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The Fleagle Gang was a group of early 20th century American bank robbers and murderers. They were found and executed or killed after robbing the First National Bank in Lamar, Colorado. Their cases were the first ever in which a single fingerprint was part of the evidence leading to a conviction. They were also suspected to have committed a series of previous bank robberies over a 10-year period.
On May 23, 1928, Ralph Fleagle, his brother Jake, George J. Abshier, (a.k.a. Bill Messick), and Howard “Heavy” Royston, came in to Lamar, Colorado. They planned to rob the First National Bank.
They had hooked up at a ranch near Marienthal, Kansas shortly before the robbery, but Jake Fleagle had been planning on robbing the Lamar bank for some time. Like many professional robbers of that time, the Fleagles, together with Abshier, had carefully scouted the bank on several occasions before the day came to actually hold it up.
The gang had maps of the roads of Prowers County, Colorado, and the brothers had been inside the bank building and knew its layout. Abshier said they had weighed the “possibilities” and decided that it was a job for no less than four men, so they recruited Heavy Royston.
The drive took about six hours, but the plan required them to wait until the afternoon to commit the robbery. Finally, about 1 p.m., it was time to move.
E.A. Lundgren, a one-armed teller at the bank was waiting on a customer when he saw the men come into the bank and heard one shout, “You sons-a-bitches get them all up!” and another yell, “Hands up!”
In the noise and confusion of the moment, Bank President A.N. Parrish ducked into his office and pulled out an .45 he called "Old Betsy" and fired a shot at the closest bank robber from the door to his office hitting Royston in the jaw, and then by all accounts, all hell broke loose.
The bank cashier, William Garrett and Miss Vivian Potter, another bank employee, said later two of the gunmen struggled with customers and most of the gang members were shouting to their victims to either lie down or put their hands up. Abshier, who later confessed to his role in the robbery and its aftermath, recalled that;
During the struggle, the bank president, A.N. Parrish, shot Heavy Royston in the face and was subsequently shot and killed himself. Jaddo Parrish, the son of the president, was also a bank employee and was killed in the fusillade.
The bandits loaded their booty — $10,664 in cash, $12,400 in Liberty Bonds, and almost $200,000 in commercial paper — into pillow cases and grabbed two hostages. The original plan had called for the gang to take Jaddo Parrish as hostage, because they felt that his father would not pursue them and risk his son’s life, but when Jaddo was killed, the gunmen opted to take others.
The gang, along with hostages Edward A. Lundgren and a teller named Everett Kesinger, headed out to the car by a back door and roared out of town. After fending off the sheriff in a car chase that ended at a crossing on Sand Creek northeast of Lamar, where the robbers used rifles to disable the sheriff's car, the gang made good its escape. Ralph Fleagle was driving the 1927 blue Buick Master Six getaway car.
During the car chase the gang released the one-arm teller Lundgren. Kesinger pleaded that he had a wife and new baby, and asked to be let go, but the bandits refused, forcing Kesinger to ride on the floor of the back seat of the car while Royston used a pillow case to catch the blood from his wound in the front seat.
The gang arrived back in Kansas by nightfall. Royston, who had been shot by the dead bank president, needed medical attention, so the gang tricked a local doctor into coming out from his Dighton, Kansas home at night by telling him that a young boy’s foot had been crushed by a tractor.
When Dr. W.W. Wineinger arrived at the ranch, he discovered the ruse but obviously treated Royston’s wounds. After he finished, the gang bound him up and blindfolded him, took him out of the ranch and shot him in the back of the head with a shotgun and rolled his body and his Buick into a ravine north of Scott City, Kansas. The car and doctor's body were spotted from the air by a Colorado National Guard airplane that had been brought from Denver to aid in the search. Dozens of citizen posses crisscrossed the counties along the Colorado border in search of the getaway car.
The Fleagle brothers took Kesinger to a shack near Liberal, Kansas and shot him. The body was discovered about three weeks after the bank robbery.
The gang divided the loot and separated, with Abshire driving Royston to Minneapolis, Minnesota to be seen by a dental surgeon. After reaching Minneapolis each man went to a different area of the country with Abshire going to Grand Junction, Colorado, Royston to San Andreas, California and Ralph to San Francisco, California. It took police about 13 months to track down the owner of the single latent fingerprint left on the windows of Dr. Wineinger’s car. When Jake was arrested in Stockton, California in March 1929 his fingerprints were sent to the Bureau of Investigation (later known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation) in Washington DC, where they were identified as Jake Fleagle and connected to the Lamar bank robbery. Ralph was arrested first in Kankakee, Illinois and after flying back to Kansas and being booked in Lamar he was taken to Colorado Springs where he eventually confessed. Ralph agreed to provide authorities with information about the rest of the gang in exchange for the release of his two brothers Fred and Walt Fleagle. A nationwide manhunt for Jake resulted in his death in a shootout on a train in Branson, Missouri, in October 1930 after his brother had been hung in Colorado. Royston was captured at his home in San Andreas, California, and Abshire was arrested in Grand Junction, Colorado.
The three were tried first in Lamar, Colorado, and in a sensational series of trials in October and November 1929, and all of them were sentenced to hang.
Their appeals to the Colorado Supreme Court went for naught and the men were executed over a two-week period in mid-July 1930. This was the very first time a single fingerprint had been used to convict someone of a crime, and was a major success for the FBI.
Even today treasure hunters scour the west looking for the caches of loot supposedly buried by skinflint Ralph Fleagle. Credible rumors, but little proof, abound about unrecovered loot buried in California, Kansas and possibly Missouri. There is evidence that Ralph invested much of his money, and possibly owned an apartment building in San Francisco, where he had been living before being arrested in Kankakee, Illinois. Ralph's wife Margaret was sent packing by the Fleagle family shortly after Ralph was hanged in Colorado, but there is no evidence of where she went.