CMA Logo Search Site Map Home


HISTORY ON REVIEW . . .

A selection of historical vignettes about Academy life and the characters that influenced the lore of the institution.  The Alumni Message Center is presented by the Culver Legion and the Culver Summer Schools Alumni Association. 

The Great Bank Robbery of 1933

It 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.

        The 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 Grand Parade.”

        There are no Dirty Harrys or Rambos here, just Culver men who were or were to become giants in their own time. – R.B.D. Hartman

Robert Rossow and Frank A. White

         A tiny light flickered on the switchboard of the Culver, Indiana , Telephone Exchange at 9:05 a.m. on 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 supply.

         Mrs. 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.

"Bandits 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 enemy.

         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.

         "Bandits! 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 Philippines . 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 Division in France .

"Someone 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 Street , 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 miles.

           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 baron.

            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.

          Minor 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 blocks.

           It 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.

         The 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 Culver graduates.

        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.

Shilling 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 currency.

        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 sight.

        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 Switalski.

        "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 France . 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.

photoIn the car as we left the Academy were Maj. Whitney; Will Friend, comptroller of the school; Sgt. Ivan Walker of the U.S. Army Detail; R. Manis, armorer; and one or two others whose names have slipped my memory. At the edge of town, we transferred some rifles to those in Capt. Thessin's car. We took up the chase along Indiana 10, where we heard the bandits had been sighted a few moments previously.

At Bass Lake, we met armed possemen and learned the bandits had not yet ranged that far. At Knox, we phoned the Culver Exchange and were told that the bandit car had been wrecked, and its occupants had taken refuge in a woods. We drove rapidly toward this spot. When my party arrived at the woods, there were some six or eight cars there. I recall that Lt. Phillip Middleton, U .S. Reserve Corps; Sgt. Walker of the U .S. Army; Mr. Ewald, a Culver businessman; Hobart Baker, also of Culver; and others were present. I placed Whitney, commander of the Black Horse Troop, in charge.

  I and a small party followed the car tracks along the dirt road. I was informed when I arrived that Switalski had been shot and had been left in the wrecked car, and that five gangsters were in the woods. I also was told that they were armed with a sub- machine gun and automatic firearms of various types. We cautiously followed the tracks of the car into the woods. About three hundred yards into the woods, we discovered the car in collision with trees. We approached the car with all of our guns trained on it, for we were concerned about an ambush or surprise attack.

photo
          The car was empty. Footprints about the car indicated that the bandits had gone further into the woods. I then asked for volunteers to accompany me. The following men agreed to do so: Bert Alumbaugh and H.A. Stanton, World War veterans, and a young man name Bonner, from Knox. In view of the fact that our party was small, I thought it wise to make a greater display of force than we actually possessed. I told the three men that, as we advanced into the woods, I would call questions to them from time to time, and directed them to grossly exaggerate their answers.

As we advanced, I called loudly to Alumbaugh as to the number in the posse now surrounding the woods. Alumbaugh answered that there were two hundred present. Then I called to Stanton and angrily demanded why the automatic rifles I had sent for had not come up. Stanton called back to me that they were on the way. Then, just before we broke out of the thicket on the west, I heard a commotion outside of the woods. One of the bandits had been driven out of the woods ahead of our advance and surrendered. This bandit had cleverly stripped to his underwear. He claimed that he was a hitchhiker and had been kidnapped by the bandits. His story was incredible, and he was taken safely under guard.

I was informed at this point that the state police were en route, and that Marshall County Sheriff Keller was on his way with two hundred men. Keller and his deputy covered the fourteen miles from Plymouth to Culver in eleven minutes, which was a remarkable run. Various people urged that we make no further attempt to get the rest of the bandits before the state and county authorities arrived. I promptly vetoed this suggestion. I, thereupon, called for further volunteers.

         Most of these men, judging by their conversation during the search, were ex-servicemen of World War I with fighting experience in France. I desire to testify to their courage. No firing was done except upon my orders. We waded through the swamp, from north to south, and one of the members of our patrol discovered fresh footprints on the edge of the swamp and leading into it.

          Just when I started to issue orders to follow the trail thoroughly, the second bandit uttered a loud cry and sprang to his feet He had hidden himself in the water with only his head above the surface. He came to his feet with both hands high in the air. It was Eddie Murphy who, at first, wanted us to believe he was seining for minnows and fell in the swamp.

