(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
· Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge:
Arlington Bank Robbery Trial
The Citizens State Bank of Arlington, Reno County, KS, was robbed January 2, 1927, and the bandit was caught and charged. On April 11, the jury was selected.
Reno County Sheriff Fay F. Brown walked to the witness stand in district court, prepared to testify about the attempted robbery of the Citizens State Bank of Arlington which had occurred over three months earlier, on Sunday, January 2, 1927.
Sheriff Brown knew that the defendant, Delos “Jack” DeTar, 39, of Greensburg, Kansas, was guilty. But he also knew that the parents of the accused were prominent in Kinsley, twenty-five miles up the road. They were certainly wealthy enough to hire the best attorneys money could buy to defend their son. Every bone in their bodies shouted: “This is a misunderstanding. Jack doesn’t belong behind bars.”
Sheriff Brown studied everyone in the courtroom, especially the DeTar family. He marveled at the scene. Delos DeTar sat with lowered head, occasionally raising his eyes. He kept his false left hand thrust deeply into his coat pocket.
At the defendant’s left was his mother, while his wife and three-year-old daughter were at his right. The little girl, with her long curly hair and brown eyes, drew pictures and talked to her mother, unaware that her father was being tried on a charge that could send him to prison for many years.
Being a Sunday morning, the bank was closed, but DeTar and an unidentified accomplice had broken inside. At 8:15 o’clock, they were surprised to hear someone entering the bank. It was Julian Eaton, 70, bank cashier, who was planning on answering his mail and reading the newspaper, not interrupting a crime-in-progress.
Eaton gave a detailed account of the crime to the jury. Besides attempted bank robbery, DeTar was charged with the crime of assault with intent to kill. He had repeatedly slugged Eaton on the head with a short piece of gas pipe after the cashier had unlocked the small safe for the bank robber and put the $350 into the intruder’s briefcase. The gold and silver coins, and big bills, were in the vault, inaccessible to the intruder because of its timing mechanism.
Upon being slugged on the head, Eaton escaped, running out the bank’s front door, alarming the local citizens outside who had gathered to discuss the recent discovery of an oil field north of town. Eaton yelled: “Get your gun! The bank’s being held up.”
DeTar, wearing a mask, dropped his gun by the vault and ran upstairs to the roof. He hid under a pile of cottonwood leaves on the adjacent building, but he was quickly discovered by the posse. Until the citizenry learned that Eaton wasn’t seriously hurt, there were shouts from the crowd to lynch the bandit, to “string him up.” It was 1927, not the pioneer days, but some in the crowd were in favor of frontier justice.
“Did any operators from the Penaloosa telephone-exchange testify?” Cora Brown asked her husband, Fay, after the first day of the trial. She knew that Reno County Attorney Charles Hall was attempting to show DeTar’s prior planning of the crime involving an unknown accomplice.
“Yes,” answered Fay, “Ray Van Riper, exchange manager, and Winnifred, his wife. They verified the phone number and the man who DeTar had tried to reach the night before the bank robbery. When no one answered the call, an operator asked DeTar if she could keep trying the number. The Greensburg businessman replied, ‘No, if he’s not answering, I know where he is. No need.’”
“Was there any evidence of the man he called being the accomplice?” asked Cora.
“No,” Fay answered, “supposedly DeTar was calling about oil leases.
“Oh,” he continued, “guess who’s on the jury from Langdon?”
“J. D. Potter,” answered Cora with a knowing look.
“How’d you know?” asked Fay.
“I have my sources,” replied Cora.
“Telephone girls or Jess?” asked Fay, referring to her cadre of friends at Southwestern Bell and to Jess Blanpied, their county jailer.
After the posse got DeTar off the roof, they handcuffed him to the city’s fire truck and waited for the sheriff to arrive. When Sheriff Jess Langford and Undersheriff Fay Brown showed up, the two lawmen took charge of the prisoner and investigated the bank robbery. DeTar told the officers he wanted to help but he couldn’t remember anything that happened from the previous night to the moment he awakened in the bank. Then, once arrested, DeTar refused to answer further questions.
DeTar was in deep trouble, and after the county officers searched him and discovered a bottle of nitroglycerin and tools for cracking open safes, his case went from bad to worse.
Tuesday, the second day of the trial, the defense revealed their strategy. They didn’t deny that DeTar had attempted to rob the bank or that he had slugged the cashier. Instead, they called a long list of people who explained that Delos DeTar didn’t know what he was doing. He was insane. His parents, doctors, and friends explained that ever since Delos had lost his arm in a workplace explosion two years earlier, he had spiraled downwards.
When Mrs. Laura DeTar testified about her husband’s mental state, she was obviously a bias witness, but the jurors didn’t blink an eye as they listened to her testimony.
“Prior to his injury, he had a sunny disposition and was always kind and good to me and the children,” she said. “After the accident, he had no patience with the children, was very irritable, and nervous. He certainly was insane. No sane man could do the things he did.”
That afternoon at 4:40 o’clock, the case went into the hands of the jury. An hour later they were excused for the night.
At 9 o’clock on Wednesday morning the jury went back into deliberation. At 10:10 o’clock, the bailiff was informed the jury had reached a verdict, but DeTar and his family could not be located.
Judge Fairchild issued a bench warrant for DeTar’s arrest. Bailiff George Duckworth and Sheriff Brown continued their search until in short time, the sheriff located DeTar and his family at the Stamey Hotel, a half-block east of the courthouse.
Upon their return and after the DeTar’s took their courtroom seats, Duckworth carried the verdict from the jury foreman to the recording clerk.
Sheriff Brown watched DeTar. The defendant showed his nervousness, pivoting his right foot back and forth on his knee, his left leg crossed on his right knee, but as the guilty verdict was read, there was no display of emotion from the defendant, his wife, or mother.
No mention of insanity was contained in the jury’s verdict.
After the verdict had been read, the defendant’s father, Dr. DeTar, held a whispered conversation with attorney Shafer.
“Did Judge Fairchild sentence DeTar?” Cora asked her husband.
“No,” answered Fay, “he didn’t pronounce sentence but he plans to do so within days. It’s expected that DeTar’s attorneys will file a motion for a new trial; they have three days.
“What’s your guess on the length of his sentence?” asked Cora
“The bank robbery charge carries a penitentiary sentence of from ten to fifty years,” said Fay, “and the simple assault count embraces a penalty of about a year. Unless his attorneys can win on appeal, by the time DeTar’s released, his little girl, Luann, will no longer be playing with dolls or drawing pictures.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.