Friday, July 13, 2012

A WILD DAY IN WILLMAR, MINNESOTA

7/15/1930 - Halfway between the equator and the North Pole, and one hundred miles to the west of St. Paul, Minnesota, the quiet town of Willmar reluctantly hosts a small convention of public enemies, gathered there to rob the local bank.  Among the seven bandits who assault the bank are (also along for the festivities are ham-and-egger hoodlums, Sammy Silverman and Robert "Frisco Dutch" Steinhardt):


*Thomas Holden, a train, bank, and payroll robber and recent escapee from Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary where he was serving a 25 year sentence for taking $135,000 out of a U.S. Mail truck (a charmer, eventually returned to prison and paroled in 1947, Holden will become the first person to top the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List in 1950 as a result of the killing of his wife and her two brothers during a drunken family argument in Chicago in 1949).

Holden                    

*Francis Keating, partner of Thomas Holden ... sentenced for the same crimes and also an escapee with Holden from Leavenworth on February 28, 1930.
Keating

*George "Machine Gun" Kelly, along for the Willmar job as payback for supplying Holden and Keating with the forged documents that allow the bandits to walk out of Leavenworth ... the bad boy who is said to have coined the term "G-Man" for agents of the FBI when he screams "Don't shoot G-Men" as he is captured by Federal officers in Memphis, Tennessee, for the 1933 kidnapping of oilman Charles F. Urshel.

 
Machine Gun Kelly

*Verne Miller, former WWI hero and former Sheriff of Beadle County, South Dakota turned bootlegger, freelance gunman, murderer, and bank robber ... it will be Miller that orchestrates the 1933 botched escape attempt known as the Kansas City Massacre in which four lawmen and criminal Frank "Jelly" are killed in the parking lot of Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri.

Miller
                                          
*Harvey Bailey, known as the "Dean of American Bank Robbers" for relieving various financial institutes in the '20s and '30s of over $2,000,000 in cash and bonds ... twice he will bust out of the jails he is placed within.

Bailey
                                          
A plethora of criminal talent, and yet the robbery almost becomes a Waterloo for the outlaws that will be described as by local newspapers as resounding with "... daring and a cold-blooded disregard of human life."  Inside the bank for only eight minutes, the time is spent terrorizing two dozen customers and employees, a cashier that doesn't lie down fast enough gets pistol-whipped ("Lay down or we will kill you.  We mean business!" the people in the bank are told), and withdrawing $142,000 in cash and securities.  During those minutes however, an assistant cashier is able to use his leg to trip an alarm bell under his cash drawer, and when the bandits leave the bank they are greeted with a barrage of bullets from the enraged citizens of the town, which they in turn answer with machine gun fire (in a small town of only 19,000, over a hundred people are outside the bank as the outlaws leave).  Amazingly, no one is killed, but in the exchange of lead several citizens are injured, including an innocent bystander cradling her two-year-old daughter, along with two outlaws being wounded, and the gang is forced to flee the area in a four door sedan that has had its windshield and back window blown out by bullets.
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Bank of Willmar - Now the Bremer Bank

And the shooting continues even after the gang has made its getaway! Not happy that Silverman's trigger finger has caused the town to go Wild West on the bandits, and suspecting the bandit has pocketed a portion of the loot, Miller will kill Silverman and two of his Kansas City buddies, Frank "Weinie" Coleman and Michael Rusick, in the days following the bank job; their bodies being discovered in August in a wooded area on the outskirts of the city of St. Paul.

The decade of the '30s just starting ... Minnesota will know even more gunfire and bloodshed once the Karpis-Barker Gang, Baby Face Nelson, Homer Van Meter, Tommy Carroll, and John Dillinger soon start operating within the state!
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Fred Barker

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