Thursday, June 14, 2007
The Great Bank Robbery -- Fenton 1937
(photo seen in article is a public domain photo, and not specific to this story)
The Great Bank Robbery
It was the morning of February 2nd 1937. The stores and shops were open and the townsfolk were moving about in a very normal manner. That is until shortly before noon, when two strangers, both wearing “colored’ glasses, parked their Ford V8 car on Leroy Street directly in front of the State Saving Bank of Fenton. As they entered the Bank, one was carrying a long deer rifle and the other a nickel-plated revolver and a black leather bag. Apparently, they made no attempt to conceal what they were carrying.
J. C. Peck happened to be on the street and he observed the men entering the bank and he headed directly for the Fenton Drug Company on the corner directly across the street from the Bank.
The two strangers entered the bank and moved to the rear of the building where they encountered the bank manager, Mr. E.C. Reid, holding a meeting with E.C. McGugan, a Bank Examiner and three employees: Robert Smith, George Warner and Margaret Barnum.
At the point of a gun, Mr. Reid and the others were kept in position as the men entered the “cage” and approached the tellers, Otis Furman and Miss Gertrude Berryman.
Otis Furman, who was nearest to the money drawer, opened the drawer and put his hand in the cash drawer. It was then that one of the robbers, evidently fearing he was reaching for a gun or an alarm button, struck Otis over the head several times with the butt of his revolver. He then forced the bleeding teller and Miss Gertrude Berryman into the bank vault. After scooping all the money from the drawer into the bag, the two bandits left the building, ran to their car and drove south out of town with $2,700 of the Bank’s money.
Bill Weideman, manager of the Kroger grocery store, was just entering the Bank as the robbers were making their exit. Bill had an envelope with $250 of his store’s money he intended to deposit. The robbers ordered him to lie down, which he did immediately and on top of his deposit envelope. Luckily he was not hurt or robbed, however, poor Otis Furman, his shirt, tie and suit covered with blood, had to be taken to a Doctor’s office where he required four stitches to close the wounds on his scalp.
While all this was going on, J.C. Peck told George Atherton and Clifford J. Phillips, who were customers at the Fenton Drug Company of what he had observed.
Leonard Limpach, the store’s proprietor, also noticed some “suspicious” actions and when the robbers came running out of the bank, Mr. Limpach rushed to the phone and called the State Police. About the same time, Mr. Reid realizing the bandits had left the bank, called for the police.
It so happened that a State Trooper on patrol had just left Fenton and was heading north toward Flint on the Fenton Road. When he received the radio message about the robbery he was about seven miles north of Fenton. He turned and sped back to Fenton, where J.C. Peck was able to provide the license number of the robber’s car which he had observantly copied as they sped away.
By then a small crowd had gathered in front of the Bank. Many of those assembled had been listening to the Flint radio for news about the ongoing “sitdown” strike at the General Motors plants, when the news bulletin about the bank robbery in Fenton was announced. In spite of the public interest and the actions of the lone State Trooper, the robbers made their escape. Some reported they had observed the bandits car speeding from Fenton in an easterly direction over the South Holly Road. It turned out that the license plates had been stolen from another car in Detroit the month before and therefore did not belong on the getaway car.
In those sensitive times for banks, it is interesting to note that the Bank’s insurance company delivered a check for the exact amount of the loss, $2,671.25, within 24 hours of the robbery.
An even more interesting event was triggered by the holdup. Two of Fenton’s young men, Clifford Crystal and Jack Hutchins got the idea they could track the robbers and began following their reported escape route. While they were “tracking” in the town of Milford, the State Police noticed their unusual behavior. They were arrested as suspects in the robbery, handcuffed and returned to Fenton. They were not released until the Bank employees established their innocence.