there was a Chevrolet sedan with license number 80-66 right in front of the bank since early morning and right after the robbery this car disappeared. While the robbery was going on a Flying Cloud Reo with a Washington D. C. license and three tough looking men in it was seen driving leisurely around thru the main streets around the bank. Troy Mace saw a young man walk from across the street and get into the Chevrolet in front of the bank. The Reo also disappeared about that time. The bandit did not take the silver.

At 9:15 when the bank doors did not open, people became suspicious and Troy Mace and Wm. Venell called thru the window but received no answer. Mace crawled in thru a window and just then the four came out of the vault, Edgar having in the meantime taken the wires off their hands. They were a hard looking lot. The excitement was on and several cars well armed started north in quest of the Chevrolet or the big Reo. Goodland was called and they said the Chevrolet was a stolen car, having been stolen from B. P. Mendinger at 12:30 that night.

Sheriff Bacon of St. Francis was on the job at once and all the counties were informed to stop either one of the two cars. The radio station at Milford gave out the same information. Joe Schalz of Brewster came in his plane and he and Dr. Beiderwell flew within about 50 miles of Denver, then north and south.

At about 10 o'clock the word came to town that the Chevrolet was deserted about 11 miles northwest of Bird City, or about 1-1/2 miles south of Bruce Cole's. The supposition was that the robber had run out of gas and was hiding near there. Bruce Cole drove up and he said that early that morning when he went to St. Francis, an old Dodge touring car was standing right near where the Chevrolet now was but that the Chevrolet was not there. The engine of the car was still warm and on further investigation it was found that there was gas in the tank. The hunt then was for an old Dodge touring car. Tom Murray, Bill Snider and Glenn Bowers happened to see an old Dodge car near a shed on the Floyd Johnson place about four miles from where the Chevrolet was found. They stopped to investigate and in talking to Mr. Johnson were informed that a young man by the name of Chester Morris was working for him and had been working there about 3 months. This boy went to a country school south of Bird City in 1920 when Chauncey Johnson lived south of Bird City. The three men questioned the boy and found that he had just got home in the old Dodge from Sharon Springs. Things looked somewhat suspicious so Snider, Murray and Bowers drove in search of the sheriff whom they overtook in Benkelman. All the cars then drove to Floyd Johnson's farm but by that time Floyd and the boy had gone to Chauncey Johnson's place, about two miles from there. At Chauncey's they found them and also a young man by the name of Elzie Harmon who was working for Chauncey. A search was made there but nothing found. They all then went to Floyd's where some inner tubes, 2 fountain pens, and an old pistol were found in the attic of a vacant house. Lots of cartridges were found in the barn and the boy's bed. He admitted stealing the tubes and pens and the banker from Benkelman recognized one of the pens which was stolen from his bank one night last week. Both boys were placed under arrest and brought to Bird City for further questioning and finger-printing. The sheriff from Goodland questioned them about the stolen car. They were then taken and placed in jail at St. Francis.

The big car seen here that morning was caught at Belleville, Kansas and that evening Sheriff Bacon, Banker Bacon and Wm. Johnson drove there to try to connect them with this bank robbery. They were unsuccessful in this but Burlington, Colo. officers went after them yesterday for breaking into a gent's clothing store. Lots of new clothing was found in their car.

The Bird City men returned home Tuesday afternoon. They got here just when the finger-print expert from Garden City arrived here by plane from Great Bend. He took several pictures of the finger prints around the bank and flew back that evening. He will develop the finger­ prints, then classify them and probably today let the officers know who the guilty party is. While the expert was taking the finger prints, word came to the bank that the sheriff of Benkelman had found a suitcase which had two revolvers in it, with a mask, cartridges, and clothing. He found it in Chauncey Johnson's house under the bed of Elzie Harmon, but the little fellow who was under suspicion said they were his and he put them under the other fellow's bed. He denies robbing the bank but won't tell why he needs a bandit's mask or the revolvers. The boys and the suitcase were brought back to Bird City that evening. The smaller fellow was dressed up in the clothes and they fit him. The mask was placed on his face and the officers of the bank identified him and all that was on him, even the guns.

The boy claims that he was at Sharon Springs in the Dodge visiting his sister and that he came home Monday morning. He has a sister at Sharon Springs but since this robbery she has disappeared. The other boy is being held as an accomplice to the stealing of the car or some other crime. A sales slip shows that the clothing handkerchiefs and the brown shoes were bought at the J. C. Penney store in Benkelman Saturday night. So far both boys are pleading innocence, but it looks very much as if a web of evidence is closing in on them. And when the whole story is told there may be others involved probably implicating the three in the big Reo car.

 

The robbery was well planned and was a duplication of the Hastings bank robbery. The big slip up was when Bruce Cole happened to go on this road and saw the Dodge car. Had nobody gone that way and seen that car it might have been a perfect get-away.

The robber was a perfect gentleman as far as bandits go. He used no swear words or even slang, and when the wires around Robertson's hands were making his wrists and fingers swell, he came up and loosened the wire some.

Chester Morris, the suspect, is not a hardened looking criminal but a small fellow about 21 years old. If he is guilty, there are others who are responsible in teaching him how the criminal game is played.

Sheriff Bacon deserves a lot of credit for his vigilance and for his untiring efforts in trying to solve the robbery and in getting all connected with it.

 

Bird City Times -July 9, 1931

Bank Robbers Sentenced to Prison 10 - 50 Years

Chester Morris and Elzie Harmon, the 2 young men who

were arrested as suspects of being the bandits who robbed the Security State Bank here a week ago last Monday pleaded guilty before District Judge Kite yesterday afternoon at 5:00 in the District Courtroom in St. Francis and were given an indeterminate sentence of from ten to fifty years at hard labor in the State Penitentiary at Lansing, Kansas.  They will be taken there in about a day or so just as soon as all the necessary papers are made out.

