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Column: Gang that couldn't shoot straight wasn't very smart

Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run "Isn't That Something" columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen. The following column first ap...

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen. The following column first appeared April 2, 2005.

WORTHINGTON - Do I think crooks are smart?

The question was laid before me by a young reader. In a column one week ago, we were retracing some of the life and deeds of Burnice Iverson Geiger who, 40 years ago, embezzled more than $2 million - a record - from her bank at Sheldon, Iowa.

The column noted that accountants said Mrs. Geiger “had a marvelous mind - she had to keep and balance two sets of books, one that told of accounts as they were and one that told of accounts as they ought to be.”

Well - I think crooks tend to be as smart as dancers, dictators, dermatologists and car drivers - which is to say, some of them are pretty smart.

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I believe John Dillinger was very smart. Clever. I think Frank James must have been smarter than Jesse; Frank James convinced a jury he was an innocent man and he lived to be an old man. Cole Younger, eldest of the James brothers’ cohorts, wrote and published a popular story of his life after he was freed from the Minnesota State Penitentiary at Stillwater.

On the other hand, Worthington was only one of many communities that had experiences with a gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

In 1919, in the summer months after the armistice that ended World War I, concrete paving began in the local area. Concrete was poured in Nobles County along five miles of what one day would become Highway 16, which today is Nobles County 35. Young war veterans, looking for work, helped with that project. At the same time, Worthington was getting its first concrete: along 10th Street, the Turkey Day parade route.

Sand, concrete and paving machinery were coming into Worthington on the Rock Island Railroad, which had its depot near 10th Avenue - near the Post Office, almost on the present site of Shear Expressions.

The paving contractor set up two large sleeping tents for workers on that site, plus an office tent.

In mid-October, with the weather getting chilly and the paving projects not completed, a call went out for extra workers. There were three men, in particular, who answered that call. Two of the men were “ordinary.” The third man had deep, large scars across his forehead.

The three new workers were on the job for one day. They spent one night in a sleeping tent. Next morning, the trio drew their pay at the office tent, quit their jobs and disappeared.

At 10:30 p.m., on Thursday of that same week, the barrels of two revolvers and a shotgun poked through the front flap of the first sleeping tent. There was a call for “hands up.”

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The bandit trio had (cleverly) folded handkerchiefs into triangles and tied the handkerchiefs over their faces. The men being robbed noted, however, that one of the gunmen had deep, large scars across his forehead. They recognized that man. Next, the handkerchief fell off the face of a second gunman. He was recognized as scar brow’s pal.

Though the robbers were known, there nonetheless were several minutes of tension.

The gunmen - genuine highwaymen - were earnest.

One of the robbery victims handed over the cash from his wallet and then fell to his knees and began to pray. A gunman advised him, “Prayer won’t do you any good, unless you’re used to it.”

Another robbery victim announced he was not going to give up his cash. The bandit with the shotgun pressed the barrel into the victim’s ribs. The man said he had a second thought. He decided he would give up his money after all.

A third man, fearful of a robbery in that era when armed robberies were heard of often, “planted” his money in several different places, so that robbers might not find it all. Now he feared the robbers knew about his scheme from what they might have heard in that night they spent in the tent. The man went to every place he had hidden cash and dug it out.

The armed gunmen got away. They had more than $200, plus traveler’s checks, plus assorted papers which workmen had in their wallets.

Oh yes. The gunmen soon were caught.

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Crooks are not always smart.

 

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