On January 9, 1921, Newton Gang drove to Hondo, Texas., a small town 30 miles west of San Antonio, to rob one of the two city banks. It was just after midnight and the temperature was almost freezing.
The Newtons knew Hondo’s night watchman and, as was their custom, found him huddled around a pot-bellied stove in the warehouse. They cut all the phone lines and then went back to see the night watchman. He hadn’t moved from his spot by the stove, so Joe was put across the street as a lookout while the rest went to the bench.
In his 1979 interview, Willis proudly told his side of the story:
“Sometimes you’re lucky because they had left the vault door open. They had left it unlocked, so we didn’t need nitro or anything. We raised the window, walked to the vault, tried the handle and she opened it!” You’d be surprised how many times banks just shut the door to make it appear closed at night.
“We cleaned the vault in no time and went to see if the night watchman was still in the warehouse. Sure enough, he was reading a magazine and having coffee by the stove. Well, hell, we thought we had a lot of time, so we went to the another shore and we tried. ”I kept Joe and Doc staring at the quarterback at night while Jess and I went to the other shore.
“We went into that bench and cleaned it up. Damn, two benches in one night and the quarterback at night, he never came out of the warehouse!”
The local newspaper, the Herald of the Anvil of Hondo, posted the story with a welcome headline:
Yeggs Rob Hondo Banks
One of the most daring robberies ever carried out in Texas happened here on Sunday morning
The people of Hondo were shocked and enraged Sunday morning when it emerged that the yeggs had broken into both banks, between midnight and daylight, and had stolen both money and valuables. The entrance to the First National Bank was made by forcing the entrance doors; while the entrance to the State Bank was made by lowering the bars of the last window in the alley between Parker’s and the bank.
The newspaper went on to give a detailed description of the robbery:
Because most of the money in both banks is in the safes, with established time closures, the loss of cash was not serious, the First National lost a total of $ 2,814, while in the matter of the loss of real cash, the State Bank was slightly more fortunate, losing $ 1,879; Both banks lost a total of $ 4,694, almost all of which were silver coins.
Both banks’ funds were covered by theft insurance, so neither bank will suffer losses. [Just like Willis had assured his brothers.]
The owners of private boxes, who had deposited their valuables in bank vaults, are the ones who lose the most, and their actual loss will not be definitively known for some time – probably a month – since the owners of the The boxes are the only ones that can clarify the loss, without the bank officials being informed of the contents of the boxes.
The safe deposit box owners had cash, government bonds, war savings stamps, jewelry, and other valuables in their boxes, making it impossible to determine the exact amount taken in the robbery. Estimates of up to $ 30,000 were never confirmed.
The article went on to describe the “safe experts:”
… That the thieves were experts is confirmed by the fact that they were able to work the combination in the vault of the First National Bank. [Willis said it was left unlocked.] They were also experts in the use of explosives, the doors of the State Bank vault were opened by one of the most powerful explosives known – TNT [ Willis swore in his interview that he never used dynamite-only nitroglycerine.]
The vaults were completely looted and the floors were covered with paper about two feet thick.
Due to the thoroughness with which the robbers carried out their search for securities, it is evident that they spent two hours or more in the bank vaults and the clients’ private boxes are in a sad situation, most of them showing that they were beaten to open them . by some heavy instrument, probably with a mallet that had been stolen from the Mask & Co. smithy.
… That the thieves were not shots (archaic word meaning beginners) in the robbery business is confirmed again by the fact that they took every precaution not to be arrested for the possession of jewels, gold coins, etc., that could lead to your identity. The vault floors were literally littered with items that could lead to their detection. Banknotes and other items of value that could not be converted into money were thrown away and abandoned.
It is generally believed that the gang consisted of six to eight men, and that both banks were raided simultaneously, with a gang assigned to each bank.
Another circumstance that indicates that the robbers were not new to the bank robbery game is corroborated by the fact that all the telephone lines of the city were cut, apparently, before the banks were robbed. And this part of his plans was carried out in the most efficient way and by an expert telephone operator.
