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Neosho Daily News - Neosho, MO
  • WES FRANKLIN: Eyewitness to history

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  • A few weeks ago, I wrote about the great Neosho bank robbery that occurred near the pinnacle of the gangster era during the Great Depression.
    Recently, I spoke with someone who was actually there.
    Most people probably know longtime Neosho attorney Bert Hurn. In 1935, Mr. Hurn was just a kid, living in the village of Newtonia, in eastern Newton County. His older brother worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps, and at the time was helping build what is today Roaring River State Park outside of Cassville. On weekends he would hop a train, that is “ride the rails,” home. Mr. Hurn and his big brother would then usually drive a wagon to Neosho.
    This particular Saturday morning, March 2, was no different. Mr. Hurn and his brother drove a wagon into Neosho early that morning. They were walking around the Square when they noticed a blue Ford parked in the alleyway beside the First National Bank (today Boulevard Bank), on the south side of the Square. A man in an overcoat was standing outside the bank doors. As they drew nearer, another man stepped out of the bank and he and the man in the overcoat began walking toward the alleyway. At that time, the overcoat guy dropped what Mr. Hurn said looked like a monkey wrench. At the time he thought that’s what it was. Perhaps it even was, though I imagine a gun would be more likely. The two men didn’t drive off at that time, as we know now that their pals were still in the bank.
    Mr. Hurn and his older brother didn’t think anything of it at the time and walked past.
    It was only later that day that they heard the bank had been robbed and they realized what they had actually seen.
    Afterward, it was reported that the robbery was pulled off by Leo “Irish” O’Malley and gang, a bunch of Missouri toughs operating out of northeast Oklahoma. If the newspapers are correct, O’Malley was the man in the overcoat that Mr. Hurn and his brother saw standing outside the bank and who dropped the “monkey wrench” or gun. The gang had caught janitor Leslie Cooper as he was walking across the Neosho Square to the First National Bank. According to accounts, O’Malley stood guard outside while the rest of the gang members forced Cooper to open up the safe and then “greeted” employees as they came into work, tying them up. The O’Malley’s fled town with supposedly about $8,000 in cash. The end of that story, in case you didn’t catch it last time, is that less than three months after the Neosho robbery, most of the gang was arrested one-by-one for a Ft. Smith bank job and they all ratted each other out, including Leo “Irish” O’Malley himself, who was captured while on the lam in Kansas City. He was extradited to Illinois on a prior kidnapping charge, where he died, insane, in 1944.
    Page 2 of 2 - I appreciate Mr. Hurn telling me his recollections of that morning in Neosho, and I hope he doesn’t mind that I shared them here.
    I have other stories folks have shared with me as well, but those are for a different day perhaps.
    Have a pleasant Sunday.
    Wes Franklin serves on the Newton County Historical Society Board of Directors. He is also public relations director and events coordinator for the City of Neosho. Contact him at 658-8443.

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