Times have changed for media, bank robbers
In these parts, it was the bank robbery of the century.
Three young men walked into Granite Quarry’s Farmers and Merchants Bank on Feb. 12, 1951, strolled directly to Cashier J.E. Fisher’s office and set things in motion.
“I was sitting at the table in my office at the rear of the bank, checking some notes,” Fisher said later, “when a voice said, ‘This is a stickup.’ And when I looked up, I was looking into the barrels of three guns.”
The bank employees remarked later how the young men seemed cool and collected as one of the robbers held them at gunpoint in the lobby while the other two went into the open vault and filled bags with currency and silver.
The two gathering money had wrapped handkerchiefs over their hands so they wouldn’t leave fingerprints. At first, the bank employees thought they were professionals.
“They were all three very clean-cut looking chaps,” Fisher said, “but they looked mighty hard out of their eyes behind those guns.”
But would professionals make the mistake of calling Fisher by his nickname “Jake?” Would they walk into the bank without masks? Would they park their getaway car close enough to the back to allow Assistant Cashier E.R. Silliman Jr. to read their license plate as they drove away?
The late George Raynor, who eventually became the Post’s editor, wrote that while the trio executed the robbery rather quickly, it was all followed up by “stupidity that must have Jesse James tossing in his grave.”
I wish I had the space to tell you everything about the capture of James “Bobby” Josey, Kenneth “Doodlebug” Jackson, Odell Black and an accomplice, John Josey Jr., the brother of Bobby.
The robbers got away that particular Monday morning with what, for those days, was a whopping $44,171.45. Farmers and Merchants customers didn’t have to fret ó the stolen money was fully insured ó but Bobby Josey’s cut of $14,546.81 was never recovered.
The men received 10- to 20-year federal prison sentences, and the bank robbery has become part of F&M Bank’s storied history.
Reporters stumble across old stories such as these all the time. Reading through the files of this particular case, I envy the cooperation newspapers had in those days from law enforcement, businesses and victims.
I can’t believe how fast the judicial system worked, either.
The bank robbery happened Feb. 12, and the four men, thanks to their having pleaded guilty, were tried, convicted and on their way to federal prison by March 6, less than a month later.
Today, when a bank robbery happens, reporters are lucky to obtain any information beyond the time it happened, what the suspects were wearing and in what direction they left the bank.
Authorities might allow newspapers and television stations to run images from an in-bank camera, if it helps them track down the robbers. But we never hear how much money was taken. Bank employees don’t talk. All other access is denied.
This wasn’t the case in 1951.
The same-day stories in the Post were rich with details and quotes from Fisher and his employees. Reporters and photographers had liberal access to the bank and seemed to be covering the case at every step with law enforcement.
The newspaper immediately reported that $35,000 to $40,000 had been stolen. It printed the license number of the getaway car (NC-82020). It noted that the vault was empty, except for $5,000 in currency and $100 in nickels.
The final edition on the same day of the robbery had a photograph of Fisher and his four employees re-enacting the robbery ó how they sat in a line along a wall in the lobby while one of the robbers (a stand-in supplied by the Post) covered them. It even had Silliman sitting on a waste can, as he had done during the holdup.
The first-day’s report also had a picture of the abandoned getaway car, a 1936 Ford, discovered near Earnhardt’s Quarry.
By the next day’s edition, Bobby Josey and Doodlebug Jackson has been apprehended, taken before a U.S. commissioner that night in Salisbury and given a chance to describe their whole day on the loose, what they did with the money and how they came to be captured ó all reported by the media.
Officers stopped Doodlebug while he walked along the Rockwell Highway with $2,000 in 100 bills stuffed in his shoes. He then led officers to the rest of his cut, some $13,000 he had hidden in a tree stump.
On what happened to his share of the money, Bobby Josey first said, “Lost it in the woods, I reckon.” Later at trial, he claimed he had hidden his “loot” ó the Post liked that word ó in a 5-gallon tin can under an old automobile tire in a trash pile near China Grove.
He had told a woman acquaintance to tell his brother where it was. But John Josey was arrested first and never saw the woman. Bobby Josey, who couldn’t read or write, asked authorities to release him for a couple of days so he could locate the money for them.
Funny, it didn’t happen.
Bobby Josey apparently was full of himself after his arrest. “Oh, I was a little scared before we entered the bank,” the teenager said, “but after I pulled the gun, I wasn’t scared. That felt good.”
By then, the newspaper was reporting that Odell Black was the third robber authorities were looking for. They located him the next afternoon near Deal’s Service Station on N.C. 152. He had spent most of his 28 hours on the loose in the woods.
A hungry Black swapped his confession for a sandwich and a drink. He first took officers to a torn pillow case in the woods that contained only $125.
Three days later, Black led U.S. Marshal Tom Blalock, a deputy sheriff and two FBI agents to a pine thicket near Organ Church. It took three hours to find the paper sack containing $14,622.
The total money recovered from the famous Farmers and Merchants bank robbery was $29,624.64.
I love all these details. I also appreciate the ribbing Granite Quarry Civitans gave fellow member J.E. Fisher a couple of nights later at their regular dinner meeting.
They told Fisher he could have the first ad in the program for the Civitan-sponsored Spring Festival. It said:
Farmers & Merchants Bank
Granite Quarry, N.C.
HOW ABOUT YOU?Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.