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"The Great Bank Robbery" Attempt:
Foiled 42 Years Ago (January 4, 1932)

Sensational Attempt At Robbery is Made Here On Monday Morning at 9:30
Two of the Bandits Taken
Intense Excitement Prevails As Bank Guards and Citizens Round Up The Fleeting Bandits

Reprinted in the Minonk News-Dispatch, January 19, 1974
The courage, the poise, the bank training of a demure little country girl, Margaret Louis, thwarted the robbery of the Minonk State Bank on Monday morning, and resulted in the capture of two of a three or four membered gang. It was at 9:30 that two men entered the bank with drawn guns and shouted: "This is a hold-up. Stick 'em up!" In the bank were John C. Danforth and his assistants, Frank C. Tucker, John Louis, Charles Drain, and Miss Louis, and one customer Andrew L. Wiltz, S. B. Ogle happened to be out. But at the same instant Miss Louis touched a button that released the tear gas, which this careful and conservative bank had installed as one of its many measures of protection. When the gas flowed, all of the employees ducted. It was well that they did so. Bullets began to fly from the guns of the blinded bandits. John Louis heard bullets whiz by each ear before he flopped to the floor. Mr. Wiltz, the lone customer, stated that there was a puff and then all light disappeared.
Unconsciously he backed up to the south wall at the front of the bank, just before a bullet came where he had been standing and crashed through one of the front windows. One of the bandits clubbed out one of the south windows with his gun and then leaped over the space that was once a stairway to the basement, and over the railing, alighting on all fours on the sidewalk at the very heels of Henry Danekas of Flanagan, who was visiting here. Mr. Danekas ran into the stairway that leads to the upstairs over the bank. The other bandit backed his way out of the front door, shooting as he went. It is thought seven shots were fired. He was joined by his comrade and the two of them with their guns ready for action, backed as far as the Illinois Central tracks, looking in all directions for their companion in the car. But the sudden deluge of gas in the bank had spoiled all calculations. Their car was not in sight. So they ran for it. Posses of bank guards and citizens in general had formed like magic and the pursuit was promptly pushed.

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The path of the bandits led to the telephone exchange building, east to the first alley, north to the Santa Fe tracks, and somewhere in that neighborhood the two separated. At the Male flat corner, Aug. Grassman grabbed one of the men by the wrist, but the fellow kicked August on his wrist and thus freed himself. It was here that Grassman saw one of the men discard his hat and throw it into a bush at Frieda Wypeski's residence. One of the robbers, at the Mrs. Ed Kelly corner, ran north and to the Will White home. There he asked for a cup of coffee and was refused but later Mrs. White relented and was about to call the fellow back. But he was gone. He had left his coat, containing a gun, in the woodshed and when seen was walking toward the ballpark. Evidently he walked through the baseball park and over to route 2 on North Chestnut Street, near the fan house. When he emerged there, Henry Gerdes and Mark Lohr came along in their car and he asked them for a ride. They were among the posse that had gathered and when he saw their gun, he began to run, but was caught in the barbed wire fence of the ballpark. Mr. Gerdes laid head on him with his gun and forced him into the car. On the way down town he turned to Gerdes and said: "I ought to smash you in the mouth." Later, after being locked up, he cursed Gerdes and threatened: "I'll get you for this and if I don't someone else will." This fellow gave his name as James Carlson, 448 S. Kings Highway, St. Louis, and apparently he was in the early twenties in age. In the meantime the other bandit took a course east. He ran between the Mrs. Miles Desire and Mrs. John Neu homes, then between the Newsome and McIntosh homes, further east in the alley of the adjacent block, finally emerging on the Santa Fe tracks and then into the Fuller pasture at the east edge of town. Following him, all armed, were John Ketchmark, John Gregorich, Dr. H. C. Widdows, Kenneth Jolley, Homer Zinser, Leon Nickles, Oscar Girsch and others.

