By Myra Lee Adams Goff
A bank robbery in downtown New Braunfels? Yes, it happened on March 10, 1922, and reported a week later in the New Braunfels Herald. Hot news item? Well, remember that the Herald was a weekly newspaper. I’m sure that by that time local communication systems had already kicked into effect: “Have you heard?”, “They say…” or “Number please”. Nevertheless, the Herald devoted the greater part of the front page to this event. The robbery took place at the New Braunfels State Bank on the Plaza next to the Plaza Hotel.
To me, the newspaper account reads like an O. Henry story. William Sidney Porter, using his pen name “O. Henry”, supposedly stayed in the Plaza Hotel once. Here’s my version of the bank robbery as read in the newspaper:
Mrs. Fred Withem, the cashier of the M.K.&T Railroad walked into the bank at noon to make a $5,000 deposit. As she left the bank, she heard a strange hissing noise. She looked back to see a Buick touring car driving slowly and then coming to a stop quite a distance from the curb, not like the other cars that parked head-in. She noticed five (there were four) men getting out of the car and walking backwards towards the bank. About 10 minutes later while she was sitting down to eat dinner (lunch) she recalls “the shot was fired announcing the robbery”.
Next door, Emil Marion at the Plaza Hotel Restaurant said that just after noon, two men came in and ordered two cups of coffee. He noticed that they had handkerchiefs hanging from the lower part of their faces but didn’t think they looked like masks. Perhaps they had been “riding in the wind”. They gave him two bits (25¢) and he had to go out to get change. On his way back, he heard a whistle and when he got back to the restaurant, the men were gone, but the coffee had not been tasted.
Meanwhile inside the bank, cashier Kloepper had just returned before Mrs. Withem left. President Blumberg was counting her deposit. Assistant cashier Ludwig and bookkeeper Clarence Wetzel were also there. When Blumberg looked up, a man wearing sunglasses stuck a gun in his face and demanded that they all hold their hands up.
A second armed man jumped the railing and ordered all the employees to lie on the floor while the robbers collected the loot. The other bookkeeper, Harold Adams, came back to the bank at this time and one of the men poked a gun against his chest.
The robbers completed the robbery and all the bank employees were marched into the vault. The robbers thought they were secure, but the bankers got out immediately through a “little device recently installed” and the alarm was given. The robbers got away in the Buick.
When the fire alarm was given, a crowd gathered outside the bank thinking it was a fire, but when they found out it was a robbery, “there was some confusion for about five minutes”. Available cars loaded with heavily armed local men left on the route they thought the robbers had taken across the bridge at Landa Park towards the hills.
Yes, the robbers had taken this route, went several miles into the hills, hid the Buick in the cedar and even heard the cars that were looking for them. Later reports said they hid until morning when they went on the San Antonio road after hiding the money. They weren’t caught.
After looking at several sources, I found out the robbers were the infamous Newton brothers of Uvalde, just as “popular” as Bonnie and Clyde. Author T. Lindsay Baker is including the incident in his upcoming book, “A Gangster Tour of Texas”, along with other gangster activities in Texas. It will be published by Texas A&M University Press and will be available shortly.