The Burr Oak Bank Robbery of 1931
The restored Burr Oak bank building as it looked in 2004.
The first bank robbery in Winneshiek county, Iowa, took place on April 22, 1931 in the village of Burr Oak. The Burr Oak Savings Bank was robbed of $1000 by two young bandits who locked the bank employees and patrons into the vault before making their escape. This was of course quite a sensation in the tiny village, and the story of the bank robbery lived on for decades afterward.
I grew up on a farm near Burr Oak in the 1950's and the story was alive even then. One of the ladies who had been locked in the vault was a neighbor who babysitted me on occasion. By the 1950's the Burr Oak Savings Bank was no longer in operation, the building serving as a combination post office and barber shop. Recently the building was purchased by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and restored to its original condition, vault and all. Today it is a tourist center for the museum.
The following is the story of the bank robbery as told by local citizens and county newspapers.
From The Diaries of Lottie Price, Wednesday, April 22, 1931
Wed. Apr. 22
... The Bank at B.O. was robbed this P.M. Two men. Locked Melvin Sattre, Melvin Underbakke, Luella Young & Mrs. Lovelien in the vault. Rex Ward, Millard Walton & John McCauley came in while they were there & they tied them up. They took less than $1000. Were there quite a little while & in B.O. a couple of hours or so before they robbed the bank. ...
From "My Life Story", by Evelyn Underbakke (wife of bank assistant Melvin Underbakke), p. 37.
...Melvin told me that he and Mel Sattre were in the bank when the bank robbers came and they were put in the vault. Melvin's brother-in-law, Rex Ward, was outside coming to the bank, and one of the bandits pointed a gun at him and told him to hurry up and get in the bank and they tied him up. Mrs. Henry Lovlien, an elderly lady, happened to come to the bank, and they told her to sit in the corner in the vault. Later she told the others that she tried to pray but was so scared that she couldn't remember the Lord's prayer. The robbers took about $1000.00 dollars, but were later caught. This bank was the first bank in Winneshiek County to be robbed...
From the Decorah Public Opinion, Thursday, April 30, 1931
Burr Oak Bank Held Up and Robbed of $1,000
The first bank robbery ever perpetrated in Winneshiek county was staged last Wednesday afternoon, April 22 when the Burr Oak Saving Bank, twelve miles north of Decorah on paved highway No. 55, was held up and robbed of approximately $1000.
The bandits entered the bank about 3:30. The only occupants of the bank at that time were Cashier M. O. Sattre, Melvin Underbakke, bank assistant and Mrs. Raymond Young. The bandits gave the order to “Stick ‘em up.” Of course the order was obeyed, and the three ordered to lay down on the floor behind the case.
Ed F. Arnold arrived at the bank very shortly after the stick-up and was ordered on the floor. The bandits were working fast gathering the money from the counter and vault. They then proceeded to tie all four up, hurdling them into the vault afterwards.
The smallest of the pair asked if they could live in the vault and received an affirmative reply from Cashier Sattre. The vault has a ventilator, which assisted materially in keeping the occupants of the vault alive.
Mrs. Henry Lovlien was the next to enter the bank and she was put in the vault, but her hands were not tied.
The bandits’ car was parked about a block north of the bank. The smaller of the pair, who was later identified as Morris Reed, went out to the car and when he left his partner, Ed Nelson, shut the vault door, after putting on gloves so as not to leave his finger prints.
After the vault door was closed Rex Ward approached the bank door, suspecting something was wrong in the bank. He was standing on the sidewalk. The bandits pointed a gun at him, ordering him into the bank. He obeyed their orders, and the next procedure was to tie him up, which was done.
M. R. Walton, who had no suspicions of a holdup, entered the bank next, carrying $3.65 in his hands, which he was going to pay into the bank. The robbers graciously took the money from his hands, tied him up and ordered him to lie on the floor. J. D. McCauley was the last one to enter the bank, meeting with the same fate as the others, having his hands tied and ordered to the floor.
Of the five put in the vault Cashier Sattre was the last man to have his hands tied. Mr. Sattre said he was threatened by Nelson, who was a vile talker and kept a gun to Mr. Sattre’s head most of the time. Reed admonished his partner to keep cool, as they didn’t want to kill anyone.
The pair appeared to be very nervous, Cashier Sattre stated. One of them was lame and the other had crossed eyes. They were each about 23 years of age.