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When the bandit arrived at a straw stack in the field he evidently decided to give up. He threw away his gun and covered it by pushing straw over it with his feet, but it was later recovered, being found by H. R. Blackmer and Kenneth Jolley. John Ketchmark happened to be at the front at this time and although his gun had "plugged" he strode forward and shouted "hands-up." The bandit obeyed half-heartedly, when Ketchmark knocked him out with a blow on the back of the head with his gun. In that state the bandit was brought to town in the car of Fr. Timmins of Rutland, who happened to be present. Treatment was accorded by Dr. W. S. Morrison. During all this time the man refused to speak one word. His wounds were not serious. A few dollars were found in his pockets, a $1,000 dollar ring on his finger, and a pawn ticket for $6 for a watch on the Madison Loan bank, 1712 W. Madison Street, Chicago, dated December 31. The label on his coat bore the firm name of Turner Bros. Clothing Co., Chicago. The first joint of the third finger of his left hand was off and both arms tattooed. After he was shorn of his blue overalls and denim shirt, it was found that he wore silk underwear and expensive clothes. He was 30 years or more of age, had black hair, was slim in stature and apparently was an Italian. His silence was typical of his type. When he reached Eureka, he gave his name as John Ceri, and his address as Atwood, California. After the Italian, who first gave the name of John Scheeley, and later as that of John Ceri, had been treated for his wounds, he was taken to the steel cages in the city jail. Later, when Carlson was captured, the Italian was taken to the firemen's rooms, where Fire Chief W. H. Ryan questioned him for an hour. "He wouldn't say one word," declared Mr. Ryan. The two men were then handcuffed together and taken out from the rear doors, so as to avoid the crowds, and it was not long until Sheriff Pifer had them locked up in Eureka.

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A complete story of the happenings in the bank is thus:

A. L. Wiltz had just laid down a check at the first window and John Louis, assistant cashier, was advancing toward the window to wait upon him. Mr. Wiltz saw two men come in just as he stepped to the window and one sidled right up to him on the right and he heard the words "Stick 'em up" and he turned to smile, thinking that someone was pulling a joke but when he saw Louis' hands go up he lost no time in raising his. Charles Drain, bookkeeper, was reading a newspaper and did not hear the first command and when the second came he glanced over the paper, but his pleasant smile quickly changed to one of a more serious nature. John C. Danforth, the president, was at the west window opening his morning mail and the other bandit approached him with a gun and ordered him to open the door. He did not ask him to raise his hands and Mr. Danforth had not made a single move when the tear gas bomb exploded.

Frank C. Tucker, the cashier, had just came out of the vault and was a few feet north of Mr. Danforth and was not covered and did not raise his hands but was slowly edging himself back toward the vault door where there was an alarm, which he did touch immediately after the teargas bomb exploded. John Louis also touched one where he was standing so it is not known to whom this honor goes to. Miss Margaret Louis, 21, the assistant bookkeeper, who has a desk on an elevation in the northwest corner of the bank and near the vault door, was where she could see everything and did not raise her hands but put her foot on the plug that set off the teargas. All in the bank then dropped to the floor except the two bandits, who, realizing they were foiled, began shooting and getting out. John Louis was the bank employee out of the bank and he rushed out the backdoor and fired twice at the fleeing pair but he aimed low both times fearing that he might hit someone else.

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Kenneth Jolley was just coming out of E. H. Meierhofer's store when the gas bomb exploded and he started to run for Conroy's place, where he is employed, to get a gun and he was so close to the bandits that he was mistaken for one of them and in that way some thought they saw three, but later admitted that Jolley was not the third party. Sheriff Frank Pifer was notified and he came and hurried the men to Eureka at once. That same evening the two men were given a hearing before Justice De Weese in Eureka. Both denied their guilt, but they were positively identified. They were bound over to the grand jury under bonds of $20,000 each, with the proviso that the bondsmen must be of Woodford County. Toward evening Deputy Sheriff Eldon Shaffer and State's Attorney R. M. Niven of Pontiac, arrived here with the car that had brought the bandits to Minonk. It was a Chrysler, bearing the license number 495-497, which had been issued to a Chicago party for a Nash car. The car was taken back to Pontiac. Dr. W. Kettelhut picked this number as the car he saw here immediately after the holdup. The Chrysler was riddled with bullets and that fact created much comment. No one here shot at it and no word came from other places that it had been a target. Conjecture has it that the driver placed the bullets into the car to save his face with his gangster friends, making them believe that he was in a gun battle and was forced to flee and leave his companions. The car was found on the road five miles north and one-half mile east of Flanagan, with the motor still warm. A nearby farmer saw the lone occupant enter another car. But he was true blue. He drove in front of the bank after the hold-up and asked: "What's doing here?" Then he shot north in a hurry, but later was seen cruising around in the outskirts trying to locate his companions. Francis Kerrigan saw the car drive up and he claims that there were four men in it.

