December 1921 was not looking to be a merry holiday for many people in Davenport and Scott County. The country was struggling to get out of a sharp recession that had begun in 1920. Times were tough and jobs were scarce as Christmas approached.
While many tightened their belts, others, like Roy Purple and Harry Hamilton, would make dangerous choices in the search for money.
Hamilton, who lived with his wife Mary, on the west side of the city, had several jobs over the years — some legal and some not.
He was a Davenport police officer for only a few months in 1918 before becoming editor of the Rock Island News, which was founded and run by Rock Island gangster John Looney. The paper’s main goal was blackmail and intimidation of local residents and Hamilton was eventually sent to Scott County jail for criminal libel associated with his position as editor of the News.
After getting out of jail he began to rob establishments in eastern Iowa as part of a gang. Sent to state prison briefly for larceny, he had recently been released and was back in Davenport. The 1921 city directory listed his occupation as laborer.
Purple (or Purpell as it was sometimes spelled), a 31-year-old barber who lived on the east side of Davenport with his wife, Edith, and twin one-year-old boys, seems to have lived a very different kind of life. Looking through the Davenport police blotter from 1918 – 1921, no arrests are found for him; he seems to have lived a life free of illegal activity until that December, when, according to his wife,* he had begun associating with the “wrong crowd.”
Sometime in the early part of December, Mr. Purple and Mr. Hamilton came up with a plan to fix their money problems.
No one today knows for sure who thought it up or even how or why the two teamed together. They set their sights on the small town of Long Grove, Iowa; a small farming town of about 150 people roughly 10 miles north of Davenport.
As did many farming towns in the early twentieth century, Long Grove had a small town center that was busy during the day. Among the buildings lining the main streets were a barber shop, blacksmith, dry goods store, and the Stockmen’s Savings bank.
The Stockman’s Savings bank was the goal for Purple and Hamilton: they’d decided to become bank robbers.
During the first week of December, Hamilton went into the Long Grove bank to cash a $20 bill.** Most likely, the plan was to case the interior of the bank before robbing it.
A week later on December 15th, bank president R. K. Brownlie would remember Hamilton and his visit for a very good reason—one which will be revealed in our next post!
We would like to thank Mr. Marvin Lee for bringing this piece of history to our attention. Mr. Lee recently donated his research collection on the Officers of the Davenport Police Department from its founding to September, 2012. Included in his work are the obituaries of nearly every officer who served on the department during that time period. We thank Mr. Lee for his extensive work and donation.
*December 16, 1921, The Daily Times.
**December 18, 1921, The Davenport Democrat and Leader.
(posted by Amy D.)