After the pair had gathered up all the money they could find, they left the bank, walked leisurely to the car, a Ford tudor, bearing a Wisconsin license and left town, driving toward the Minnesota line some 3 ½ miles away. The men were in Burr Oak for nearly an hour before they pulled the holdup. Mr. Sattre said he believed the men were in Burr Oak about Christmas time looking over the grounds.
The sheriff’s office in Decorah was notified of the holdup and Sheriff Mike Graf, Deputy Fred O’Boy and E. P. Baker responded, making the 12 mile run to Burr Oak in record time. They scoured the country around about, but didn’t find any track of the bandits. Before leaving for Burr Oak Sheriff Graf notified surrounding towns to be on the lookout. He also telephoned the sheriff at La Crosse, giving a description of the bandits. The sheriff’s office at La Crosse then got busy on a clew they had that possibly hinged on the Burr Oak bank robbery, and arrested a young girl at Cadott, Wis. The La Crosse Tribune gives the particulars in the following:
A nineteen year old Cadott, Wis. Girl was in the custody of La Crosse sheriff’s officials Friday as a key witness in the holdup of the Burr Oak Savings Bank at Burr Oak on Wednesday afternoon. A thousand dollars was taken.
She is Marie Goethels and although she denies participating in the holdup, she gave the officials the names of Morris Reed and Ed Nelson as being the bandits. The men came to her home at Cadott Thursday and left with her a bulky bag containing about $250 in half dollars and silver dollars she declared.
Both Nelson and Reed are former prisoners at the La Crosse county jail and were described Friday by officials as being “tough characters.” While serving ninety day sentences here on charges of carrying concealed weapons officials said they momentarily expected them to attempt to escape. Upon their release from the jail on March 28, Sheriff Albert F. Riley sent their description to officials throughout the state, warning them against the pair.
After the Burr Oak Bank was held up Wednesday afternoon, descriptions of the bandits were sent to La Crosse officials. Photographs of Nelson and Reed, who answered the description furnished by the eight bank employees and customers who were bound and locked in the bank vault by the bandits, were taken to Burr Oak and identified.
The officials said they got their first clue as to the possible whereabouts of Reed and Nelson through a recollection that while they were confined to the jail here a girl had visited them. At that time, because of the fear of the authorities that a jail delivery was being contemplated, the officials took down the license number of Miss Goethel’s car, and traced it to Cadott.
Sheriff Riley and five deputies left La Crosse late Thursday afternoon for Cadott and learned upon arriving there that Nelson and Reed had been seen on the streets there about 9 p.m. In company with the Eau Claire county sheriff the local officials surrounded the home of Miss Goethels at 2:00 o’clock Friday morning, searched it and found the sack of money.
Miss Goethel at that time denied any knowledge of the bank robbery, but said the men came to her place and left the money. They were driving a Ford tudor car having Wisconsin license plates, it was stated.
She told the officials the men had a machine gun in the automobile and it was their belief that the men would shoot it out with any officials trying to arrest them. Before leaving the county jail here both Nelson and Reed were alleged to have told fellow prisoners they “would never be taken alive again.” Sheriff Riley declared his belief was further substantiated by the fact that bank robbery in Iowa means life imprisonment upon conviction.
Officials have communicated with the police departments at Minneapolis and St. Paul on the belief that the men headed for either of these places.
The Iowa Bankers Protective association has posted a reward of $1000 for the apprehension of the bandits.
Sheriff Graf went to La Crosse on Saturday to secure custody of the girl, who
was held in the La Crosse jail. She signed a waiver and voluntarily came to
Iowa and Decorah. She will be held as a material witness in the robbery. She
is in jail here and will be held until the grand jury meets at the May term
of court which will open May 11. $273.10 of the loot was found in her home,
and the money is now in the possession of Sheriff Graf.
From the Decorah Journal, Wednesday, April 29, 1931
Wisconsin Woman Held Here For Part In Burr Oak Job
Sheriff Graf Gets Woman And $270; Search For Two Men Continues
The robbers spent the next five minutes ransacking the cash drawers, meanwhile using rather profane language in expressing their disappointment in finding slightly less than one thousand dollars.
When they had gathered up the money they ordered the three men and two women to go into the bank vault. They closed only one of the two vault doors.
Just at this time Miller Walton of Burr Oak walked in the bank; in a few moments he was tied and told to rest comfortably on the floor and to gaze up at the ceiling. J. D. McCauley, farmer, came in and joined the ceiling gazers. Then Rex Ward, who suspected trouble, came in and joined the party.
