Robbery and Mayhem in Sioux Falls

 

Securities National Bank and Trust

March 6, 1934, started like any other day at the Securities National Bank and Trust in Sioux Falls. Customers went about their usual business, when events took a very bad turn. John Dillinger, accompanied by his gang of thugs, robbed the bank of $46,000 in cash. It was the first bank robbery in Sioux Falls history.

The gang, comprised of Dillinger, Homer Van Meter, Tommy Carroll, George "Baby Face" Nelson, Eddie Green, and John Hamilton, stopped traffic at the corner of Ninth Street and Main Avenue, the location of the bank; two of the gang stayed outside with machine guns, holding a crowd of near 1,000 people at bay while the other four thugs entered the bank, and "mouthed curses and threats" to customers and employees.

Hale Keith, a police motorcycle patrolman, heard bursts of gunfire, which the robbers had set off to intimidate their hostages, and approached the bank to investigate. One of the robbers inside the bank saw him, and fired through the window. Keith was struck in the abdomen, the leg, and both arms. The robber shouted "I got one, I got one," and turned his attention back to the terrorized customers and bank employees, which numbered about 30.

Numerous calls to the police station reported the robbery, but the local police were ill equipped to deal with such a situation. The two gangsters stationed outside the bank forced the officers from their cars, and ordered them to line up on the sidewalk.

 

Inside the bank, among the terrified customers and employees was 30 year old Esther Smith, a young mother, who was employed as an elevator operator at the bank. During the robbery, she was unable to stop the elevator on any floor, so she had to crank the old elevator up and down, by hand, until the robbery was over. Meanwhile, the thugs grabbed up the cash and ordered four girls, a bank teller, Police Chief Parsons, and an officer to form a "sheild" as they made their getaway, the whole affair lasting about 15 minutes. The president of the bank, C. R. Clark, "almost positively" identified the leader of the gang as John Dillinger.

As they left the bank, the gansters ordered the four girls, later identified as Mildred Bostwick, Alice Blegan, Emma Knatach and Mary Lucas, plus the bank teller, Leo Olson, to stand on the running board of the green 1934 Packard as they jumped inside and made their getaway. Police Chief Parons fired several shots, apparently puncturing the gas tank. Several other vehicles pursued the thugs, but machine gun fire from the getaway car discouraged any further chase. The hostages were released about 2 miles south of Sioux Falls, when the robbers changed vehicles. An aviator who was in pursuit, noted that the gang changed autos at least three times before they disappeared.

In 1976, the daughter of elevator operator Esther Smith, who was nine years old at the time of the robbery, visited the bank building, and was able to point out bullet holes left by Dillinger's gang.

Sources:

The Salt Lake Tribune, March 7, 1934

The Oelwein (Iowa) Daily Register, March 6, 1934

Jefferson City (Missouri) Post-Tribune, Friday, August 24, 1934

and special thanks to Linda Beasley for sharing her grandmother's (Esther Smith) story!

Karen Seeman, 2009

John Dillinger


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