History Column: Former public enemy spent time in Dell Rapids for bank heist
April 10. 2014 3:19PM
The 1930s was a time of well-known bank robberies and gangsters such as Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, and others. Dell Rapids was not immune from this crime. The most famous and talked about was the First National Bank robbery on Nov. 7, 1934, by the Denning – Limerick Gang.
On Oct. 23, 1933, Maurice Denning was arrested in Council Bluffs, Iowa for bootlegging. The six days he spent in jail would be the only time he ever served behind bars.
Early on, the Denning - Limerick gang burglarized the Omaha and Council Bluffs area before robbing a National Guard Armory on Aug. 23, 1934.
Well-equipped for their task, the gang would go on to rob banks in Hayward, Iowa, Dell Rapids and Superior, Neb. - their larges heist, during October and November of 1934.
The total haul: $19,217.
A Ford V-8 sedan caring four men pulled up in front of the bank here in Dell Rapids at about 2 o'clock. Three of the men rushed into the bank while one remained in the lobby. The one in the lobby did guard duty and ushered everyone into the bank.
One of the men rushed to the back part of the bank and ordered everyone to hold up their hands. Another stepped up to the window before Oluf Hegge and kept him covered while another jumped over the counter near the front of the bank where Conrad Paulson was working. Another man stepped to the window and began gathering up the cash. He then asked the bank’s cashier, Merrill Wicks, to open the vault.
After the robbers had finished their work, they ordered the bank employees to file out, asking that three of them accompany them to the car. Conrad Paulson, Merrill Wicks and Arlie Blow were selected as the hostages.
With Arlie in the front seat with the driver and Conrad on the car’s running board on one side and Wicks on the other side, the car headed east.
All told, the robbers accumulated $5,000 in cash, $5,150 in bonds, and $1,350 in Federal Reserve Bank stock. The money was never recovered.
A few weeks later in an attempt to rid Gage County, Neb. of the Denning – Limerick gang a small house in Kinney was raided by County and local police.
"With (the county sheriff’s) officers in place, Dunn ordered the men to surrender themselves in the next 15 minutes or officers would storm the residence with guns and tear gas.”
Dunn's deadline was near as Keeling and Harper finally exited the house.
The two men walked 50 feet from the house with their hands up before making a dash for a field across the road. The officer’s guns began firing without hesitation.
Keeling was hit almost immediately, a bullet tearing through his back and exit below his liver. The robber continued half a mile more before collapsing in a ditch. He died the next morning.
Harper's luck held out a little longer. The 20-year-old was grazed by a bullet in his hip, but was not seriously injured. Making his way north and west, taking hostages along the way.
Denning and Limerick arrived in Kinney around midnight in a car they had stolen hours before. Finding the area guarded by officers, they ignored the order to halt, speeding through a flurry of gunfire into the night, eluding capture unscathed.
Limerick finally was arrested following a fight in a nightclub in St. Joseph, Missouri, May 25, 1935. He confessed to robbing banks but never named any of his associates. He was sentenced to life in a prison in Leavenworth Kansas, and was later transferred to Alcatraz. On May 23, 1938, he was killed trying to escape from Alcatraz.
Although John Dillinger was famous for robbing banks in a similar fashion, he was captured and killed July 22, 1934, and the closest he ever got was Sioux Falls. Our claim to fame is through Maurice Denning.
Denning was never seen nor heard from again in Nebraska. On July 20, 1936, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover designated Maurice “Blondie” Denning “Public Enemy Number One.” Staying on the FBI's radar until the 1960s, Denning was never apprehended, making him the most successful “Public Enemy Number One.”