Monday, April 10, 2017

Denver Mint Holdup: Wildest Gun Battle in Denver History

Submitted by Tom Fesing

On a December morning in 1922, $200,000 was stolen from a Federal Reserve Bank delivery truck as it picked up its weekly cash shipment from the U.S. Mint in Denver, Colorado. A Federal Reserve Officer was killed in the line of duty as five gangsters engaged in a shootout with United States Mint Police.

The first Federal Reserve Bank in Denver was in The Continental Trust Office Building at 16th & Lawrence from 1918 to 1925. The building did not have adequate security or vaults to store cash going into circulation throughout the Rocky Mountain region, so the Denver Mint stored large cash deposits for the Fed from 1918 up until 1925.

The Federal Reserve would pick up shipments of cash from the Denver Mint and deliver it to banks in the area. A Federal Reserve truck would drive down Lawrence to W. 14th Ave and then drive East on 14th Ave until turning right on Tremont St to Colfax, stopping one block up at the front of the Denver Mint.

In 1920, the following five men arrived in Denver along with two women, whom were the common-law wives or girlfriends of Harold Burns and James Sloan: • Harold Burns - aka (Robert Leon Knapp) • James Sloan – aka (Nicholas Trainor) • Frank Farland – aka (Curley Gordon) & (The Memphis Kid) • Harvey Bailey – aka (Big Jim Franklin) • James Clark – aka (Frank Burke) • Margaret Burns – Wife /”moll” of Harold Burns • Florence Thompson – “moll” of James Sloan - aka (Queen of the Mob).

On November 15, 1922, gangster James Sloan, aka (Nick Trainor) and his girlfriend Florence Thompson started renting apartment # 37 at the Lemita Apts. at 1915 Logan Street, in downtown Denver.

On November 25, 1922, sometime between 5:30pm - 6pm the license plate of a Hupmobile Roadster belonging to a storekeeper D.C. Dabney was stolen from his vehicle in Brighton, CO. Later this stolen plate would be found on the Buick touring car used in the Mint robbery. At around midnight that night, another license plate of a car belonging to S.B. Fleming, the Deputy County Clerk of Jefferson County, was stolen from his vehicle in Golden, CO.

A 1922 Buick was stolen around 7pm from in front of 1410 Grant Street from the home of Clara Harie Peairs. Her son Arthur, a student at The Colorado School of Mines, was home at the time and saw two men get into his mother’s vehicle. He ran outside, jumping on the running board of the car as the thieves sped off. He claims to have yelled “Stop!” The man in the car put a revolver in his face, shouted back “this isn’t your car kid,” and pushed Arthur off as the Buick sped away down Grant.

On December 9, 1922, gangster Harold Burns and his wife Margaret Burns moved into Apt. #23 at the Arno Apts. at 18th & Logan.

A 1922 Cadillac was stolen around 10pm from the house of Peter C. Pierson at 1717 Williams Street. This car would be used by the gang as an alternate get-away vehicle that they would leave at 1424 Delaware Street, behind the Denver Mint building, in case their Buick broke down during the robbery attempt. Eventually it came to light that this was the residence of a local bootlegger who had met the gangsters before the robbery. During the investigation into the crime, the bootlegger proved to be a valuable witness, providing much of the information that finally let police solve the crime 10 years later.

After the robbery Paula Kenny (Kinny), a librarian at the Denver Public Library, said she witnessed a well-dressed man come in to the library every day for two weeks before the robbery and sit in the window looking westward toward the Mint. He disappeared one day before the robbery and she never saw him again. Could it have been one of the gang keeping tabs on the shipments of money leaving the mint?

The night before the robbery, Federal Reserve Guard Charles Linton struggled to get to sleep in his house on South Pennsylvania Street in Denver. His wife later stated that Charles had not slept well and that he had told her that he had a “premonition of a dire event.”

At 8am on December 18, 1922, the Harold Burns gang met at the Altahama Apartments at E. Colfax and Lafayette Street on Capitol Hill. The five gangsters were seen leaving the apartment house and getting into a 1922 Buick touring car at 9am.

Federal Reserve Bank cashier Joseph E. Olsen, Federal Reserve guard and driver Wilburt Havenor, and a US Treasury Agent drove to the Denver Mint at 9:30am to prepare for the transfer of $200,000 (in $5 bills) from the US Mint vaults to the Federal Reserve truck. After making sure everything was in order, Federal Reserve cashier Joseph Olsen stayed at the Mint while Federal Reserve guard Havenor and the Treasury Agent headed back to the Federal Reserve Bank to pick up two additional guards.

