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Concordia Savings Bank Robbery

 
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roger.pape
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 29, 2014 9:18 am    Post subject: Concordia Savings Bank Robbery Reply with quote

On Aug. 29, 1878, three armed men entered the Concordia Savings Bank (located next to Kroencke’s Store on the SE corner of Caroline & Schiller Streets, i.e. 7th &Main, at that time), overpowered the teller Henry Ficken, and made off with $4160.00. As they rode south out of town, they met a group of townspeople coming home from a picnic and boasted to the crowd that they had just robbed the bank.

[Note. A photo of the bank as it looked in those days is posted below as well as a map showing its location. You can also see where it was located by going to the http://www.whatwasthere.com website, entering Concordia Missouri as the location, and searching for the Kroencke General Store and Concordia Savings Bank photo.]

Who were these bank robbers? One of the enduring legends of Concordia is that they were members of the Jesse James gang. An account of the incident can be found in Voight’s Concordia, Missouri – A Centennial History. In it, he notes that the robbers were not apprehended but quotes Young’s 1910 History of Lafayette County Missouri in which it states that “it is quite well established that the three robbers were McCoy. Cummins, and Miller of the James gang”. However, this was actually pure speculation written well after the fact. It was popular to attribute any bank robbery of that time to the Jesse James gang.

Jesse, his brother, and other members were part of Quantrill’s gang of bushwhackers during the Civil War. After the war, rather that settle down to an honest job, they found it more appealing to continue their lawless ways by robbing banks, stagecoaches, and trains. However, Jesse himself could not have been involved in the Concordia robbery. After his failed robbery attempt at Northfield, Minnesota on Sept. 7, 1876, he went into hiding in Nashville, Tennessee. It wasn’t until the fall of 1879 when he became restless, reassembled his gang, and began his robberies again. The rest of his gang probably laid low until that time also.

It turns out that three different men were arrested for the robbery. While there was no Concordian at the time to report the incident, a series of articles were published in the Sedalia Bazoo between Sept. 3 and Oct. 8, 1878. Copies of these articles are compiled in the following file, Concordia bank robbery. The initial report in the Sept. 3 issue suggests that, during the pursuit, shots were fired between lawmen and the thieves in the Blackwater area but that the thieves escaped. The following week’s issue indicated that three men had been apprehended, i.e. Ottie Orfutt, Reilly Carroll, and Thomas Rennick, and were jailed in Lexington. Henry Ficken came to the jail and identified them as the men who robbed the bank even though the men pleaded innocent and indicated that they had plenty of witnesses to provide an alibi.

A preliminary trial was held within a few days. While a number of people besides Henry Ficken testified that they recognized the three as the bank robbers, the defendants had a large number of friends and relatives who testified that the accused were not in the Concordia area at the time of the robbery. So the three men were set free. After the three were acquitted, no one else was convicted for the crime although a considerable amount of time and resources were expended trying to find the culprits.

Three other men were later accused of the robbery, namely Abe Cresswell and John and Ed Shewalter. They were held briefly but were also released for lack of evidence. You can find some details of this investigation extracted from the Oct. 8, 1868 issue of the Bazoo near the end of the file cited above.

Other newspapers began to question the accounts of the robbery and one reporter apparently questioned the integrity of Henry Ficken. However, Henry remained a pillar of the community, eventually becoming mayor of Concordia.



ConcordiaSavingsBank.jpg
 Description:
The building to the right of Kroenke's Store was Concordia Savings Bank. The bank was robbed (reportedly by members of the Jesse James Gang) in 1878. The bank was established in 1873 and initially located at the southwest corner of 8th & Main
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ConcordiaSavingsBank.jpg



1886SanbornMap(7th&Main).jpg
 Description:
1886 Sanborn Insurance map of Concordia around Caroline and Schiller Streets (7th & Main). The Concordia Savings Bank is the second business on the southeast corner of that intersection between Kroencke’s Department Store and Sodeman’s Tin Shop.
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1886SanbornMap(7th&Main).jpg




Last edited by roger.pape on Thu Feb 06, 2014 11:05 am; edited 2 times in total
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roger.pape
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Joined: 17 Mar 2009
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Location: Liverpool, NY

PostPosted: Fri Jan 31, 2014 8:31 pm    Post subject: Lexington Intelligencer Reports Reply with quote

A much more factual reporting of the Concordia Savings Bank robbery was published in the Lexington Weekly Intelligencer. The first report of the robbery can be found in its Aug. 31, 1878 issue, page 3, col 4. See Intelligencer Reports. (Note. This file is quite large because it contains images of complete newspaper pages.) A statement from the staff of the bank was also printed in the next column on that page assuring everyone that the bank was not impaired and that business would continue as usual.

