Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, 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 sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Billings Bank Robbery

About one o'clock in the morning of Wednesday, March 16, 1927, several men suddenly seized Billings (Missouri) night watchman J. F. McElhaney as he was making his rounds, bound him, and took him to the Bank of Billings. Several sidekicks of McElhaney's abductors were already inside the bank, making eight gang members in total. Some of the men went to the Frisco section house, broke in and secured several crowbars, which they used to tunnel through a brick wall leading into the bank's vault. One robber crawled through the hole and then pried open the door to the vault with one of the crowbars.
About 2:00 a.m. C. S. Musgraves, Frisco station agent at Billings, heard a noise uptown and started in that direction to investigate. The robbers, seeing the beam of the railroad agent's flashlight, was ready for him as he approached. Musgraves was seized and marched to the bank, where he joined McElhaney as a second hostage.
The robbers worked for several hours preparing and setting off nitroglycerin charges in an attempt to blow open the safe. The first "shot" about three o'clock was unsuccessful. The second one shortly afterward set the building on fire, but the outlaws were able to extinguish the flames.
When Musgraves did not answer a call from the train station at Springfield, the telephone operator at Billings, Wallace Swift, was aroused to go check on the Billings train agent. As he started in that direction about 4:00 a.m., he, too, was taken prisoner and bound alongside the other hostages.
The robbers finally blew the safe shortly before five o'clock and promptly finished their work, securing about $4,000 in cash and about $28,000 in bonds. A considerable amount of currency and other paper was blown to bits by the final blast. The eight crooks made their getaway, leaving the prisoners bound but unhurt. The three men managed to work themselves free about ten minutes after the robbers left, and they notified authorities. However, they were unable to give good descriptions of the gang members because the robbers kept the lights dim and were careful not to expose their faces. The bank opened for business as usual a few hours later.
On Wednesday night, three men were arrested in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as suspects in the Billings bank robbery. One of them, Edis Tinsley of Republic, had been seen in Billings on Monday evening and Tuesday morning, but McElhaney traveled to Tulsa and was unable to positively identify any of the three men. Tinsley, however, was convicted of auto theft in Lawrence County two months later and sentenced to three years in the state pen.
Law officers thought the Billings bank robbers were not "local talent," and, as it turned out they were right. Nearly all the robbers, at least the ones who were ultimately captured, were hard cases with previous criminal records. Bob Binnum, a 30-year-old ex-con was captured in Kansas City in early April and brought back to the Christian County Jail in Ozark. He was later extradited to Oklahoma on a murder charge.
Charley Stallcup was also arrested in early April in connection with the Billings job. He was extradited from Vinita, Oklahoma, to Christian County. He was released a month or so later, however, when witnesses from Oklahoma failed to appear for his preliminary hearing.
Danny Daniels was arrested in Nebraska as a suspect in the Billings robbery about the same time as Stallcup was arrested in Oklahoma. However, the Nebraska governor refused to extradite Daniels, choosing instead to hold him for the state of Oklahoma on another charge. Daniels, however, made his escape and was recaptured in June of 1927 after a shootout in Oklahoma. He was later sent to the Colorado State Prison and was killed in October of 1929 while participating in a prison riot. A Springfield newspaper subsequently did an extensive write-up about his long criminal history throughout southwest Missouri and northeast Oklahoma.
In May of 1928, Jack Perry Long, who was serving a 99-year prison sentence in Texas for bank robbery, was identified as having been a member of the gang that robbed the Billings bank 14 months earlier.

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