The Fingerprint That Doomed The Fleagle Gang



Joshua Hardin

The ruthless Fleagle Gang robbed the First National Bank of Lamar in 1928, making off with $238,000 and murdering four people in the hold-up and getaway. A Lamar lawman’s tireless pursuit and a novel feat of crime scene investigation brought them to justice.

Main Street in Lamar was quieting down after the lunch hour bustle on the afternoon of May 23, 1928. At the First National Bank of Lamar on the corner of Main and Olive streets, the bank’s 77-year-old president Amos Newton “Newt” Parrish leaned on a railing beside his office door, chatting leisurely with his 40-year-old son, John Festus “Jaddo” Parrish, a cashier at the bank, who sat next to him at a roll-top desk. At 1:10 p.m., the bank’s double doors swung open.

Four men, strangers to town, filed into the lobby. The oldest of group approached the counter, smiled at the teller in the nearest window and calmly said, “Stick ’em up.”

The teller returned the stranger’s smile but didn’t obey his command. This had to be a joke, he thought.

“Stick ’em up,” the man repeated more forcefully. The pistol in his hand made it clear this was no joke.

The other three men, all armed, fanned out across the bank’s lobby. Newt Parrish immediately ducked into his office. He emerged seconds later with “Old Betsey,” his single-action Colt .45 revolver, and fired a shot through the jaw of the nearest bandit. He cocked his pistol and pulled the trigger again; the gun misfired. The wounded robber fired back but missed. Before the banker could attempt a third shot, another robber shot him through the head. In the commotion, Jaddo Parrish got up from his desk and headed toward a closet where the bank kept more weapons. The gang’s leader fired into his back, and the younger Parrish fell with a bullet lodged in his heart.

The bankers and bandits exchanged a total of 11 shots in the span of just a few seconds. When the gunfire ended, the two Parrish men lay dead or dying on the floor.

The remaining bank employees did not resist. In short order, the gang members – including the badly bleeding wounded robber – stuffed several pillowcases with $238,000 in cash, municipal bonds and gold-redeemable Liberty Bonds, then hopped into their blue Buick sedan and sped off, taking two employees with them as hostages.

Prowers County Sheriff Lloyd E. Alderman was at home eating lunch when he got a phone call: “They want you at the First National. There seems to be trouble down there.”

Alderman dashed into his car and pulled up to the bank just moments after the robbers had driven away around the corner. The sheriff ushered a bank customer into his car to help him identify the culprits and headed out on their trail.

Alderman raced along the dusty backroads outside of Lamar and soon caught up with the bandits’ Buick. He saw the getaway car stop and one man exit the vehicle. He cautiously approached and discovered it was one of the hostages. Quickly instructing the man to find a phone and call for help, Alderman continued his pursuit to a crossing of Big Sandy Creek.

The robbers stopped on the creek’s far bank and began firing with rifles at long range. The sheriff, armed with only a pistol, couldn’t match their firepower at this distance. He and his civilian companion dove into a ditch as bullets tore into their car.

With the sheriff’s vehicle crippled, the bandits disappeared into prairie. Alderman had chased the outlaws for 17 miles. In the year and a half to come, he would travel another 150,000 miles by car, train and airplane trying to bring them to justice.

 

For the rest of the story see the November/December 2017 issue of Colorado Life.

 

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