At 10:20am, two Federal Reserve Bank guards, John P. Adams and Charles T. Linton, joined Havenor as he drove to the Denver Mint to pick up the $200,000 shipment. The Federal Reserve truck pulled up to the Denver Mint on Colfax Ave. at 10:30am. Federal Reserve guard Charles Linton got out of the truck and opened the back door of the truck. Two U.S. Mint Police officers came out of the Denver Mint with two packages, each containing $100,000 of 1922 Federal Reserve 5-dollar notes. The money was put into the back of the truck, the doors were locked, and the two officers headed back into the Mint.

As soon as the officers had turned around to head back into the Mint, a Buick Touring car pulled up on the left side of the Federal Reserve truck. Two gangsters jumped out of the car and took cover behind telephone poles across the street. One gangster stayed in the driver’s seat and another, Harvey Bailey, ran to the back of the Federal Reserve truck and shouted, “Hands Up!”

Federal Reserve cashier/guard Olsen hit the sidewalk and Federal Reserve guard Havenor dove under the truck, while Federal Reserve guard Charles Linton turned in response to the shout and was hit in the chest with buckshot from Bailey’s shotgun. Bailey then shot at the locked doors of the Federal Reserve truck and blasted out the rear windows. He reached in, retrieved the bundles of cash and headed back to the get-away car.

While the robbery was underway, the Mint entrance was assailed by a barrage of shotgun blasts from the gangsters behind the telephone poles across the street. Even though 30 United States Mint employees were armed and came to the windows after the Mint alarm was sounded, they hesitated to shoot back, concerned that the Federal Reserve guards and the Mint Police officers would be caught in the crossfire.

A Mint officer in a second story window did start shooting though, hitting James Sloan in the face, hand and chest with his .38 caliber service revolver. The gang jumped back into the get-away car, pulled their wounded comrade into the car, and sped away Eastbound on Colfax Avenue towards the Capitol.

Within 90 seconds, the gang shot up the Denver Mint in a hail of gunfire, fatally injured a Federal Reserve Guard and got away with $200,000.

As the gang’s stolen Buick sped away from the Mint it ran a small truck off the road one block to the East at Bannock, causing it to run into a fire hydrant and sending an eruption of water into the air that rained down on Colfax Avenue. The bandits were chased by motorists in the area, but the car disappeared after heading south on a Pearl Street.

Crowds gathered across the street at The Mint Hotel to watch the excitement after the robbery took place. A gentleman that lived in a house at 323 West Colfax across from the Mint stated that a bullet went through his living room. Patrons in the Mint Restaurant also reported that some of the windows had been shot out as a result of the barrage of gunfire during the robbery.

Between 11:30am and 12 noon, a speeding black Buick Touring car with curtains drawn ran R.V. Dye, a Denver resident and salesman for the Auto Owners Service Association, off the road south of Loretto Heights. Some believe this was the gang speeding away from the scene of the crime.

Voices were heard in the Burns’ apartment between 12pm and 1pm that afternoon. It is theorized by some that the gang was dividing the money before leaving Denver.

Charles T. Linton died the following day from the chest wounds he sustained during the shootout. When he first had arrived at the hospital he stated to Dr. Edward F. Dean, “Doc, I tried to get ‘em - I fired three shots at ‘em, but they shot me.” His wife was with him by his side at Denver County Hospital when he passed away. Witnesses say he told her “Don’t worry dear, I will be all right, my back hurts some now, but it won’t hurt long.”

The day after the robbery, the Denver Post portrayed Denver’s Mayor Dewey, a close personal friend Linton’s, bidding farewell to the fallen Federal Reserve guard. Linton was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery after a ceremony was held at the Downtown Masonic Lodge # 5, of which he was a member. The funeral was delayed until his sons, who were Vaudeville actors in New York City, could arrive.

Denver Police tracked the weapon dropped on the front steps of the Denver Mint during the robbery by gangster James Sloan when he was shot by a US Mint Police officer from a 2nd floor window. The single barrel shotgun had been purchased in 1917 from Tritch Hardware at 1648 Arapahoe Street in Denver.

Two days after the robbery, at about 3pm, Florence Thompson, girlfriend of James Sloan, along with Harold and Margaret Burns were seen leaving the apartment with suitcases.

