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Archive for Sunday, September 18, 2011

Famous criminal Clyde Barrow may have gotten start robbing banks in Lawrence

September 18, 2011

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This portrait features two of America's most notorious bank robbers, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Interested parties have reason to believe that First National Bank of Lawrence, which is now Teller's, 746 Mass., was the first bank robbed by Barrow in 1932. Photos provided by Teller's

This portrait features two of America's most notorious bank robbers, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Interested parties have reason to believe that First National Bank of Lawrence, which is now Teller's, 746 Mass., was the first bank robbed by Barrow in 1932. Photos provided by Teller's

Cars line Massachusetts Street in this historical photo. It is believed that Clyde Barrow staked out the First National Bank building from a hotel room at the Eldridge. Photo provided by Teller's

Cars line Massachusetts Street in this historical photo. It is believed that Clyde Barrow staked out the First National Bank building from a hotel room at the Eldridge. Photo provided by Teller's

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It is 1932 and, gee willikers, a bank robber can’t catch a break these days.

Almost 5,000 banks — really, 5,000 banks — have closed as a result of this Great Depression. It is tough to even find a bank worth robbing. But a novice — a malcontent straight out of the hoosegow — decides to get into the business anyway.

Clyde Barrow reads a newspaper article about how a bank had been hit for big money up in Minnesota. Up north must be where the money’s at. Barrow and two other fellows — Ralph Fults and Raymond Hamilton — take out from Texas to the tiny Minnesota town of Okabena.

But holy hootenanny, there’s snow up there. And ice. You try driving a getaway car in that muck. But the fellows remember driving through a Kansas town that looked to actually have a prosperous bank. What was its name? Yeah. Lawrence.

So drive, drive, drive. One room at The Eldridge Hotel, please. The First National Bank of Lawrence at the corner of Eighth and Massachusetts is visible from the hotel. It is a bustling bank. Maybe too busy for these grifters. Robbing banks is new to them. Handling a crowd is something they don’t need to deal with on their first time out.

But think of the cabbage that has to be in that vault. So they keep watching. The next morning, they see the bank president walking down Massachusetts Street. He’s alone, and he unlocks the front doors about 10 minutes before any other bank employees arrive.

The next morning, Barrow and Fults meet the bank president at the front door. Barrow shows him a sawed-off shotgun that’s under his overcoat, and it looks like this job is going to be aces. But now, two bank employees are walking up the sidewalk. Fults meets them, and the trio are quickly escorted into the bank. Into the vault they go, and out comes a bag of coin and currency.

Hamilton is in the tin can with the motor running. There’s no stopping until East St. Louis. The cash is counted. The take is $33,000 — the equivalent of about a half-million dollars in today’s terms.

Clyde Barrow now had a taste for this bank-robbery business. Soon enough, he would be joined by his girlfriend. A bank robbery in Lawrence, Kansas, in March of 1932 opened the door for the country to meet perhaps its most infamous crime duo: Bonnie and Clyde.

• • •

Never heard that piece of Lawrence history? Most other folks haven’t either. Tom Wilson is the owner/operator of Teller’s, the restaurant that now occupies the former First National Bank of Lawrence building at 746 Mass. He hadn’t heard of the story either, and then retired Kansas University professor Ray Souza came into the restaurant one evening earlier this year.

“He asked me if I knew my restaurant was the spot where Clyde Barrow started robbing banks,” Wilson recalls. “At first I was like, ‘OK. How many are in your party?’

“But then he just presented all this information to me.”

Indeed, there are at least three published books that tell the story of how Barrow got into the bank-robbery business by knocking off the First National Bank of Lawrence in 1932. But all the books rely on the same source: the autobiography of Ralph Fults.

John Neal Phillips wrote Fults’ autobiography after interviewing the felon off-and-on for about 13 years. Phillips told the Journal-World this week that Fults clearly remembered the Lawrence job.

