Newton Gang Robs Two Banks in One Night

On January 9, 1921, the Newton Gang drove into Hondo, Texas, a small town 30 miles west of San Antonio, to rob one of the two banks in town. It was just past midnight and the temperature was near freezing.

The Newtons knew the night watchman in Hondo, and as was his habit, they found him huddled around a pot-bellied stove in the depot. They cut all of the telephone wires and then went back to check on the night watchman. He had not budged from his spot by the stove so Joe was placed across the street as a lookout while the rest went to the bank.

In his 1979 interview, Willis proudly told his version of the story:

“Sometime you just get lucky ’cause they had left the vault door open. They had left it unlocked so we didn’t need no nitro or nothing. We jimmied the window, walked over to the vault, tried the handle and she opened! You would be surprised how many times them banks would just close the door so it looked locked during the night.

“We had the vault cleaned out in no time and went to see if the night watchman was still in the depot. Sure enough, he was reading a magazine and drinking coffee by the stove. Well hell, we figured we had plenty of time so we’d go over to the other bank and give it a try. I kept Joe and Doc watching the night marshal while Jess and I went down to the other bank.

“We got inside that bank and cleaned it out. Damn, two banks in one night and the night marshal, he never come out of the depot!”

The local newspaper, the Hondo Anvil Herald, carried the story with a splash headline:

Yeggs Rob Hondo Banks

One of the Most Daring Robberies Ever Staged in Texas Occurred Here Sunday Morning

The people of Hondo were amazed and angered Sunday morning when it became known that both banks had been entered by yeggs, between midnight and daylight, and robbed of both money and valuables. Entrance to the First National Bank was effected by forcing the front doors; while the entrance to the State Bank was effected by prizing down the bars over the last window in the alley between Parker’s and the bank.

The newspaper went on to give an elaborate description of the robbery:

Owing to most of the money in both banks being in the money safes, with time locks set, the loss in cash was not serious, the First National losing a total of $2,814 while in the matter of actual cash loss the State Bank was a little more fortunate, its loss being $1,879; both banks losing a total of $4,694 nearly all of which was silver coin.

The funds of both banks were covered by burglary insurance, consequently neither will suffer loss. [Just like Willis had assured his brothers.]

Owners of private boxes, who had put their valuables in the vaults of the banks, are the heaviest losers, and their actual loss will not be definitely known for some time-probably a month-as the owners of the boxes are the only ones who can clear up the loss, the officials of the banks not being advised of the contents of the boxes.

The safety deposit box owners had cash, government bonds, War Savings Stamps, jewelry, and other valuables in their boxes so it was impossible to determine the exact amount taken in the robbery. Estimates of as high as $30,000 were never confirmed.

The article continued to describe the “safe experts:’

… That the robbers were experts is borne out by the fact that they were able to work the combination on the vault of the First National Bank. [Willis said it was left unlocked.] They were also experts in the use of explosive, the vault doors of the State Bank being blown open by one of the most powerful explosives known-TNT [ Willis swore in his interview that he never used dynamite-only nitroglycerine.]

The vaults were thoroughly ransacked and the floors were strewn with papers about two feet thick.

From the thoroughness with which the robbers made their search for securities it is evident that they spent two hours or more in the vaults of the banks and the private boxes of the customers are in a sad plight, most of them showing that they were beat open by some heavy instrument, probably with a sledgehammer that had been stolen from the blacksmith shop of Mask & Co.

… That the robbers were no tyros (archaic word meaning beginners) in the business of robbing is again borne out by the fact that they took every precaution against being apprehended by the possession of jewelry, gold coins, and so forth, which might lead to their identity. The floors of the vaults were literally strewn with such articles as might lead to their detection. Notes and other articles of value that could not be turned into money were cast aside and left behind.

It is generally believed that the band was composed of from six to eight men, and that both banks were robbed simultaneously, a gang being assigned to each bank.

Another circumstance that indicates that the robbers were not new to the game of bank robbing is borne out by the fact that every telephone line in town was cut, apparently, before the banks were robbed. And this part of their plans was carried out most effectively and by an expert telephone man.

… Cables were severed, apparently with saws, and single wires were cut with wire clippers. Only three telephones connected with the local exchange were working Sunday morning.

The robbery was discovered by the night watchman about five o’clock Sunday morning and immediately reported to Deputy Sheriff C.J. Bless.

… Harry Crouch, our local telegraph operator, was summonsed and messages were sent east and west in an effort to intercept the robbers, but as far as the general public is advised, nothing was learned as to the direction in which the robbers went.

Detectives from San Antonio and the surrounding area converged on the Hondo banks searching for clues to the duel-heist robbery.

… One of the most remarkable coincidences of this whole business is that these robberies could have occurred right in the heart of the town and not more than 200 feet apart, and not one among our people being any the wiser until daylight it was revealed what had transpired, and that too, it was since developed that the night watchman and the two other men were in the waiting room of the depot, not more than sixty yards from the front doors of the First National Bank, while the robbery was being accomplished. The robbers must have done their work very silently to avoid detection. [It is hard to image a “silent” explosion of nitroglycerine.]

