By ROGER AEGERTER
JEFFERSON, Iowa, Nov. 16, 2016 – Let’s go back 91 years ago to Feb. 19, 1925, when the peace and calm of rural Greene County was broken with an unexpected jolt – the 3 a.m. dynamiting and robbery of the Farlin Savings Bank, leading to a gun battle on the streets and I the yards of the small town, and then a middle-of-the-night capture of some of the robbers.
If you visit Farlin today, about four miles northwest of Jefferson, it’s amazing to think of all the drama that happened there on that long ago winter night.
What follows are accounts of the crime and arrests as they appeared in the Jefferson Herald and Jefferson Bee. Most of the descriptions are taken directly from the newspapers.
The Herald that was published later the same day of the robbery shocked readers with a two-column, front page headline reading: “FARLIN SAVINGS BANK PAID VISIT BY YEGGS THIS MORN.” That word “yeggs,” I learned with a little research, was a slang term for “burglar” or “safecracker.”
Here’s how the story started:
“Bank robbers entered the Farlin Savings Bank at about 3 a.m. The robbers entered the rear window of the bank, after trying to open the front door, breaking the handle off. They used 10 charges of nitroglycerin to blow the door off the vault.
“This was a planned heist, maybe not a well planned heist, but the robbers came into Farlin about midnight and bound the Milwaukee train station manager, who sleeps at the station. He was tied to his cot so he could not notify others in town or law enforcement. The bank building did not have considerable damage but the glass was blown out of the windows and the interior of the bank was torn apart by the blast.”
The additional details below here come from that Feb. 19 Herald or from a follow-up story in the Feb. 25 edition of the Jefferson Bee:
–“Telephones lines going out of Farlin were all cut except one. It was on that line that a message was sent to law enforcement in Jefferson that there had a series of explosions at the bank. Sheriff Edson C. Morain, when hearing of a robbery in Farlin, summoned his deputy Mr. Whitter and also called to the ex-Sheriff Quinlan also Constable Reyes. The sheriff’s deputies collected themselves and their equipment so fast they were on their way to Farlin in less than 10 minutes. Deputy Whitter drove the officers in his Buick and the other men stated, ‘He drove so fast that he burned up the road, and the green visor which shaded the front was doubled back over the top of the car.’ ”
–“Within 25 minutes, the Greene County officers from Jefferson arrived in Farlin. Almost immediately, Mr. Reyes watching the ‘birds’ near a corn crib north of the depot. He perused the robber and when he had him cornered, the bandit opened fire on Constable Reyes. He responded with his revolver and the robber ran across west across a vacant lot toward the road where the get-away cars were believed to be. Reyes said he caught one of the robbers in the ditch between the bank and the depot. Flashlight in hand, he discovered the man lying (with) his weapon, a shotgun which contained an empty shell.”
–“On the other side of Farlin, the other robber jumped three more fences in his attempt to make a getaway through the Dick Beebe yard. Mr. Beebe who was watching from the window called out to the officer that the robber ran past the house and could be found on the side of the garage. When Deputy Whitter called to the fellow to put his hands up, there was no response. Later Whitter said the robber’s stubbornness placed him mighty close to the brink of Whitter’s patience.” Finally, the robber set his rifle around the corner of the garage and then came out with his hands in the air.
–“The two captured men were brought to Jefferson and locked in the city jail. More men joined the officers and went back to make further investigations at the crime site. It was believed that there were five bandits and that one of them went out of the town to the south.”
–“The loss to the bank of course was fully covered by insurance, the loss includes damage to the safe and all the glass windows were damaged. The estimated loss (in the robbery) was between $500 and $600, and this included a bag of silver dollars.”
–“Two state police officials reported to Jefferson Thursday noon and went to Farlin with Sheriff Morain and County Attorney W.E.S. Hutcheon to look over the bank and seek clues. They came back to Jefferson after the inspection and spent the afternoon and evening grilling the prisoners, one of them gave the name of Jack Marsh and the other as Ed Larson, which may or may not be the real names. The attitudes of the two men were typical gangster type. The wives of Marsh and Larson came to Jefferson on Saturday and have been here looking after legal arrangements for their husbands’ defense.”
–“Details concerning the robbery since the February 19th robbery have been interesting. One of the suspects was located in Sioux City, and when officials charged into his room they found him hanging by the neck, determined to be a suicide. There was also a woman arrested, being the driver that escaped the Farlin scene. A third man was arrested a few days later in the area when he stopped at a farm south of Jefferson to ask directions to the nearest town. He was reported by the farmer and arrested without incident later in the day.”
Concerning the robbery and the aftermath, the Bee called it “mighty fine work on the part of Sheriff Morain and his deputies. While there is disappointment that all the robbers were not caught that night, considering every phase of the case, the capture of the three men within hours of the robbery, and preventing of a complete looting of the bank, was an unusual accomplishment, and it is one upon which the State Officials congratulate the effective work of the sheriff and his men.”
You can comment on this column in the space below here, or you can write directly to the author by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The author is executive director of the Greene County Historical Society.