“I asked him several times if he could be confusing Lawrence with some other place because I hadn’t heard that either, and he always said no,” Phillips said. “Ralph was absolutely crystal clear it was Lawrence. Everything else Ralph ever told me about his time with Barrow checked out. Every stinking bit of it.”

But Fults’ word is all that historians have to go on. There is no evidence from the day that suggests the bank was ever robbed. No police report. No newspaper account.

If the First National Bank of Lawrence was robbed by Clyde Barrow, it appears the bank president, the two employees — and presumably someone who let them out of the vault — vowed to keep it a secret.

• • •

Bill Docking is the president and CEO of the Union State Bank in Arkansas City. In 1932, his great-grandfather, William Docking, was the president of the First National Bank of Lawrence — and likely one of the most powerful men in Lawrence.

“I have not heard a word of this, but that’s not to say that it didn’t happen,” Docking said.

Docking was only 1 year old when his great-grandfather passed away. Bill Docking’s grandfather and father never told the story, but they were awfully busy men. His grandfather, George Docking, was the 35th governor of Kansas. His father, Robert Docking, was the 38th governor of the state.

Bill Docking said he was open to the idea that the robbery did happen.

“I would think this Mr. Fults would be a reliable source,” Docking said. “You would have to wonder what his motive to lie would be at that point in his life.”

Docking said he could see how his great-grandfather would not want news of the bank robbery becoming public. In 1932, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation — the FDIC — was not yet created. People’s bank deposits were not federally insured against loss. One theory goes that the bank was concerned that if the public learned about the robbery, there might be a run on the bank by nervous depositors.

“That does seem entirely reasonable,” Docking said of why the bank may have kept the robbery a secret. “Whether or not it actually happened, I don’t know. But it is a great tale.”

• • •

Wilson is convinced enough that the robbery happened. He’s teamed up with The Eldridge to plan a re-enactment of the event Sept. 30. Mayor Aron Cromwell has agreed to play the bank president. Actors from Theatre Lawrence have been recruited to play the crooks. A 1933 Ford sedan that appeared in the George Clooney movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou” will serve as the getaway car. The Eldridge will host a cocktail party beforehand where re-enactors will mingle with the crowd, and Wilson will have a sound system at Teller’s so folks both inside and outside the restaurant can hear all the narration and dialogue.

But Wilson said he thinks the re-enactment could just be the beginning.

“I think it is big history,” Wilson said. “We are actually the reason Bonnie and Clyde went on a bank-robbery spree. If it wouldn’t have happened here, I’m not sure it would have happened. After this, they live their life full-throttle for the next two years.”

Wilson said ideas for future years include special hotel and dinner packages for Bonnie and Clyde buffs, a special night of ballroom dancing on Teller’s upper floor, and possibly a movie screening of the Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway classic “Bonnie and Clyde” at Liberty Hall.

The restaurant already has memorabilia in the main-floor vault that still exists in the building. Wilson also has been trying to make contact with the producers who are remaking “Bonnie and Clyde,” which supposedly is going to be filmed in parts of Nebraska.

“Really, the question is what haven’t I thought of?” Wilson said. “It could go any number of directions, but I’m pretty excited about it.”

Comments

mikednkc 2 years, 7 months ago

The headline should be "infamous", not "famous"

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LHS76 2 years, 7 months ago

I actually own a 1932 Ford sedan that was built in March 1932, and sold new in Lawrence. Might be a little more authentic for a reinactment!

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demonfury 2 years, 7 months ago

I don't know why I even bother posting anything on this site. Nearly 90% of everything I post is censored. What's the purpose of have a comments section if you won't let you readers post? Or is it the fact that most of my posts are critical of the local leadership? I'm not vulgar, or libelous, simply a concerned voter that likes to exercise my freedom of speech. I've read FAR more critical and defaming posts everyday and they don't get deleted? WTF LJW ??????

