“Stick Em’ Up!” Martin City State Bank Was the Victim of Multiple Robberies
By Diane Euston
Martin City was founded in 1887 due to its location to the railroads. By the turn of the century, businesses moved in to take advantage of its location.
One of the most important advancements for a town was the establishment of a bank. In September 1909, local men pooled their money and opened the Martin City State Bank. They held a capital stock of $10,000 and erected a building at current-day 510 E. 135th St. Inside, a bank vault in the back locked up the money so citizens had extra security.
Adding the Martin City Bank was a central piece to the business district and to the growth of the town. However, banks also were magnets for criminals looking for some quick cash. The little bank in Martin City was host to three bank robberies, and all involve an unsuspecting cashier named Samuel J. Roberts.
Banker Samuel Roberts in 1913 and 1917. Photos courtesy Jay Roberts.
A Cool and Deliberate Criminal
On April 26, 1920, a young man wearing a fashionable blue suit, flannel shirt and hat casually walked into the Martin City State Bank around 1 pm. Thirty-year-old Roberts, a well-known resident of Martin City, was the cashier at the bank. Alone and busy when the young man entered the bank, Roberts glanced up and saw a pistol pointed directly at him.
“Stick em’ up!” the robber yelled.
The robber jumped over a three foot railing separating them and jammed the pistol into the cashier’s stomach.
After locking the front door, Roberts was escorted at gunpoint to the bank’s vault. The robber took $1000, locked Roberts in the vault and escaped through the back door. On the edge of town, the criminal asked a driver of a farm wagon for a ride. The unsuspecting farmer drove him a half mile west and sent the young man on his way.
Roberts was able to escape the bank vault by prying the door open with a screwdriver kept inside. Authorities were immediately alerted. Roberts described the man as being “cool and deliberate.”
An arrest of this criminal wasn’t immediate. About five weeks later on June 9th, the bank at Spring Hill, KS was robbed. The story was eerily similar; a man entered the bank wearing a nice brown suit. He held up the cashier and an assistant and after taking around $1000, he locked them in the bank’s vault.
But Spring Hill’s bank was a little more prepared than Martin City’s. A $5000 standing reward sponsored by the Kansas Bankers Association for the capture of bank robbers had citizens ready for a financial windfall. Shortly after locking the cashier and assistant in the vault, an alarm was sounded. The robber, stunned, escaped from the back, ran down the road and hijacked a car.
A posse from the Anti-Horse Thief Association was hot on his tracks, following him to the edge of town. As the robber abandoned the car, he exchanged shots with a man
named Ralph Hines. One bullet from Hines’s gun hit the robber in the chest and killed him.
When they approached the body, they found he had one gun in his hand. In his pocket were 50 cartridges and another gun fully loaded. Under his brown suit, he had layered clothing, including a blue suit and overalls so he could make a quick costume change.
The robber was 27 year-old Alfred Gantert. He was positively identified by Roberts as the man who robbed the Martin City State Bank. Gantert’s mother, Susan, refused to take charge of his body and said the boy “had been wayward and wild recently.”
As a child, Alfred served four months in county jail for throwing a brick through a Bonita School window while school was in session.
Ironically, the field where Gantert had been killed was part of the farm where he had lived as a child. Because his mother would not take his body, Alfred was buried with no headstone in Spring Hill Cemetery in the pauper’s section.
The Time Doesn’t Fit the Crime
On June 7th, 1924, Roberts was busy yet again at the Martin City State Bank as he conducted his regular duties. Two young men wearing dark glasses, caps and dark clothing stormed into the bank and met Roberts at the cage. They forced him into the back room, tied him up and laid him face-down on the floor as they gathered $1700 in cash and change from the bank vault.
A third man waited in the driver’s seat of a flashy Cadillac stolen two days earlier in Brookside. As the two men inside rushed out to the car, they drew attention to themselves when they dropped a large amount of change on the ground. Locals watched suspiciously as the Cadillac sped off northbound. The Cadillac was abandoned in Dallas, MO, and the three robbers escaped.
Less than a month later on July 3rd, two men were charged with the robbery at Martin City after they had been spending frivolously in Kansas City: 28 year-old Theodore A. Russell and 34-year-old Clifford Dunford were held on $5000 bonds.
Both men had police records including prior bank robberies. Dunford had served two years for the 1916 murder of a drug store clerk after he struck him over the head with a board. In 1921, he was charged with second degree murder for shooting a man. Sentences at the time appear to have been short; Dunford was arrested multiple times in Kansas City in the early 30s for bootlegging during Prohibition.
Robbery, Kidnapping, and Murder
On February 12, 1925, 32 year-old Charles Stultz was busy working as a mechanic in his garage on the Martin City-Olathe road (135th St.). Martin City State Bank was just a few doors down. Stultz, who was also the deputy sheriff in town, moved toward the ringing phone and picked the receiver up.
“This is Mr. Roberts,” the voice on the other end said, “I’ve been kidnapped by bandits who robbed the bank. They dumped me out of their car here in Kansas City. I wish you to go over and lock up the bank then come and get me.”
Stultz knew the man who called him was Sam Roberts.
Earlier that day, a man who drove for a local car service was summoned to 20th and Grand Ave. to pick up some passengers. When he arrived, two men got in the car, held him up and forced him to drive them to 48th and Troost Ave. to pick up two more men so they could drive south to a little town called Martin City.
Roberts was alone in the bank when two men pointed a gun at him and told him to throw his hands in the air. Two other conspirators waited in the Cadillac with the terrified driver. They stole $1200 from the bank.
Instead of leaving the cashier behind, the robbers kidnapped Roberts, forced him into the car and shoved him to the floor as they sped off toward Kansas City. At 57th and Euclid, the criminals pushed Roberts and the kidnapped driver out of the car and sped away.
Just two days later, 19 year-old Arthur Schofield confessed to being one of the bank robbers and also of being part of a holdup at a Kansas City, KS, drug store where they kidnapped a man for use of his Studebaker. Schofield was suspected because he was “spending money freely and riding around in taxicabs.
Schofield had already served time in Boonville for robbery of a grocery store.
By August, Wilbur Schofield, Arthur’s 21-year-old brother, confessed to his involvement in the bank robbery. He stated he had a good job at the time but his brother had laughed at “his slowness.” After Arthur was arrested, Wilbur ran away and went to small towns in Illinois before returning a few months later using the alias “William Kearns.”
Wilbur, or “William”, thought people wouldn’t recognize him, but in a short time, he was spotted on the streets of Kansas City. He signed a confession and made statements that revealed others involved. Unfortunately, an accomplice named Ed Fuller was killed just a few months earlier when he tried robbing a woman on the street.
Martin City Bank Stands As a Landmark Today
After years as the center of financial transactions in Martin City, the bank folded after the Great Depression damaged its assets. By 1940, the bank building was a business known as “Kelly Mercantile Co.,” complete with groceries and beverages at “cut-rate prices.”
Today, people in Martin City can visit the site of several bank robberies. The building still stands as a reminder of Martin City’s colorful past and is the location of Fezziwig’s and Heartland Imaging KC.
Diane writes a blog of the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to http://www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com