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Tom Chaney: Bank Robbery in Hart County
Of Writers And Their Books: Bank Robbery in Hart County. Tom discusses a book that no longer exists: a transcript of a 1924 bank robbery trial. This column first appeared 22 May 2005.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: The Narcotic Moment of Creative Bliss
By Tom Chaney
Bank Robbery in Hart County
This week I wish to talk about a book that cannot any longer be read. So far as I know there was only one copy - destroyed in a 1977 fire. The story was brought to mind by last week's account in the News-Herald of the history of the Canmer/Pioneer/Central Kentucky bank.
The book was a 250-page transcript of a 1924 trial in Hart Circuit Court of W. V. Bell, president of the First National Bank in Horse Cave, for conspiracy to rob the Canmer Deposit Bank in Canmer. The jury found him not guilty.
As I recall the transcript, the facts are as described here. Any errors are the fault of my memory, for it has been thirty years since I read the account.
The Canmer bank had been robbed and the robbers had been caught. They admitted their guilt and fingered Will Bell as the mastermind behind the operation. The desperados broke into the bank and into the lock boxes of its customers. They were delighted to squeal on Mr. Bell.
Postal Savings Certificates from the lock boxes were the main part of the loot. Many of those certificates were alleged to have been cashed through Mr. Bell's bank. The certificates were purchased at the post office; they matured in 20 years and could be either bearer or registered instruments. Later they were converted to Postal Savings Bonds, and were in 1935 replaced by U. S. Savings Bonds.
The testimony of the robbers was interesting. They drove from Louisville to Great Onyx Cave in a touring car. They transported nitroglycerine in the side pockets of the car. Remember the state of roads in those days.
Making the hotel at Great Onyx their headquarters, they cased several banks in the area -- Canmer, the Hardyville Bank, and the Farmer's Deposit Bank in Horse Cave at the corner of Main and Higbee streets. They decided upon Canmer.
When asked their trade, one of the robbers replied, "We are in the business of robbing banks!" Shades of Bonnie and Clyde!
The case against Mr. Bell rested on the following testimony: that he knowingly facilitated the cashing of the postal savings certificates; that he stood in the alley behind his rival bank, Farmers Deposit, and told the robbers how they might enter the bank; that he circulated a flyer just after the robbery of the Canmer Bank to its customers advertising the security of the First National Bank of Horse Cave.
Mr. Bell was acquitted of the charge. Six years later his bank closed when Bankco Kentucky failed. He hanged himself with an automobile brake rod in a barn on College Street.
That is relevant to the story, for it accounts for my temporary possession of the transcript of the trial. When the fixtures of First National were sold, Jim Withers and B. T. Chaney bought a wooden cabinet with two doors and a drawer beneath. As they were carrying it across Main Street and up the stairs to their insurance office at the corner of Higbee and Main, the drawer dropped open, and the transcript fell out. With the transcript was a broadside published by the Hart County Herald containing the names of approximately fifty citizens of the town proclaiming their faith in the innocence of Mr. Bell.
Testimony provided an interesting sidelight to the story of the bank robbery. A major car theft operation was alleged to have been headquartered in Horse Cave. The judge forbade the testimony about the car theft.
The story goes thieves stole cars over a wide area, extending to neighboring states, and brought them to Horse Cave to be repainted and to have their serial numbers altered.
The repainting and altering of serial numbers was said to have been done in what is now the Bale Oil Company garage that opens onto Guthrie and Higbee streets. Testimony was offered that Mr. Bell drove a stolen Buick purchased from that garage. But the prosecutor was not able to connect the car theft ring to either Mr. Bell or to the bank robbery.
Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney
This story was posted on 2013-06-02 05:20:54
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