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Wednesday, 22nd of May 2024


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Once Upon a Time

As I may have mentioned before, Grandpa owned a grocery store and Grandma the local theatre in a small town in the Midwest. The two buildings were across the street from each other but never the two worlds would meet.

Although it was a quiet, out of the way place, there were some rare occasions of high drama. One such episode involved Grandpa, Uncle Vince, the town's telephone operator and the chief of police in a gunfight with two hapless burglars from out of town.

Grandpa's involvement was nothing more than walking in on a burglary in progress, coming face to face with a burglar and his gun, being told to get out and then leaving as quickly as is humanly possible. All the while, Uncle Vince is supporting him from somewhere behind … an unknown distance.

The story lies in the handiwork of the police subsequent to the burglary and in the 'colourful' writing in the newspaper of the day. One will realize, almost immediately, that the story takes place long, long ago. Actually, it was on a Saturday night in February of 1930.

On that night … well, 3:45 early Sunday morning actually, Miss Elvena Monnett, the town's telephone operator (yes, she was diligent and, the switchboard was in her home) noticed that a signal was flashing from Grandpa's store. Knowing everybody in town and where they were at any given time, she called Grandpa and told him something was amiss. Just after calling Grandpa, Elvena, ever the responsible citizen called Herman Bansch, the town's police chief and told him of the goings on as well.

Grandpa and Uncle Vince dressed and proceeded to the store. They arrived first, entered and "… were met by an unmasked bandit, who supported an order to 'get out' with a display of a revolver." This last line appears as reported in the Spring Valley Gazette of Thursday, February 20, 1930.

That was when Grandpa and Uncle Vince "left the building!" Once outside, Chief Bansch, who had come on the run, joined them. Here is actually where the adventure starts ... this small town police chief, with no backup closer than a few country miles, walks into the dark store, gun drawn, knowing full well an armed intruder is inside and on the alert.

Moments after the Chief entered the store, a burst of flame and a bullet crashing through a glass partition greeted him ... he returned fire. Grandpa reported that, "Ten or a dozen shots were exchanged in all as bandit and officer shot it out through the glass partition." Apparently, they both shot all the ammunition from their weapons and the crash of glass told of the burglar's escape by leaping through a window.

The burglar had to exit through the window to escape because Chief Bansch stood between him and his original escape route. When he did this, he also took himself away from access to his car that was parked a short distance away; as a result he abandoned it.

As the chief was searching for the culprit, he happened upon the car and found it carried license plates from a nearby town. At that point Chief Bansch turned the case over to the Sheriff for follow-up. Yes, they did work together and actually talked to one another in those days.

Now comes the very appealing part of this story. The following is the newspaper's account of the capture of the burglar and the subsequent investigation; I have taken out the last names of the individuals and the towns involved:

"A series of robberies which have been committed in this district were cleared up Sunday afternoon with the arrest of Modaro, aged 24 and Walter, following their attempt to burglarise Grandpa's store early Sunday morning.

Linked with the crime through license plates on an automobile which he was forced to abandon at the scene of the burglary, Modaro was captured at 3:30 Sunday afternoon after police of the Tri-Cities, together with Sheriff Applen and a deputy, had surrounded a house on Lafayette street, and arrested him as he aroused from a heavy sleep. For a time Modaro denied any knowledge of the robbery and its attendant gun fight, but after a brief grilling at police headquarters, broke down and made a confession in which he implicated Walter, who is described as a brother of Modaro's 'girl-friend.'"

Note: It turned out Walter was in the basement of the store all the time of the shootout. He made his escape later after things had settled down and everybody left the scene.

"When police hastened to the home at 1415 Prospect avenue, they arrested Walter who was likewise asleep, and located two locked trunks which when opened, revealed a major portion of the loot in a recent robbery at a store nearby. Still protesting his innocence, Walter was taken to the Bureau county jail with Modaro and at midnight Sunday Sheriff Applen announced that Walter had confessed his participation in the store robbery and likewise the two burglaries in an adjacent town.

After being grilled until after midnight, I suspect Walter probably also confessed to every crime committed in the area for the last two years. Then there's the part where, "For a time Modaro denied any knowledge of the robbery and its attendant gun fight, but after a brief grilling at police headquarters, broke down and made a confession." One can only imagine what happened at the 'brief grilling' at police headquarters.

Now you've got to admit, they did get things done and more often than not, justice was done. It was a different time, a black and white time. The good-guys and the bad-guys weren't painted in so many shades of grey. The newspapers printed the news and weren't afraid to tell it like it was. Even the burglar warned Grandpa and Uncle Vince away and didn't gun them down. Not to mention a lone heroic police chief entering a dark building and facing off with an armed suspect.

Like I said, "It was a long, long time ago."

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DK said:

Now there's never a good, rubber hose around when you need one!


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