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JIM: The bungled Bank of Columbia burglary of 1921

Bank Robbing was big business 91 years ago. A quartet, apparently backed by a crime syndicate, came to Columbia and stayed in the Jeffries Hotel. They attempted to crack the wondrous new Bank of Columbia safe, but were frightened away by a group of young men up late playing Rook.The would be burglars fled, and the Rook players gave chase, while calls went ahead to Campbellsville and Lebanon Police. The latter sprayed the fleeing car with bullets, possibly killing three of the men, who were never heard of again. But one raymond Driscoll, was captured in Indianapolis and later fingered by a hostage/witness, Pete Garvin, and by the Jeffries Hotel proprietor, G.C. Jeffries. But well financed syndicate lawyers got Driscoll off with just a five year sentence, a slap on the wrist in the eyes of post trial opinionators in the Adair County News

By JIM

The bungled Bank of Columbia burglary of 1921

One can only imagine the excited chatter on a cold Monday morning almost ninety-one years ago as word raced around the Square there had been an attempt to burglarize the Bank of Columbia just hours earlier.


According to the News, the break-in occurred very early Monday morning -- between midnight and one a.m., to be precise. Five men were involved, but only four of them of their own free will. Stated the January 12th, 1921 edition,

They came to Columbia in an automobile which they stopped on the pike near the Christian church. The men made their way to the bank, picking up Pete Garvin, who is the chauffeur on the auto mail line between Campbellsville and Columbia.

Ernest Young "Pete" Garvin, about 25, a widower and the father of a three-year-old son, was forced at gunpoint into the bank that January night. He had removed from Cumberland County to Columbia about fifteen years earlier with his parents and siblings, the latter including the well-known Payne Garvin.

The rationale for "picking up" Mr. Garvin was never made clear, but

They conveyed him to the bank and after jimmying the front door, he was placed in the back-room and guarded. (A later account stated the robbers had picked Garvin up at the Ingram corner, punched him in the ribs with a revolver, and forced him into the back room of the bank.) The robbers then knocked off the combination of the door leading into the vestibule of the main vault.

At this point, for reasons unknown, the robbers panicked and left without so much as the feeblest effort at cracking the safe, leaving behind their tools, a grass sack (brought along, it was surmised, to haul off their swag -- had there been any, that is) and Mr. Garvin.

The safe, of the time-lock and screw-door fashion, had been installed in the summer of 1901. At that time, the News rhapsodized over the new wonder, calling it "One of the safest money repositories we ever inspected..." The article continued by stating "Burglars can not enter it, neither will fire have any effect upon it....its excellent and complicated work make it very valuable, costing the corporation over one thousand dollars."

A group of young men, up late playing Rook, heard the commotion and some of them gave brief chase to the would-be bank-busters as they fled, while others placed calls to Lebanon and Campbellsville for the police forces there to keep an eye out for the fleeing felons. Reported the News,

At Lebanon the police tried to stop them but failed. The officers shot twelve or fourteen shots into the car occupied by the robbers, and they report here that they think some of the shots took effect.

Somewhere between Lebanon and Indianapolis, three of the four robbers simply dropped into oblivion, never again to surface (at least not in the pages of the News), but such was not the case with 26-year-old Raymond Driscoll. The January 19th edition reported that

The news of the robbery and the attack made on the car...soon spread over the entire country, and Monday night [January 11th] Driscoll was arrested in Indianapolis, just as he was leaving a car that he evidently had abandoned.

At the time of his capture, Raymond Driscoll stated he was a native of Pennsylvania but that he had lived in Illinois for the past few years. He appeared in the 1920 census as a 24-year-old divorced auto mechanic residing in a boarding house in Chicago.

The article farther noted the automobile was filled with bullet holes and that "there were blood stains all over the inside." The January 14th Louisville Post described the vehicle as "a mud spattered, bullet-riddled Ford" and informed readers that "Indianapolis authorities have sent word that the car was bloody and contained bloody rags, believed to have been used as bandages."

Upon notification of Driscoll's capture, Pete Garvin and Deputy Sheriff George Coffey immediately started for north, stopping in Louisville for Garvin to view a photograph of Driscoll the Indianapolis police had forwarded there. Garvin was quoted as saying, "That's the man," after a glance at the picture. He and Deputy Coffey then hastened to Indianapolis to secure Driscoll.

Upon their arrival and seeing the incarcerated man face to face, Garvin stated that he couldn't be mistaken, that "he knew beyond the peradventure of a doubt that the right man had been arrested." Garvin further identified Driscoll as the man who had forced him at gunpoint into the bank.

