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Follow-up on the S.L. bank robbery

April 24, 2010
By HOWARD RILEY

There are many interesting bits and pieces to the noon-time robbery of the Church Street branch of Marine Midland Bank, as covered in this column last week. It happened on Dec. 6, 1979 at 11:55 a.m. just about two months before the opening of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid.

The robber, John H. Butler, Jr., 36, of Massena was arrested a short time later at a roadblock in Keene by New York State Trooper Robert McDowell and BCI Investigator Henry Wit.

According to a report in the Enterprise, Investigator Wit made this statement when the suspect was arraigned in Saranac Lake Village Court: "We stopped a 1977 blue and white Jeep suburban at approximately 12:30 p.m. The driver was acting very nervous and was vague about his actions during the past hour. As the questioning continued, Butler said, 'I'm the one you are looking for.'" Wit continued, "We searched the car and found a large amount of cash in a briefcase."

Article Photos

Within minutes after the robbery, police investigators arrived on the scene. Assistant Police Chief Giles Miron, left, and Investigator Douglas Muldoon are assisted in their investigations by two unidentified officers.
(Photo — Charles Decker)

Butler appeared before County Judge Jan Plumadore, pleaded guilty to first degree robbery and criminal possession of a firearm, was jailed and then released on $10,000 bail bond. There was no trial, and from my best news source he was sentenced in January 1980, served four years in prison and was released.

The famous bank robbery movie

When we mentioned last week about Bob Dukett jumping the robber's car with the dead battery, it reminded us of a part in the most famous bank robbery movie, "Bonnie and Clyde," when there was also a problem with the getaway car.

Based on a true-life story of the Barrow gang in the 1920s and '30s, the part of Clyde Barrow was played by Warren Beatty and Bonnie was played by Faye Dunaway. Remember, Faye, for one summer, was a waitress at Dew Drop's famous restaurant. Just ask my neighbor, John Hawkinson; he knew Faye back then.

In the movie, their getaway car was driven by C.W. Moss (actor Michael J. Pollard), who Bonnie and Clyde picked up as the attendant at a gas station they were robbing. C.W. was a fictional character but based on a real person called W.D. for William Daniel Jones who actually worked in a gas station owned by Clyde's father.

C.W. was parallel parking the getaway car in a tight space when Clyde and Bonnie ran out of the bank and it nearly caused their capture. That part also was based on a true story that happened when John Dillinger robbed a bank in June of 1933; his driver, Paul "Lefty" Parker, had parked the car.

Blue and whites all over the place

Dukett had been involved in some police work when he was in the Air Force and remembered part of the robber's license plate number which he reported to the police and the blue and white jeep blended in with hundreds of other blue and white vehicles all around the Tri-Lakes - Here is an excerpt from the Enterprise:

"Coincidentally, over 100 law enforcement officers representing the state police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service, the Department of Environmental Conservation Law Enforcement and Forest Ranger divisions, and the Los Angeles Police Department were in the area for an Olympic emergency exercise. (The LPPD were making their plans for the 1984 Olympic Summer Games in LA.)

"Several members of the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee were reportedly stopped by police while driving their official Olympic vehicles, which are blue and white." Ford was the official car of the 1980 Games.

More about Kathy Lewis

Kathy was the Marine Midland teller who handed over the cash to the robber and was commended for her calm reaction during the robbery. Right after she called police, she called her boss, Ron Leahy, who was president of Marine Midland.

"I think he dropped the phone?" she later said. He then ran down to the branch office from his office at the bank on Main Street.

She later received this hand written note from Mr. Leahy: "Dear Kathy, Our sincere thanks for your outstanding efforts during the holdup. Both you and Elsie (Yorkey) were terrific." Ron Leahy

Here is an excerpt from a letter Kathy received from the Marine Midland Zone security officer, Robert R. Chaffee, commending her for her actions that day:

"As you know, our primary concern is the safety of our employees and customers, and during this robbery on December 6 your conduct was exactly as we have recommended in the security manual. You accomplished this under the most terrifying conditions. You obeyed the instructions of the bank robber, but you were still able to activate the cameras, hand out the bait money, activate the robbery alarm, and also obtained an excellent description of the robber, which greatly assisted the police in making the arrest. You have the highest respect of the police, fellow employees and your supervisors."

Divers searched the Cascade Lakes for the shotgun used in the robbery but the weapon was never recovered.

Police in Massena, where the robber owned Butler Refrigeration, he said was a quiet guy and had no police record. One wonders if it was a spur-of-the-moment idea to commit the robbery, given the apparent poor planning involved, and because he supposedly was in Saranac Lake visiting a friend.

(Source: An extensive file on the robbery belonging to Ms. Lewis)

 
 

 

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