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Three bandits and a big white stripe

Sheriff August Knetsch, Deputy Ed Schleyer, and Charles Marion with bullet-riddled getaway car, 1933.

Sheriff August Knetsch, Deputy Ed Schleyer, and Charles Marion with bullet-riddled getaway car, 1933.

By Keva Hoffmann Boardman —

After months of media hoopla over presidential candidates and elections results, I thought it might be nice to share a fun old news story. As often happens, I found a photo. It was of three men and a shot-up old car. What? The search for answers was on.

I pulled the original Seidel negative records and found my first clues. Scratched in pencil were three names: Ed Schleyer, C. Marion, A. Knetsch, and the words “3 bandits”. I knew that Knetsch had been the Sheriff around these parts back in the 30s, and that Schleyer was a deputy and C. Marion had been Comal County Jailor. I headed straight for the newspaper microfilm collection. If you don’t know about this resource, you need to come by and check it out. Nestled among the more than 200 boxes of microfilm reels I located roll 20 of the Neu Braunfelser Zeitung and roll 11 of the New Braunfels Herald; these rolls included the January 1933 editions that should tell me the story.

You would think that I would start with the English edition of the Herald, but as it turned out I put the German Zeitung in the reader first. My technique for reading the German language is to scan for key words — in this case, the names of the three men and the words drei and auto — this pretty much works for me every time. By the 1930s, the Zeitung is carrying “front page” news like most newspapers as well as the Locales (local news) section. I always try these pages first and sure enough, there in column one of page one under Texanisches (Texas news) I found an article taken from the Austin Wochenblatt which recounted a robbery. Here is the translation.

Long before daybreak, three men barged into the room of Julian Rankins apartment in Austin, shackled him with strips of his bedsheet and robbed him of $350 in cash and a valuable diamond ring. After the men left, he made his way over to the window and pulled the tassels of the curtain cord with his teeth. With the drapes opened, he saw the bandits get into a car which had a “big white stripe” on the back. Mr. Rankins freed himself, called the police, and then took off after them in his own car.

When he arrived in New Braunfels and came to the square, he ran into Sheriff Knetsch who smiled and informed him that he already had Mr. Rankins money, ring AND the bandits. As soon as Knetsch had received word of the robbery he and his assistants were on the highway to Austin. A car with a “big white stripe” sped past them. They turned and gave chase through New Braunfels and proceeded southwest to Seguin. They followed it, and one of the flying bullets hit the gas tank and another one perforated the hip of Joe Hobrecht from San Antonio He and his cronies surrendered.

Well, as exciting as this German account of the robbery was, I wondered if the English Herald had picked up the story. Putting the next reel of microfilm in the reader I was pleasantly surprised to find the story also on the front page — this time, it included my bullet-ridden car photo! The Herald, not quite as stoic in its recounting of the story (not surprising), concentrated on the previous records of the felons and the thrilling apprehension of them by Sheriff Knetsch. Just listen to this wonderful example of journalistic fervor.

“…after a spectacular running gun battle early Friday…the officers, Sheriff Knetsch, Schleyer and Marion had chased them about six miles. The chase started when the officers attempted to stop the three men about three miles north of New Braunfels on the Austin highway … after following the men at a mile-a-minute clip through Milltown and out on the Seguin highway almost to the Guadalupe County line with bullets from the pursued men’s revolvers whizzing by the officers at various intervals, the chase came to an abrupt end after the bandits’ car had been riddled with buckshot and rifle bullets and the gas tank perforated. About $350 in cash taken from the victim, Julius Rankins, was recovered together with several valuable diamonds amounting to about $2000.”

Sounds like a scene right out of a vintage gangster film, right? I can so see the robbers hanging out of the roll-down windows, revolvers in hand, bullets flying through the space between the two speeding vehicles. The lawmen, wielding

a rifle and shotguns, spraying the car in front of them with lead. Then, the hit in the gas tank and the bad guy’s car swerving and skidding to a stop in a ditch at the roadside. Talk about an adrenaline rush!

Thank you, New Braunfels Herald, for describing the scene in such vivid detail. Now, my random photo makes sense. If you look closely, you will find our three heroes, Sheriff August Knetsch, Deputy Ed Schleyer and Jailor Charles Marion, standing beside the bullet-ridden gangster car — with a long scratch above the back bumper. Yes, people, there it is — the “big white stripe” that solved the case!

Sources: Sophienburg Museum & Archives: Neu Braunfelser Zeitung and New Braunfels Herald newspaper collections; Seidel negative collection (S331-016)