Editor's note: Reprinted below is an account of the 1933 robbery of Brainerd's First National Bank, one of Brainerd's most notorious crimes. Although the bandits escaped, it was later indicated that they were led by Baby Face Nelson, a well-known gunman of the prohibition period. Nelson and members of the gang were later slain. (Journal-Press Oct. 27, 1933)
Brainerd had its first taste of bank holdup Monday morning (Oct. 23, 1933) when five gunman robbed the First National of approximately $32,000 and made a clean get-away.
It was a clean job and was not executed by amateurs. The gang was made up of five men, as near as can be ascertained, armed with at least two machine guns and .45 cal. automatics. Evidently they had been here at least 10 days planning the holdup as they knew the first names of all employees of the bank and others about Brainerd.
Starting at about 6 a.m. by taking George Fricker, the fireman and forcing him to open the front door of the bank. When inside they held George. When Mr. and Mrs. L. A. Peterson, janitors, came they were placed under guard and forced to go ahead as usual with their work.
Bob Titus (bank guard) was the next to enter and was greeted with a gun muzzle on each side and disarmed and he was ordered to the customers' room on the left side of the entrance. Each employee as they entered were taken in like manner and forced to sit on the floor.
All were held, including vice president C. W. Boteler and Misses Elsie Schabe, Edith Frost, Georgia Thompson, and Esther Butler, under guard until the time lock snapped at 8:45 and then Al Mraz, Russell LaCourse and G. C. Flaata, tellers, were ordered to open up all currency, leaving all silver, into a canvas bag.
Just before the bandits left,they forced George Fricker to go to the west window and pull down an NRA sign which was the signal to those outside that all was ready and a big Buick eight with North Dakota license plates pulled up in readiness.
As the bandits left the bank, at the door they encountered Greg Mraz, and an insurance man, S. P. Gregg of Chicago, whom they forced inside and closed the door, turning to fire a number of shots through it as they left.
Upon entering the car they turned a machine gun on the bank windows from one side and from the other side on the J. F. Murphy clothing store. Two of the bullets missed Jim Murphy by inches as he sat is his office reading the morning paper.
NORTHERN PACIFIC BANK--This is the interior of the Northern Pacific Bank as it looked in the 1890s. The bank was organized in November, 1889. The Northern Pacific Bank became the Citizens State Bank in 1906.
The bandits turned another machine gun on the YMCA side and then took a shot at Ernest Butler of the Ransford hotel as he passed. He was standing in the doorway feeding some doves. The ball hit the little window on the west side of the door missing Butler's head by inches.
The car then went west to Nash-Finch corner of 4th, north on 4th to Kingwood and then east and then north to Bluff, crossing to Lum park on the cemetery road where all trace of it was lost.
An outlook man with a market basket on his arm was stationed near the Murphy store entrance. About 8:15 he entered the store and spoke to Ed Murphy as Jim was entering his office. Knowing that the YMCA was a lookout place and suspicioning the office in Murphy's store was also one, machine guns were turned on them to keep everyone out of sight and from any likelihood of pursuit.
Announcement was made oven WCCO immediately and local officers also were notified but the birds had fled.
Clues are being followed by operatives of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension as well as Sheriff Littie's office but nothing definite of any kind has as yet developed.
That the gang was here at least ten days is evidenced by one of the bandits who said that to his knowledge he had opened the bank door each morning for 10 days when George begged that he had no key to open the door.
The bandits wore masks part of the time at the bank only and a good description of them is known.
Dorothy Kinney and Ray Anderson passed in front of the bank just as the shooting started.
President George D. LaBar and vice president Fred Farrar and auditor Henry White did not arrive until after the bandits had left.
It is extremely fortunate that no one was killed when the bandits opened fire. The bank loss is entirely covered by insurance.