Throwback Thursday: 'Chicago Blackie' and the 1925 Shullsburg bank heist

An Illinois milk truck driver stopping to pick raspberries along the side of the road found something else 90 years ago this week — nonnegotiable bank notes discarded by a Chicago gang that had blasted open the vault of the First National Bank during a brazen raid in Shullsburg, Wis.

An Illinois milk truck driver stopping to pick raspberries along the side of the road found something else 90 years ago this week — nonnegotiable bank notes discarded by a Chicago gang that had blasted open the vault of the First National Bank during a brazen raid in Shullsburg, Wis.

‘TOWN COWED BY GUNFIRE’

Four men armed with sawed-off shotguns and pistols raided Shullsburg at about 1:30 a.m., Tuesday, June 23, 1925.

According to the Telegraph Herald, the men “terrorized the townspeople for more than two hours with volleys of buckshot” before blasting the vault of the First National Bank and escaping with cash and securities valued at $25,000 (the equivalent of $339,000 in 2015).

Shullsburg was without police protection in the early morning hours of the raid. Residents couldn’t call for help: The bank robbers had cut the five cables that connected Shullsburg’s telephones with the outside world.

Two men were stationed in front of the bank as lookouts. Two other men blasted open the vault.

Townspeople first learned of the raid when two South Dakota tourists were halted by two gangsters

Mr. and Mrs. O.C. Johnson of Huron, S.D., were driving through Shullsburg en route to Chicago at the time of the robbery.

“Stop that car,” said a voice from the shadows.

A startled Mr. Johnson was slow in obeying. He heard a shotgun blast and pulled to the curb.

One of the robbers walked over to the car and fired a shotgun into the left rear tire.

When Mr. Johnson didn’t understand a command to switch off the car’s headlights, the butt of the shotgun smashed them.

The robber then instructed the Johnsons to lay down in the car. The couple remained that way for two hours.

The city marshal and other Shullsburg residents fired shots at the gangsters, but were pinned down by the criminals’ superior firepower.

SACK BY THE ROADSIDE

Milk truck driver William Kruse had stopped along the side of the road in Lanark, Ill., 14 days after the robbery. Kruse intended to pick raspberries after completing a delivery at Pearl City, Ill.

Kruse found a sugar sack in a clump of bushes along the road. He opened the sack and discovered it filled with papers thoroughly soaked by rains.

Judge J.B. Simpson, the Shullsburg bank president, and J.J. Jamison, a bank cashier, were called to Lanark and identified the papers as belonging to the bank.

The bank officers believed the papers were tossed from an automobile by the gangsters as they were heading back to Chicago.

Authorities believed the gang fled to Chicago via a route that took them through Hazel Green, Galena, Savanna and Freeport. Lanark is southwest of Freeport, in Carroll County.

‘CHICAGO BLACKIE’ AND HIS GANG

Five men were arrested in connection with the Shullsburg robbery in Princeton, Ill., in October 1925.

Authorities said the men were led by Joe Dawsie, a man with a lengthy criminal record and an alias, “Chicago Blackie.”

Dawsie had been convicted of a bank robbery in Oklahoma in 1910 and served a term in that state’s penitentiary. In 1917, he was convicted of grand larceny in Dallas, Texas, and sentenced to the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan. His next incarceration came at Aledo, when he was nabbed after a bank robbery. He escaped from jail two months later and was at liberty until taken into custody for the Shullsburg robbery.

Dawsie and four others were tried in Darlington — James Ford, John Adams, John Thompson and Thomas Foster.

Three Shullsburg residents testified Foster had posed as a handkerchief salesman the day before the robbery. Prosecutors alleged Foster had studied the layout of Shullsburg and its bank and helped hatch the robbery plan.

A succession of Shullsburg residents took the stand to identify members of the gang.

A zinc miner identified Adams as a man carrying a sack and Dawsie as a threatening man with a gun.

A bank cashier and a telephone operator described the holdup and the South Dakota tourists identified Thompson as the bandit who forced them to stop while driving through town.

The prosecution soon fell apart.

Ford and Foster were freed on a motion that the evidence was not sufficient to hold them. Foster was then re-arrested by a deputy sheriff from Carlisle, Ill, on suspicion of another bank robbery.

The jury acquitted Dawsie, Adams and Thompson after 10 hours’ deliberation on Dec. 12. Dawsie enjoyed only a moment of liberty. He was immediately re-arrested by officers from Aledo, Ill. He escaped from the Aledo jail a year ago while awaiting trial for a bank robbery there.

THE AFTERMATH

Eventually imprisoned, Dawsie boasted that he had blown more than 200 safes in his criminal career.

The First National Bank withstood the robbery but not the Great Depression. It closed for good in 1933.

The building eventually became home to Shullsburg’s Water Street Place Pub & Eatery.

Throwback Thursday: Highlights from the TH archives

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