          Murphy had only a nominal sum of money on him, about three hundred and fifty dollars as I recall. I had issued instructions some time earlier to search all treetops for possible hiding bandits. In a very tall maple at the edge of the swamp we discovered a third bandit who gave his name as Jack Gray. Gray would have liked us to believe he was a woodchopper who had become frightened and climbed a tree. He had a considerable sum of money on him. Some members of the party scuffed up a sum of currency which had been hidden under some bushes. This was a large sum. I personally took possession of all the money found on the bandits or near them. After some further search, we became convinced that there were no bandits left in that section of the woods and swamp. I stationed guards at different points, led my party out of the woods.

Suddenly, a man ran up to me and said a woman reported seeing two men momentarily emerge from another section of the photo woods, and they immediately turned back into the woods. After a short conference, I organized a skirmish line about one-half mile in length. I placed Lt. Col. George Miller [l] of the Academy Staff in charge of the right section; Whitney, who had joined me, in charge of the right-center section while I took charge of the left-center section, and Lt. Fisher of the Indiana State Police took the left section. When we hit the edge of the woods, the right of the line struck the road east of the woods and the left end of the line sagged back. Some residents in automobiles, who had brought lunch out to the members of the posse, were parked at this point. They distributed sandwiches to my section of the line, and I had just begun to eat when I heard some shooting and a great commotion on the left end of the line.

  I proceeded to the point of the noise, and discovered that Gus Davis had stumbled upon two of the bandit gang lying in the ditch. They gave their names as John Patrick and Daniel McGeoghegan.

photophotoBy this time, a good representation of Culver men were in the activity. I noticed about me Col. A.R. Elliott [l], Lt. Col. C.F. McKinney [l], Lt. Col. WG. Johnston [r], Majors J .S. Wood, R.A. Throckmorton, and H. W Walmer, Lt. Col. WR. Kennedy, Captains V.R. Gillespie and Hugh Harper, Sgt. Robert Reveley, and others. Gen. L.R Gignilliat, superintendent of the Academy, and Sgt. J.J. Rich had arrived and joined us in a final swing through the woods to dispel the rumor that there had been others in the gang who were still in hiding.

            Rossow had his army shirt full of money taken from the bandits. All but $3,000, which was insured, was recovered.

            Revised guidebooks to soft spots for bank robbers will omit Culver, Indiana, or flag it as a point to be avoided by burglarious persons who value their liberty. The Culver bandit round up graphically represented what would happen if the regular army was freed from red tape and assigned to cope with banditry.

            As an outgrowth of the Culver Bank hold-up, Rossow has been made commandant of the Culver Community Service Corps. All residents interested in law-enforcement may join.

[Editors Comments] In 1935, Rossow resigned as commandant of cadets to direct the Woodcraft Camp, a position he held until 1946. He emerged from retirement in 1947 to head the Indiana State Police for two years. Rossow, a legend in his own time, died in 1960 at the age of 79.

 Rossow directed the Black Horse Troop between 1906 and 1928photo and was responsible for establishing most of its great traditions.  Upon become the Commandant of Cadets, he was succeeded by C. W. (Jerry) Whitney [r], a Hollywood handsome New Englander from Maine. Whitney added additional luster to the Troop’s reputation and led that organization until World War II and remained its liaison with the school administration until 1953. He died in 1974.

It is not surprising that a number of faculty and staff soon found their way to the sight where the photo search for the bandits was being conducted.  Allen Elliott would, in time, become Executive Officer of the Academy and acting superintendent from 1943 to 1945. Charles McKinney [l] succeeded Rossow asphoto commandant of cadets and was revered by the student body and faculty alike. Major John Shirley Wood [r] was a regular army officer and Assistant Professor of  Military Science and Tactics. In World War II, he commanded the Fourth Armored Division.  

 photo                  Brigadier General Leigh Gignilliat [l] was never far from the limelight and it would have been impossible to keep him from the search scene. Though he arrived too late to be a factor in the action, Rossow prudently assigned him a strategic position in the final sweep through the woods.

 The Alumni Message Center Archived Stories

Academy Historian and Archivist, Bob Hartman, welcomes comments from those who have marched in the Grand Parade.  He can be reached at #108, 1300 Academy Road, Culver, IN  46511 or at hartmab@culver.org. 

The Alumni Message Center is a feature of the Culver Alumni Department, under the direction of Alan Loehr.  E-mail loehra@culver.org or (574) 842-8235.

Bob Hartman, The Academies' archivist and historian emeritus, can be reached at hartmab@culver.org or (574) 842-8494.




Copyright:  The Culver Educational Foundation
1300 Academy Road, Culver IN 46511-1291
Switchboard: (574) 842-7000
Technologies used on this site.
Send comments and suggestions to the webmaster.