Mogadore bank robbery was talk of town in 1934
Not too much ever happened in Mogadore until that day when the gunmen showed up and robbed the bank and took hostages and escaped with the money.
That was quite an exciting day.
It was just after noon April 25, 1934, and most of the townsfolk were at a booster club luncheon at Mogadore Methodist Episcopal Church. A block away, a gleaming blue Ford V-8 sedan pulled up to Mogadore Savings Bank. It had Illinois license plates.
Teller William F. Viall and assistant treasurer Eugene Adolph were behind the bank counter while customer Fred Minder, a worker at the India Tire and Rubber Co., was cashing a check at the window.
The door swung open and two well-dressed men entered. One wore a blue suit, the other wore brown. Both carried handguns.
While Mr. Brown guarded the entrance, Mr. Blue stuck a revolver through a teller’s window and barked: “Stick ’em up!”
The gruffler of the two bandits, Mr. Blue threw his shoulder against a locked door and smashed it open to get behind the counter.
“We were ordered to lie down on the floor,” Adolph later recalled. “The hard-boiled fellow started to scoop up the contents of the teller’s drawer and cursed when there was not as much money as he had hoped to find.
“He asked to know when the time lock would open the safe. I told him several hours, and he didn’t believe me.”
Just then, Mogadore High School senior Charles Abbott walked into the bank to cash a $5 check. The armed robbers whirled and ordered the surprised kid to sit on the floor with his arms raised.
Mogadore bandits take hostages
Mr. Blue and Mr. Brown gave up on the locked safe. They emptied three drawers of cash, grabbed a shotgun and several pistols from a back room and forced the hostages outside.
The gunmen jumped into the sedan and took their captives for a terrifying ride.
“The robbers told us to hang onto the running boards, two of us on each side, and they drove north toward Tallmadge,” Abbott later told a reporter.
It was a strange sight as the automobile raced up the road at 60 mph with four kidnap victims hanging on for dear life.
“They drove us down the road about a mile and a half, keeping us covered with guns all the time,” Adolph recalled. “When we got to an out-of-the-way spot, they told us to get off. As we alighted, the older robber said: ‘If you identify us, you’ll be killed.’ ”
Abbott said the robbers hadn’t exchanged words with each other as they drove. He couldn’t tell if they were familiar with the area.
“They acted kind of tough, but they had to do that, I guess,” he said. “They didn’t seem to be the sort of men who would kill us for nothing.”
The dazed victims began to walk back to Mogadore, but soon flagged down a motorist. They found a crowd waiting for them.
President SS Carper and cashier Paul W. Shanafelt had called deputies after returning from the booster luncheon and finding the bank empty. Authorities put out an all-points bulletin for the two men in the blue car with Illinois plates.
Bank officials discovered the robbers had escaped with $3,686, including more than $2,900 in cash, $400 in silver coins and $250 in money orders. The loot would be worth over $76,000 today.
Investigators immediately suspected that the gunmen belonged to the Chicago gang of John Dillinger, Public Enemy No. 1. Over a two-week span, robbers held up seven banks across Ohio, but officers didn’t know if the cases were related.
“Everybody thought Dillinger had visited Akron when they heard about the Illinois license plates,” Portage County Sheriff LeRoy Jones later explained.
Jones followed a lead that two fishermen matching the description of the Mogadore robbers had rented a Brady Lake cottage for 12 days before the heist.
The trail quickly went cold.
Authorities didn’t know that the robbers had already changed license plates to escape detection. They weren’t even in Ohio anymore.
Bank robbers revealed
Lenn L. Bash, 35, probably would have been flattered to know that authorities thought Dillinger was the culprit.
The Akron man, a former Goodyear factory worker, was a small-time criminal involved in selling bootleg liquor and fencing stolen property.
He had served a couple of years at the Ohio Penitentiary after admitting in 1930 to stealing nearly 100 silver foxes and selling them to a Pennsylvania furrier. His fed-up wife, Velma, divorced him and took their two children to live in Missouri.
Bash recruited his pal Milton “Buck” Chestnut, an Illinois native, for a big score. At the Brady Lake cottage, they plotted the Mogadore job between fishing trips. Everything went like clockwork except for their inability to access the bank’s time-locked safe.
The robbers escaped to Missouri, eluding police with the aid of six sets of stolen license plates from multiple states. In Springfield, they traded in the blue sedan for a new car and then traded in that vehicle for yet another one.
They rented a cabin and spent a lot of time fishing at Bennett Spring State Park, which eventually got them snagged like largemouth bass.
Flashing money around town
While Bash tried to keep a low profile, Chestnut enjoyed flashing money around town.
“The fishing trips at Bennett Spring will long be remembered by the natives,” the Springfield Leader and Press reported. “Bash’s companion bought liquor in case lots and gave it away like water. Almost daily, he would invite a crowd of town loafers into cafes for expensive dinners and ‘down-and-outers’ always found him good for a bill.”
The spending spree drew the suspicion of state troopers who traced the men’s new car to a Springfield dealership. As investigators quizzed a salesman May 3, Bash pulled in to the garage to have a radio installed in the vehicle. Talk about bad timing.
In the back seat, troopers found three 12-gauge pump guns, a 12-gauge double-barreled shotgun, two .45-caliber pistols, a .38 Colt revolver, a .380 automatic pistol, tear gas guns, a small explosive, boxes of ammunition and assorted license plates.
Bash, who had $900 on him, claimed he was a gun salesman and the weapons were samples, but officers discovered he had a criminal record in Ohio. And to top it off, he matched the description from a bank robbery near Akron. Officers arrested him.
“This whole thing is a bum rap,” Bash groused. “Putting the lift on banks is not my racket.”
Portage County Sheriff Jones and a couple of deputies took a 20-hour drive to Missouri to pick up the suspect.
“Bash didn’t cause us any trouble on the trip back,” the sheriff noted. “He laughed and joked and slept most of the way.”
Three of Bash’s former hostages identified him in a police lineup in Ravenna.
Accomplice spills the beans
Two days before Bash’s May 21 trial in Portage County, authorities arrested Chestnut at a gas station in Missouri. He confessed to officers and turned state’s evidence against Bash, accusing him of hogging the loot.
The defense attorney didn’t bother to call any witnesses.
It was the first bank robbery trial in Portage County history, and it lasted only six hours. A jury deliberated for 45 minutes before convicting Bash and Chestnut less than a month after the heist.
Common Pleas Judge CH Curtiss sentenced Bash to life in prison and Chestnut to 25 years.
As it turned out, Chestnut spent a decade behind bars before winning parole in 1944 and disappearing from public view. His final years are a mystery, but it’s a safe bet that fishing was somehow involved.
Bash was a model prisoner who qualified for the honor dormitory at the Ohio Penitentiary. In prison, he wrote and sold fictional short stories to detective magazines about reformed criminals. Crime doesn’t pay — unless the perpetrator is a freelance writer.
In 1949, the convict was transferred to the London Prison Farm, where he raised hogs. He won parole in 1954 after 20 years and moved to Missouri, where he operated a dog kennel for a number of years. Bash was 86 when he died in 1984.
Life got back to normal in Mogadore.
Not too much ever happened there.
Except that day in April 1934. That was exciting.
Mark J. Price can be reached at [email protected]
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