Monday, January 24, 2011

CBT Robbed

Our sleepy hamlet of East Hampton is awakened every once and awhile with some sort of startling event. Geoff Smith, Eaton and Gladys Smith’s son who now resides in Naples Florida, reminded me of one such occurrence. Entering the Connecticut Bank and Trust Company branch located in the Village Center 10 minutes before noon on April 12, 1955, a man described as about 5 feet 6 inches tall and of olive complexion strode into the lobby and walked over to Miss Marie
Teller Marie Bransfield with FBI and State Police Investigators
Bransfield at the teller’s cage and asked if she had any 1040-A income tax forms. As she turned away to meet his request, the bandit suddenly produced a black automatic and pointed it across the counter demanded “Now I want all the big bills.” Shocked and thoroughly frightened, Miss Bransfield, backed away calling upon her supervisor, Mrs. Marjorie Newcombe, telling her, “This man wants the big bills!” Mrs. Newcombe asked “what he was going to pay for them with?” “I don’t know” stammered Miss Bransfield. Mrs. Newcombe, still unaware a holdup was in progress, entered the cage and asked the man what type of money he intended to exchange for the big bills. Then she saw the gun and froze in her tracks. “I want the big bills” the bandit repeated quietly. Mrs. Newcombe dug into the cash drawer whose contents only had two $50 bills and a single $100. “I don’t have many big bills,” she said. He gave a doubting glare. “I’m telling the truth.” She pleaded. “Will you take 10s and 20s?” He nodded and she began shoving stacks of money at him across the counter. The gun never wavered and he showed no signs of nervousness. “Keep ‘em coming,” he urged.

Within a matter of ten minutes the robber slowly turned and strolled out of the bank, exiting with $3,060 stuffed into his pockets. This ice man apparently had cased the bank well. At the appointed hour only three employees were on duty and one other person, Dr. J. Sheldon Davis, a local dentist making a deposit during the holdup, present. Thus the perpetrator encountered no bank officers or other customers. The robber appeared to have been on foot as several employees of Steve’s Auto Sales, Inc. located at 70 Main Street reported having seen a stranger walking north towards the bank shortly before noon. Automobiles then as now, park along the street and whether the bandit might have parked a distance from the bank was not determined.
Upon reporting the robbery, State Police and FBI agents rushed to the scene and a general alarm was broadcast over the police radio and teletype network. Roadblocks were quickly thrown up, but to no avail. A command headquarters under the direction of State Police Captain Robert Rundle was established over Hitchcock’s Drug Store on the corner of Main and Barton Hill, with Middletown Police and County Detective George M. Dunn assisting in the investigation. An intense investigation pursued. It had been thought that a 1952 Nash sedan stolen from in front of the VFW Hall on Washington Street in Middletown belonging to Mr. Michael Augeri might have been used by the robber. The vehicle was found abandoned on a New Haven street
but after questioning several suspects, it was determined not to have related to the EH bank robbery get-away. The State and New Haven Police investigated the possibility that the robber had boarded a train. FBI agents alerted New York operatives but nothing resulted. The robber walked off into the sunset, never to be seen again.

Geoff Smith, who had reminded me of the incident, was a student whose classes were held at the American Legion Hall. We all hear about Gen X and Gen Y today but in 1955 it was Gen BB – Baby Boomers – who were multiplying by leaps and bounds. So much so that the planning for the recently built and opened Memorial School became immediately deficient for the town’s growing needs upon its opening and dedication in 1951. Stretched to the limits, the Superintendent of Schools with the Boards of Education and Selectmen scurried about securing temporary facilities for classrooms. The American Legion, Congregational Church and Library were among locations used while Memorial School was expanded with 8 additional classrooms. A second expansion that created the “blue roof” in the 1980s added more classrooms, a library and new gymnasium and the highly visible landmark – it’s “blue roof!”.

Mrs. Fillmore’s was my 1st grade teacher at Memorial School when the robbery occurred. I vaguely remember her telling us that the bank had been robbed and that until the police were sure the bandit wasn’t roaming the streets (you see, many students walked to school in those days) we would be detained at school. The all clear signal must have come shortly thereafter because I don’t recall getting home any later than usual.

One of the humorous side notes resulted from a previously held East Hampton Chamber of Commerce meeting. It seems that Chamber discussed a March $305,000 New York bank robbery. All local Chamber members agreed, including CBT branch Manager Allen Guiot that it would not be feasible or profitable to hold up the local bank. The Chamber announced another meeting scheduled for the Heidelberg Inn on Lakeview Street for April 14th, two days after the robbery, with one of the topics on the agenda “just how profitable it will be to hold up the local bank.” Apparently, the bandit was unaware the Chamber had ruled out robbery the previous week!

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