Part eight of a series
This account of an 1877 robbery was published in the 1882 History of Houston County with preservation of the original spelling and punc-tuation.
On Mon-day night, June 3d, a most persistent attempt was made to rob the safe in the County Treasurer’s office. Nothing was known of the affair until 7 o’clock on Tuesday morning, when the Auditor, Mr. Trask, went down to the office and was surprised at being able to enter without a key, but he was thunder-struck on getting inside to see the condition of things. He immediately notified Sheriff Hargreaves of the situation of affairs, then made hasty strides for Treasurer Russell’s residence, and informed that gentleman that the strong-box, over which he was the county’s chosen sentinel, had been tampered with.
Of course, Mr. Russell took two or three steps and a jump or two, and was at his office, and on stepping inside and observing the many tools, not altogether necessary in the County Treasurer’s office, he was somewhat bewildered, and did not exactly understand whether he was in his own place of business or in a blacksmith shop. The tools scattered about, such as sledgehammers, chisels, etc.
However, this sort of feeling didn’t linger long with John F., for it was too apparent to him that there was something wrong; and that devils incarnate had broken loose from their Satanic dominions for the purpose of robbing him of the cash he had been so laboriously engaged in collecting, and had so securely hoarded for the people. He soon took in the situation, an(d) immediately began to inspect things to see to what extent he had been robbed.
On the previous evening Mr. Russell and his clerk, Mr. George Rippe, had been engaged until 11 o’clock settling up the business of the day, preparatory to the coming settlement, and, as was his custom, when retiring, Mr. Russell securely locked the door of the safe then the heavy iron door of the vault, and finally the outer door of the building. The burglars were evidently on the watch for Mr. Russell’s departure, and in all probability effected an entrance shortly afterwards.
They burst the outer door open breaking away a portion of the lock, and afterwards it appears that two of them, and possibly three, commenced work on the inside, while one was stationed on the outside to watch. They then commenced their night’s work, first, by smashing the lock of the vault door, and afterwards devoting all their time and ingenuity to the work of getting into the ponderous burglar-proof safe. The outer combination of the safe they burst by the use of powder and the muffled blows of a heavy sledge-hammer; and after ransacking the papers of the outer compartments, they directed their attention to demolishing the inner combination, wherein the funds of the county were deposited, and no doubt they worked hard, and brought to play all their ingenuity as amateur cracksmen, to gain ingress until the approach of day warned them to “git,” for every instrument they had used was left as if they had dropped them after using them as long as they dared.
At three o’clock Sheriff Hargreave’s hired girl got up and commenced washing, and in all probability, the burglars, while loth to leave their unfinished work, thought it prudent to desist, and get away from the early risers of Caledonia.
They cleaned out all of the change drawers, etc., and in the aggravate secured about $90, about $75 of it belonging to Auditor Trask, and the balance to Mr. Russell, the county not being out anything except the damage to the safe and vault.
For some time subsequent to the discovery of the deed there was considerable excitement, as it was not definitely known whether the county’s money was safe or not, but after many futile attempts were made to open the inner door of the safe, the services of Mr. Heath and Wash Carr were obtained, and they opened the door in less than an hour, and handed he exultant treasurer all the funds of the county, nearly $22,000.
…Sheriff Hargreaves dispatched men in all directions, telegraphed to all points, and made every effort possible to capture the thieves, but no clue has ever been obtained.
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