Dakota Datebook

Wilton Hold Up

Thursday, December 8, 2011

 

The First National Bank of Wilton was held-up by three armed men on this date in 1931. The heist was the sixth attempted bank robbery of the year for the area, but, the Wilton News added, “Robberies this year have not been profitable for the bank bandits.”

Evidence of this may be seen in the statistics for the year: police had prevented one attempted robbery at Edgeley, caught the bandits of a Fredonia hold-up, and only one of the remaining three burglaries had resulted in a substantial amount of money taken.

The story was no different for the bank thieves in Wilton on this day who, despite their preparations, snatched only a mere $500 from a bank containing $25,000 in currency and securities. The hero of the day was the bank’s vice-president, who, unlike most heroes, ran in the face of danger.

The burglars arrived in Wilton, 28 miles north of Bismarck, shortly before noon and parked near the bank. Closing the bank for the lunch hour, the bookkeeper and a cashier left at noon. When the two employees returned to reopen the bank at 1 o’clock, customer Isadore Polonsky was waiting at the door.

At this time, the three bandits moved their car to a side street nearer to the bank, left the motor running, and entered the bank through the front entrance. The burglars, using handkerchiefs to cover their faces, demanded the customer get behind the counter and ordered him, along with the two employees, to lie flat on the floor.

T. H. Steffen, the bank’s vice-president, was in the back room of the bank. When he heard the noise from the hold-up, he fled through a rear exit to a barbershop downstairs. The burglars were unaware of his presence until they heard the back door slam. Fearing capture, they quickly scrapped their original plan of looting the bank’s vault in favor of a quick getaway. They hastily grabbed all of the currency on the counter and ran out the door. Their take was between $500 and $600.

The trio made their getaway in a blue Essex and drove to the main highway. As soon as they were out the door, Polonsky, the bank customer, grabbed an automatic revolver from a bank drawer and took out after them into the street. Unfortunately, Polonsky was unfamiliar with the gun model and couldn’t disarm the safety. The burglars drove west, and the car was later reported seen near Belfield. The trail was lost at the Montana border.

Cashier A. M. Dahl said one of the robbers was exceptionally tall and was dressed in striped “unionalls,” a leather vest and a cap. Dahl estimated he weighed between 190 and 200 pounds. Another was of medium build, stocky, about 180 pounds. The third was short, weighed about 140 pounds and had a sallow complexion.

The bank reported the stolen loot was completely covered by insurance. Indeed, the bank’s insurer capitalized on their payout the folowing day by running an ad in the Bismarck Tribune. In large black letters was the word “Robbery!” And then, “The First National Bank of Wilton was held up and robbed Tuesday at 1:10 p.m. Loss settled and paid today by Murphy Insurance, agents of Maryland Casualty Company. We write this form of insurance for all classes of Commercial Institutions at a very low rate.”

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

Sources:

The Bismarck Tribune. 8 Dec 1931; 23 Dec 1931.

The Wilton News. 11 Dec, 1931.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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