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boehnerisgod 2 years, 7 months ago

Noting compared to the way the undocumeted alean in the white? house and his pals are doing on hardworking honest REAL americans

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youngjayhawk 2 years, 7 months ago

Great story and I believe it to be true; exciting chunk of Lawrence history!

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Boston_Corbett 2 years, 7 months ago

My aunt's cousin's biographer told me that Pocahontas worked as a teller in the old bank, but that I shouldn't spread it around.

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autie 2 years, 7 months ago

Nobody has ever "lived' in Caney Kansas. Nobody. Daniel Boone is my fifth cousin on my momma's side twice removed. And my daddy came over on the mayflower but they kept his name off the list cause he was French. This story don't got no muster.

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Flap Doodle 2 years, 7 months ago

Gibsland LA does a B&C festival every year around the anniversary of their demise. The road at the shooting site is now paved. Other than that the site hasn't changed much since 1934.

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Scott Morgan 2 years, 7 months ago

If it really happened yes Ron, a crooked banker would have to find a way to cover it up. Not sure how many, but a number of bankers were murdered after the stock market crash.

Emotions ran through the roof. Can't think of anything worse than the situation below.

Many more of you know better but me thinks banking was behind a number of family farms lost during the depression. Expand the family debt free farm by buying acres with loans was pushed by bankers. A win win situation.

Bada bing depression hits, what was everything to a family, extended family I may add is lost. I can't imagine a more heartbreaking story than a forced move out of a farmhouse built by your great grandfather, roll past acres cleared by your grandfather to the unknown. You the caretaker of this humble yet your families part of the world. Lost.

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Mike Ford 2 years, 7 months ago

I lived at Shreveport LA and Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down east of Shreveport near Haughton LA. When we go north of Miami OK, we are right in the area from where they laid low. I've also read that Bonnie lived in Caney, Kansas for a time.

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jellocake 2 years, 7 months ago

If you want to know the TRUE story and the WHOLE story read: "Going Down Together" by Jeff Guinn. I'm in the process of reading the book and it is a clear and documented (through close family memoirs-published & unpublished) book with fact written without prejudice. They were unsophisticated thieves and murders, Even Pretty Boy Floyd wouldn't give them the time of day or a place to hide out, he considered them as one step above people from the slums who robbed for grocery & gas money.

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lunacydetector 2 years, 7 months ago

now they can start re-enacting william s burroughs shooting his wife in the head, even though it didn't happen here, his life ended here.

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demonfury 2 years, 7 months ago

Ron, I certainly understand your point, but maybe you're a little over the top about all of this. I can actually see the Eldridge, if they were smart, collaborating with Tellers to organize an annual event to commemorate this. We put on events to commemorate Quantill, who killed thousands, and we use it to make money. After all, isn't that what all of this is really about? I can foresee an event of grand scale should this be developed and promoted properly. One that could be repeated and grow year after year until the 100th anniversary of this alleged robbery and beyond. And in March, this could be a real spring break adventure. We could organize a "Clue" like Masquerade mystery event with all of the registered attendees staying at the Eldridge. Have it include dinner and ballroom dancing at Tellers. Live, walk through re-enactments of the robbery from Eldridge to Tellers to an actual getaway car ride around downtown Lawrence. Really play it up big. Really get into the time period of Lawrence during the depression days. There's no reason why you can't educate people to the bad things they did, and a lesson in crime doesn't pay. Alcatraz capitalized on a similar scenario like this for years and years based on speculation of an event that did or didn't happen. Did they really escape? Did they really get away? Did it really happen like we were told? Are the books written about that all accurate? We'll never know. Just like Barrow's first robbery, we may never know. So long as we deliver this to the people in the light that this is all speculation, I don't see a problem with it. I would support such an event. It was the depression, and we already have the vagrants and bums downtown begging, it will just add to the authenticity, don't you think? I say we do it, besides, the City Commission sure isn't doing their part in bolstering Lawrence for the good of additional revenue. Turn downtown in 1932 for a weekend, get the Antique Mall involved, have store owners decorate and dress up. Restaurants should offer food from the time and turn back prices accordingly. Get nostalgic with it, have fun, and make some much needed revenue for the city !!!

