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Posted on Feb 20, 2015

A story of money, guns and bad guys

Editor’s note: This article is based entirely on contemporary newspaper articles from Seattle, Vancouver and Wenatchee, furnished by the Washington State Library and the Seattle Times.

During the Great Depression, Quincy was a small town, growing smaller by the day as people moved away to find work. The only paved road was the one we call State Highway 28 now, that runs through town to Wenatchee.

Standing in the teller's window is Rollie Wightman, president of Quincy Valley State Bank. As robbers sped from the bank on July 27, 1934, Wightman got off three shots at them.

Standing in the teller’s window is Rollie Wightman, president of Quincy Valley State Bank. As robbers sped from the bank on July 27, 1934, Wightman got off three shots at them.

On a hot Friday morning, on July 27, 1934, three men from Newport came to town in a stolen car. They drove down Central Avenue almost to B Street. There, on the left, they spotted the old one-story, brick Quincy Valley State Bank.
Stopping right in front of the door, Fred Ruhl, 37, ringleader and career criminal, and one of his henchmen, Frank Allamand, went inside waving their pistols.

“Give me all the money and make it snappy,” Ruhl yelled at Rollie Wightman, bank  president, and young Martin, the cashier at the counter.

They quickly complied, and Ruhl locked them in the vault. Unbeknownst to Ruhl, the vault had an inside latch and hardly were the robbers out the front door when Wightman was out of the vault.

At the time of the robbery, only one customer, Charles Simpson, was in the bank; however, R. J. Baade (pronounced Bay-D), unaware of what was happening, came in the door. Now Ruhl had a problem, but he solved it quickly by taking both men hostage.

Grabbing the gunny sack of loot they had, he hustled the hostages out the door to the waiting car, and away they went up the dusty main drag toward the highway.

As they sped away, Wightman came out the door with a rifle and, not knowing there were hostages in the car, got off three shots before they were out of sight. Neither hostage was harmed, but one shot grazed Ruhl. This was before the days of two-way radios and 911.

The bandits turned right, toward Wenatchee. In those days, cars were not very fast, except for the new Ford V-8s, and the robbers were probably making do with whatever they could get their hands on for transportation.

By sheer coincidence, three Washington State Patrol motorcycle officers came into town and probably could have caught up with them; however, because of bad information, the officers went north over the Beezley Hills instead of west. One of these officers suffered serious injuries when his motorcycle missed a curve and took a nosedive, but he was soon on his way to the hospital in Spokane.

On the robbers went to Rock Island, where they stopped the car. They dragged the two hostages out of the back seat and marched them to the railroad bridge over the Columbia River. They made the two men go ahead until they were all in the middle of the bridge, then released them knowing their victims could not get any help until they were off the bridge.

Ruhl and his partner had planted another getaway car on the west side of the bridge near Malaga, and they got to it and sped off.

As you might imagine, this all caused quite a stir in our little town. The robbery occurred two months after Bonnie and Clyde were shot to death in Louisiana. But the Quincy robbers didn’t get away for long.

By Aug. 17, one had been brought to justice.  Ruhl, the so-called mastermind, was caught in Vancouver, Wash., trapped by the police in front of a movie theater (shades of John Dillinger). He got 20 years in the pen, and was still in Walla Walla in the 1940 census.

His henchman Allemand, also an ex-con, was caught in Seattle in December and got 15 years.  Herman Callaghan and his mother were arrested in Vancouver as accomplices and put away.

There is more to this story, and if you are interested, you could visit the Reiman-Simmons House Museum this summer and I’ll tell you all about it.  You can see the interesting newspaper articles about the holdup and perhaps some photos of the criminals.

After Memorial Day, the museum is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, or by appointment by calling 787-4685.

 

— By Gar Pilliar, Quincy Valley Historical Society and Museum

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