Bank Robbery, 1866
Cashier clubbed, Four escape in carriage
Robbers Grab $73,461.00
Following is an account of the Bowdoinham Bank Robbery, a dastardly crime that took place in June of 1866. The writer used actual trial transcripts in the preparation of this report. Any segments where quotes are used in the writing is actually sworn testimony offered by witnesses involved with the crime. Details cited were collected from the same reports. -- FDC
By FRANK CONNORS
BOWDOINHAM: June 21, 1866. It was past ten in the evening, and Robert Butterfield felt ready to call it a day. His wife Henrietta was already asleep in the front bedroom, resting fitfully on a bed shared with an ailing, infant child.
Butterfield rose from his desk and slammed shut the books he had carried home from the bank that evening. The heavy-set Cashier at Bowdoinham's National Village Bank doused the lamp lighting his work; then picked up a candle for the walk into the rear bed chamber where his son was already sleeping in a crib in the corner.
In the shadows outside the house, four men were watching the last lights going out in the Butterfield home. "Ah", they must have been thinking."Finally the man goes to bed." In the next two hours, at least three fishermen and as many other travelers pass the four men secluded in the trees beside the Portland and Kennebec Railroad Station. None of the late night wanderers noticed the four, as there was no moon this night, so the only light in the area came from the red warning lamps at the crossing.
David Bartlett, Orrin Simms and Davis McGuire slipped through the unlatched pantry window of the Butterfield home about midnight; then passed upstairs using the back flight of stairs. One by one, the trio crept into the bedroom occupied this dark night by the now snoring Butterfield and his 12 year old son.
One of the three came out of the shadows and clubbed the Cashier "insensible" with what Butterfield later guessed to be a pistol. The assault came even before Butterfield knew there were persons in his room, and certainly happened without provocation. As soon as the three sensed Butterfield was regaining consciousness minutes later, they set upon him, binding his hands and feet with a stout cord they carried for that purpose.
A member of the gang stayed with the helpless Butterfield and his terrified son in that bedroom while the other two picked their way to the front of the house and the chamber occupied by Mrs. Butterfield. The pair found the lady frightened on her bed, "awakened by distressing noises," from her husbands's quarters. One of the two (later identified as McGuire), kept repeating "kill her baby, kill her baby," Mrs. Butterfield testified. The other carried a knife.
"We have been in this bloody war. ( the Civil War) It is money that we want, the money of the Bank, and money we will have," one of the robbers told the terrified woman. He then left the room, returning to the rear of the house.
The intruder left in her room sat down on the edge of her bed and said, "We will offer you no violence if you keep perfectly still. It is only money that we want." Mrs. Butterfield asked the man about her husband and was told, "He is perfectly comfortable, I have arranged the pillows under his head myself. Give yourself no uneasiness about him."
Butterfield himself tells what happened next.
"I heard the words: 'We want the keys to the Bank; repeated a number of times. I could hardly judge whether I was awake or asleep, my head was in such a state from the blow."
"Fearing for my family, I pointed out the keys to them," Butterfield testified later in court. "They then stripped a pillow case from my bed and knotted it. A man attempted to shove it (the knot) in my mouth. I resisted, keeping my mouth closed. He came on me with tremendous violence, seized me by the throat and threatened: 'Damn you, open your mouth or I will choke you to death'. A gag was put in my mouth. I suffered extremely. I was turned over on my face and could not breath for a short time."
"I remained in that situation perhaps a half an hour." Butterfield said, "Though I can't state the time exactly." At the end of that time period, two men reentered Butterfield's room, cut the cords from his ankles and pulled the Cashier roughly to his feet.
"They took me, undressed as I was with the gag in my mouth, out of the room and down by the front stairs. We traveled down Center Street to the railroad crossing, then along the railroad track and finally up Main Street to the bank. Upon entering the Bank I saw a man standing by the safe with a mask on; within his reach on the counter was a dirk and a pistol. They took me around the counter to the safe. They had already unlocked the outer door of the safe. The steel box in the lower part of the safe where we in the Bank kept our money and valuables was still secured by a combination lock. It was necessary to change the key to get the box open."
"That key was presented to me and I was ordered to change it. I changed it after some hesitation and threats were made. The big man (Bartlett) then grabbed the key and unlocked the safe. Everything that was valuable they then took from the safe and carried it off."
That robbery netted the thieves $73,461.50, accord ing to an official tally released by Butterfield several days after the heist. That same report was later used as evidence against the men in court. $72.75 worth of that total was gold and silver coins. There was $3,581 worth of National Village Bank of Bowdoinham bills stolen, plus $907.65 in bills of other banks. $3,715 in legal tender notes were stolen, plus $1,430 in simple interest notes. United States Treasury notes amounting to $9,500 were stolen, along with $42,700 in Treasury Bonds. Kennebec and Portland Railroad Bonds totalling $9,000, plus State of Maine Bonds totalling $2,000, and bank Coupons valued at $555 completed the total. Butterfield also reported that a "large amount of notes and valuable papers" belonging to Captains H. A. Grey and H. Q. Sampson; plus many of his own papers were stolen along with the money. Fortunately for some village residents, several thousand dollars worth of Bonds were overlooked by the bandits, who by now realized it was well past one and they must be on their way if they were to make good their escape.
