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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

First Robbery, Then Murder: Martin City's Bank the Scene of Heists in the 20s

Martin City, once a small town in southern Jackson County that was annexed to Kansas City in 1963,  was founded in 1887 due to its location to the railroads. Anyone who has been through this small nest egg of early 20th century charm knows all about those railroad tracks that cross in three different places, oftentimes stalling our progress to our next destination. But those railroad tracks are the very reason that the area was settled. By the turn of the century, businesses moved in to take advantage of what could be a bustling little town.
Martin City, circa 1906
One of the most important advancements for a town was the establishment of a bank so that their finances and their transactions could stay local. In September 1909, residents 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.
Adding the Martin City Bank was a central piece to the business district and to the growth of a 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 early in its history that tell an interesting story of early 20th century criminal activity. . . and all involve an unsuspecting cashier named Samuel J. 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 1:00pm. 30 year-old Sam Roberts (1890-1960), a well-known resident of Martin City who was reared in Belton, was the cashier at the bank. Alone and busy when the young man entered, Sam glanced up and saw a pistol pointed directly at him.
Martin City State Bank, cir. 1920. Photo courtesy of the Klapmeyer family

“Stick em’ up!” the robber yelled.

Seriously. That’s what he said.

Sam Roberts told the Kansas City Star, “He drew a revolver and demanded money. He took only currency, and then locked me in the vault.”  

The robber jumped over a three foot railing separating them and jammed the pistol into the cashier’s stomach. The bandit screamed for the cashier to lock the front door. The robber took $1000, locked Sam into the vault and escaped through the back door. On the edge of town, the criminal asked Albert Phillips, a driver of a farm wagon, for a ride. The unsuspecting farmer casually carted him a half mile west and sent the young man on his way.

Sam Roberts was able to escape the bank vault by prying the door open with a screwdriver kept inside. Authorities were immediately alerted, and Sam described the man as being about 30 years old, 5’9” tall and about 165 pounds. His demeanor, according to Sam, was “cool and deliberate.”

News spread through the little town like wildfire, and area residents gathered to take in the latest gossip. William Simpson, a farmer near the hamlet, said he saw a man matching Sam’s description at a Missouri Pacific train leaving in Kansas City.
Spring Hill, Ks., courtesy of Miami Co. Historical Museum

Bennett Rector, president of the Martin City Bank, stood nearby and relayed that he had seen the bandit from across the street. Unfortunately, he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary and went about his business.

Johnnie Lawson saw the criminal loafing around outside his business on Main St. within an eyeshot of the bank, and County Marshal Harvey Hoffman believed that the bank robber was likely hiding in Kansas City.

As it turned out, no one knew much of anything.

An arrest of this cool criminal wasn’t immediate. About five weeks later on June 9th, the bank at Spring Hill, Ks. was being cased. A gentleman in “an expensive brown suit” was seen lurking outside the bank around noon that day. Two hours later, he made his swift move. The story was eerily similar; a man entered the bank and produced a pistol from his pocket. He held up the cashier and an assistant, forcing them into the bank’s vault in the back. He was able to score around $1000.

But Spring Hill’s bank was a little more prepared than Martin City. A $5,000 standing reward sponsored by the Kansas Bankers Association for the capture of bank robbers had citizens ready for a financial windfall. When the alarm sounded and alerted quick-drawing citizens to the call, the robber, stunned, escaped from the back and ran down the road. A posse from the Anti-Horse Thief Association was hot on his tracks, following him to the edge of town.

He ran a half mile from the scene of the crime with citizens seconds behind him. He approached a Studebaker driven by an unsuspecting resident and tried to hijack the car.

As the robber realized he couldn’t successfully steal the car, he threw himself in a ditch and aimed his gun toward the mob chasing him, narrowly missing Ralph Hines. Ralph fired a warning shot into the air; the bandit tried to seek shelter in a muddy corn field. He turned around one last time and took aim at Ralph Hines.  One bullet from Hines’s gun allegedly traveled 125 yards, hit the robber square in the heart and killed him.