Mr. Sattre, who heard the first man enter, hesitated in setting off the alarm from inside the vault for fear that the thugs would shoot the man who entered. He thus waited until all was quiet to shout to the man outside to ask if the robbers had gone. He received a very impressive, “Hell, no, we’re still here.”
Sattre kept quiet while McCauley and Ward came in to join the party outside the vault. When the coast was clear the people inside the vault freed themselves and spread the alarm. They had been in about five minutes.
Within twenty minutes after the men made their escape north in a Ford Tudor, Sheriff Graf had notified the sheriffs in Caledonia, Rochester, Winona, St. Paul, Minneapolis, LaCrosse, Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire. He also had warnings broadcast over W. H. O. Des Moines, W. C. C. O. Minneapolis and K. G. C. A., Decorah. He notified Mabel residents, two of whom took to an airplane and spent more than an hour cruising over the surrounding country searching for the fleeing men.
Mr. Sattre states that these two fellows are the same men who came in the bank last November. He became suspicious of them and scared them away by asking them “what they wanted?”
Thursday noon, Mike Graf and state agent Scott left here for Burr Oak where they were met by La Crosse officials. They went to Caddott, Wis., where they searched the house of Marie Gathels at 2:40 a. m. Friday and found $270 of the bank loot. All was in silver except three twenty dollar bills. These men brought her to La Crosse from where she willingly consented to come to Decorah. She has been seeing Decorah thru the bars of the jail since Saturday. She is nineteen years old and plenty hard boiled. Unlike most women, she refuses to talk but she will cry. Her three pet expressions are, “Yes, sir,” “No, sir,” and “I don’t know, sir.”
The two men in the case have been identified from their pictures by Burr Oak people. One fellow, Ed Nelson, sweetheart of Marie, is a good looking chap, also rather rough in his speech we are told. The other fellow, Reed, is cross eyed. Nelson has a wife and three children who live with his father on a farm near Mabel. Nelson is just one of his many names. When Nelson’s wife learned from the sheriff that her husband and Marie were sweethearts, she gave out considerable information because Ed hasn’t been home for a year.
Friday noon, Sheriff Graf, Constable Fox, State Agent Scott and State Agent Frank Christen, ex-sheriff, raided the farm home of Nelson’s father near Mabel. No loot was found. They were aided by Minnesota officials.
At this time, Wednesday noon, Sheriff Graf and Agent Scott are hot on the boys’ trail in Wisconsin and we’re thinking that when they return this time they’ll have the boys.
Judging from the amount of loot Marie received, it is thought she was in Burr Oak in the car at the time of the hold up.
Nelson and Reed were discharged from the La Crosse county jail three weeks ago. They served 90 days for carrying concealed weapons.
From the Decorah Journal, Wednesday, May 6, 1931
Burr Oak Bandits Caught At Warsaw Brot To Decorah
Letter Sent To Sweetheart Locates Boys In Indiana And Causes Their Capture
They have joined Marie Gathels in viewing Decorah sunsets thru long, straight bars. Marie came to Decorah, April 26, at the invitation of Graf and Shea and is still their guest. Marie hasn’t had any opportunity to spend the $270 she brought with her; then then, she doesn’t need many clothes; she doesn’t go out much.
Marie is the cause of Harold and Earl coming back to Decorah. When Earl reached Warsaw, Ind., he became lonesome for his nineteen year old queenie, who he thot was in Caddott, Wisconsin, so he wrote her a love note. La Crosse county officials opened Earl’s love note to Marie and a few hours later the Burr Oak bank robbers were captured. Earl wishes Marie had informed him of her change of address, we reckon.
We’re not so sure what sentence Marie will get but Earl and Harold will get life. When you divide one thousand dollars three ways and get life for it, but don’t get the money after all, it’s rather poor pay, even under Hoover. But where they go their expenses will be paid. “Chuck” Weiser is in favor of putting the boys on exhibition to raise funds to buy them some crochet needles to use when they go to Fort Madison. M. O. Sattre of Burr Oak wants to tell the tall guy what he thinks of him. Earl probably wants to tell Marie what he thinks of her for getting him messed up, and Earl’s wife up near Mabel probably has a rolling pin waiting for her two-timing, gun-toting sheik. The judge is anxious to tell all three of them where to go and the public will be glad to know that they’ll have a real long vacation.