Residents of two houses near the Mint were questioned because they had rented their houses two weeks prior to the robbery and then left the homes on December 21, “in a hurry” according to witnesses. This was just three days after the robbery occurred. The houses were located one block from the Mint at 1335 and 1339 Delaware Street. The residents of 1339 Delaware were Joe Loretta and his wife, who were questioned and then released. It was discovered that the four men who resided at 1335 Delaware were bootleggers and had left abruptly in fear of being caught and charged with bootlegging because of the increased police presence after the robbery.

Police were also notified by a gentleman who had rented a garage at 1631 Gilpin to four men the previous month. The owner became suspicious when he discovered the men had put a large heavy-duty lock on the garage. Police cut the lock and opened the garage to find the Buick used in the Mint robbery and the body of James Sloan aka (Nicholas Trainor) who had been shot in the face, hand and heart by .38 caliber bullets, wounds he received during the robbery. The vehicle was littered with empty and loaded shells. A fully loaded .30-30 Winchester repeating rifle lay in the back seat, along with two shotguns. The side of the car was splattered with blood.

According to the Denver Police and FBI records, Florence Thompson, girlfriend of James Sloan, told the gang that, “I’ll blow up the whole case and turn you in unless you let me go to the garage and bid Nicky goodbye!” Afraid that she would go to the police, the gunmen took her to the garage. “There she bent over and kissed his frozen face.”

It is theorized that the gang left Denver within a few days of the robbery and headed to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, which was a hotbed of gangster activity at the time. In Minneapolis they turned the $200,000 over to a prominent attorney. The lawyer allegedly kept the loot in his basement overnight, passing it on the following day to an “underworld” mob character for laundering.

James Sloane was buried on January 23, 1922. The Meyer Undertaking company donated his casket and The Riverside Cemetery gave him a plot. The appeal of gangsters and their lifestyle in the 1920’s, along with the Mint robbery being the most famous robbery in Denver’s history, made Sloan’s burial so popular that there was a larger gathering at Sloan’s funeral than for that of the Federal Reserve Guard Linton’s. In fact so many men volunteered to be pallbearer’s that the undertaker was forced to choose who would bear the casket.

The evening before the funeral a large assortment of carnations was left on the front door of the funeral parlor. An unsigned note asked for them to be placed on Sloane’s casket. Just two days earlier police had suspected that Sloane’s “Bandit Queen”, Florence Thompson, had slipped into the funeral parlor wearing a disguise to say goodbye to her love. According to witness statements, a woman with fists clenched by her side, stopped at the casket and raised one hand to her lips as if to stifle tears. She than looked fearfully over her shoulder, wrung her hands and fled from the parlor, never to be seen again.

Two years after the robbery, $80,000 dollars of the stolen money showed up in a sting operation after a Minneapolis doctor was charged with money laundering. Yet authorities could not connect him with the Mint robbery or the gangsters that pulled it off.

On December 2, 1934, newspapers across the country carried the story that the robbery of the Denver Mint had finally been solved, claiming the five men and two women that were involved were either dead or jailed on other crimes. No one was ever actually charged with the crime and for all intended purposes the gang got away with the robbery.

The Secret Service and Chief Detective Albert T. Clark of the Denver Police announced that Harvey Bailey had driven the get-away car and was currently serving a life-sentence in Alcatraz “Devil’s Island” for the kidnapping of an Oklahoma City millionaire Charles Ursschell. James Clark, another member of the gang, was serving a life sentence in the Indiana State Penitentiary in Michigan City for the robbery of a bank in Clinton, Indiana. Harold Burns was dead, although the circumstances of his death were not fully known. Frank McFarland “The Memphis Kid” was also dead. James Sloan had been found dead in the get-away car shortly after the robbery. The bullet riddled body of Florence Thompson “Queen of the Mob” was found in 1927. And in 1932 the bullet riddled body of Margaret Burns, wife of Harold Burns, was found in the wreckage of a car near Turtle Lake, Wisconsin, along with an unknown woman. Both had been shot, then daubed with acid and gasoline and burned in their car.

Bailey was released from prison in 1964 after serving time for the kidnapping in Kansas, and died in 1979 at the age of 91. You can read more about him in the book written by J . Evetts Haley “Robbing Banks Was My Business...the Story of J. Harvey Bailey.”

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