When the posse approached the body, they found he had one gun in his hand, and in his pocket were 50 cartridges and another gun fully loaded. Under his brown suit, he had layered himself in additional 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 Sam Roberts, the cashier, John Lawson, storekeeper and Jim Phillips, farmer as the man who robbed the Martin City State Bank. Gantert’s mother, Susan was a well-respected citizen living in Olathe; her husband, allegedly a “drunk,”  had left her years earlier with young children to raise. As a child, Alfred served four months in county jail for going to the Bonita School while class was in session and throwing a brick through one of the windows.

Olathe Mirror
The sheriff traveled to South Keeler St. in Olathe to deliver the news in person to Alfred’s mother, Susan. She reported that Alfred “had been wayward and wild recently.” Grief-stricken and shaky, she exclaimed, “He hasn’t been home in years, and he never treated me as he should!”  

With tears in her eyes, she asked to see her son. The sheriff drove her to see the body. It was reported that she “did not show the emotion which one would have thought under the circumstances.”

It appears Susan had run out of patience and pity. As she turned away from her son’s corpse, she said, “I wash my hands of him. He always did take after his father.” His mother refused to take control of his remains and walked away.

Ironically, the field where Alfred had been killed was steps away from 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 where he rests unmarked today.

The Time Doesn’t Fit These Crimes
Sam Roberts

On June 7th1924, Sam 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 Sam at the cage. They forced Sam 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 at 60th and Brookside Blvd. 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. (103rd and State Line)  and the three robbers escaped.

A woman entering the bank to do business found Sam Roberts bound in the back and released him.

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 that tell quite an interesting story of repeat offenders of the era.

Topeka Daily Capital, July 10, 1915
Theodore A. Russell had been arrested for robbery and grand larceny in March 1921 of a drug store at 67th and Swope Pkwy. He was found drunk on either “perfume or spirits” nearby where he denied his involvement in the crime- even though he was found with money from the robbery on him. Theo was able to disappear without a trace; he didn't appear at his criminal court hearing. In June, he was found and charged with the crime. He served a whopping 14 months in the penitentiary until he was discharged in Sept. 1923- less than one year before he was charged for the robbery of the bank in Martin City.

His accomplice, Clifford Dunford (1890-1960), had an even longer rap sheet. On Dec. 11th, 1914, Cliff was engaged in a “quarrel over a girl” with 39-year-old druggist Thomas O. McCarty at a cafe at 303 W. 8th St. Thomas was struck over the head with a board used to hold the front door shut and died 13 days later on Christmas Eve. Cliff miraculously escaped prosecution, and in the meantime, he was shot through the foot in July 1916. The police found him in St. Mary’s Hospital and arrested him for the murder of McCarty.

Albert Dunford, Cliff's brother
In Feb. 1916, Cliff answered to the crime and was given two years in the state penitentiary for the murder (plead down to 4th degree manslaughter) of McCarty. He was discharged in August 1917, and to no surprise, was back at his old ways.

In August 1921, he was charged with second degree murder for shooting 23-year-old Arthur Hultzen in the stomach and killing him at a rooming house - a rooming house that Cliff was running.

Sentences continued to be short or not even given; I can find no record that Cliff ever served time for murder. The same goes for his involvement in the robbery of the bank in Martin City.

Crime seemed to run in Cliff’s family. Originally from the Topeka area, Clifford seems to have been one of the luckier of his siblings. His brother James served a long sentence in the Kansas Pen for killing a streetcar conductor; his brother Dennis was killed in a fight over a woman; and his brother, Albert, shot his sister in a fit of rage and then committed suicide in 1914 “after a wild night with a woman that was not his wife."

Cliff seemed to calm down a bit after the robbery in Martin City. . . minus being arrested multiple times in Kansas City for bootlegging during Prohibition. Cliff died of malnutrition at the age of 69 in 1960.

Robbery, Kidnapping, Murder… and Insanity

1913 wedding photo of Sam Roberts and wife, Mary
Photo courtesy of Jay Roberts 
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.) just a few doors down from Martin City State Bank. Also the deputy sheriff in town, Stultz 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 as Sam Roberts, longtime cashier of the Martin City State Bank.

Earlier that same 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.