The boys were taken before Justice of the Peace Dowling Tuesday morning and both waived preliminary hearings with Chester Morris showing an intention of pleading guilty before the District Court, but Elzie Harmon said he would not plead guilty and asked for an attorney.  Justice of Peace Dowling appointed Bob Cram as his attorney. Yesterday morning Harmon said he would plead guilty so District Judge Kite held a special session of court.  Before and after sentencing the boys Judge Kite gave them a very instructive talk on the law, society and crime.  Harmon was not in the bank to do the robbing, but he helped plan it and knew all about it.  The Judge read the law showing that when you are an accessory before the fact, you are as guilty as the one committing the robbery.  He refused to send them to the Reformatory at Hutchinson, because he felt that nobody could rob a bank unless they had committed minor offenses against the law before.  He told them that if they are model prisoners at Lansing, the State Board may send them to the Reformatory. He showed them how foolish they were in committing this crime, because now they will have to serve at least 7 or 8 years at hard labor, for $41.00 which was what was missing out of the money stolen from the bank.  The minimum for bank robbery is 10 years and the maximum is 50 years.  The penalty is very severe because a bank robbery in many cases results in cold­ blooded murder. The boys were then taken to jail and soon will be transferred to Lansing.

Chester Morris has worked for Floyd Johnson for about 3 months and has no parents or no home.  Elzie Harmon has worked for Chauncey Johnson about the same time and he has a mother living in Longmont, Colorado, who wrote to one sheriff stating that her boy was a good boy and if he got in trouble, it was because he has gotten in with bad company.

These two boys were arrested about an hour after the bank robbery and they professed innocence even though the clothes, masks, revolvers and ammunition were found in Harmon's room.   Sunday, Chester's two uncles of Holbrook, Nebraska, came here to get a square deal for the boy . They were shown the evidence and immediately knew he was guilty.  Fred Morris, one of the uncles, talked to him about 3 hours and finally the boy admitted all. He told how he and Harmon were in Sharon Springs in the latter's old Dodge and that night on their way back, they stole the Chevrolet Sedan. They drove both cars to Bird City and Harmon helped Morris get into the bank which was about 3 o'clock that morning.       The Chevrolet was left setting in front of the bank and Harmon drove the Dodge out, leaving it set on the road south of Bruce Cole's where Bruce

happened to see it the next morning and this was the clue which caused the boy's arrest.

Harmon walked from where he left the Dodge to Chauncey Johnson's where he worked. After robbing the bank, Morris got in the Chevrolet, drove it out there and drove in the Dodge to where Harmon was working in the field and gave him the money to hide.  He then drove to Floyd Johnson's where he changed clothes and went to work.  Harmon walked across a field and placed the stolen money in an old dish pan which was about one-half mile south of Leonard Wellman's along a fence right south of a cornfield, in the east end of the field. About an hour after this, they were arrested by Sheriff Bacon.  Chester Morris himself did not know where the money was but Harmon told him and so Sunday evening he was taken out by the officers and he showed where the money was.  $685 was recovered and $41 was missing, a part of which Chester said he used in paying the Johnson boys for what he had borrowed from them.  Harmon had a few dollars on him when searched.

The boys confessed to all but they will not admit the Benkelman robberies.  Morris admits stealing the fountain pen but he claims to have stolen it while in a Benkelman Drug Store and not from the bank there.

Friday afternoon, Morris tried to make his get-away out of jail and would have done so had not Sheriff Bacon made an investigation.  He was allowed that day to be out in the run way instead of his cell because the shower bath was there.  He took a pipe off the shower and was prying the bars off of the window which leads outside.  He had these bars and bricks pretty well loosened when the sheriff found it out.  In his bed was found a fifty foot rope which he had made out of his blankets which he cut up into strips.

When President Bacon walked into the bank at 5:30 the morning of the robbery to open the windows in the lobby and then walked out, without going into the director's room, Morris admits being in there and he said he was sleeping in the work room behind the counters and had his revolvers in the director's room.  No telling what would have happened had Bacon gone into that room at that time.

The finger print expert made his report and was unable to connect the boys with this robbery.  The boys must have made a study of finger prints and prided themselves on the fact that they left none there.

A detective from Bums Detective agency at Denver was here last week and worked on the case.  He said that Sheriff Bacon did some wonderful work on this case and deserves all credit. Ex-sheriff Davis of Benkelman splendidly cooperated with our sheriff but his suspicions about the boys being connected with the Benkelman robberies seems to be wrong so far.

The people of Bird City and community wish to sincerely thank Sheriff Bacon for his ceaseless efforts to solve the robbery, and we all know that with him as sheriff, "Crime will certainly not pay in Cheyenne County."

 

Bird City Times -July 16, 1931

 

Bank Robbers Taken to the Penitentiary Saturday

 

Chester Morris and Elzie Harmon, the two young men who last week received a sentence of 10 to 50 years for robbing the Security State Bank, were taken by auto Saturday morning to the state penitentiary at Lansing, Kansas.   Sheriff Bacon and Cashier Henley took them and say the boys get their prison clothes and numbers.  They were assigned to work in the coal mines, starting Monday. The sheriff and Hanley returned home Sunday and they say the boys were well behaving on the trip there.

Chester Morris, the one who did the robbing, had held out without even the wink of an eyelash, but Friday, when Dr. Beiderwell went to the jail to examine him and to make out his health certificate, the boy had been crying, thus showing, that he finally realized the seriousness of what he had done and what punishment was coming to him.

Elzie, the one who helped plan the robbery, was to have gotten 5% of the loot which shows that he must have been sort of under the influence of Morris.