The robbers returned Butterfield to his bed, checked the blood soaked gag that still filled his mouth, then resecued his feet at the bed post. In the wife's room, Mrs. Butterfield's ropes were checked on her hands and feet, then she was gagged with a sheet. The robbers did tie her hands in front of the lady, so that she could hold her ailing infant in her bound arms. This same child died just months after the robbery, never fully recovering from the illness that afflicted it this fateful night.
The older son was now tied hand and foot and then gagged. He had been carried in on his mother's bed when the robbers forced Butterfield to accompany them to the bank.
The robbers then warned Mrs. Butterfield to keep herself and her family "perfectly still" and to make no attempt to offer an alarm for at least two hours. "One of our number will stay here until four o'clock," she was told.
Just before the trio left the woman's room for the last time, one of the robbers said to another, "Is the Negro out there watching?" The second man then stepped to a window, pulled back the shade and said convincingly, "yes, he is right there." To this day, no one has ever proven beyond a doubt that there really was a fourth man - black or white - outside the Butterfield home that night.
The three escaped from the Butterfield's home on foot. They moved quickly out Center Street to a point in the so-called Patten's Woods, where they had a carriage and two horses waiting. Their route on foot took them across the Cathance River, through 'Brooklyn' to a point 60 or 70 feet from the road where the
team of horses could be hidden. (The spot can't be too far from what is today called the Wallentine Road and Merrymeeting Airport.) The morning after the robbery, several men from town, led by Thomas Sampson, found the hiding place and recovered two pieces of quarter-inch twine, exactly like that used to tie the Butterfields. The informal posse also discovered "fresh horse dressing" in the area.
Robert S. Carr was a Director of the Village Bank at the time of the robbery. His testimony in court is used here to describe the scene on the morning after the commission of the crime. His picture is grim. "I found the safe still unlocked, as was the vault where the valuables were kept. Mr. Butterfield went in ahead of me, reached into the vault and took out fifty cents the robbers had missed. I found part of a mask in the bank, and a small lantern. Books and papers were scattered about."
Carr also described the Butterfield home to the court.
"One of the pillow cases was bloody" on Robert Butterfield's bed. "Some blood had spilled over onto the floor. It looked as though there was quite a bloody affray there. I picked up a knotted pillow case which showed appearances of being used as a gag. The knot was covered with blood. Mr. Butterfield was bleeding (the time was about 3:45 a.m., the morning of the 22nd) blood ran all over his face. His lips were so swollen that I didn't recognize his voice. Blood ran down from a cut on his head." The robbers had been gone about two hours.
Several witnesses at the trial of Bartlett, Simms, and McGuire swore to statements placing the three in the area before the robbery, and then traced their flight as far as Portland.
Cyrus and Anna Randall, Topsham residents living about a half mile from Bay Bridge, positively identified David Bartlett as a man they sold a quart of milk for eight cents the day before the robbery. At that time the man was headed to Bowdoinham (probably to make a last check of the Bank and of the Butterfield home.) The Randalls testified in court they saw what they considered "the same carriage again going toward Bowdoinham about 9 p.m.", the night of the robbery. Cyrus testified he saw four lights from pipes or cigars in the carriage as it passed him that evening.
Alvah H. Hildreth, Reuben Holbrook and John Curtis were all neighbors of the Randalls on Topsham's Foreside that June day in 1866. All three of these men appeared in court to swear they saw the same carry-all being pulled by a pair of horses, trotting toward Bowdoinham about four miles away. None of these five persons could swear to the identity of any person in the carriage that night.
James Tarbox lived in Topsham, "about half way between Bowdoinham and Topsham Villages." He told the court "I got up at ten minutes past two o'clock, that's about two o'clock by Brunswick time, to hive a swarm of bees. The carriage passed 30-45 minutes after I got up. I saw the carriage pass very quickly. I also heard the sounds of voices and a whip. I was about fifty yards from the wagon when it passed. There was no moon, it set that night about midnight."
"When I first heard the carriage I thought it was loose horses; they were running or trotting very fast. I feared the horses would turn in by the fence and run me over," Tarbox said.
Joseph Drinkwater, also of Topsham, testified he saw a carriage with two dark horses pass his house about three in the morning , June 22. he said it was not light enough to see the carriage well, but he could see that it was covered. He said the carriage was "going toward Topsham Village very fast."