Kansas City Star, Aug. 7, 1925
Sam had been 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 Sam, 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 Sam 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 in Martin City and also of being part of a holdup at a drug store in Kansas City, Ks. where they kidnapped a man for use of his Studebaker. Arthur was suspected because he was “spending money freely and riding around in taxicabs.”

Arthur had already served time in Boonville for a robbery of a grocery store in 1923..

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 Art had laughed at “his slowness.” He explained that his brother called him up and told him he had an easy opportunity to make some cash if he would just drive a car to Martin City.

After Arthur was arrested, Wilbur ran away and went to small towns in Illinois and returned a few months later using the alias “William Kearns.”

Wilbur 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.

One of the men that Wilbur Schofield stated was involved was a man he was introduced to as Ed Fuller. And, boy, did this Ed Fuller have a quick demise.

Just three months after the robbery in Martin City, Ed Fuller met his end.

On May 23rd, 1925, a 60 year-old woman named Christine Muder, the wife of “old time saloon man” Fritz Muder, was waiting for a streetcar in front of the Kansas City Power and Light offices. With her was a “negro guard” named Jesse Moore. Christine had just gone to the bank for their business and had $4500 in cash on her.

Wearing all black and clutching onto a brown bag full of cash, Mrs. Muder stood in the crowd at the 15th and Grand streetcar stop. A man stepped up to the side of her, held onto her arm and said, “Come with me. I’ve got a rod.” He pulled back his coat and revealed a revolver tucked into his belt.

Mrs. Muder screamed loudly, alerting her guard, Jesse. The robber ran toward an awaiting 7-passenger Buick touring car, but his escape was short-lived. “Negro guard” Jesse Moore drew out a gun and shot twice at the fleeing man, hitting him once in the chest.

The Buick, with two men inside, kept moving as the bandit tried grabbing a hold of the vehicle to get inside. His strength was weakened from the shot in the chest, and he was unable to hold on. Moore continued to pursue him and shot him a third time, hitting him again in the chest.

Mrs. Christine Muder, pictured above along with the crowd that gathered around the slain robber
Kansas City Star, May 25, 1925
When asked about his harrowing act of bravery, Mr. Jesse Moore smoked his corn cob pipe and casually stated, “I just beat him to the draw, that’s all.”

Jesse Moore “learned to be a crackshot while in the army” in World War I. Mr. Fritz Muder awarded him with $250 and other donations of admiring citizens were given to the hero. In fact, United Cemeteries Companies wanted to show their “thanks” and set aside a family burial plot in “the new Blue Ridge Lawn Cemetery,” which was “exclusively for negroes.”

Wow, what an interesting choice for a gift of appreciation.

The man Jesse Moore shot laid dead on the ground as hundreds of busy Kansas Citians crowded around his body.

Believe it or not, the body was on public display at the coroner’s office after the robbery-gone-wrong, and hundreds of Kansas Citians went by for a chance to file past the corpse and see the man for themselves. They had hoped to get a positive ID of the unidentified robber, but no one came forward with his name.
Kansas City Star, August 7, 1925

One of those that filed past the body was none other than Wilbur Schofield. He recognized him as one of the other man who held up the bank in Martin City. This display supposedly freaked Wilbur out so much that he swore he’d leave “banditry” and “go back to repairing motor cars for a living.”

Wilbur was given five years in prison and his brother, Arthur served part of his sentence.  Art was back on the streets and back at his old ways when he robbed a bank with two others in Odessa, Mo.

For the most part, Wilbur did keep his nose clean. . .  except for another little stint in the state pen in 1935 after he stole $400 from the garage where he worked.

Old habits die hard.

Arthur Schofield (1907-1980) had a record a mile long- after the robbery in Martin City, he was arrested under the alias Edward Diadore. In 1928, Arthur was arrested in Lexington, Mo. for burglary. While awaiting sentencing, he escaped custody. In May 1929, Arthur was arrested in St. Louis, Mo. for auto theft and carrying a concealed weapon.

Because he had stolen the car in Gillespie, Ill. and had taken the car across state lines, he was charged in federal court under the Dyer Act (enacted in 1919 to curb motor vehicle theft and making it a federal crime). He was sentenced to two years in Leavenworth on June 8th, 1929.