Earl is an ex-barber, but he’ll have a chance to go back to work at Fort Madison, with no tips. Harold, the cross-eyed gentleman, has a real criminal record in Indiana and is the tougher of the two fellows. They were enroute to Louisville, Kentucky, to attend the Kentucky derby, which is being held the sixteenth.
Well, boys they say love is blind. It must be, even blind to a cross eyed guy. If it hadn’t been for Marie you men would be enjoying the Kentucky derby instead of taking orders from Mike Graf.
From the Decorah Public Opinion, Thursday, May 7, 1931
Bank Robbers In County Jail
Pair Who Robbed Burr Oak Bank Caught At Warsaw, Ind., Brought to Decorah Today by Sheriff Mike Graf
LETTER TO GIRL BETRAYS THEM
Robbers Were Identified in Indiana by Cashier M. O. Sattre, As the Ones Who Held up the Bank April 22
Earl Trumball 23 and Harold Jacobin 24, the two robbers who held up the Burr Oak Savings Bank on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 22, are now safely behind the bars in the Winneshiek county jail, having been brought here from Warsaw, Ind. today by Sheriff Mike Graf, Ray Scott, state agent, County Attorney E. P. Shea and Cashier M. O. Sattre of the Burr Oak Savings Bank which was robbed of about $1000 by the pair of young bandits.
A letter written by Trumball from Warsaw, Ind. To Marie Goethels at Cadott, Wis., (who is in the Winneshiek county jail) told her he was coming back and get her. The authorities got the letter from her mother. It was turned over to the sheriff at Cadott. The letter was postmarked Warsaw, Ind. Sheriff Graf and State Agent Scott sent descriptions and pictures of the men to Indiana and they fitted the men in custody.
Saturday afternoon Sheriff Graf and Cashier M. O. Sattre departed for Des Moines, where they were joined by Scott, and after procuring extradition papers, proceeded Sunday on their way to Indiana, which is between 450 and 500 miles from Decorah. On their arrival Mr. Sattre identified the prisoners as the bandits who robbed the Burr Oak bank. County Atty. E. P. Shea went to the Indiana city on Sunday. He had previously prepared the papers for the sheriff.
Sheriff Graf never let up a minute in his search for the bandits and is to be congratulated on placing them behind bars here in such a short period of time. They arrived at 11:45.
The men when arrested, had a portion of the loot with them, and they were also armed.
Trumball lived near Mabel, Minn., and has a wife and three children, but he had not been home for a year or so. There is a rumor that his partner is a former resident of this county.
The penalty for conviction on the charge of bank robbery in Iowa is life imprisonment.
Marie Goethels, the nineteen year old Cadott, Wis. girl, who was a friend of the bandits, is still a prisoner in the jail here.
The sheriff’s car was pretty well loaded on the return trip, carrying six persons, Sheriff Graf, State Agent Scott, County Attorney Shea, Cashier M. O. Sattre and the two prisoners. They got into Dubuque about 6:00 o’clock Tuesday evening, where they stopped for the night. They left Warsaw Tuesday morning.
From the Decorah Journal, Wednesday, May 13, 1931
Burr Oak Bandits Sentenced To Ft. Madison For Life
Trimbel And Jacobin Plead Guilty Before Judge Taylor Friday
Friday night at 8 o’clock, the gray, grim doors of the state penitentiary at Fort Madison slammed shut on Emerson Trimbel and Harold Jacobin, known also as Maurice Reed. Thus has been written finis to a sixteen day series of exciting events, beginning with the robbery of the Burr Oak Savings Bank of $976.70, at 3:35 Wednesday afternoon, April 22. The men were taken to Fort Madison by Sheriff Graf and Constable Dan Fox, leaving Decorah at 12:20 noon Friday, two hours after Judge H. E. Taylor had read the following minutes, first to Trimbel and then to Jacobin:
“On this 8th day of May, 1931; at the regular Court room of the District
Court of Winneshiek County, Iowa, at Decorah, personally appeared the above
named defendant, filed a written plea of Guilty in the above entitled cause
and requested me as a Judge of said Court, to take up this cause for the purpose
of receiving his plea and entering judgment and sentence thereon. Defendant
was then advised of his right to counsel but says he does not wish an attorney
to defend him. Defendant was then duly arraigned, says that his correct name
is Emerson Trimbel, that he waives time to plead, files a written plea of guilty
and pleads that he is guilty of the crime charge in the County Attorney’s information,
and waives time for judgment. Adjudged that the defendant is guilty of the crime
of entering a Bank with intent to rob, as charged in the information and that
he be committed to the State Penitentiary at Fort Madison, Iowa, under Code
Section 13002, for an indeterminate term, the maximum to be the life time of
defendant. Defendant states that he is twenty-four years of age and has previously
been convicted of a felony. Bond on appeal fixed at $30,000.00.”
