was the era of Chicago mobs,
the Great Depression, and John Dillinger. Rural Indiana banks
in Roachdale, Spencer, Waveland, Linton, and Lucerne had
already been hit by wandering bandits, and many communities,
including Culver had formed vigilante groups and laid battle
plans should they become targets. Just nine days before CMAs
Commencement of 1933, the Culver State Exchange Bank came
under gangster guns.
following December True Detective Mysteries magazine
carried in vivid prose, the story of the robbery as
co-authored by Col. Robert Rossow, commandant of cadets, and
staff writer Frank A. White. It was reprised in "From the Alumni Message Center "
in August of 1989 with permission of the publisher and
recounted in the June and July 2003 issues of “Marching in the
are no Dirty Harrys or Rambos here, just Culver men who were
or were to become giants in their own time. – R.B.D.
Robert Rossow and Frank A. White
A tiny light flickered on the switchboard of the Culver, Indiana ,
Telephone Exchange at 9:05
May 29; 1933. This spark was to set off a manhunt in which
regular army-trained officers were pitted against the toughest
gangsters that Chicago could
Elsie Wagner, resourceful chief operator of the Culver
Exchange, cut in with "Number please." Instead of a routine
call, she heard the cool tones of Col. H.C. Glascock,
headmaster of the Culver Military Academy .
[In actuality it was Major A.S. Stoutenburgh, aide to the
superintendent. Glascock had died in 1929.] He was calling
from a shoe repair shop downtown and his words snapped out as
though he was addressing an aide.
are robbing the Culver bank. Call the Academy. Notify all
surrounding towns," said Glascock.
Wagner had been instructed by her South
Bend ( Ind. )
company just what to do in such an emergency. As the nimble
fingers of Wagner stuck up the calls, her mind was working
quickly. “I'll call Culver Military Academy first.
They have U .S. Army guns, ammunition, and men trained in
theory as well as practice in campaigning against an
The first call reached Major C.A. Whitney, commanding the
Culver Black Horse Troop which had become internationally
famous in its escort of such celebrities as Marshall Foch and
other equally well-known men. Whitney, grasping the import of
the telephone summons, rushed to Col. Robert Rossow, a
seasoned American Expeditionary Force line officer and
commandant of cadets, as he stood in the hallway of the
Academy's East Barracks.
They're robbing the Culver bank!" shouted Whitney, in his best
drill field intonation.
Rossow sprang into
action. He had come up from the ranks of the 14th U .S.
Cavalry to his high rank, and had campaigned in the
He graduated from the schools of Fort Riley , Leavenworth ,
and the U .S. Army War College before
commanding a machine-gun battalion in the 32nd Red Arrow
get a car ready for me," he shouted as he ran toward the
campus armory. He called for the armorer to issue eight
Springfield Army rifles, capable of killing three miles
distant, a liberal supply of ammunition, and one automatic
gun. From the halls of Culver, steeped in tradition, the
army-trained instructional staff was rallying to his aid.
Back at the Culver Exchange on Lakeview
Wagner was putting in calls for Charles F. Keller, sheriff of Marshall County ( Ind. ),
who had a reputation of not begin afraid of anything, and the
peace officers and vigilantes within a radius of sixty
And now the bandits were going to strike in broad daylight at
the gold they expected to find in the Culver bank and the
funds of some 2,500 the students from rich families allover
the nation, which they thought at Commencement time would be
large, since the students must have money to return home.
[Actually there were less than 600 cadets as the Great
Depression ravaged enrollment]
The gang that was menacing the Culver institution was as
choice a lot of tough Chicago desperadoes
as ever operated under a single banner. No less than five of six
men in the robber car that morning had been charged, arrested,
or investigated in atrocious murders. They were "big shots" of
the Underworld, and had come down from a big city to show a
little town how it was done. At the wheel of the bandit car
was Joe Switalski, alias Jack Shea, a former Chicago
policeman. He was famous as the chauffeur of Joe Saltis, a Windy City beer
But the gangster who handled the robber gang with Prussian
discipline was none other than Danny McGeoghegan of Tampa , Florida .
He had been rated by Chief of Detectives William Shoemaker of Chicago as
the "No.4 toughest and most dangerous" man in Chicago gangland.
He had been indicted for the $11,000 robbery of the Pulaski Building and
Loan Association in which the treasurer, Michael Swiontkowski,
had been shot to death.
Others riding the car as it advanced toward the bank were two
brothers, Leonard and Jack Patrick. They were alleged
participants in the robbery of the University State Bank of Chicago ,
in which cashier Carlson J. White was slain. Another gangster
among the Culver invaders was Emmett Kearns, aka Eddie Murphy,
wanted in Chicago on
charge of murdering Arthur Johnson in December 1932. The
'sextet was completed by the presence of Walter Grabowski,
also eagerly sought by Chicago authorities.
troubles began to pop up almost as soon as the gangsters
rolled into Culver. Ted Ewing, proprietor of a second-story
barber shop, had poked his head out for air and saw the bandit
car, bristling with guns, rolling up. He had leathery lungs
and let out a yell of "bank bandits" that was heard for
was a pleasant day with the blue waters of Lake Maxinkuckee scintillating
in the sunshine, the snow-white whaleboats and clippers, the
fast motorboats, and the sculls from the Academy riding
against a light breeze. Instead of sitting at his desk,
William O. Osborn, president of the bank, was standing beside
the window dictating to his secretary, Martha Werner. Alarmed
by Ewing 's
clarion call, he looked out and saw the robbers adjusting
their masks. Osborn acted instantly. He sprang to his desk
and, with his toe, set off a burglar alarm. The clanging of
the bell was heard five miles across the placid lake and in
the wooded hills around the Academy.
