On November 20, 1933 in Racine, Wisconsin at 2:20PM, two men entered the
American Bank and Trust company at the corner of Main and Fifth Street. One
was tall, blond and suave; the other was short, chunky and red faced. Both were
armed with Thompson submachine guns, which they kept hidden under their
large overcoats. The blond, later identified as Harry Pierpont, pulled out the
submachine gun from under his overcoat. The other one, Russell Clark, took up
a position behind the cages where he could view all of the bank clerks both west
and north. He waived his Thompson in a menacing manner. He was followed into
the bank by John Dillinger, also sporting a Thompson, and Charles Makley,
carrying two sacks.
All bank officials, clerks and some customers were ordered to the rear of the
bank and told to lie down on the floor face down. Clark joined Pierpont at the
front of the bank. Ass't cashier Harold Graham had been in the process of
counting a pile of bills when he heard the command "Hold them up" and he
turned to face Makley in front of the window. He was about to comply when
Makley fired directly at him with his revolver. Harold Graham dropped to the
floor. He reached out and pressed the silent alarm button alongside him, giving
the alarm to the police. The bandits did not know that the alarm had been
Meanwhile, Dillinger rounded up bank president Grover Weyland, cashier L.S.
Bonwe and his assistant, Leslie Rowan and herded them back into the vault. He
ordered Mr. Weyland to open the door to the vault. Mr. Weyland said that it was
a double combination and he told Dillinger he only knew one of the
combinations. But as he stared down the barrel of Dillinger's pistol, the bank
president apparently had a change of heart and the vault door soon swung open.
Outside the bank, meanwhile, officer Cyril Boyard had responded to the bank
alarm with officers Sgt Hansen and Sgt Worsley. The police station was about
three blocks north of the bank. Officer Boyard was in front as he and Sgt.
Hansen entered the bank.
The bandit in the front of the bank, Pierpont, ordered Officer Boyard to "stick 'em
up. " Boyard complied at once. As Sgt Hansen entered directly behind Officer
Boyard, Dillinger shouted "get the cop with the machine gun." Russell Clark with
his Thompson, started to shoot directly at Hansen who dropped to the floor with
a bullet grazing his right hand and inflicting a wound to his right side Pierpont
then shouted "get the other cop's gun." Clark left Hansen on the floor and
walked over to Officer Boyard and yanked the holster with the revolver in it from
Officer Boyard's belt.
After Hansen and Officer Boyard had gone into the bank, a pedestrian warned
Sgt. Worsley, who was waiting outside in the police car and had inexplicably
failed to notice that anything was awry, that Hansen and Boyard were "stuck
up." Worsley immediately drove back to the police station to get more men.
With Hansen lying on the floor, bleeding, women screaming and smoke from the
barking machine guns hovering over the scene, the bandits started to make their
way out of the bank, one of them taking bank president Grover Weyland as a
hostage, another taking Officer Boyard and a third taking Mrs. Ursula Patzke a
bank employee. They held their hostages in front of them, like human shields, as
they started to exit the bank, but just then, John Dillinger, coming from the rear
of the bank, picked up the discarded Police Thompson and emptied it through
the two side windows facing Fifth Street, toward the Wylie Hat Shop. Shots were
being sprayed as he shouted "We'll show that gang on the outside something."
Dillinger had spotted two police detectives running towards the bank and
passing by the Wylie Hat Shop.
Apparently, the two detectives had been hanging out at the Ace Pool Hall, on the
town square, less than a block south of the bank. The bandits, with their
hostages, pushed and threatened their way through the large, milling crowd
which, by then, had gathered in front of the bank. In this crowd was Kenneth
Thornton and a very young Parker Thornton who had just left a dance marathon
going on just down the street. Parker later stated that he saw a woman with 2
full bags of groceries confronted by Dillinger. "Move out of the way, lady",
Dillinger yelled. Dillinger then proceeded to fire one more shot across the street
at the Wylie Hat Shop.
Earlier, the getaway car had been parked at the rear of the bank. Two detectives
reached the Fifth Street end of the alley, just in time to see the bandits forcing
their hostages onto the running boards of the getaway car The detectives were
driven back by a hail of submachine gun fire from the bandits. Meanwhile, Sgt.
Worsley had returned to the bank with more men, including Lt. Muhlke, who
armed himself with the other Thompson. As the getaway car tore out from
behind the bank and roared down the street, the newly-arrived officers prepared
to open fire on the fleeing bandits, but were waved off by bank president
Weyland who was standing on the left running board with Mrs. Patzke, while
Officer Boyard was standing on the other side. All three hostages were holding
on for dear life. The getaway car sped away, with the hostages forced at
gunpoint to remain on the running boards, as human shields.
With Dillinger at the wheel, according to eyewitness Parker Thornton, "The car
drove north on main and made a left on State Street". The Racine Journal Times
published an account that they drove east, then halted and ordered Officer
Boyard off of the running board when they got to Sixth and Lafayette St.
Bank President Weyland and Mrs. Patzke were then pulled into the car. Mrs.
Patzke, a plump, matronly woman, was crammed into the back seat, with her
feet on top of the machine guns and the stolen bags of money. The car raced
along narrow country roads for nearly an hour, eventually crossing the county
line. Along the way, Mrs. Patzke, irritated by the cramped conditions inside the
car, demanded to know why she had been chosen as a hostage, rather than one
of the younger female tellers. She was told that her bright red dress made her
stand out from the others at the bank. It is said that Mrs. Patzke, for the rest of
her life, never again wore red.
Finally, some fifty miles from the scene of the robbery, the bandits pulled off the
road, in open farm country. Mr. Weyland and Mrs. Patzke were then tied around
a tree, their hands tied together with the tree between them. Mr. Weyland
reportedly fussed about the fact that, in the midday sun, with no hat, his bald
head would become sunburned. In response, one of the bandits removed a
handkerchief from his pocket with a flourish and in a grand gesture of chivalry,
placed it on top of the bank president's head. Then, the gang sped off.
Eventually, the two hostages managed to free themselves and walked to a
nearby farm house. The farmer had no phone and told the two that he would be
happy to drive them to the nearest town, but only after he had finished his
chores for the day. This was 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, and
bank presidents were not very popular.....
The bandits escaped with $28,000 in cash, a small fortune in 1933. Ironically, the
robbers left behind a stash $50,000. Fearing a robbery, one of the cashiers had
removed a wrapped bundle of fifty crisp one-thousand dollar bills from the vault
that morning and had placed the money in his cash drawer, hidden under some
blank deposit slips "for safekeeping".
In the 1930's (long before the age of electronic banking) thousand-dollar bills
were still commonly held in many bank vaults, as part of a bank's cash reserves.
The last thousand-dollar bills ever printed were dated 1934. In 1945, the Federal
Government stopped printing any bill larger than the familiar $100. Ben Franklin
bill. By a funny coincidence, the one-thousand dollar bill bears the likeness of
President Grover Cleveland, the namesake of the American Bank & Trust
Company's very own president, Grover Cleveland Weyland.......
Below is a detailed account of the Racine bank robbery.