Friday, January 31, 1936 started out like any other day in St. Charles but it soon became a day to remember in town history. On that cold, winter morning the St. Charles National Bank, located on the northwest corner of Main Street and 2nd Street, was the site of a daring bank robbery! Disguised gunmen and their accomplices made off with $16,000 from the bank's vault. Here is a summary of the events of that day based on information found in newspaper articles appearing in the days and weeks after the event.
On the morning of the robbery four gunmen were waiting inside the bank when the janitor arrived at 6:30, surprising him they tied him up and waited for almost an hour and a half until the cashier arrived. The robbers tied him up as well and locked both men in a small room off the main lobby. When the assistant cashier arrived moments later he was ordered to open the safe, as the time lock had expired by then. Shortly after that the teller arrived and he seemed to recognize one of the holdup men calling out "Hello Val" as he walked into the bank. He too was tied up and placed in a small room where the janitor and cashier were already being held. The female bookkeeper arrived to work next and while she was not tied up she was put in the rear of the room and held at gunpoint and threatened not to make a false move. After the bandits took off with the cash she phoned police and released her tied up coworkers.
Two men in the area claimed to have seen the getaway car. One thought it was a Buick while the other stated it was a Plymouth. One of the men followed the car after he saw four men hurry out of the bank and take off quickly. He trailed the robbers east, as they headed for Chicago on Route 64, until they out ran him. He gave police the license plate number, which helped in their manhunt.
The Chicago police rounded up some suspected men and sent photos to the bank for identification but the men in the bank could not id the robbers as they had worn disguises and had their hats pulled low over their eyes. The robber thought to be "Val" proved in fact to bear little resemblance to St. Charles resident and plumbing heir Val Crane.
Although the most advanced alarm methods were employed by the St. Charles National Bank the bandits circumvented the system by having keys made from casts of the locks taken from the outside. All of the keys held by employees were accounted for.
This was the first holdup at the St. Charles National Bank. However, three years prior a group of bold robbers had walked into the St. Charles State Bank and surprised both employees and customers!
A couple of weeks after the National Bank heist seven men were arrested in connection with the robbery, while an eighth man continued to elude police. Two of the seven were from St. Charles, a florist and merchant policeman. It was later discovered the men were also a bank guard and night watchman at the bank, thus leading officials to determine this had been an inside job. A third member of the eight-man gang had previously lived in St. Charles and worked as a blacksmith. However, at the time of the robbery he was a resident of Chicago. A deputy sheriff from Will County was also a member of the group.
According to an article in the St. Charles Chronicle two G-men came out to St. Charles to apprehend the local suspects. The St. Charles Chief of Police Covalsky went to Chicago to meet with the Chicago Bureau Chief to discuss the case. He obtained photos of the gang members from Chicago and brought them back to St. Charles where they were used to connect two of the men to other robberies in town at Gartner's Bakery and in the Arcada Theater lobby. The men were also thought to be involved in the holdup of Walter Roman and his wife, but Mr. Roman could not clearly identify the men. He explained it had been too dark to see the men's faces the night he was robbed of $1,000.
Almost five months after the robbery, three of the eight men were found guilty on five counts connected to the hold up. The men were Fred Hansen, Sam Borgiono, and Phillip Dimenza, the leader of the gang. Another three men, including the two from St. Charles, were still awaiting trial after turning state's evidence. A seventh man, Leo Friedman, pleaded guilty and the eighth remained in hiding.