The great unresolved bank heist of 1932
by Kenda Nelson
May 14, 2010 | 2708 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An old photo of Woodsboro National Bank which was robbed on Feb. 4, 1932.
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The great bank heist of Feb. 4, 1932, has all the intrigue of a Hollywood wild-west movie – mystery, hardship, heroes, villains and legends.

Only a handful of people remain in the county who still remember the only known robbery at the Woodsboro National Bank.

Octogenarian Glen Harsdorf was playing with his brother Fritz and a friend in a ditch near the bank when the get-away car sped by.

Glen’s daughter Linda Lees would later hear the story from her grandfather, George Dahse, who was at the heart of the robbery.

Dahse, the assistant cashier at First National, was alone during the lunch hour, making out a cashiers check for a customer when two armed, unmasked bandits entered the bank, stuck a gun between the bars of the teller’s cage and said, “stick ‘em up.”

The robbers scooped up $2,135 – all the cash in sight, but most of the money was in the vault, protected by a lock on a timer.

The bandits demanded that Dahse unlock the vault so they could get at more loot.

“You open that safe or I’ll blow your guts out,” one of the crooks reportedly said.

“Well, you’ll have to shoot because I can’t open it,” Dahse answered.

Angered, the bandits cracked Dahse on the back of the head, presumably with a blackjack, giving Dahse a concussion that put him in bed for weeks.

The cashier loosened his hands enough to call Harry Cummins, another cashier, and Ira Heard, the county sheriff.

Dahse lost consciousness briefly and had only a vague recollection of seeing the robbers leave the building.

Dahse described one assailant as tall and slender and the other as short and heavy. The robbers were extremely profane, Dahse said, especially after they were unable to get their hands on more money.

If hard times breed hard crimes, the county was ripe. The oil boom was in full swing, taverns were plentiful, and moonshine flowed freely in spite of Prohibition.

The Depression had the country on its knees. News of the great oil strike caused people to stream in, hunting work.

Without housing, infrastructure or jobs for the onslaught of new people, tent cities went up on the fringes of the community. The largest was under the railroad trestle in what was then known as River Oaks but later became dubbed Little Mexico.

Widespread poverty prevailed in the tent villages. Times turned abruptly in the community that boasted that one in 10 was a millionaire at the turn of the century.

“Ira Heard kept the crime down and the county was pretty safe, considering the times,” said John Borglund, lifelong resident who was just a boy when the robbery occurred, but he remembers the robbery was the talk of the town.

The legendary lawman was outraged that anyone had the nerve to hold up a bank in his county, Dahse told his granddaughter.

“My grandfather said Ira Heard was determined to bring the culprits to justice and scoured the jails of South Texas looking for suspects,” Lees said. “ He even brought a few of them to Papa’s bedside to see if he could make an identification.”

Lee’s grandmother, Lottie Dahse, didn’t like the sheriff bringing prisoners to their home.

“She felt like it was an invasion of privacy and she worried about what my mother, who was about seven, might see or hear,” Lees said. “Two area newspaper accounts, while accurate, turned Papa into some kind of hero for some people, which made him very uncomfortable.”

“Luckily, the crime took place when my grandfather was the only one in the bank, otherwise, he probably wouldn’t have been the only one hurt,” Lees said. “The robbery was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He just felt lucky he survived.”

Once Dahse was on his feet again, Heard insisted on driving him to various South Texas jails, never willing to give up the chase, according to Lees.

“I think this turned out to be more of an ordeal for Papa than the robbery,” Lees added.

A Refugio man, who allegedly had connections with Bonnie and Clyde, was the prime suspect, but Dahse could not positively identify the man as one of the robbers.

“I heard from my grandfather and two other sources the suspect was taken to Padre island for interrogation where he was ordered to dig a hole in the sand,” Lees said. “I’m sure he thought he was going to die. He was packed in the hole with ice. He still refused to confess and eventually passed out from the pain.”

Lees asked her grandfather why they went to great lengths to get a confession.

“I was told Padre Island was isolated at that time,” she said. “The poor man could scream and no one but those present were going to hear. As for the ice, it doesn’t leave marks.”

Talk around town was that one suspect went to trial but was never convicted.

But scouring courthouse records for the trial failed to produce any court records of the bank heist. One similar robbery of an individual at gunpoint – at the hands of the same alleged criminal, according to those who remember hearing about the case – happened about the same time and mentions a “companion case.”

The defendant in that case was found guilty and sentenced to 14 years in prison. His case was immediately appealed. A few citizens put up bail and he was released from jail, pending a new trial.

The case was moved to Jackson County on a change of venue and 15 years later was dismissed for insufficient evidence.

Now, 78 years later, the First National Bank still has the dubious distinction of being the only scene of a bank robbery in county history.
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