The word the newspaper used for the night burglars was “yeggs,” a popular vernacular expression of the era. It is interesting to compare the newspaper reporting to Willis’ account in which the vault of the First National Bank had been left unlocked and they used nitroglycerine (rather than TNT) to blow the vault door on the State Bank. Even more interesting was the fact that there were no follow up articles on the robbery. There was not a single mention of the multi-bank burglary over the ensuing months-although it contained large advertisements from both banks. It was as if both banks had never been robbed.

The Galveston Daily News on January 10 reported the robbery describing a “clew” that proved to be a red herring:

Robber Heel May Lead to Arrest

Telephone Connections Cut When Banks at Hondo Are Looted

San Antonio, Texas-January 10-A rubber heel, lost from a shoe, may lead to the identification of the bank robbers who made a successful haul of $20,000 from the First National Bank of Hondo and the Hondo State Bank early Sunday morning.

The bank robbers gained entrance to the two banks by prying the iron bars loose from rear windows of the buildings and manipulating the combinations of the vault in the First National Bank, but blew off the door of the vault in the state bank.

The haul was made from the safety deposit boxes in both banks, the robbers obtaining only $1,500 in cash from the First National and $29,350 of the state bank’s money. The smaller vault safes in both institutions were untouched.

The balance of the loot, it is estimated by officers at the two banks, was secured from owners of safety deposit boxes in the banks. Hondo was not aware of the visit of the bank robbers until almost noon Sunday, when the open windows at the rear of the two bank buildings were discovered.

Heel lost in bank.

Sheriff J.S. Baden, during his investigation was given the lost rubber heel, which had been found in front of the vault of the First National Bank. Further investigation disclosed a set of burglar tools consisting of a pipe wrench, saw, and chisel, which had been left by the robbers. These however are not considered as important for they are of a standard make, easily purchased at any hardware store.

Just outside of the window through which the robbers entered the state bank, Sheriff Baden found the numerals 13,555 scratched on the brick work. This, bank officials believe, indicates the amount the robbers secured from the deposit boxes in the bank. [This curious piece of information appears to have been just another “red herring.”]

Sheriff Baden believes the robberies were committed by a band of six men, who sent an advance guard of two into Hondo last week.

… Hondo citizens, who were up at an early hour Sunday morning, reported to the Sheriff that they saw a high-powered automobile leaving the outskirts of town occupied by six men. These, the Sheriff believes, were the Hondo robbers.

[Ironically] Sheriff Baden suffered a loss by the early morning visit of the robbers, as his safety deposit box in the First National Bank was broken open and $300 in stamps and $150 in bonds were taken. A $100 Liberty bond, the property of his son O.J. Baden, of Donna, was left in the box.

In light of the erroneous “clews’, the Newtons were never tried for the Hondo bank robberies.

Willis Newton was born in 1889 and died in 1979, making him the longest living Texas outlaw. He and the Newton Gang hit trains and banks in the early 1920s but their biggest haul occurred in 1924 when they robbed a train outside of Rondout, Illinois-getting away with $3,000,000. They still hold the record for the biggest train robbery in U.S. history.

Graffiti, Gangs, And (Your) Teen(s)

While walking through a neighborhood recently, I noticed some graffiti writing in the middle of the street. I immediately thought to myself, “wow, do people STILL draw graffiti these days”?… Now this particular neighborhood was “nice”, “quiet”, and everyone pretty much kept to themselves. “So”, I thought to myself, “WHY would someone(s) purposely target a street in an area like this?… unless, there is more to the story here.

Upon a little further research, I discovered that this may have been left-behind traces of an unruly group. This made me wonder if this could have been some type of gang-like activity (sometimes I am a little naive to things that are outside of ‘my world’). As I continued to ponder on this, it made me realize that our teens are becoming more and more involved in troublesome behaviors and self-destructive affiliations.

My mother always said that life is FULL of C-H-O-I-C-E-S.

The current events in the news show young men (and women) spending countless years that equal MORE than the REST of their lives behind bars, because of the choices they made previously to join a gang. It saddens me to think that they will NEVER have the chance to re-consider their actions again.

On my way home, I came up with my own list of reasons why we are losing our kids to “the streets”, and violent activity. Maybe this list of reasons will reach at least one parent, Youth Leader, or even a teen who may be able to get through to a loved one, a close friend, or someone special to them and help them decide AGAINST joining a gang or making ANY potentially violent/harmful decision(s).

My list of why…

– a sense of belonging. He or she may not feel connected to his or her own family.

– this group may represent the ONLY thing they recognize as a sense of community.

– he or she may be BORED. Having nothing of interest to them to keep them busy, or to positively impact their time

– he or she may be trying to fit in, feel accepted as a part of a larger crowd.

– he or she may be HURTING, and searching for SOMEone who understands them.