Garvin and Deputy Coffey returned to Columbia with Driscoll on early Sunday afternoon, January 16th, and the prisoner was taken almost immediately before Judge W.S. Sinclair. Driscoll waived his right to an examining trial, Judge Sinclair set bail at $25,000, and Driscoll, unable to post that amount, was remanded to jail. The following day, an order was made for his transfer to the Louisville bastille for safe keeping until the trial. The News expressed the opinion that Driscoll would be indicted and tried when the Adair circuit court convened in early March.

Hotel proprietor C.G. Jeffries saw the prisoner upon his (Driscoll's) return to Columbia that Sunday afternoon and unequivocally stated his certainty that Driscoll and a friend had stayed at Jeffries' hotel the night of December 5th, 1920. J.N. Coffey of Columbia affirmed Jeffries' statement.

A few days later, Deputy Coffey received a letter from an Indianapolis attorney, "thanking him for his good treatment of the prisoner." The attorney, unaware that Driscoll had been taken to Louisville, went on to ask Coffey "to see to that Driscoll got all the comforts of life that his (Driscoll's) money would buy."

At the latter, the News huffed, "It is all right for an attorney to do his duty by his client, but when it comes to making a Prince out of a bank robber, it is going far beyond the judgment of a good citizen."

Apparently, speculation ran rampant as to whether Driscoll could make bail. Editorialized the News in the January 26th edition,

We do not think there is a possibility of him securing bondsmen, and we further believe that if he lives he will be delivered to the Jailer of Adair County...at the March term of Circuit Court. If he is ready he will doubtless be tried at said term of court.

Despite the News' optimistic prediction of an early date for the trial, March came and went and the trial didn't materialize. "Several witnesses from Lebanon and three from Louisville" were summoned to be in Columbia, but for reasons now unknown, the case was removed from the docket and recalendared. The March 23rd edition simply stated that "by agreement the case was continued until the third day of the next July term of circuit court," and Judge Carter made an order to return Driscoll to Jefferson County.

The March 30th paper merely noted in passing that the case had been continued and that Cortez Sanders and Ed Staples, Adair County Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff, respectively, had escorted Driscoll back to Louisville.

July, like March, came and went without farther action, this time because of the illness of Circuit Judge J.C. Carter of Tompkinsville. The News edition dated July 30th stated Judge Carter would call a special session of court in late August specifically for the Driscoll trial.

On Monday, August 29th, Judge Carter executed an order to have Driscoll removed from the jail in Jefferson county and brought to Adar County. On the 30th and the morning of the 31st, the jury was impaneled, and immediately thereafter, the proceedings got under way before some three hundred citizens of Adair and surrounding counties.

The State, represented by Commonwealth Attorney A.A. Huddleston, County Attorney W.A. Coffey, and Jones & Garnett (Messrs. W.W. Jones & James R. Garnett) of Columbia, opened immediately after the noon meal on Wednesday, August 31st and rested just before noon on September 1st. At that time, Driscoll and his attorneys, L.C. Winfrey of Columbia and Huggins and Hagan of Louisville, went into consultation and upon returning, announced the defense rested without presenting a case, effectively putting Driscoll at the mercy of the jury.

Opined the News,

The defense acted wise in not introducing Driscoll, as a plain case had been made out against him, and if the case had been fought to the finish he would evidently been given a much longer term.

As it was, Judge Carter gave the jury its instructions, and that body adjourned to deliberate, "remaining a short time, returning with a verdict of five years in the penitentiary."

Groused the newspaper in an editorial the following week,

It looks like the time has come when it requires the wisdom of shrewd lawyers to punish bank robbers. The bandits have a national organization, with plenty of money, and when one is caught, sympathy is worked up and all the money necessary to secure his release is furnished.

Driscoll did not get away, but over two thousand dollars were furnished to release him. The law had the dead wood on him, and yet he played the game in a manner to get only five years. If he is dutiful while in the penitentiary he will get out in three years and nine months and will again be ready to apply the Jimmie.


Immediately after the robbery attempt in January, the Bank of Columbia and the First National Bank of Columbia had pooled resources to offer a reward of $500 for the arrest and conviction of any or all of the involved parties. The September 6, 1921 edition made mention of the reward, then added, "just how it will be distributed, we are not advised." It never again drew mention in the pages of the News.

(No individual who could positively be identified as Raymond Driscoll, would-be banker burglar, was located in the 1930 federal census. However, he possibly was the 14-year-old Raymond M. Driscoll who appeared in the 1910 Erie, Pennsylvania, census. By mid-1917, Raymond M., an unemployed newspaper man, resided in Gary, Indiana, not far removed from Chicago. In June of that year, he claimed his wife and two sisters as dependents on his World War One draft registration.)

Compiled by Jim


This story was posted on 2011-10-02 04:46:27
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