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Les Blevins 2 years, 7 months ago

I found this story to be very interesting,, and I think I can attest to the truth of the matter, sort of anyway. My grandfather often spoke of the period of 1928 to 1934 and I can attest to the fact that he didn't like the Docking family in the least, and the main reason he gave was the Dockings were "crooked as a dog's hind leg" and saying the Dockings had been rumored to be in on skullduggery including certain suspicious activities at the bank and for that reason he said he wouldn't bank at the First National Band. I also know he banked exclusively at the Lawrence National Bank from at least 1934 on. In my mind this story explains what was likely behind the rumors my grandfather mentioned. Apparently some Lawrence residents knew or were hearing rumors that money had been mishandled or was missing but were not sure what was behind it.

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Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 7 months ago

"A lie, repeated often enough, will end up as truth." - Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Minister of Propaganda (1933-1945)

The first bank Clyde Barrow robbed was the First National Bank of Lawrence in Lawrence, Kansas in March of 1932.

The first bank Clyde Barrow robbed was the First National Bank of Lawrence in Lawrence, Kansas in March of 1932.

The first bank Clyde Barrow robbed was the First National Bank of Lawrence in Lawrence, Kansas in March of 1932.

The first bank Clyde Barrow robbed was the First National Bank of Lawrence in Lawrence, Kansas in March of 1932.

The first bank Clyde Barrow robbed was the First National Bank of Lawrence in Lawrence, Kansas in March of 1932.

The first bank Clyde Barrow robbed was the First National Bank of Lawrence in Lawrence, Kansas in March of 1932.

The first bank Clyde Barrow robbed was the First National Bank of Lawrence in Lawrence, Kansas in March of 1932.

Is it true yet?

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SouthSide 2 years, 7 months ago

This is how history is constructed. This is how past memories are invented. And we invent the past we need.

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ralphralph 2 years, 7 months ago

Infamous. That's the word you were looking for ... or for which you were looking. :)

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down_the_river 2 years, 7 months ago

What a fanciful story! Now let me tell you about the incident when Jesse James came in to Lawrence with Quantrill. I heard it from someone who heard it from someone in the family. Oh, the joys of oral history. Did the bank robbery happen, maybe, but not likely. It depends on how fascinated you are with conspiracies and coverups. What do you think about the CIA involvement in the twin towers disaster? And don't get me started on bigfoot.

This is a fun flight of fantasy, which is absolutely fine for a wacky local business promotion. But, let's not suggest this is actually Lawrence history yet. It does a disservice to those who have lived here for decades and have chronicled the community.

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Scott Morgan 2 years, 7 months ago

What the Fult?

I certainly can understand a bank keeping this quiet. Happens to this day. When ATMs first began to catch on more than a few times banks made big mistakes in the favor of the person withdrawing. Sometimes big amounts and hard to prove where it went. Ever hear about any of these mistakes?

Thirty three K, big moolah to lose. If back in the day I had some skins in that bank would sure be thinking about security.

I can certainly see the cops of the time erasing hotel registrations, and looking the other way. The robbery was done without witnesses, so why not keep it on the QT. I wonder how the banker made up the loses? Honestly, or through banking accounting?

Hundreds of banks went belly up with absolutely no restitution to the customers. Money in bank on Tuesday, bank fails on Wed. You outa luck brother.

Just think how you would feel after saving for retirement (no Social Security in those days) losing everything because a bank failed.

My grandparents born in 1890 died with money in 6 different banks due to not trusting one, and this was in the late 1970s.

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RETICENT_IRREVERENT 2 years, 7 months ago

Chad, Who owns the '33 Ford Fordor Sedan?

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Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 7 months ago

2) For well known examples of that, take a look at the autobiographies of Benvenuto Cellini or of Carl Gustav Jung.

