By Becky Welhouse
On Tuesday, September 23, 1930, The Bank of Kaukauna, at the corner of Lawe street and Wisconsin Avenue, was robbed in broad daylight by five unmasked but revolver toting bandits. Depression-era gangster drama did not pass Kaukauna by in this true-life story. The Kaukauna Times and accounts from the Associated Press tell us that one man stayed in the dark Cadillac sedan with the motor running, license number 788-B, while two other men covered bank employees and patrons.
One man stood guard at the door, and a fourth cleaned out the bank cages and one vault and put the loot in leader bags. The men ordered everyone, including customers, to lie on the floor face-downward while they vaulted over the railing.
Misses Edna Sager, Barbara Kramer and Lorraine Kamps, employees of the bank were herded into the vault and according to a story told by Carl Runte, son of the bank president, one of the bandits said, “We’re going to have a board meeting. Everybody in the vault!” The employees were able to escape quickly, due to a recently installed safety device. Evidently, the robbers were disappointed in the paltry amount of loot, estimated at $15,000 to $40,000 in cash and securities, and Gordon S. Mulholland, assistant cashier, got slugged with a gun for his trouble, answering that there was no more money.
Carl Runte was surprised walking in the door when he ran into the bandits making their escape and got a gun butt to the head for his being a trifle slow in obeying the command to lie down on the floor or they would “plug” him. Mr. Runte recovered and ran for the door to get a glimpse of the robbers in the Cadillac take off up Wisconsin Avenue and turn north on Desnoyer Street. Police were called and less than 15 minutes later, Chief of Police McCarty and Assistant Chief McFadden were hot on the trail of the bandits. They were able to trace them as far as Pulcifer where the trail was lost as a result of several diverging roads which could have been taken by the robbers.
The other employees in the bank at the time were C.D. Towsley, cashier, Amay Bayorgeon and Clarence Zastrow. Customers in the bank were Herman Baier, Mrs. A. Maley, Mrs. Frank Kroll and Mrs. Joseph Kerry. Mr. Bayorgeon and Mr. Baier were also hit with gun butts, but not as severely as Mulholland and Runte.
Witnesses said the robbery was carried on with such precision as to indicate practice. The men all were described as middle aged and of medium size. They were well-dressed. The leader was dark and shorter than his companions and had a black mustache.
“Mrs. Al Maley of DePere is certain at least one of the robbers of the Bank of Kaukauna yesterday “must have had a good bringing up.” While his fellows were slugging officers and patrons of the bank who made the mistake of moving during the robbery, one of the men assisted her to a chair. She had been ill and was at the teller’s window to draw money to finance an operation. The excitement made her dizzy and one of the bandits, apparently noticing her illness, exempted her from the order for all to lay on the floor. She explained her mission to the bank to the robber and asked if she could sit down.
“Why certainly lady,” he said, according to Mrs. Maley. “He led me by the arm to a chair and said ‘Just keep your head covered lady,’ and didn’t even watch me. Once when I kind of looked up he glanced over and said ‘Be sure to keep your head covered lady; we don’t want to hurt you.’ It’s too bad they don’t earn their money honestly. Even in all that excitement that one fellow didn’t forget to be a gentleman.” On the other hand, Mrs. Frank Kroll, at one of the windows holding a $20 bill she wanted changed, saw it snatched from her hands.”
On the Saturday following the heist, a posse of about twenty left for the northern part of the state, near Crandon, on an unsuccessful chase, following a tip that the robbers of the Bank of Kaukauna had been located. A year later, there was a small mention in the Appleton Post-Crescent that the Bank of Kaukauna robbery still had not been solved, and that the bank had since been equipped with bullet proof glass. The railing, which the robbers had vaulted, had been extended. Wires charged with electricity had been strung along the top of the office cages to prevent anyone from leaping over.
In the January 1, 1937 Appleton Post-Crescent, there was one sentence, under no headline, “Loot from the Bank of Kaukauna robbery in 1930 was recovered in Denver and the holdup attributed to the Dillinger gang.”
From the newsletter of the Kaukauna Area Historical Society – Summer 2006 [Volume 1 - Number 2]