I don’t particularly remember playing “cops and robbers” or pretending to stage bank holdups as a youngster, but that theme seems iconic throughout stories and illustrations commemorating childhood. If you haven’t seen the opening scene of “Toy Story 3,” while it is focused on a train robbery, it certainly captures that idea of how a child’s imagination enhances what a Wild West robbery would look like – if children’s toys such as Mr. Potato Head, Barbie, Trolls, etc., were involved.
And, of course, when the wholesome innocence of children composes the script for a robbery to be enacted in play, there isn’t any violence or trauma involved, as is often the case with real-life crimes.
I recently read about an unsolved bank robbery and abduction that took place in Vermillion in the 1930s. Mark Lester compiled information about the event in the book, “Law Enforcement: The South Dakota Experience 1889-1982.”
The article, “Bank Holdup and Abduction at Vermillion, 1933,” describes that just after 2 p.m. on Jan. 23, 1933, four “bandits” arrived at the Citizens Bank and Trust Company in Vermillion and ordered three employees outside into a waiting car. Witnesses described that the bandits were armed with sub-machine guns and sawed-off shotguns, as well as revolvers, when they entered the bank.
The employees taken by the bandits included the president of the bank, M.J. Chaney, cashier Maude Sloan, and bookkeeper Lester Lloyd. They were held in the car while three of the robbers returned inside the bank to empty it of the cash they were able to take.
The article describes that the three employees were later released, unharmed, on Highway 19 near Vermillion, and the group of thieves were last seen heading north on the highway in a Buick sedan with Iowa license plates.
“A Sioux Falls fingerprint expert was called in to assist in the hunt for clues,” the article states, adding, “A check by bank officers following the robbery indicated that the loot secured by the robbers was just a little less than $2800, all covered by burglary insurance.”
A posse, headed up by Sheriff William Russell, followed the bandits’ trail from Vermillion to the crossroads near Hub City, and it was believed the suspects went west from there. “The trail was then lost,” the article states, adding that several accounts came to light of people who had sold food to the four men.
“The men would stay in a barn or some other building on a farm and buy food from the farmers,” the article describes. “The farmers never turned down the money, for it was a welcome sight during those hard times. If the farmers had known at the time they were helping bank robbers, the situation might have been very different!”
The trail went cold, and no other information surfaced that allowed law enforcement to solve the crime.
“The robbers were never caught,” the article concludes. “There was — and remains — speculation that the four men were part of John Dillinger’s gang.”
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