My friends and I had great times growing up in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in the 1920s through the 1940s. We were law-abiding kids, but still managed to get into some mischief.
For example: Jack and I bought a 1925 Ford, and thought it would look better with a new paint job. We dug out some old house paint and spiffed up the car. Then we got this great idea to dry it faster: drive it around town! A pedestrian was just about to step into the street as we drove around a corner a little too tightly. He put his hands out to keep from colliding with us. You can guess what happened. We got some nice long handprints on our car, and the pedestrian got shiny blue palms. We were never caught.
When I was 14 years old, I had my driver’s license (you read that right). Sam and I were working for a furniture store delivering mattresses. Sam did not have his license yet. But when we drove away from the store, he wanted to drive the van. Since he was bigger than me, I reluctantly turned over the keys. After making the delivery we headed back to the store. Sam stopped a few blocks away and I drove us to the store, looking innocent as lambs. Again, no police interference ruined our pristine reputations.
In the 1950s, I married my high school sweetheart, Elaine. I was just starting in the banking business, which eventually took us to a small southern Idaho town called Parma. Parma was mainly a farming town, well known for its sweet potato crops, and if tumbleweeds were elephants, we would have all been trampled.
We were raising four daughters, and I was living a law-abiding life. I dabbled in mischief when I would put a small daughter on my lap and drive around the country roads, letting her steer (or think she was). No seat belts. No safety seats. This was the 1950s. I suspect that if we’d seen a local officer of the law, he would have smiled and waved at us. Not so today!
Now a real crime! On June 19, 1957, I was working at the Idaho First National Bank as the assistant cashier. I was in charge that day because our manager was on vacation. At about 2 p.m., I suddenly heard the sound of people running. An employee was running toward the door. Then I saw the bottom of the shoes of a person he was chasing out the door. The man got into a 1956 Oldsmobile Holiday Coupe.
A teller came over and said the bank had been robbed. A man had pointed a gun at her and demanded money. He had no bag, so she just shoved a pile of money at him. He grabbed it and ran out the door.
I immediately called the police, the sheriff’s office and the FBI. The FBI was at the bank within minutes, it seemed, starting their investigation. According to our local newspaper, The Parma Review (10 cents), these agencies “spread a net” at major intersections throughout southern Idaho. They also had a plane in the air. Our bank hadn’t been robbed in more than 30 years, so this was a big deal. But all these efforts came up empty-handed. It looked like the robber would be keeping $4,000.
But we had a stroke of luck. At 7:30 p.m. that same day, a bartender at a Boise beer garden noticed a man pulling money out of a brown paper bag to buy drinks for his buddies. The bartender thought that was suspicious, so he called the police.
Police descended on the beer garden and arrested the man with the brown paper bag. He was their man. The getaway car and two guns were found nearby.
Maurice Lloyd Fillmore, age 31, had only been arrested twice in the past for “drinking,” according to the newspaper. It turns out he had planned to rob a bank in his own hometown, but when he got there too many people recognized him, so he abandoned that brilliant plan.
Fillmore was arraigned the next day, refused to hire an attorney, pleaded guilty on the spot and was sentenced to five years in prison. His reason for the robbery: He had run out of beer money.
I felt compelled to send the FBI a letter, thanking them for their swift response and successful conclusion of the case. I named all of the agents that I wanted to thank for a job well done.
A week later I received a letter back from the FBI director, thanking me for acknowledging their good work. The letter was signed: J. Edgar Hoover.
I still have this letter. Checking out the value of this signature on eBay, I see it listed anywhere from $60 to $2,500. So, it’s possible that I’m the only one who came out money ahead in this whole story.
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