The bandits, at
pistol point, herded pedestrians and bank clerks, including
half a dozen girls, Osborn, and customers, into a group and
made them lie down on the floor. One bandit vaulted the
partition and ordered Carl Adams, the assistant cashier, to
open the vault door, which he did.
bandits had scooped some $12,000 from the tills and vault. The
actual robbery lasted but two or three minutes, but in that
short interval, firing was started out- side. One of the first
vigilantes in action was John Osborn, the
seventy-five-year-old father of the bank president. The elder
Osborn carried an army rifle. Others carried guns that dated
as far back as muzzleloaders of 1812. Among the vigilantes who
were now taking up strategic points were Oliver G. Shilling,
son-in-law of the bank president, and Albert Collier, both
For some time past, Capt. H.A. Obenauf and Col. Basil
Middleton of the Culver Academy had
conducted a firing school for the vigilantes on the Culver
Rifle Range. Shilling, who had been at these shoots, said: "We
don't figure on every vigilante get- ting a shot, but when he
does shoot, we expect him to get his man."
Shilling and Collier, hearing the alarm and armed with .30-.30
U.S. Army Springfield rifles, that had been provided by the
bank, crawled out on the second-story landing of a shoe repair
shop. Below, the exchange of bullets had grown brisk. Shilling
and Collier saw Switalski's car and were puzzled; they thought
at first he was a garage- man they knew. But, they said, when
they saw him firing down the street with his automatic, they
knew he was a bank bandit.
raised his high-powered rifle to his shoulder and took aim. A
moment later, a bullet crashed through the medal frame of the
windshield of the bandits' car as if it had been paper, and
cut into the forehead of Switalski. Another one tore into his
shoulder. McGeoghegan rushed into the bank to assemble his
confederates and tell them that Switalski, their most valued
man, for he knew the roads, was shot. But the leader acted
coolly. He went into the vault for a last check to see that no
money was overlooked. Altogether, they scooped up $18,000 in
At the point of guns, the bandits marched Carl Adams, the
assistant cashier, and customer Stephen Warren outside to
screen them from vigilante fire. They threw the currency into
the car and shifted Switalski, who was bleeding profusely,
from under the wheel to the back seat, and a new driver took
the wheel. Adams and Warren were ordered to stand on the
running boards. The car thundered away to the west in a cloud
of dust and gunfire. Outside the city limits, the bandits
ordered their hostages to jump, and they did, gladly tumbling
into a ditch practically unhurt.
Dr. C.G. Mackey, an Army Reserve physician who had witnessed
the bloody conflict, jumped into his Studebaker sedan and
rapidly went north to Indiana 10,
hoping to keep an eye on the car until the vigilantes could be
mustered. He lost sight of the vehicle and drove fast to
overtake them. Topping a ridge, he came upon an appalling
He was right on the bandit car. It had left the road and
overturned, pinning the gunmen under it. Mackey had gone too
far to turn back and tried to drive past. A bandit jumped to
his feet and fired at Mackey at close range, stopping him.
They ordered him out and cursed him soundly for trying to
follow them. An argument ensued among the bandits over leaving
"He's done for. He's about dead. Let's get to hell out of
here," McGeoghegan commanded.
The bandits piled into Mackey's car and drove on, leaving the
doctor in the road by the wounded man. The robbers continued
to a combined woods and swamp near the little town of Ober .
Here, they turned into a road that was full of quicksand and
their car bogged. About this time, Shilling, Neal Shaw, and
Collier, all members of the vigilantes, drove past. Shilling
and Collier hid in the woods to keep an eye on the bandits,
and Shaw drove on to the telephone to call the Culver
Exchange. The stolen car was freed from the quicksand, but
again Lady Luck frowned on them: It became wedged between two
trees and could not be extricated.
But night was approaching, and there was still a good chance
for the heavily- armed desperadoes, loaded down with bank
money, to commandeer a car after crossing the swamps, and make
their way to known haunts in Chicago. But the bandits were up
against something never before been encountered in an Indiana foray:
That was an ample store of high-powered rifles and the
leadership of Regular Army-trained men who had seen combat in
Riding hot on the trail of the fleeing Chicago gangsters
were Rossow and several members of the Instructional Staff at Culver Academy .
The spirit of Culver was riding that day. Culver is the only
school in the world to win, twenty-seven years in succession,
the gold star rating for military proficiency from the War
Department and, at the same time, to be a pioneer in advanced
educational requirements for secondary schools. It is steeped
in the tradition of courage. More than 3,500 of its alumni
were in the World War, and most of them officers.
Rossow was a hard man to stand against in battle. He was known
as "Bobby" to his friends, and cadets, too, if they thought he
was not within earshot. He played a good hand of bridge, lived
in the out-of-doors, and could tell as fine a collection of
stories as ever came out of the mature experiences of a
soldiering man. He had a powerful voice that was soon to hold
him in good stead in the bandit chase. When he said "Pass in
Review" on the Academy parade grounds, boys plowing corn in
the next county knew that "them cadets is a paradin' again,"
He had commanded the Black Horse Troop. His spurred heels
caressed the green of the parade ground with the firmness of a
man going "some place and meaning business." And in pursuit of
the bandits, he meant business.