In the case of Benvenuto Cellini, there is not a lot of historical certainly that the events he described occurred quite the way he claimed they did. Some say that just by reading the book his ego shows so very well that you know this book is written with a biased view.

And in the case of Carl Gustav Jung, it seems to be more about how he thinks than about things that actually occurred. That's an autobiography that's known for taking a rather liberal view of what actually occurred. The title might give it away: "Memories, Dreams, Reflections." But, it is a fascinating book, I would certainly recommend it to anyone.

So, in the interests of factual reporting, the headline of this article is more or less correct: "Famous criminal Clyde Barrow may have gotten start robbing banks in Lawrence."

By more or less, I mean it's not quite grammatically correct, and it's less correct by stating the plural of "bank." There is no evidence or suggestion that Clyde Barrow ever robbed more than one bank in Lawrence.

So it's not for sure that Clyde Barrow ever robbed a bank here, instead it's a maybe.But, for the brag factor, everyone in Lawrence should insist that it is true.

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Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 7 months ago

1) The whole story that Clyde Barrow robbed his first bank in Lawrence is based upon the recollections of one single person, and there is absolutely nothing to cross reference it to in order to determine if indeed the bank here in town was ever robbed in the first place, so of course no information exists as to the date that said robbery may have occurred on. And, the person that wrote the book was not even the person that experienced the event, he was only told it by someone else.

People very easily confuse dates, details, and locations when they have nothing to reference it to. That is especially true when they were only told the story by someone else that might have a few of the details confused. So, any historian today is learning about the event at least second hand.

But, going back to the original source, it's an autobiography of one person: Ralph Fults.

But wait! There's more! It's not even an autobiography in the first place.

"John Neal Phillips wrote Fults’ autobiography"

Stop and think about that. If someone else wrote it, how could it be an autobiography?

The answer to that question is that it not an autobiography, instead it is a book written by someone else. "As told to me by Ralph Fults" could have been inserted in the forward, but that would have made it very obvious that it was not an autobiography, and that's why it didn't say that. Somebody somewhere along the line made the decision to change the meaning of the word "autobiography" for the express purpose of being able to call one book an "autobiography" when it obviously is not one at all. Unless you call a ghost writer's book an autobiography, I suppose you could do that.

And even it if was an autobiography, it's quite well known that some autobiographies are not quite historically accurate. For verification of that, start reading some advanced history books. It is unfortunate that you will have to read a lot of them before you come across mention of that fact.

And, they will be talking about very well known people that were very literate that made these errors in their autobiographies. Quite often, an autobiography is written with a slanted view. Very few will write very much about the shadier aspects of their lives, they tend to gloss over them. And of course there is the self aggrandizement factor, so in a person's autobiography he will tend to exaggerate his role in history.

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RoeDapple 2 years, 7 months ago

Here are the twelve victims of Bonnie and Clyde's crime spree.

John N.Bucher of Hillsboro, Texas: Died April 30, 1932 Eugene Moore of Atoka, Oklahoma: Died August 5, 1932 Howard Hall of Sherman, Texas: Died October 11, 1932 Doyle Johnson of Temple, Texas: Died December 26, 1932 Malcolm Davis of Dallas, Texas: Died January 6, 1933 Harry McGinnis of Joplin, Missouri: Died April 13, 1933 Wes Harryman of Joplin, Missouri: Died April 13, 1933 Henry D. Humphrey of Alma, Arkansas: Died June 26, 1933 Major Crowson of Huntsville, Texas: Died January 16, 1934 E.B. Wheeler of Grapevine, Texas: Died April 1, 1934 H.D. Murphy of Grapevine, Texas: Died April 1, 1934 Cal Campbell of Commerce, Oklahoma: Died April 6, 1934

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jhawk0097 2 years, 7 months ago

I don't get the point of romanticizing the acts of the Barrow gang. They didn't just hold up banks, they murdered about a dozen people too.

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