Signed: H. E. Taylor,
Judge of the District Court of Winneshiek County, Iowa.
Employ No Attorney
The men appeared nervous and a bit worried when they realized that their story had ended. They waived their rights to hire a lawyer for defense and, although being told that they could have three days to await sentence, they said, “We are ready to have it all over with as soon as possible.” They left the court room laughing and with apparent relief at having it all over. By being so agreeable the men will be shown more leniency if ever a plea for parole is entered. While the sentence is life, there is a possibility of having the sentence reduced and then, after serving ten years, they have a possibility of getting a parole or pardon.
The men talked about the robbery before leaving for Fort Madison. They said that they were in Winona, 45 minutes after the “stick up,” the rear of their Ford was loaded with sand, for ballast. They bought a second hand Graham Paige in Indiana and had only $155.00 of the stolen money on them when captured in bed in a Warsaw rooming house. They also had several new suits of clothing.
Jacobin, better known as “Shorty,” mailed the letter to Marie, which Trimbel, “Slim,” had written. Slim was afraid to mail it but Shorty took the chance. The letter proved to be their undoing. The postmaster at Cadott notified the Chippewa Falls sheriff when the letter came for Marie. The sheriff had Marie’s mother get the letter and she turned it over to him. The letter gave all the necessary information, leading to their capture. Marie’s mother turned against Slim, when she learned that he had a family near Mabel, Minn.
Marie is back home with her mother in Cadott. She says she will listen to her mother now. Marie was brought home Sunday by Mr. and Mrs. Graf. She had been held only as a material witness, having committed no crime in Iowa. She was not at Burr Oak at the time of the robbery. She told us she planned to wait for Slim. She also remarked that, “Shorty surely looked fine.” She had seen him only once before but he “looked like a bum then.”
The two fellows were neatly groomed when they appeared in court. Shorty wore a blue suit, Harding blue tie, was clean shaven and wore glasses. Slim wore a blue sweater. He gave his age as 24 and asked to be sent to Fort Madison. Ordinarily he would have gone to Anamosa being under 30 and his first offense in this state. Shorty, who gave his age as 23, although he is at least 32, told Slim, “that Anamosa was crowded and that the Fort was a better place.”
M. O. Sattre told Slim that he could have plugged him from the vault if he had [illegible]. Shorty said, “It would have been just too bad for you, Mr. Sattre.” Slim admits that he was drunk during the hold up. Shorty told the officials, “I don’t care what they do to me, but give Slim all the breaks you can.”
Trimbel is a fine looking chap and Shorty possesses a splendid education, judging from his speech. He seems to be the brains of the duet.
Following the pronouncing of the life sentence, Judge Taylor remarked to the write, “This is the swiftest case of conviction for bank robbery in the entire state. The Winneshiek county sheriff has made a perfect record, he is to be congratulated.”
M. O. Sattre, Burr Oak cashier, spoke highly of the method in which the entire case was handled.
The one thousand dollars reward offered by the Banker’s Association of the county will very likely be divided three ways, being shared in by the La Crosse, Warsaw, and Decorah officials, all of whom were necessary for the capture.
State Agent Roy Scott, who has had years of experience with bandits, remarked,
“Mike Graf has scored 100% in the handling of the Burr Oak case. Every move
he made was effective.”
From the Decorah Public Opinion, Thursday, May 14, 1931
Bank Robbers Get Life Sentences
Emerson Trimbell and Harold Jacobin Who Plead Guilty to Robbing Burr Oak Savings Bank April 22 Sentenced by Judge Taylor Friday Morning.
TAKEN TO PRISON THE SAME DAY
The Bandits Landed in the Penitentiary at Ft. Madison Just Two Weeks and Two Days After The Holdup.
