By Chris Wendt
Published in The Rose Hill Reporter, Thursday, March 29, 2012
Rose Hill BankThe Rose Hill Bank was the target of robberies in 1921 and 1953. According to the Douglass Tribune issue of Nov. 18, 1921, the Rose Hill State Bank was broken into and the vault robbed on Thursday night, Nov. 10, of the previous week. The next morning at 8 a.m. Marston McCluggage, son of the cashier JF McCluggage, saw that the curtains over the bank window had been pulled down.
It was then discovered that the robbers had entered the bank by forcing back a window. The combination lock in the vault holding the bank safe and safety deposit boxes had been broken and pried off and the bolts drawn back to open the door.
Historic Rose Hill Bank, circa 1940’sA great majority of the safety deposit boxes were rifled and government bonds and saving stamps owned by private individuals were stolen. Many deeds, abstracts, notes and other documents were also taken. The robbers failed to open the safe where the cash was kept. It was claimed that one family lost nearly $10,000 in bonds and stamps from the boxes, but the total monetary loss had yet to be determined.
This was the third attempt to burglarize the bank after first two failed. The fact that they couldn’t open the bank’s safe lead some to think that it was not the expert work of professionals but amateurs assisted by local talent. The bank was covered by insurance in such instances.
In 1953, another robbery was reported in the Wichita Eagle on March 27. This time the deed was done in broad daylight shortly after 2:30 p.m. The bandits made off with $6,900 in this heist after tying up two bank employees and two bank patrons unfortunate enough to walk in during the robbery.
The two bandits entered the bank asking George H. Waitt, Jr., assistant cashier, to change a $20 bill in for silver coinage. As Waitt began to complete the ordinary transaction, he was forced at gun point back into the vault to stuff money from the vault into a canvas bag. A full currency ladened drawer was passed up by the criminals in the process.
Cashier V.F. Chance was covered by the second assailant while seated at his desk. “I’ve already killed one man today, and another won’t make any difference”, Waitt was told by the robber, threatening his life. Lengths of clothesline rope was used to tie both cashiers together by the wrists.
Unbeknownst to the criminals, a third bank employee, Mrs. Verna Gifford, was in a rear room of the bank also oblivious to the robbery in progress until she started to return to her desk. There was no way for her to sound the alarm from her position so she hid in the restroom.
At that point customers Ray Strode and Joe Hall entered the bank and found themselves also bound at the wrists but not very well. The phone was jerked from the desk to delay reporting of the crime as the bandits made their get away. They failed to notice the second phone.
Loose bonds were quickly shed and the Butler County Sheriff notified. Road blocks were set up by Butler and Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Offices. The state highway patrol and Wichita police spread a network of radio-equipped cars over south central Kansas. Sheriff Glenn Tarrant was on scene a short time later as well as the FBI.
Following a detailed description of the unmasked robbers, authorities began the arduous task of tracking leads from the get away car and discarded clothing. The culprits were identified by the FBI as James Robert Pitts and brother-in-law Harold E. Dooley. Both had fled town at the same time. Dooley was apprehended in his hometown of Carrolton, Mo. with his family on April 4, where agents found $5,715 of the stolen money.
Pitts was taken into custody almost at the same time in Kansas City, MO. Both criminals were returned to Wichita and held in Sedgwick County Jail on federal charges of bank robbery and interstate transportation of stolen money.
On April 24, after waiving grand jury indictment, they appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Delmas C. Hill for arraignment. They entered guilty pleas through their attorneys. Accepting the pleas, Judge Hill sentenced both men to serve 20 years each on the robbery count and imposed an additional five years on the interstate transportation charges to be served concurrently. They were transferred to a federal prison to serve out their terms.
Janis Linot, life long resident of Rose Hill was working at Brownie Cox’s Grocery Store just south of the bank and recalled the robbery.
“Lee Bradbury had attempted to enter the bank during the holdup but backed out before he was seen and came running into the grocery yelling ‘the bank is being robbed. Someone call the sheriff!’ It took a while before anyone really believed him,” said Linot.
Anyone with added information regarding the incident is welcome to call the Reporter office at 776-0097 or Janis Linot at 776-2360 to add their recollections to the archives records.
Other historical information can be found on the museum website at rosehillhistoricalsociety.com or by stopping in to the Rose Hill Museum.