Tales from the Morgue: Elderly bank guard captures robber

2013-05-23T11:30:00Z Tales from the Morgue: Elderly bank guard captures robberJohanna Eubank Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 23, 2013 11:30 am  • 

There's something to be said for years of experience. A 72-year-old bank guard — a former officer with several law enforcement agencies — disarmed a bank robber and saved the day.

From the Arizona Daily Star, Jan. 8, 1950:

 

TUCSONAN HELD AFTER CAPTURE ON PENNINGTON
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$5,789 Taken From Teller By Laurence Wesson, but Robert Wood Foils Plot
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By W. R. Harrod

A business man turned bandit invaded the Southern Arizona Bank & Trust company yesterday morning, menaced a girl teller with a revolver and then fled with $5,789, only to be overpowered and captured a few seconds later by a quick-acting 72-year-old bank guard, aided by two courageous private citizens.

The holdup man was Laurence E. Wesson, 41, head of the Wesson Pump company, 3825 East Glenn road. He had suffered financial reverses in recent months and assertedly was on the brink of bankruptcy.

The bank guard was Robert R. Wood, of 911 South Palmera avenue, former city policeman, deputy sheriff and deputy U. S. marshal. Aiding him in the capture were C. K. Jones, of the Jones & Scott Realty company, 424 East Sixth street, and Henry Rausch, employe of the Arizona Trust company, 136 North Stone avenue.

Flees — Gets Caught

The capture itself was effected on East Pennington street after Wesson, disarmed by Wood, had broken away and fled around the corner from the bank building, a paper sack containing the $5,789 clutched in his left hand.

The brief chase and capture was witnessed by hundreds of persons thronging Stone avenue. Gov. Dan E. Garvey was in the bank when the holdup took place.

Wesson, who admitted later that he had planned the robbery attempt for three months, drove up to the bank shortly before 10:45 a.m. and parked his 1939 sedan heading north on Stone avenue at Pennington street. He left the motor of the vehicle running for a quick getaway.

Disguises Self

Before entering the bank he placed a cloth patch on his left cheek with adhesive tape to hide a large birthmark and donned dark-colored glasses. Then he grasped a .38 caliber Harrington & Richardson nickel-plated revolver in his right hand and fastened around it a newspaper so that the weapon was concealed but the muzzle could be seen through the opening at the end.

Thus prepared, he strode through the door and approached the first teller's window on the south side of the bank. Inside the cage sat Miss Blanche Bickley, 25, of 3014 East Fourth street, an employe of the bank for seven years.

Thrusting his wrapped right hand and the loaded revolver into the cage opening so that the young woman could see the weapon, he said hoarsely:

Time-worn Phrase

"This is a stickup! Hand over the money."

With that, he shoved a large paper sack through the teller's window and Miss Bickley, who said later that she was "Awfully frightened," proceeded to fill the sack with currency from the cash drawer.

As she did so Miss Bickley sought frantically for some way to inform Wood, who stood a short distance away conversing with a bank customer, that a robbery was in progress. Unable to catch his eye, she shoved the filled sack through the opening and Wesson took it, dropped the revolver into his right coat pocket and started toward the door.

At that instant Mrs. Eleanor Overstreet, bookkeeper at the Faris, Hayden & Present clinic, 23 East Ochoa street, who had been in the line behind Wesson, stepped up to the window and Miss Bickson said to her:

Alarm Given

"That man's a bandit. Tell Mr. Wood," and she pointed to the guard near by.

Mrs. Overstreet rushed up to the veteran guard and told him to catch the engine company official, who was just passing through the door.

Wood leaped toward the door and grabbed Wesson by the right arm as he stepped out onto the sidewalk. The latter jerked his revolver from his coat pocket but the guard wrested it from him and shoved it into his own pocket. At the same instant Jones, who was just leaving the bank, grabbed Wesson by the other arm.

Fumble Recovered

The sack containing the currency fell to the sidewalk and all three stooped for it. Wesson was the quickest and he picked it up and fled north on Stone avenue, ignoring his parked car and turning east on Pennington street.

Although 30 years Wesson's senior, Wood, who had taken up the chase, was close behind as they turned the corner. At that point the bank guard shouted: "Stop him; that's a bank bandit!"

Rausch, walking west on Pennington, heard the appeal and grappled with Wesson. A moment later City Patrolman C. E. Crutchfield, who has been a block away, arrived and put handcuffs on the prisoner, ending the struggle.

The money bag had fallen in the scuffle, its contents spilling in the gutter, but Police Capt. Frank E. Keefe, who had arrived by motorcycle in response to a radio alarm, scooped it up, placed it in the sack and returned it to the bank. A later check disclosed that all the money taken from Miss Bickley had been recovered.

Captive Questioned

Wesson was traken to police headquarters, where he was questioned by Det. Sgt. James Brady and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents. He disclosed that he had been in serious financial difficulties and that judgments totaling $8,000 had been obtained against him in Pima County Superior court. A quantity of clothing was found in his car but he refused to reveal whether he planned to flee the country in the event the holdup proved successful.

Bank Guard Wood has been an employe of the bank for two years. Prior to that he served 12 years with the Tucson police department as foreman of the jail chain gang. Before that he was a deputy sheriff four years and prior to that a deputy U. S. marshal.

Miss Bickley, in discussing the robbery later, said that she was "awfully frightened" when she saw the muzzle of the .38 caliber revolver pointed at her from inside its newspaper covering.

Standing Orders

"I had been told that in such a case I should carry out the bandit's orders so as not to endanger patrons of the bank," she said. "So I took the money out of the cash drawer and put it in the sack but I moved as slowly as I could, hoping that I would be able to catch Mr. Wood's eye and in some way letting him know what was happening."

The Tucson police department received high praise from bank officials in the case. An anonymous observer called police that a robbery was in progress , and literally within seconds the block around the bank was surrounded by patrolmen. Both Captain Keefe and Patrolman Crutchfield arrived before the scuffle with Wesson was over.

Because the Southern Arizona is a member of the federal reserve system, to hold it up is a federal offense. Consequently, Wesson was arraigned on a charge of armed robbery before U. S. Commissioner Thomas H. McKay yesterday afternoon. He waived preliminary hearing and was held for U. S. District Court action on $1,000 bond.

 

The Morgue Lady has long wondered if any criminal has ever used the phrase "This is a stickup," or if it was just used in the movies. Now she wonders if the bank robber learned it from the movies, but that answer may never come.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About this blog

Tales from the Morgue is a way for the Star to share stories from the treasure trove of information held in its old files.

Johanna Eubank, aka the Morgue Lady, was a research assistant in the Star Library - also known as News and Research Services - for 18 years before becoming an online content producer for StarNet. She has had her share of sneezing fits after digging into dusty old files, so she's sure to find a few old stories to re-examine.

If you have suggestions, comments or questions about this blog, e-mail jeubank@tucson.com.

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