Just two weeks from the day that Emerson Trimble and Harold Jacobin robbed the Burr Oak Savings Bank, they were in the Winneshiek County Jail, and two days later they were on their way to serve an indeterminate sentence in the state prison at Fort Madison, imposed by Judge H. E. Taylor of Waukon last Friday morning after the twain had pleaded guilty to the crime. That is one of the quickest apprehensions on record for bank robbery in the state of Iowa.
As stated in last week’s Public Opinion, the men arrived here last Wednesday noon in charge of Sheriff Graf, State Agent Scott, County Attorney Shea and the cashier of the bank that was robbed, Melvin Sattre of Burr Oak, from Warsaw, Indiana, where they had been arrested while in bed at a rooming house a few nights previous on telephone instructions from State Agent Scott. Thursday morning they were arraigned before Justice H. F. Barthell and held for trial in district court on bonds of $50,000 each. They were also liberally photographed at the Electric Studio and the pictures sent to various crime detection bureaus all over the country.
On Thursday, after consultation with County Attorney Shea about all phases of their case, and undoubtedly with the realization that the proof against them was conclusive, the men agreed to plead guilty and Judge Taylor arrived here about 9:30 Friday morning to hear the pleas and impose sentence. Each man waived the right to an attorney, also the right to a three-day interval between plea and sentence. The judge read them the law making mandatory an indeterminate sentence with life imprisonment the maximum penalty, and after pronouncing sentence made a few remarks about the seriousness of their crime. He advised good behaviour on their part in prison, and mentioned the possibility of release and a new start in life after some years of good behaviour has elapsed.
Before sentence was pronounced, both men were asked their age. Trimbell said he was 24 and Jacobin admitted to 23 years. The latter looked several years older, but was very reticent about personal particulars. After court had adjourned, however, the men talked freely about the Burr Oak crime and their getaway trip which ended in the Indiana town mentioned above.
Among the circumstances of the crime, the getaway and subsequent apprehension of the criminals which may be of general interest are the following:
After the robbery, the men drove at a moderate pace from Burr Oak to the Minnesota line and then “hit it up” in their Ford car for Winona, where they crossed the Mississippi river to Wisconsin and made for Cadott, a small town near Chippewa Falls, where they left the silver taken from the bank, amounting to about $273.00, with a nineteen-year-old girl, Marie Goethels, a sweetheart of Trimbell’s. Information obtained here was to the effect that they had a revolver, an automatic pistol and a machine gun in their car. Then they drove across Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana to Warsaw, where on the following Saturday they made the error that soon resulted in their arrest – Trimbell wrote a letter to the Goethels girl, whose mother immediately turned it over to the sheriff of Chippewa county, and he in turn notified State Agent Scott. The latter communicated with the Warsaw police at once by telephone and the men were found in bed at a rooming house in that city and arrested on suspicion. A revolver and an automatic pistol, also a sack containing $155 in silver coins were found in Jacobin’s grip. Photos of the pair were forwarded to Warsaw by air mail and provided the necessary proof that the right men had been apprehended, which was clinched by their positive identification by Cashier Sattre.
The “wise guy” of this pair is undoubtedly Jacobin, the short, cross-eyed individual, who wears glasses. While details were not brought out in court, where he admitted simply previous conviction on a charge of felony, we are informed that he was released last September from the Illinois state prison at Joliet on parole, after serving three years of a sentence of from one year to life for robbery. He and Trimbell are supposed to have become acquainted in La Crosse or near there about six months ago. They both admitted after their sentence on Friday morning that they had been in Burr Oak on Dec. 20 last looking over the prospects for robbing the bank, and it is thought were frightened from doing so on that day. Eight days later, they were arrested at La Crosse on the charges of carrying concealed weapons, and served a ninety-day jail sentence there for that offense. During their incarceration, they were visited by the Goethels girl, and the La Crosse police noted the number of the car she drove and filed her address for possible future reference. The same night the robbery was committed, the La Crosse sheriff and deputies drove to the girl’s home at Cadott, Wis., about 75 miles north of La Crosse, and discovered the silver money heretofore mentioned, which was without doubt part of the loot. The girl admitted that the robbers had left the money with her, and was brought to Decorah and held in jail as a material witness, while her mother agreed to inform the authorities immediately of any further developments and kept her word to the letter.
The boyhood home of Trimbell is near Mabel, Minn., where he attended high school and worked as a barber. He has a wife and three children, but left them about a year ago. He is tall and slender and walks with a perceptible limp, and his partner being cross-eyed made it a comparatively easy task to recognize them as long as they stuck together.