The following issue on September 07, 1878, page 2, col 5 & 6 contained a more detailed report. Looking at the map above, one can follow the action during the holdup. The robbers tied up their horses next to Kroencke’s Department Store on the north side of the bank. After entering the bank and overpowering teller Henry Ficken, Mr. Sodeman heard the commotion from his tin shop next door on the south side of the bank. When he came over to the bank, he was chased off by the sentinel at the entrance to the bank who fired shots at him. After the robbers took the money (currency only), they rode off south down Schiller Street. Peter Deuchler, the saloon keeper at the south end of the block, ran out and exchanged shots with the robbers as they fled. This article also includes the capture, identification, and arraignment of Offut, Renick, and Correll. Personal details of the suspects were also included.

The issue of September 14, 1878, page 2, col 2 & 3 describes the testimony at the hearing. It includes the testimony of other Concordia residents besides Henry Ficken who witnessed the robbery as well as people who saw the robbers after they fled from Concordia. On the defense’s side, a number of statements were given by friends of the accused men that claimed they were no where near Concordia when the robbery occurred.

Then, the September 21, 1878 issue, page 2, col 4 contains the verdict handed down by the judge acquitting the suspects. Without any hard evidence connecting the accused to the robbery, it came down to the identification of the men by various witnesses. The judge’s decision was based primarily on his inclination to believe people who were acquainted with the suspects rather than those testifying for the prosecution who did not know them. Quoting the judge’s ruling:

“The charges against the prisoners are for robbing the Concordia Savings Bank, and for feloniously assaulting, with intent to kill, Mr. Henry Ficken, the cashier and other citizens. The evidence establishing the guilt or innocence of the prisoners in one case, establishes the fact in the other case. The crime with which the prisoners stand charged is a grave one, which every good citizen of our country and state feels a deep interest in seeing punished to the full extent of the law. The witnesses on the part of the state are among the best citizens of this county, many of them known to me to be honest, honorable, truthful men.. Eight or ten of them testify that the men who committed the crime with which the prisoners stand charged, are entire strangers to them. They testify, also, that these are the three men who robbed the bank in Concordia, on August 29th, between the hours of one and two o’clock, p.m. Among the witnesses for the state, it was attempted to impeach one, by showing that he had made conflicting statements as to the identity of one of the prisoners. I think it quite probable, as Mr. Welborn stated, that the parties were mistaken as to what he had stated to them. He is a young lawyer, with a reputation for honesty and integrity of which he has just reason to feel proud. The state has made out a strong case. The defense sets up an alibi. The witnesses, about forty in number, are admitted by counsel for the state to be among the most respectable and honorable citizens of Johnson county. Their testimony, therefore, is entitled to equal weight with that of the prosecution. Without going into the evidence in detail, I will say that it establishes, beyond the possibility of a doubt, that at the time the Concordia bank was robbed, these prisoners were nineteen to thirty miles from there, rendering it utterly impossible for them to have committed the crime. The witnesses for the defense, with but one or two exceptions, are, and have been for a number of years, personally acquainted with the prisoners. Many of them relate facts and incidents that took place, which convince me that they cannot be mistaken as to the time. I think that the witnesses for the state, being entire strangers to the men who committed the crime, and, having seen them but casually, and for a short space of time, not exceeding five minutes, are more likely to be mistaken as to identity than are the witnesses for the defense, who are intimately acquainted with these defendants. The sheriff and his posse deserve a great credit for their prompt action in making the arrest as if these were the guilty parties, as they had reason to believe they were. After considering all the evidence, I am convinced that this is a case of mistaken identity, and that the prisoners are innocent of the crime charged against them. I, therefore, discharge the prisoners.”

One must keep in mind that this was not that long after the Civil War and there was still a lot of animosity between many of the Confederate sympathizers in the area and those “Republican Germans” in Concordia. As the Warrensburg Standard put it, “Johnson county democrats would swear anything to clear bushwhackers and their allies from accusations of crime.” So it is possible that the actual criminals were set free.

After these suspects were released, the bank hired detectives who continued to investigate the case. In the October 19, 1878 issue of the Intelligencer, there was a brief note (page 3, col 2) that one of these detectives had three other individuals, Abe Cresswell, John and Ed Shewalter, arrainged for the robbery. However, the detective did not appear at the arraignment or provide any testimony. Based on what was reported by the Sedalia Bazoo (in the previous post), the evidence may have been somewhat flimsy. (It is interesting that the defense attorney for the first group of men was also named Shewalter.) So these men were also released.

Finally, the issue of November 16, 1878, page 2, col 6, contains a rather flowery statement from these latter three men proclaiming their innocence. You can tell from the wording that there were still a lot of bad feelings between people in the area.

As a result, no one was ever convicted for the robbery.
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