Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Robbery of the Bank of Exeter

About 4:00 o'clock Thursday afternoon, December 22, 1922, two masked men pulled to a halt in an automobile outside the Bank of Exeter in Barry County, Missouri, in an automobile. They left the engine running as they got out and walked into the bank flourishing pistols. The only people in the bank were cashier J.C. Elston, assistant cashier Clara Williams, and customer J.D. Kersey. One bandit stood guard over the three, while the other man looted the vault, raking all the currency and coins he could find into a large sack.
After the cash, estimated to total between $4,000 and $5,000, was gathered, the robbers forced the hostages into the vault and locked the door. They then made their getaway, fleeing in the waiting car, and headed east out of town on the Cassville road.
Within minutes after the robbery, Elston was able to open the vault by manipulating the inside combination. The alarm was given, and posses were soon in pursuit of the bandits. A mile or two east of Exeter at a sharp curve known as the Stony Point corner, the bandit car was found wrecked and abandoned, and deputies and volunteers began scouring the hills around the vehicle in search of the robbers.
One of the people in the bank tentatively identified one of the bandits as a 29-year-old Barry County resident named Bob Amos, and Amos was taken into custody while eating supper at a café near Cassville later the same night.
Burl Reed, a former a Barry County deputy sheriff and superintendent of the county farm, was arrested on December 24 on suspicion, because a pair of trousers bearing his name had been found near the abandoned getaway car, along with several other items that were apparently discarded by the robbers. The money taken in the robbery, though, was nowhere to be found.
Cassville garage owner Jack Clayton was also arrested on suspicion on the 24th because he was identified as the owner of the bandit car.
A fourth suspect, Ben Johnson, who was a prominent Barry County cattleman, was arrested on the 27th, charged with complicity in the crime, because he was allegedly heard to say that he knew where the missing money was.
Reed, Clayton, and Johnson were almost immediately released on $10,000 bond each. Amos was unable to raise the necessary money at first, but he, too, was later released on a bond of like amount.
Both Johnson and Clayton were released for lack of evidence when their preliminary hearings came up in January. Amos and Reed were indicted for bank robbery. They were scheduled for trial at the March term of Barry County Circuit Court but remained free on bond until then.
The trials of both men were continued until late April. Amos was found guilty on the 19th and sentenced to 15 years in the state penitentiary. Reed was found guilty on the 23rd and sentenced to 20 years in the state pen. Amos was received at the Jefferson City facility on April 25, 1922 and discharged on October 19, 1929, having served about half of his term. Reed was received on July 11, 1922 and discharged on November 16, 1932. He, too, served only about half of his original sentence, both men having been released early on account of merit time.

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