Morton bank robbery of 1945
MORTON, TX (KCBD) - When the Cochran County Senior Citizens gather, only a select few remember one of the worst crimes in Morton's history.
"It was the first big excitement we had had in Morton," said life-long resident Dorothy Barker.
It all happened in September 1945.
"The guys, there were three of them," Barker said, "that came into Morton and parked in front of our First State Bank."
Dorothy Barker was in her high school class, but her friend worked at the bank.
"She saw the guys, and she said they were pretty good looking guys," Barker said, "and she just flirted with them and went on into the bank."
Those men were Matthew Kimes and his two accomplices. He had just escaped from a 60-day leave from a life sentence for murdering an Oklahoma police chief.
"They were driving a 1941 Purple Pontiac," said Noel Crow. "They said they stole it from a Captain there at Reese Air Force Base."
What happened next is history that Mary Helen McKnight has studied as part of the Texas' Last Frontier Historical Museum.
"They went in the bank and held it up, and I think at first they kind of thought it was a joke because one of the men told them to 'go to hell' and they stuck the gun into his stomach and told him he would be blown in two ," McKnight said, "so he complied and stuck all of the employees into a bank vault, the smallest of the bank vault. There was about 16 people total that they stuck in there."
The robbers told the hostages that if they came out before 30 minutes was over, they would be shot.
"They took off with a little over $17,000 dollars," McKnight said, "and they took the stolen car out to Bledsoe."
The bank president, W. W. Williamson, even recorded his reaction:
"We stayed about five minutes and the ventilation was bad," it reads. "We went out and found that the robbers had gone."
As the news spread across the small town, rumors began circulating.
"Some people thought they had housed up and were out there in a farm house with the farmer," Barker said.
Crow remembers seeing that farmer he called "Mr.Pear" out that very next weekend.
"He was walking on the streets Saturday afternoon, so that surprised me," Crow said. "I thought he should've been in jail."
With the robbers on the loose, Barker said Morton residents were in uproar.
"I remember it I was in high school, and my daddy wouldn't let me get out the house hardly," she said, "while they were still out hunting the bank robbers."
But in the next three months, authorities began to find answers.
"Melton was arrested at his house in Shawnee, Oklahoma," McKnight said, "and in December of '45, Kimes was crossing the road with they believe it was Rogers. He had an accomplice with him, and he was crossing the road in Arkansas and ended up getting hit by a poultry truck. He died of his injuries probably about five days later, I believe it was, and Rogers ended turning himself."
While the robbers were captured, only a few thousand dollars were literally dug up.
"There was a keg full of coins buried out there in Oklahoma," McKnight said.
But the money was insured, and Morton's sense of peace was restored.
"It's an interesting stories I tell my grandkids about," Barker said. "I guess it was a page in our history we'll never forget."
That former bank building is still on the square in Morton today, next to the courthouse, but is abandoned.
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