Voices of the Past Bank robbery lands Kremmling on front pages of Denver papers
February 19, 2009
The summer of 1933 offered more excitement than usual. First there was a lost child who kept most of the Fraser Valley busy searching for several days. Just two days later, the town of Kremmling was visited by two criminals who came to rob the local bank.Bank heists at gunpoint were becoming a popular form of crime thanks to men like John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson. This particular hold-up would be Grand County’s first experience with the phenomenon.A short time before noon on August 29, two men came into the Bank of Kremmling, with pistols drawn. On entering, they walked to the cashier’s office, which was separated from the lobby by a waist high wall. Three men, bank president F. C. Jones, cashier Carl G. Breeze and a customer, were in the office at the time. They were held at gunpoint by one robber while the other went to the teller’s cage, which was occupied by Mrs. Ethel Hackwith, assistant cashier. The robber forced Mrs. Hackwith to turn over all the money in the cage and then demanded that she open the bank vault.”I can’t,” she said. “The door is on a time lock and won’t open until an hour from now.” Discouraged, the two men decided to leave. They forced the teller to accompany them and commandeered her car for use in their getaway. They had collected only $1770.74.In fact, the vault had not been locked and the door could have been opened with a simple push. Ethel Hackwith’s quick thinking had saved the bank some $5,000, and she became an instant heroine with her picture on the front page of theDenver Post.The robbers had overlooked a second source of loot when a second customer had entered the bank with a handful of cash that he was expecting to deposit. He was not robbed but was simply forced to stand quietly until the culprits left. He was reported to have said: I was never so insulted in my life. You’d think my money was no good.The president of the bank notified Sheriff Fletcher as soon as the robbers and Hackwith were gone. Several carloads of Kremmling citizens along with the town deputy set out in pursuit of the crooks within 15 minutes. The trail led south over the river toward Dillon. The pursuers almost immediately found Mrs. Hackwith where the robbers had dropped her off and then proceeded on with her car.Information from a passing motorist led the pursuit southwest onto the Trough Road, and all roads in the region were under surveillance. The newspapers had a good time writing about what might happen. One Denver paper wrote:POSSE CLOSE ON BANK GANGKremmling Bandits Trapped High in Hills and Gun Battle ImminentA ridiculous article followed that described the posse as being composed of pioneers of the region, all of whom were “used to the two-gun method of gun-fighting” and were “dead shots with a rifle.”The car was found and later one robber was apprehended by Sheriff Mark Fletcher, tried, convicted and sentenced to 12 to 20 years in the penitentiary. The second robber was picked up in Wyoming on suspicion of robbing a post office in Verse, Wyo., a month or so before the Kremmling job. He was sentenced to a three-year term in a federal prison. The above is a short version of the Kremmling Bank robbery in 1933. For the entire story and other accounts of the tenure of Mark Fletcher as Sheriff of Grand County from 1924 to 1944, read “A Western Sheriff, The Biography of Mark Fletcher” by Robert Peterson & Elsie Fletcher Ruske, available at the Grand County/Pioneer Village Museum.