– it MAY be a cry for help or attention that they may feel they are not getting at home.

– he or she may have a NEED for an authority-type figure, or someone to look up to in their life.

– he or she may want to be viewed as “cool”, or stand out to their friends.

– his or her environment may not be very positive or productive, so they may choose what is “common” and available to them. Thus, falling into a stereotypical-type scenario.

– he or she may not feel that they have inner leadership instincts, so they may choose to follow the crowd (we were taught to ALWAYS be a leader… NEVER a follower)

– he or she may not be much of an independent thinker, so they allow others (and other things) to influence their mindset and thought process.

I remembered reading an article in a Teen Voices Magazine on the realities of gang-life, and how a young 16-year old girl shared her story of how and why she joined a gang. Her story was very insiteful, and REAL. She mentioned that she was searching, trying to fill her need for someone to show her affection, and that they loved and cared for her. She wanted to be accepted, protected, and respected. She understood that many kids join gangs; believing that selling drugs, etc. would eventually fulfill their inner desire for “fancy”cars, and nice(r) clothes. She said that many feel that it is the ONLY way; not realizing the REALity of it all.

Gang violence and acceptance is a part of our society today. This issue is RARELY addressed (until someone is shot, injured, or death occurs as a result). My deepest belief is that the RIGHT decisions can be made in a teen’s life, and it all starts with the RIGHT conversation. So, let’s get talkin’.

Team Building Using Your Water Cooler Gang

Very rarely do we as leaders acknowledge our water cooler gangs. For the most part we have taken great strides to limit the grouping of individuals around, or in, a common place for very long to just chat. But, even though we have tried through building pantries, varying break times, monitoring staff time usage more vigorously, this small group just seems to be there. And, for those die hards that still meet we more or less just ignore them.

What is a Water Cooler Gang

The unique feature of a water cooler gang is that they don’t have the normal caste system that is found in other parts of our business or organization. They are comprised of members of all departments, staff groups and general workers throughout your business. The other unique thing about these groups is that they seem to be drawn together as information seekers and sharers, not for a specific purpose or limited time.

The gang is primarily composed of an information seeker, an active listener, a negative personality and an information sharer as well as members who change roles depending on the subject being discussed.

Using the Gang for Team Building

This group of people shares information throughout your organization faster than any newsletter, email or verbal distribution method. Because they come from all different departments and groups across the organization, the information that they get from their group “meetings” is shared with staff across the board. For the most part these individuals are not gossips, however they are speculators. If you are not getting accurate and timely information to your staff, the water cooler gang will speculate on the most logical answer to a question based on the input of the entire group.

Water cooler gangs were the original model of team building. People of different job classifications, skills and abilities working together to gain new, or more information and then distributing and sharing that information with their co-workers. One of the perks of using these groups is that it is not only extremely cost effective but, when directed properly, an excellent tool in your team building efforts.

What Do the Water Cooler Gangs Talk About

These folks talk about anything and everything that affects your business, their job or changes in the company. This can be very detrimental if at least one member of the WCG does not have accurate and updated information or reasons for why certain events are taking place. For the most part if there is a knowledge gap the WCG will collectively fill in the gap and many times the speculation that results from filling in the gap is the “fact” that gets to your staff and employees before the official announcement that you may have been working on for weeks.

The WCG does not meet to complain, they meet to problem solve and share information. This is to your advantage and can be very helpful in both team building and implementing change management.

How to Use Your Water Cooler Gang Effectively

Whether you have one WCG or many, this is an invaluable resource for knowing what is going on in your company and spreading news throughout.

The first step, as leader is to identify who the members of each WCG are. Once you have identified them, invite the information seeker/sharer(s) to join your Team Building Group as well as any committees that require personal buy-in from your entire staff. This person(s) will be able to bring ideas to the table from throughout your business as well as share concerns and questions that may not have even been identified at the management levels yet. The added perk to this method is that you will be able to dispel some of the negative speculation that inevitably arises when staff are not kept informed throughout an organization.

Your WCG member will take accurate information back to the gang, who will then share that information within their areas of the organization. In addition, the WCG member can bring questions and concerns back to the committees and many of the problems which become negative deterrents to change management or team building can be addressed before they become problems. If nothing else the member can at least share that an issue is being addressed when a committee has not yet made a decision which will dispel the speculation factor.

Utilizing your Water Cooler Gangs actually provides two positive results for you with minimal effort on leaderships’ part. First, we are acknowledging the existence of these groups and the fact that they are not going to go away. Secondly, we are proactively working with the groups in an inclusive way to address concerns, share information and include them in the leadership process in a totally non-threatening way.

Conclusion

By acknowledging the existence of informal employee groups, such as the water cooler gangs we are proactively including a vital component of our company in our implementation efforts from the bottom-up. This action, in and of itself, will promote active participation and buy-in from your staff and will afford you the opportunity to discover the unique take on information sharing that your staff actually have on your change management or team building efforts.

If you would like information or assistance with marketing, team building or your website maintenance please email our team at the address below.