They manifested little or no concern regarding their sentence while waiting to start to Fort Madison – laughed and joked and recounted many details of the robbery and chase with their captors. Jacobin, however, was very reticent about his origin and past life, and neither man would tell where they got the Ford car in which they drove to Burr Oak and escaped after the robbery. When arrested at Warsaw, only a couple of hundred dollars was left of their total loot of nearly $1,000. They had bought a second hand car for $75 near Warsaw, which they turned over to the attorney in that city, who looked after their rights there. Warsaw is a city of about 6,500 people.
They were taken to the prison in Sheriff Graf’s car, chained in the rear seat to Constable Fox of this city, with Sheriff Graf driving and with State Agent Scott bringing up the rear in his car. The party left here a little before noon on Friday and had dinner at Calmar. We are informed that Jacobin lost his nerve and air of bravado when being admitted to the prison, but that Trimbell remained apparently light-hearted.
The county bankers association offers a reward of $1,000 for the apprehension of any bank robber, and in this case it is the general opinion that the reward should be divided three way – part to the La Crosse police, part to the sheriff of Chippewa county, Wisconsin, and part to the police of Warsaw, Indiana.
Of course the local authorities are entitled to a great deal of credit for the capture, Sheriff Graf for his immediate notification to the entire surrounding territory of the robbery and his prompt followup of every possible clue, State Agent Scott for his energetic work, and County Attorney Shea for his successful negotiations for a prompt plea of guilty, saving the county considerable expense of a trial, for which witnesses would have been summoned over a considerable distance.
The net result of the affair was pretty well summed up by Jacobin just before he left for Fort Madison Friday morning when he said: “Well, it looks like these small town banks in this section are pretty well protected and I guess it is best to leave them alone.”
The girl in the case was released from jail on Sunday and Sheriff and Mrs. Graf took her to her home at Cadott, Wis., located about 200 miles from Decorah. The girl was very reticent about the entire case, in which her won participation brought her very close to criminal prosecution.
Trimbell’s Letter to Marie Goethels
I’ll have to start off by excusing myself for this scratching. I’m so tired I can’t see. Slept about 3 hours since I saw you.
We drove all night and next day till 2 o’clock at night. Am going to get the flivver and then call you, am sure its o.k. Won’t be here am leaving, am sure I’m all right.
Tear up this and don’t tell anyone where its written from. Or that its from me at all. You’ll know I’ll be right up. If it isn’t o.k. I’ll just hang up and then write telling you where to see me. I know I can come up though as I could come all the way at night.
Well you should catch on by what I’ve said as you are plenty wise anyway. Am going to sleep, it won’t be long now just tell them you know I’ll do as I said. I was in horrible shape when I was up there. Won’t be like that no more.
I am looking forward to many many happier days and I mean together. Please do as I say about the letter. I’ll call you and find out as I said, won’t say much over phone just this is Ed. How is every one? If its o.k. you say so and no more. Then well so long.
From the Decorah Journal, Thursday, October 9, 1941
Burr Oak Bandit is Freed
Emerson Trimbell, 34 years old, of La Crosse, Wis., who figured in the most sensational robbery in northeastern Iowa in years in May of 1931 in the hold-up of the Burr Oak bank, has been released on parole. A desperate youth in his early twenties, Trimbell was captured by the late Mike Graf, sheriff at the time, Deputy Sheriff Fred O’Boy and others.
By this release, the second of the two prisoners who figures in the most sensational crimes in recent Winneshiek county history is free. Governor Wilson paroled or pardoned the late M.T. Grattan a few years ago. Grattan had been convicted of the shooting of Claude Meade at the county fair racing stables on July 21, 1933 during an argument over horses.
His life sentence for bank robbery was commuted in 1938 by former Governor Nelson G. Kraschel and he was released on parole Wednesday from the state penitentiary at Fort Madison by the state parole board.
Emerson Trimbell and a companion, Harold Jacobin, robbed the Burr Oak Saving Bank of $976. Mel Sattre, now deputy county auditor, was cashier then.
Charged with entering a bank with intent to rob, Trimbell was committed to the prison for life on May 8, 1931. On August 24, 1938, his life term was reduced to 25 years by Gov. Kraschel and he became eligible for parole. With time off for good behavior, he had only one year and eight months left to serve of the sentence.