Shortly after noon Thursday, Sept. 15, 1932, the 200 block of Broadway in Bradley seemed suddenly transported to the “Wild West.” A large Auburn automobile screeched to a stop next to the Bradley State & Savings Bank at 215 Broadway, and four men rushed into the bank. A fifth man remained behind the wheel of the car with the motor running.
Inside the bank, the four men — each brandishing a revolver — ordered cashier Emory C. Vandagrift and state bank examiners Russell Younger and R.W. Lofborn to lie down on the floor. There were no customers present. The robbers began scooping up cash from the tellers’ cages and coins and securities from the bank’s vault. Initial estimates placed the amount of their loot at $6,500; later, it was revised downward to just under $5,000.
While the robbers were at work inside the bank, they were observed through a window by a Bradley teenager, Melvin Menard. The 13-year-old ran to the Bradley Post Office, located next to the bank, to raise the alarm.
A customer at the Post Office, Ross Saltsider, grabbed a gun belonging to Postmaster O. A. Voorhees, and rushed outside to see the bandits running out of the bank. The Kankakee Republican-News reported, “As the bandits started to leave the bank, he opened fire on them from the shelter of the post office doorway. At about the same moment, Deputy Sheriff [C.R.] Reed was going by on his way home for lunch. He saw what was going on and also opened fire … he and Saltsider shooting almost simultaneously.
“Apparently one of them hit one of the bandits as the latter, who was carrying a sack of silver money, dropped the sack and hesitated, then was helped into the waiting car by his companions. He left the money scattered over [the] ground.”
The carload of bank robbers headed east on Broadway, passed under the IC tracks, then wove through East Bradley neighborhoods with Saltsider and Reed in hot pursuit. They turned south on Highway 49 (now Route 50), heading toward Kankakee.
“All of this time, Reed and Saltsider were shooting at the car ahead,” noted the Republican-News,” and the bandits were returning the fire. As the two cars sped south … Reed felt a bullet hit the floorboard and he knew the radiator had been punctured. A moment later, as he reached Hobbie Heights, the water was all gone, and he was forced to stop.”
After disabling their pursuers’ car, the robbers headed east on Route 17, then Route 1 to Momence, and crossed over into Indiana. Their car was found that evening on a road 2 miles east of Gary. “That at least one of the bandits was seriously wounded was confirmed last night,” the Republican-News informed its readers on Sept. 16, noting that “the inside of the car was spattered with blood. … It was also found that two men answering the descriptions of the bandit gang had entered a Gary drug store and purchased a large quantity of gauze pads, bandages, and antiseptics indicating that the fugitives were to attempt to take care of their wounded comrade instead of risking detection by bringing him to a doctor or leaving him near a hospital.”
No trace of the wounded or fatally injured robber was ever found; it would be more than seven months before anyone was captured in connection with the Bradley robbery. A young man variously identified as Martin Ryan and Martin Rine, was arrested in Chicago on April 25, 1933. He had been “fingered” by another member of the Bradley robbery gang who was serving time in an Indiana penitentiary for a different robbery.
The Bradley Bank holdup was one of hundreds that were committed nationwide as the Great Depression deepened in the early 1930s. Bank robbery became a popular type of crime, as famous holdup man Willie Sutton supposedly said, “because that’s where the money is.” In the Kankakee area during that era, bank “heists” took place at Manteno, Grant Park, Bradley, Wilmington, Beecher, and Watseka. Some banks, including Bradley, were robbed more than once.
An Aroma Park man saw the plague of bank holdups as a business opportunity: in 1932, Edwin H. Ingalls invented a tear gas device designed to foil robberies. The device, mounted near teller stations in a bank, could be triggered during a robbery attempt. It emitted a thick cloud of irritating gas designed to drive the robber away.
An actual example of tear gas preventing a holdup was reported by the Kankakee Republican-News on April 24, 1933. Two armed men attempting to rob the First National Bank of Wilmington fled empty-handed when a teller “set off a battery of tear gas guns.” It was not reported whether the devices used were those invented by Ingalls.
The bank crime wave receded after a 1934 law made bank robbery a federal offense. This allowed the Federal…