Last updated: March 11. 2014 2:40PM - 1844 Views
By Rhonda Chalfant Contributing Columnist

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Green Ridge, a small community about 12 miles southwest of Sedalia on the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad, was established in 1870-1871. It grew as railroad traffic increased, and by 1882, was a major shipping point for locally raised cattle. The village had a thriving business district that included post office, two hotels, two doctors, and several stores.

By the early 20th Century, both the population and business district had grown. Green Ridge had a complete business district and two banks: the Farmers and Merchants Bank, organized in 1890, and the People’s Bank.

The People’s Bank was organized in 1904 with a capital stock of $14,000 by Colonel M. Doherty as president. Board members included some of the most important businessmen and farmers in the area. The bank took security seriously; it was well insured and protected by the Missouri Bankers Association. According to the 1917 Souvenir Missouri State Fair, booklet, the bank’s “safe is indestructible from fire or burglary.”

In February 1920, robbers struck the People’s Bank. Bank employees discovered the robbery when they arrived for work the morning of Feb. 11. They called the Pettis County Sheriff W.W. Bolton, who brought Deputy Sheriff R. T. Dillard, Constable W. H. Fewell, and Charles Bolton to Green Ridge to investigate.

Authorities found that a rear window pane had been removed and set aside. The robbers were then able to open a rear door that was fastened only by a wooden bar across the interior of the door. The robbers drilled a hole in the vault near the combination lock. They inserted a charge of nitroglycerin, lit the charge and blew the vault open.

By placing the charge high on the wall of the safe, they foiled a protective measure used to guard against theft. A two gallon jug of ammonia had been placed near the vault door by cashier J. E. Ream, thinking that if anyone attempted to blow the door, the jug would break and ammonia fumes would disable the perpetrators. The robbers found the jug and placed it outside the vault.

The robbers pried open the day door of the vault with two steel crowbars. This part of the vault held deeds, mortgage documents, and some Liberty bonds, which the robbers tossed onto the floor. Several boxes of coins were kept in the vault; the robbers took boxes of silver coins but left boxes of nickels and pennies. The robbers absconded with more than $1,000 in cash and Liberty Bonds.

The indestructible safe, containing between $25,000 to $30,000 worth of bonds, proved itself. When the robbers tried to open it, they were thwarted by its thick walls.

After investigating the bank authorities found few clues, only two crowbars and a footprint outside the rear window. The sheriff interviewed Cashier J. E. Ream Bank and Bank Director Fred E. Ream about what was missing. They also interviewed a number of citizens who were awake during the early morning hours when the robbery was believed to have taken place.

Dr. H. A. Hite was making a house call. As he crossed the railroad tracks close to the bank, he reported that he heard a railroad hand car. The car went west, stopped, then continued on. This information later was found to be incorrect, as the M.K. & T. reported that no handcars were out that night.

Other residents reported being awakened about 4 a.m. by the sound of a car speeding through town.

Ream and other employees spent the day going through the scattered papers, verifying that all important documents were still there. The next day, he confirmed that they were and that only a small number of bonds held at the bank had been taken.

The sheriff later learned that robbers using similar techniques had robbed banks in Gilliam and Dixon, Mo., that same night.

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