Bank robberies began an upward climb during the 1920s, causing state bank associations across the Midwest, from Texas to North Dakota, to offer their own “wanted dead or alive” rewards for bank robbers. A bank robbery in Tuttle, North Dakota shows just how sophisticated bank robbers had gotten in 1921.
In the early hours of May 7th, a passerby notified authorities that a window had been broken in the First National Bank of Tuttle. Bank vice president D.L. Dornecker was the first to investigate, and he found the safe blown open and stripped of valuables.
The robbers had chipped through the concrete surrounding the safe and cut through a steel outer wall with an acetylene torch. Using nitroglycerine, the robbers blew open the inner door of the safe. The blast blew out the window in the bank, but the robbers had taken such care to dampen the explosion that guests sleeping in a hotel across the street, with their windows open to the night air, were not disturbed.
During the night the railroad station agent had found that his telegraph lines had gone down. As the investigation of the robbery got underway, they found that the telegraph and telephone lines to Tuttle had been cut by the robbers in an attempt to cover their getaway. But the robbers had made one mistake. They had left a long distance phone line in place, which let the sheriff pass word of the robbery to Bismarck and other nearby towns.
When Tuttle postmaster Alfred Wise woke, he found that his green Studebaker was gone. The robbers had taken his car to make their getaway. Two different farmers had seen the car north of Tuttle at about 5am with five people inside, and one was dressed as a woman. The sheriff believed this was a man in a dress, to throw off any suspicion.
Although authorities thought an attempted train robbery in Jamestown and other bank robberies in South Dakota could have been the work of the same criminals, those two farmers saw the last of the robbers. Despite the phone line mistake, the robbers successfully got away with $2,000 in cash, $5,000 in bonds, and the postmaster’s Studebaker – all without waking a single person in the sleepy town of Tuttle.
Dakota Datebook written by Derek Dahlsad.
“Yeggs Blow Tuttle Bank; get $7,000”, Bismarck Tribune, 5/7/1921
“Find No Trace of Yeggs Who Robbed Bank”, Bismarck Tribune, 5/9/1921
“The Dead Bank Robber Bounty”, Texas Co-Op Power website, http://www.texascooppower.com/texas-stories/history/the-dead-bank-robber-bounty
“Ask Dead Bank Yeggs Reward Be Increased”, Bismarck Tribune, 4/30/1930