Arthur Schofield's original penitentiary file is located at the National Archives, Kansas City
It didn’t take long to raise alarm bells at Leavenworth. Arthur’s irrational behavior had doctors at the penitentiary on high alert.

Almost immediately, he was under the observation of Dr. B. Landis Elliott, attending psychiatrist and Dr. C.A. Bennett, prison physician. They noted that on July 24th, Arthur was “highly nervous and irrational.”

In fact, he imagined that “someone stole his aeroplane” and complained of pains in his head.

By November, they noted in his official penitentiary file that Arthur appeared completely “normal,” but when they would mention his aeroplane, “he flares up and becomes irritable and excited. He is a little sullen in his demeanor” and “has delusional ideas, and has attacks of anger and crying at times.”

This odd behavior led to an official diagnosis of “psychosis with constitutional psychopathic inferiority,” and they recommended immediate transfer to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Oh, and the medical treatment he received during this time was “rest, tonic, and diet.”

On November 27th, 1929, his transfer was granted by the Department of the Interior.

Unfortunately, we aren’t quite finished with Arthur. It appears he was released from psychiatric care and returned to his hometown of Kansas City.

It doesn’t take a genius to predict that he wasn’t going to keep his nose clean.

L-R: Arthur Schofield, Jack Babcock, and William Wiley's mugshots. Courtesy Moberly Monitor-Index Apr. 2, 1948
Arthur Schofield gathered together with a group of Kansas City criminals to organize a heist.

Accompanied by Jack Babcock, 23, and William Wiley, Jack’s brother-in-law, 33, Arthur arranged to drive to a filling station south of Moberly, Mo. where a dice game was reported to be happening the night of Dec. 7th, 1948. By 8:30 pm, the men drove from Kansas City to the site of the gambling with hopes of hitting the jackpot. They were informed that over $10,000 would be up for the taking.

Roy Eubanks, 40, and seven others gathered in the back with a deck of cards at hand. In a sworn statement, Jack Babcock admitted he guarded one of the three doors of the filling station with a shotgun while the other men entered.

Without much explanation, Arthur Schofield fired a .45 calibre pistol into Roy Eubanks’ left shoulder.
Roy Eubanks & wife
Printed in Moberly Monitor-Index
Schofield, Babcock and Wiley fled the filling station to the awaiting car driven by Herman Robinson, 39. They sped away, only stopping to let Arthur drop the gun used in a river along the way. They arrived at Arthur’s cabin in Kansas City, Ks. at 4 am and counted the $400 they got away with.

Roy died the next day at 10:25 am from the wound inflicted by Arthur’s gun.

It took five months of searching to track down the criminals. On April 2nd, 1948, the Moberly Monitor-Index reported that first degree murder charges were filed against three Kansas City men: Arthur Schofield, Jack Babcock and William Wiley. The driver of the getaway car, Herman Robinson, was charged a few days later.

The outcome of this is disturbing.

Both Babcock and Wiley were found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life terms. The driver was sentenced to manslaughter and served one year.

Moberly Monitor-Index, Aug. 8, 1964
Arthur, the man who fired the gun that killed Roy Eubanks, was put under psychiatric observation in Springfield, Mo. and avoided prosecution for years. In 1956, eight years after the murder, a jury in Callaway Co. found him not guilty by reason of insanity. He was placed in State Hospital Number 1 in Fulton, Mo.

His diagnosis in 1954 was that he was suffering from dementia praecox, commonly known today as schizophrenia.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, Arthur “walked away” from the state mental hospital in Fulton, Mo. on August 5th, 1964 and authorities continued to look for him with no success.

Yes, he got away.

He died in 1980 in Joliet, Ill., the same town where his brother Wilbur lived.

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.”

Martin City Bank today, courtesy of Heartland KC
Today, people in Martin City can visit the site of several bank robberies and imagine these various men of criminal means walking up to the doors with hopes of a financial windfall. I can’t help but to think about how lucky Sam Roberts was to have survived three heists where men that callously murdered people pointed guns right at his face.

Sam was one lucky guy.
The Martin City Bank is one of the sole survivors of the old town, and it still stands as a reminder of Martin City’s colorful past. It is now the home of Fezziwig’s and Heartland KC and is open for business.

… just not the banking business.

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