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Just previous to the attempted robbery, he went into the Karl Johnson barbershop and as he passed the rear steps of the bank, the bandits were standing there. One of them said, "Well do you think we can make it?" Another man answered: "That's what we are here for. Let's go." Then the exciting scenes followed that shook Minonk like a blast of dynamite. Karl Johnson ran upstairs to view what could be seen and Eugene Vogel saw the man roll on the sidewalk after he jumped from the window. He states that this fellow jumped up at once and ran on the pavement toward the front of the bank. Dr. B. A. Wilcox, over the bank, and Dr. A. A. Johnson, upstairs across the street, both saw what happened outside the bank. Had they guns they could have easily picked off the bandits, as both are good shots. Harma Hinrich's, operator at the Illinois Central, saw two men back down the steps at the bank, blazing away. He states that they backed as far as the I. C. tracks, guns ready for action, and then turned away. One of the men carried a 45 automatic, with hammer back, and the other a Smith & Wesson 38, with the magazine filled to the gills. The word soon spread in all directions and visitors came from all portions of Central Illinois. Detectives, policemen, highway patrolmen, lent more color and excitement. The chief of police in LaSalle came in a squad car it is claimed that the trip was made in 22 minutes. The Secor bank robbery happened four years before to the day. This was the first bank robbery ever attempted in Minonk. All the daily newspapers of Central Illinois sent staff photographers and reporters here to cover the news. In such a case, mistakes will happen and the Bloomington Pantagraph carried a picture of Leon Nichols, labeled as one of the bandits. However, the publishers on Tuesday got out a special edition, correcting the mistake and giving Mr. Nichols due credit for his efforts in apprehending the bandits.

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The rural carriers out of Minonk were paid to make second trips on their routes to deliver this edition of the Pantagraph. Sheriff Pifer took the pair to Peoria yesterday morning, where a Bertillon measurement, photographs, fingerprints and other data was taken. Ceri, the Italian, answers to the description of a man wanted in Chicago for the murder of Policeman James J. Caplis during Christmas week. Those who went to Eureka from here to identify the bandits were: John Ketchmark, A. L. Wiltz, and Henry Gerdes. F. J. Simater and Will Davison accompanied them. This morning at 1 o'clock officer Heinz Janssen received a call from Sheriff Pifer to get out the bank guards and be on the lookout. A big car suspected of containing gangsters had circled around the courthouse a number of times and at least headed this way. "Do you want us to come over?" asked the Minonk policeman. "No," answered the sheriff, "we are well protected." Deputy Sheriff Millard Hawk of Eureka was in the city yesterday morning and took the large leather bag, which the bandits left in the bank. The bag was found on the floor in front of the west window and had been carried in by the bandit, who later jumped through the window. It was nearly two feet deep and nearly that wide with two leather handles at the top-in fact it was fully half as large as a wheat sack. January 21, 1932 James Carlson and John Ceri Plead Guilty-Receive A Quick Sentence Bonds For Release Too Late Record For Handling Situation Is One Rare In Illinois Justice Efficiency-One Year To Life Sentence James Carlson, St. Louis, and John Ceri, Atwood, California, the two bandits captured by a poses of citizens after attempting to holdup the Minonk State Bank on January 4, are now in the Joliet State Penitentiary with a sentence of from one year to life hanging over their heads.

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Judge Stevens R. Baker summoned the grand jury to be in session at Eureka on Friday. There were 13 counts against the bandits and after hearing about 15 witnesses from Minonk, an indictment was returned. In the meantime, Sheriff Frank Pifer had become on more friendly terms with his prisoners and they talked freely. It is generally understood that the sheriff induced them to consent to plead guilty. The two men finally confessed that they were guilty, but would not sign confessions. However, when summoned into court before Judge Baker, the law was carefully read to them and explained, and they pleaded guilty to robbery with a gun. Then they were sentenced. Sheriff Pifer lost little time and at 7 o'clock on Saturday morning he loaded his prisoners in a car, and accompanied by Deputy Sheriffs Mooberry and Kayle and escorted by two state highway police, he successfully made the trip to Joliet and there unloosed a burden that had caused him many a worry. On his return to Eureka, two men visited the sheriff at 11 o'clock that morning from Chicago, one purporting to be a lawyer and the other a surety man. They stated that they were prepared to furnish bonds of $20,000 each for Carlson and Ceri. It was the sheriff's turn to smile. "Too late," he said, "Your boys are behind the bars in Joliet." The men were dumfounded, but realized that they could do nothing. They were not accustomed to such swift section in prosecution. Carlson, who gave his age as 19, and Ceri as 30, were good prisoners and gave Sheriff Pifer and his deputies no trouble. It was a trying experience for the sheriffs' office, nevertheless. Gangster life brings surprising situations and Sheriff Pifer used every precaution to prevent any move on the part of the bandits' friends to rescue them from jail. Thus ends the last episode of the only attempted bank robbery to ever take place in Minonk.