10/20/1931 - Following the sheltering policy of the St. Paul police that the outlaws they are protecting must not practice their craft within the city limits, the Holden-Keating gang visits the Kraft State Bank in Menomonie, Wisconsin ... with disastrous results.
Holden & Keating
Keating, the son of Irish parents, is a former Chicago cabdriver, streetcar conductor, and U.S. Navy veteran, while Holden once was a Stutz car salesman and steam fitter ... both men are married and have children before they turn away from normalcy and become career criminals. Their first major known crime is the robbery of a Port Huron and Chicago train in the town of Evergreen Park, Illinois in 1928 ... a crime that gets them $130,000 in loot ... and 25-year sentences each in the Federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas. With the help of bandits and fellow cons, Frank "Jelly" Nash, Charlie Harmon, and George "Machine Gun" Kelly, in 1930 the pair escapes Leavenworth using forged trustee passes, and sets up shop in St. Paul ... putting together jobs of their own, and hiring out their services to folks like Harvey Bailey and the Barker-Karpis gang. For their Menomonie job, the crook partners are joined by their con buddy, Charlie Harmon (released from Leavenworth in January of 1931 after taking a convict curve ball in the left ear that required stitches and hospitalization), and convicted Utah felon Frank Webber.
A lovely fall day in which the talk of the town is the human fly from Chicago, Babe White, that scaled the Marion Hotel the night before, at a little after 9:00 in the morning, a black, 1928 Lincoln Sport Phaeton pulls up to the curb in front of the Frank Hintzman Funeral Parlor, only a few doors down from the two-story red brick building that houses the town's bank. Exiting the vehicle, Holden, Keating, and Harmon walk down to the bank and enter, while Webber remains with the car, its engine left running. The bank robbery will be the state's 34th of 1931.
Inside The Bank
Inside the bank are ten customers and five employees when the outlaws enter ... including bank guard Vernon Townsend, who because he is not allowed to fire on intruders from a bullet-proof cage when he sees the trio expose their weapons, trips the bank's alarm (it rings in a number of nearby stores, including the Farmer's Store and the Lakeside Cafe), then runs upstairs to a spot on the roof where he can snipe on the robbers once they are outside the bank. In moments, the whole town is seemingly aware of the robbery and prepared to take action.
While the citizens are arming themselves, the robbers go into action, Keating and Holden have their hostages lie on the floor, while Harmon grabs stacks of bonds and cash from the establishment's open vault ... around $90,000. Stepping out of the vault and over where 24-year-old bank employee William Kraft is laying (the son of the bank's owner, Sam Kraft), Harmon yells at the young man, "There's more money here, I want it!" Looking up, Kraft responds that the bandit has it all ... an answer Harmon responds to by shooting the man in the chest (barely missing his heart, Kraft will survive). Robbery over, the three men grab two hostages (clerk James Kraft, another son of the owner, and cashier, Mrs. A. W. Schafer) and exit the front door ... where they walk into a raging gun battle.
Up and down the street, irate citizens fire out the outlaws from roofs, doors, and windows (careful not to hit Kraft ... in the confusion outside the bank, Mrs. Schaefer stumbles and falls, then creeps away from the chaos) while the intruders return fire with Thompson machine guns and pistols. In the exchange of gunfire, someone mortally wounds Webber in the right eye, and Harmon is shot in the knee, but the outlaws and Kraft are able to exit the town. Following their escape plan, the outlaws outdistance pursuit using hidden five gallon gas cans, the power of their Lincoln, and tacks on the road, but somewhere along the way, the evil of the outfit goes fully on display. Minutes into their flight, Webber passes away, and already upset by the events in town, Harmon retaliates by shooting Kraft in the head. Two bodies dumped (Webber will by found sporting two pistols and a steel vest), the road gets a third corpse when either Holden or Keating, believing Harmon's shot in the bank alerted the town, or upset at the needless killing of young Kraft, shoot the bandit in the neck.
Away, with loot now only being needed to be split two ways instead of four, Holden and Keating will continue their robbing ways until they are arrested on a Kansas City, Missouri golf course with master bank robber, Harvey Bailey in July of 1932. Sent to the new federal prison on Alcatraz Island, the Rock cures Keating of further criminal activities and he dies of heart failure, a free man in St. Paul, in 1978, at the age of 79. Holden, however, has one more big splurge atop the country's most wanted lists. Paroled in 1947, Holden will mind his own business until a drunken argument with his wife has the outlaw take up his gun again to kill his wife and two of her brothers. The first fugitive to be atop the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List, two years later, he is captured working as a plasterer in Oregon using the name John McCullough. Found guilty of the three murders and sentenced to life behind bars, he dies in prison at the age of 57 in 1953.
Holden - From FBI Wanted Poster
And finally of interest from the robbery is the fate of Charlie Harmon's widow, Paula. Having developed a taste for bad boys, the widow's grief doesn't last long, and she soon becomes the moll of murderous young man named Frederick George Barker, Ma Barker's youngest son, Freddy ... as such, she is there for most of the Barker-Karpis gang's midwest crime spree and she becomes the only outlaw girlfriend that Ma doesn't dislike ... until her arrest in Cleveland in 1934.
Fred And Ma - January, 1935