Boy Bandit From Iowa Corrupted By Dime Novels 100 Years

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Courtesy Library of Congress

Artist’s depiction of kids reading crime stories, considered inappropriate by some 100 years ago.

It was closing time on Friday, July 5, 1912, at the Rome Savings Bank in Rome, Iowa. Cashier F.W. Hileman was closing his accounts. He was alone in the bank when a stranger came in and pointed a gun in his direction, demanding money. Hileman quickly closed the door of the safe. As he turned back to face the robber, shots rang out. Hileman was hit in both arms.

Jumping over the counter, the gun-toting bandit grabbed cash, gold and silver and headed for the door. He hopped into his getaway vehicle—a horse and buggy. The streets of Rome were crowded with shoppers as he drove “at top speed” through town. He disappeared into the woods. Hileman, despite his injuries, sounded the alarm.

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Cheryl MullenbachCheryl Mullenbach is the author of non-fiction books for young people. Her work has been recognized by International Literacy Association, American Library Association, National Council for Social Studies, and FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

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It wasn’t long before Henry County Sheriff C.B. Goe and his deputy W.P. Daniels had formed a posse, headed by local merchant, James O’Laughlin. Automobiles loaded with armed men took to the chase.

For several hours the posse and lawmen scoured the countryside looking for the scoundrel. Finally, he was spotted south of Mt. Pleasant. He had ditched his buggy near Salem. There are two different versions of the chase from this point forward.

One account describes the scene this way: The bandit rode a horse as the posse pursued in their autos. The suspect repeatedly turned to fire at the men. He reloaded several times as he galloped through the countryside. Another version of the scenario describes the desperado abandoning the horse and buggy as he ran into the woods on foot. A “volley of shots” was exchanged between the members of the posse and the bandit. According to this account, he carried four revolvers and emptied each as he shot into the posse. Both versions end badly for the bandit. The robber was shot to death through his heart.

The stolen money was recovered—either in the clothes of the robber, or under the buggy seat, depending on which news report readers chose to believe. And amounts vary from $800 to $2,000.

“It was the most daring robbery in the history of Henry County,” Sheriff Goe said later.

Posse member O’Laughlin and the cashier were recovering from bullet wounds. O’Laughlin had been hit in the back by a bullet. He was in serious condition, recovering at his home. He was expected to live through the ordeal. William Basham, another posse member, had been shot through his abdomen and was expected to recover. The sheriff was convinced the bandit had some accomplices, who helped with the get-away plans. He was searching for them.

The robber was identified as Charles Clark, a 15-year-old who had been staying with relatives in the area. He had been working as a section hand on the railroad, but it was what Clark was doing during his free time that was a source of concern.

The Davenport Weekly Democrat and Leader reported that it was the “general belief” that the boy’s actions had been brought about by his exposure to dime novels.

“Charles was a good boy, but he would read dime novels which finally caused his downfall,” his granddad said about the boy bandit.

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Sources

“Boy Bandit Is Killed By Posse of Citizens,” Leon Journal-Reporter, July 11, 1912.

“Downfall Due to Dime Novels,” Davenport Weekly Democrat and Leader, July 18, 1912.

“Posse Shoots Bank Robber,” Twice-a-Week Plain Dealer (Cresco), July 9, 1912.

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