Unsolved bank robberies of 1932
Clemenceau Heritage Museum offers $100 reward to anyone who can successfully open the safe’s inner apparatus
A light-colored sedan reportedly stolen in Flagstaff was found 28 miles northwest of the site of the second of two bank robberies — which happened only two months apart.
On Saturday, Nov. 5, 1932, robbers seized between $5,000 and $7,000 from the Bank of Clemenceau, mostly in small currency, the Winslow Mail newspaper reported six days after the crime.
“The raid was fast and daring,” the Winslow newspaper reported. “Two men, each wearing a Halloween mask, entered” while assistant cashier W. G. Thompson “was alone in the forepart of the banking room.”
With bags filled with not as much money as they had hoped for, the assailants fled rapidly, the newspaper’s description continued, in a green Ford Tudor, license plate V1V1.
Neither this robbery, nor the Bank of Clemenceau’s Tuesday, Sept. 6, 1932 robbery, were ever solved.
Different crimes, different perpetrators
According to Kip Williams, director of the Clemenceau Heritage Museum, the two 1932 robberies were not connected — except that they both happened to the Bank of Clemenceau.
The initial robbery, as described by the Verde Independent, published as part of its Verde Heritage coverage from Oct. 13-14, 2013, indicated that two young masked robbers held the teller and his wife hostage. The robbers were described as “slender, nervous young men,” with one wearing a silk stocking pulled over his face, the other wearing a black cloth over his face.
The robbers forced the teller, Frank Work, to drive to the bank to open the safe.
“Mrs. Work and I had been to a picture show and got back between 10 and 10:15, I should say, got out of the car and started up to our front porch when two men stepped from around at the side of the house and flashed a light in our faces,” Frank Work was quoted as saying in the Sept. 7, 1932 Prescott Evening Courier. “Each had a gun ... They commanded us to put up our hands.”
In that first robbery, $1,700 was stolen.
“They got what I thought at first was about $2,500 but I later found out it was only around $1,700, about $400 in silver and the rest in $5, $10, and $20 bills,” Work reportedly said.
The first robbery’s getaway vehicle, also reportedly stolen, was abandoned near railroad tracks in Dewey.
The first robbery was fully insured. But the Bank of Clemenceau lost its insurance coverage with the second robbery, and closed in November 1933 after paying the depositors in full.
Building of many uses
According to the Clemenceau Heritage Museum, the Bank of Clemenceau opened on Feb. 8, 1921 and was used by United Verde Extension Mining Company employees, as well as most of the business people and residents of Cottonwood and nearby areas.
On July 1, 1934, the former Bank of Clemenceau opened as the Clemenceau Post Office, and operated as such until July 1954.
Located on Candy Lane, the post office relocated to Cottonwood – and the building was now formerly a post office as well as formerly a bank.
“The former bank and post office building was subsequently utilized as a church for a time and then fell into disarray,” according to the Clemenceau Heritage Museum’s historical overview of the building.
In 1999, the old bank building was donated by the Siler family to the Verde Historical Society.
On June 14, 2000, the building was moved to its current location, adjacent to the museum.
From donation to relocation, the old bank was restored. During the restoration, the bank’s safe was discovered when a “sheet-rocked wall was removed and the original safe was found intact,” Williams said.
But the safe was locked, believed to be locked since 1933 when the bank closed.
The safe, said Helen Savage Killebrew, “might have been used when it was a post office.” Killebrew helped her mother deliver mail there when it was the post office. “Who knows when it was last opened?”
Killebrew was the museum’s director from 1997 until 2016 when she retired. She doubts anyone else is alive who worked at the old post office – or the old bank.
Could anyone open that safe?
“I haven’t the foggiest notion,” Killebrew said. “When we first got that safe, we had Ike’s Lock. He opened the outer door. But he wasn’t able to open the inner door. To my knowledge, Ike’s is the only locksmith who ever tried it.”
There’s no telling whether anything remains in that old safe, Williams said. It could be cash, title deeds to properties, that, he said, is the uncertainty.
But the Clemenceau Heritage Museum is offering a $100 reward to anyone who can successfully open the safe’s inner apparatus.
In April of this year, four women visiting from Prescott stopped by the museum.
One of the women, Williams said “went head over heels over the safe and wanted to open it.”
“’She had acute hearing,’ one of her friends said,” Williams shared. “She said ‘if anyone could open it, her friend could.’”
The woman tried her hand at it, no pun intended, and “go three of the tumblers,” Williams, said.
“Three clicked. Apparently it’s more than three tumblers because it didn’t open,” Williams said. “Bless her heart, she tried.”
The museum’s reward flyer states that anyone interested opening the safe should contact the Clemenceau Heritage Museum at 928-634-2868.
“The use of explosives to open the safe is prohibited,” the flier adds.