From Dell Rapids' Attic - History
Local Bank Visited by Depression Era Gansters
When people think of the 1930s many thoughts may come to mind. The “Thirties” was a period of time that Americans called the Great Depression. Many were unemployed and searched for work. It was also the time known as the “Dirty-thirties” – a period of severe droughts and wind storms.
To assist America, President Franklin Roosevelt began many programs such as the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp). Money was scarce and hard to come by.
Dell Rapids was not immune to the effects of the “Thirties” and benefited from some of these government programs. A few of Dell Rapids historical sites, such as the bath house and amphitheater, were local construction projects of the time. The dam west of town also saw major repairs, and a new sewage treatment plant was also built.
Banks closings were common as well. Dell Rapids had four banks in operation in the early 1930s. All would go under, with only the First National Bank to rise again.
The 1930s was also a time of well-known bank robberies and gangsters such as Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, “Pretty Boy” Floyd, Ma Barker, and others. Although not a common problem, Dell Rapids was not immune from crime either. The most infamous and talked about was the First National Bank robbery on November 7, 1934. It was a day when the not-so-famous Maurice Denning gang came to town. The following Tribune article explains the details:
The New First National Bank is Robbed Yesterday
Cashier and Others are Taken for a Ride
The New First National Bank of Dell Rapids was held up yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon and robbed of approximately $5000.00. While a complete check has not yet been made, the amount will probably run close to that amount.
According to the reports of those who got a close-up of the hold-up, a Ford V-8 sedan carrying four men pulled up in front of the bank at about 2:00 o'clock. Three of the men rushed into the bank while one remained in the lobby. The one in the lobby did guard duty and ushered everyone coming in on into the bank proper.
The hold-up happened so quietly and so fast that it was difficult to get complete details. One of the men rushed to the back part of the bank and ordered everyone to hold up their hands. Another stepped to the window before Oluf Hegge and kept him covered while another jumped over the counter near the front of the bank where Conrad Paulson was working. This man began gathering up the cash - getting everything in sight. He then asked the bank's cashier, M.E. Wicks, to open the vault. The vault has an automatic time lock which goes on and off at certain intervals. Mr. Wicks said he heard the lock click only a minute or two before the robbers entered and knew that it was off. There was nothing he could do but obey orders. The robber took all the available money from the vault with the exception of a small amount of gold, which they evidently didn't want. Mr. Wicks said the robber took a look at the bag and dropped it aside.
At the time of the hold-up there were several people in the bank who were quickly lined up with their faces to the wall. As others came in they, too, were lined up in a like manner. W.H. Beto who was going into the institution to make a deposit was met in the lobby by the "outside" man. He stepped up to Mr. Beto and told him to go on in as quickly as possible. Another man who was carrying a large pistol met him inside the bank. He reached for Mr. Beto's wallet that contained about a hundred dollars in silver and currency and about the same amount of checks and remarked, "I'll take care of this. You line up with your face to the wall with the rest of 'em." Of course Mr. Beto was obliging and did as he was told without more ado.
As J.T. Maule came down the stairs from the IOOF club rooms above the bank, he was also met by the man who remarked, "Here, daddy, go on in there." Of course Mr. Maule was somewhat surprised, and said, "in the bank?" In reply the fellow said, "Yes, in the bank." By that time Mr. Maule realized what was taking place, especially when he saw the large "gat" that the man held in his hand close to his hip. He said the man was very pleasant and seemed to be not the least excited.
As the men worked, the "line-up" increased. By the time they had finished, there were 10 or 12 customers besides the employees of the bank. Some of those on the scene were Peter Wick, W.B. Crisp, L.K. Larson, John Conway, Mrs. Arleigh Johnson, Mr. Beto, Mr. Maule, and perhaps others whose names we did not get.
After the robbers had finished their work, they ordered the bank employees to file out, asking that three of them accompany them to the car. Conrad Paulson, M.E. Wicks and Mrs. Harvey Blow were selected as the hostages. Then the others in the building were ordered out as one of the robbers brought up the rear.
The men escorted Mrs. Blow, Mr. Paulson, and Mr. Wicks to the car. With Mrs. Blow in the front seat with the driver and Conrad on the car’s running board on one side and Wicks on the other side, the car headed east. They turned north at the Presbyterian Church corner, went two blocks north, made another turn east on Sixth Street, and went three blocks east before turning north for another block which took them to the Jasper highway.
After following that road east of Dell Rapids for four miles, the two men on the running board were ordered to jump off. Mrs. Blow rode another mile before the car slowed a bit. She was forced to step from the moving car near the Maurice Crisp farm. Mr. John Rave, a nearby farmer, brought the three back to town where the news of the holdup had quickly spread. They were none the worse after their exciting trip, except that it was pretty chilly riding on the running board of the car going 80 miles an hour without coats or headgear.
When the news of the hold-up spread a large crowd gathered at the bank, but there was little to be done. F.M. Phillips, Earl Billiter, and another one or two started in pursuit in the Phillips car, but the robbers had too much of a start and they never caught sight of them.
Mrs. Blow said the robbers were very polite to her in every way. They told her she was the least excited of any of them and for her not to worry. They said they would not do her harm and were only going to take them for a short distance. When she remarked that she was cold, one of the men obligingly closed the window. When he did this he almost caused Wicks to fall off the car, as he was holding onto the glass in the window. Mrs. Blow said the fellow remarked, "I almost made that man fall off." They talked very little, she said. At one time one of the men in the rear seat asked the driver if he had finished some magazine article that he had been reading.
Mr. Beto said only once in the bank did the men seem impatient. That was when someone who was facing the wall turned his head around to see what was going on. The guard said, “Turn your head around and keep it there. I'm not going to tell you again either."
C.E. Dallieson, an employee at the Do Drop Inn across the street from the bank, saw the entire outside performance. He was standing out in front of the inn when he noticed the bank officials filing out. His first thought was that they were going to have a picture taken. Upon closer notice, he saw the pose (all hands raised upward) was not so common in pictures. It did not take him long to realize what was going on. He did not get the number of the automobile, but verified the report that it was a 1934 Ford V-8 of a dark tan color.
The thieves all appeared to be young. The youngest looked about 20, and the oldest looked 40 years of age. Those in the bank at the time said they did not seem to be hardened criminals, with a possible exception of their leader, and they worked quietly, cool, and thorough. They did not use profanity at any time and were as courteous as they possibly could be under the circumstances. They were all well dressed and looked well cared for.
All towns in this district were notified immediately to be on the lookout for the bandits. The sheriff's office responded at once, and Deputy Lawrence Green and Gene Cashman were soon on the job with other law enforcement officers. They are checking the robbery very carefully and will make every effort to bring the outlaws to justice.
The robbers' car, stolen in Sioux Falls, was found later in the day southeast of Garretson. A couple of weeks later one of the men named Keeling, wanted for a murder in Nebraska and Kansas, was killed in a shootout. The other two robbers, Limmerick and Harper, were later captured in Kansas City. Limmerick was arrested on a gambling charge and was sent to Leavenworth. Harper was brought back to South Dakota and identified. His fate is not known. The fourth man was never captured. All of the men were believed to be part of a group called the Maurice Denning gang.
All told, the robbers accumulated $5000 in cash, $5150 in bonds, and $1350 in Federal Reserve Bank stock. The money was never recovered. It was all lost, although fully covered by insurance and refunded. The bank had just obtained FDIC insurance less than two months before the robbery.