… Cables were cut, apparently with saws, and individual cables were cut with wire cutters. Only three phones connected to the local switchboard were working on Sunday morning.
The assault was discovered by the night watchman around 5 a.m. Sunday and he immediately reported it to Deputy Sheriff CJ Bless.
… Harry Crouch, our local telegraph operator, was subpoenaed and messages were sent east and west in an effort to intercept the thieves, but as far as the general public is cautioned, nothing was known about the address at the one the thieves targeted. .
Detectives from and around San Antonio converged on the shores of Hondo in search of clues about the dueling robbery.
… One of the most remarkable coincidences of this whole affair is that these robberies could have occurred right in the heart of the city and no more than 200 feet away, and no one among our people was the wiser until dawn was revealed. . what had happened, and furthermore, it has since emerged that the night watchman and the other two men were in the warehouse waiting room, no more than sixty yards from the front doors of the First National Bank, while he was carrying out the robbery. accomplished. The thieves must have done their job very quietly to avoid detection. [It is hard to image a “silent” explosion of nitroglycerine.]
The word the newspaper used for night robbers was “yeggs”, a popular vernacular of the time. It is interesting to compare the newspaper reports to the Willis account in which the First National Bank vault had been left open and they used nitroglycerin (instead of TNT) to blow up the door to the State Bank vault. Even more interesting was the fact that there were no follow-up articles on the robbery. There was not a single mention of the robbery of several banks during the following months, although it contained large announcements from both banks. It was as if both banks had never been robbed.
The Galveston Daily News on January 10 reported the theft describing a “ball of yarn” that turned out to be a red herring:
The thief’s stub can lead to an arrest
Telephone connections are cut when Hondo’s banks are looted
San Antonio, Texas-January 10-A rubber heel, lost from a shoe, may lead to the identification of bank robbers who made a successful loot of $ 20,000 from the First National Bank of Hondo and the Hondo State Bank on Sunday early in the morning.
The bank robbers gained entry to the two banks by prying loose iron bars from the rear windows of the buildings and tampering with the vault combinations at the First National Bank, but blew up the vault door at the state bank .
The loot was made from the safe deposit boxes of both banks, and the thieves obtained just $ 1,500 in cash from First National and $ 29,350 in money from the state bank. The safes in the smaller vaults of both institutions were intact.
The balance of the loot, according to the officials of the two banks, was obtained from the owners of the bank safe deposit boxes. Hondo was not aware of the bank robbers’ visit until nearly noon Sunday, when open windows were discovered at the rear of the bank’s two buildings.
Heel lost on the bench.
Sheriff JS Baden, during his investigation, was handed the missing rubber heel, which had been found in front of the First National Bank vault. Further investigation revealed a burglar toolkit consisting of a pipe wrench, saw and chisel, which had been left behind by the burglars. However, these are not considered important because they are of a standard brand and can be easily purchased at any hardware store.
Just outside the window through which the thieves entered the state bank, Sheriff Baden found the numbers 13,555 scratched on the brick. This, bank officials believe, indicates the amount the thieves took from the bank’s deposit boxes. [This curious piece of information appears to have been just another “red herring.”]
Sheriff Baden believes the robberies were committed by a six-man gang, which sent a vanguard of two to Hondo last week.
… The citizens of Hondo, who got up early Sunday morning, informed the bailiff that they saw a high-powered car coming out of the outskirts of the city occupied by six men. These, the bailiff believes, were Hondo’s thieves.
[Ironically] Sheriff Baden suffered a loss from the thieves’ visit in the early morning, as his safe at First National Bank broke and they took $ 300 in stamps and $ 150 in bonds. A $ 100 Liberty bond, owned by Donna’s son OJ Baden, was left in the box.
In light of the wrong “keys”, the Newtons were never tried for the Hondo bank robberies.
Willis Newton was born in 1889 and died in 1979, making him the oldest outlaw in Texas. He and the Newton Gang raided trains and banks in the early 1920s, but their biggest loot came in 1924 when they robbed a train outside of Rondout, Illinois, leaving with $ 3,000,000. They still hold the record for the largest train robbery in American history.