Abba K. Soule placed the covered carriage on the eastern side of Freeport Villag about half past four, the morning of the 22nd. the carriage was still driving rather fast," and still closed.
George M. Soule introduced himself to the court as a resident of Yarmouth, "about fourteen miles from Portland."
He testified that he was on the road to Freeport Corner on the morning of June 22. He said, "I met a double carriage with two horses about three quarters of a mile from the Corner, going toward Portland about nine miles per hour." Soule said there was nothing about either horse that showed great fatigue. He said he could see but two men in the carriage, then added there was no way to see the rear seat, as the sun was only "ten to fifteen minutes high."
The three robbers lost themselves in Portland after the robbery, watching for a chance to slip even farther away from Bowdoinham and the state-wide dragnet issued for their arrest. A reward of $10,000 was offered by local interests - $3,000 for the thieves and $7,000 for return of the money stolen. Judge Tapley said the prize offered was perhaps the largest reward that was ever offered in this state, if not in any state. He pointed out the reward was "just twenty times as large" as the reward offered by the state in 1841 when the State Prison was burned. The huge reward drew many "private marshals", and bounty hunters onto the trail of the robbers from all over the country.
In early July, 1866, City Marshal John S. Heald of Portland produced the first real clues to the robbery. Two young boys playing on that city's streets found some "official looking papers" and turned them over to him. The papers included $350 in coupons and $250 in bonds; plus assorted, partially burned envel opes marked National Village Bank, Bowdoinham. There was also a pocket book in the collection that was a personal record book used by Butterfield at the bank prior to the robbery. The young boys had pulled the papers out of an open culvert on the corner of May and Spring Streets in Portland's West End. the $600 recovered in bonds and coupons that day would be the only money ever recovered from the robbers.
By October of 1866, the trail had led investigators to New York City. A Boston detective named Moses Sargeant had connected the three with the robbery and finally went to the Metropolitan Police for assistance in making the arrest. Bartlett and McGuire were arrested on 8th Avenue on the l9th of October. Police officer Patrick Dolan told the story in court six months later: "I saw Bartlett and McGuire going into a house on 8th Avenue near Sixteenth Street. When they came out, I and a fellow officer got on the 8th Avenue car to get ahead of them about a block."
"We got off the car and moved toward them on the sidewalk. Mr. Dunn (the other officer) got a hold on Bartlett, but McGuire started to run. I ran after him, and in going he drew a knife. I hallooed,'Stop Thief!' On the corner of 14th Street, 8th Avenue, he was stopped by a brother officer of mine. He said to the officer, 'protect me from this man!' I showed my authority and the officer gave the prisoner up to me. I then took McGuire to the Sixth Ward Station.
Simms was arrested that same evening, "coming down through Houston Street." Captain Jordan of the Sixth Precinct made the arrest, assisted by Sargent and a police officer named Hagerty. The court record says Simms, "resisted in coming," so Hagerty hit him in the face, knocking him to the street. After that incident, Simms went to the Station House peacefully.
The trial of Bartlett, Simms and McGuire for the robbery of Bowdoinham's National Village Bank began Tuesday, April 23, 1867, before the Supreme Judicial Court in Bath, Maine. Judge Rufus P. Tapley presided over the court. Francis Adams, Esquire, Sagadahoc County Attorney, appeared for the state; while the Honorable Henry Tallman and John S. Abbott, Esquires, represented the prisoners. The accused were brought into court by Sheriff Malay, and described in the record by court Stenographer, J. D. Pulsifer, "Bartlett is about 50 years old and has a bald head; Simms is a tall athletic man about 33 years old; and McGuire is more slenderly built and of a feminine voice; he is about 28. The prisoners have all done the state some service in penitentiaries. They are well dressed and have the manners of gentlemen." In that first report, the Recorder failed to mention that all three prisoners wore steel manacles during their trial.
Attorneys defending the prisoners called the robbery at Bowdoinham, "the most foul, daring, reckless, heartless and wicked act of its kind," every perpetrated in the State of Maine. But, they urged the jury to conclude that nothing but circumstantial evidence was accumulated against their three clients. Defense Attorneys even produced witnesses who claimed the three were with them in New York at a birthday party - at the time of the robbery.
But the pleas fell on deaf ears, after deliberating just two hours and twenty minutes, the jury returned to court and handed in its verdict on Saturday April 27. Reuel Bickford, Foreman of the Jury, declared the three had been found guilty. Sentencing for their crimes soon followed, with each man receiving a maximum of 15 years in the state prison at Thomaston.
In the weeks that followed, the three were also indicted for the assaults and burglary at the Butterfield home. The trial on these more serious charges followed that of the actual robbery. If the men were found guilty of the charges levied in the second trial, the penalty was life imprisonment. (This writer has done some preliminary checking into the second trial, but to date, no details have been determined.)
Bowdoinham Advertiser Volume II No. II c. 197-
Frank Connors, Editor