Part I of the Heist is here.
It was late morning on Thursday, December 15, 1921, that Harry Hamilton and Roy Purple of Davenport put their plan of becoming bank robbers into action.
The Daily Times and The Davenport Democrat and Leader would later print eye-witness opinions that the men might have been intoxicated at the time, based on the smell of alcohol on them and the glass bottle found near the crime scene.
Intoxication would explain some of the decisions made by the two men that day.
Hamilton and Purple were part of a new breed of bank robber that had sprung up in the United States by the early 1920s. Called auto bandits, these bank robbers drove into small towns to rob unprotected banks and then, usually, drove off without a trace.
By the spring of 1921, the Iowa State Banker’s Association (which all banks in Scott County belonged to in 1921) and the Scott County Banker’s Association had tired of these auto bandits and had resolved to do something about them.
Vigilance Committees, as they were called, were set up in small banking towns. Three men were selected in each town to head their town’s committee. They were deputized by the local sheriff and armed with their choice of three firearms: a revolver, rifle, or shotgun.* Weapons and training were paid for by the banking associations.
It was just after 12:30 p.m., when Hamilton and Purple drove into Long Grove, Iowa (pop. 150) in a borrowed Hudson Six touring car. They drove through the town’s main street several times which attracted the attention of local shop owners and customers.
At about 12:40 p.m., they drove up to the Stockmen’s Savings Bank and parked the car. Pulling handkerchiefs over their faces and, according to some witnesses, drawing their guns, they rushed to the bank door—only to find it locked for the lunch hour.
The pair ran back to their car and pulled away. The failed robbery attempt was noticed by many on the street, including blacksmith Al Klindt, a member of the Vigilance Committee.
Calls were quickly made to committee members in Long Grove and nearby towns. Vigilance members and local citizens grabbed their firearms and took up posts in buildings and behind trees near the bank, waiting to see what would happen next.
As the calls went out, Mr. Klindt walked over to the bank and knocked on the door. When bank President R. K. Brownlie answered, Mr. Klindt went in to discuss what to do about the situation.
Then they waited.
By 1:30 p.m., Mr. Klindt was just about to signal everyone to go back to their regular business, when the Hudson Touring car pulled up in front of the Murray Barber Shop next door to the bank.
As Hamilton and Purple once again rushed into the bank (this time finding the door unlocked) they let Mr. Klindt walk out past them, onto the street.
As the men robbed the bank inside, Mr. Klindt took up his position, and his firearm, in the upstairs window of the barber shop.
Mr. Archibald Henne, another committee member, noticed the men had left the Hudson running. Though unarmed, he walked across the street and shut the car off before moving to a safer position, thus thwarting the robbers chance of a quick getaway.
With nearly $5,000 dollars in the satchel they had brought, the men exited the bank. Mr. Purple was first carrying the bag and his gun. Local citizen Elmer Moore who was hidden behind a tree fired on Purple who returned shots in Moore’s direction.
As soon as Mr. Purple fired, all the armed citizens began shooting. Purple died on the sidewalk near the car.
Mr. Hamilton managed to get into the Hudson, but couldn’t get it started. Severely wounded, he was tied up and carried into a nearby building.
Harry Hamilton was taken to Mercy Hospital where he died on Saturday, December 17th. Though he was able to speak, he refused to give information on the heist or confirm whether anyone else was involved. An inquest jury decided that Purple and Hamilton had conducted the robbery alone.
Changes of clothes belonging to the men were later found hidden in a culvert by farmers along the road leading back from Long Grove to Davenport. The men had planned to change clothes before getting to Davenport in an attempt to disguise themselves further.
Roy Purple’s body was sent to his hometown of Fowler, Indiana, where he was buried on December 20, 1921.
Harry Hamilton was buried in Oakdale Cemetery in Davenport, also on December 20, 1921. His grave remains unmarked.
The Long Grove Vigilance Committee, received a $1,000 reward from the Scott County Banker’s Association—one of the rules set when the vigilance committees were formed was that a thousand dollars was to be paid for the capture—dead or alive—of anyone attempting to rob a Scott County bank.
As for Scott County, it quickly earned a national reputation as a dangerous place for auto bandits to stop.
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.
*Davenport Democrat and Leader, December 16, 1921. Pg. 20.
(posted by Amy D.)