View a video interview with Ernie Aune on YouTube.
By Jack Gurner
The recent holdup of the Regions Bank in Water Valley is the only known bank robbery in memory within the city.
However, there were a number of incidents of gunplay and felonious acts reported in the pages of the North Mississippi Herald, especially during the early days. But no reports of bank robberies have been found.
One incident that could be considered an attempted bank robbery occurred on June 24, 1936 when a trio of desperadoes waylaid Eddie Blackmur, president of Mechanics Bank.
According to the Herald report, Blackmur, Wilson Keel, and Dudley Kelley were returning around 10 p.m. after seeing the “Boulder Dam” picture at the Grand Theater. The three highwaymen were hidden at the garage of the Blackmur home.
They covered Blackmur and his companions and demanded that he open up the bank vault or, on failure to do so, they would take his life.
Historian Bruce Gurner would often stop at this point when telling the story and comment on Blackmur’s financially conservative nature. He said that he could imagine Blackmur contemplating the question, “Your money or your life,” in the same way that comedian Jack Benny did. “I’m thinking, I’m thinking,” Benny would say as he took time to decide.
That night Blackmur had another out. He explained that it would be impossible for him to open the vault since it was secured with a time lock.
Ernie Aune, who worked under Blackmur and later became bank president, said that Blackmur thought it was someone playing a prank on him. “He put his hand on one of the kidnappers shoulders and proceeded to joke with him at which time he was struck on the back of the head with the butt of a pistol.”
Aune said that an attempt was made to open the safe by going to the bank and the robbers had to be shown that the vault doors wouldn’t open.
The victims were then taken on what the Herald described as a harrowing ride over several counties and then dumped in a cemetery on Delay Road, northeast of town.
Before leaving them, the robbers tied up Keel and Kelley and taped their mouths. They left Blackmur stretched out on the back seat cushion of his car on which they had lifted him out of the vehicle believing him dead.
Blackmur revived later, freed himself and untied his companions. After a long, weary walk, the trio reached the Blackmur home about 1 a.m. Thursday morning.
The robbers took Blackmur’s watch, valued at $25, and a small amount of money, $15, and drove away in his car, a Dodge valued at $600. No trace of them or the car has been found since, the Herald stated.
One of the men was believed to have been local since he seemed familiar with Blackmur, where he lived and the country around Water Valley.
A. W. Moss, deputy sheriff, stated that everything was being done to catch the gangsters. Neighboring towns were warned to keep a look out for three men in a gray Dodge car. Descriptions were broadcast over the Memphis radio stations Thursday morning.
Mr. Blackmur was reported to be resting easy with no serious complications resulting from the blow on the head. The wound was dressed by Dr. George Brown. Complete rest and quiet was ordered for the patient.
Arrests May Solve Blackmur Kidnapping
Howard F. Smith, Marcus Logsdon, and Charles Porter were taken into custody March 2, 1937 in Memphis, identified by Blackmur and Keel, and removed to the Clarksdale jail where they remained incarcerated.
The Blackmur vehicle was found abandoned the night after the crime in Hopefield Point, Ark., with two flat tires.
Inspector Will Griffin of the Memphis police force revealed that the three accused kidnappers all possessed criminal records of one sort or another.
Stealthily running down undisclosed clues, local officers in conjunction with Memphis police and detectives of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Mechanics Bank insurer, tightened and closed in on the three accused ones, according to the Herald’s report.
The men would face charges under the State’s new hanging offense for robbery with firearms. They pled not guilty on April 6, 1937, at a preliminary hearing on the charge of robbing Blackmur, president of the bank and, by then, Mayor of Water Valley.
Blackmur, testifying before a packed courtroom, recounted the affair and was followed by Keel who told the same story. Both positively identified the men.
District Attorney Jamie Whitten represented the prosecution and Ike Stone the defense. The accused were bound over to the action of a July Grand Jury without bail. After the hearing the defendants were taken back to Clarksdale jail by Sheriff C. B. Busby.
On July 26 the three men were indicted by the Grand Jury, A. B. Bennett, foreman. The penalty under the indictment ranged from three years in prison to death. Hon. John Horan, defending all three, moved for a severance in the case meaning that the men would be tried separately.
Porter was convicted of robbery by firearms on Aug. 3. His conviction came after 45 minutes of deliberation by the jury. They failed to agree on the punishment, which removed all danger of him going to the gallows.
According to the Herald report, Logsdon’s fate was being deliberated and Smith’s case was to follow. However, there were no additional reports in the Herald. Aune said that only one of the men went to prison because positive identification couldn’t be made on the other two.
Aune added that when the man finished serving his prison sentence, he came to Water Valley to visit Blackmur. “He offered his apologies to Mr. Blackmur because Mr. Blackmur had signed his parole agreement which was ahead of his serving the full time of his sentence.”