Friday, March 4, 2016

Georgia, Bill, Fluffy, and The Bank Robber

March 2016 Issue 1

On Friday, February 15, 1935, Grady Ashford, age 22, was in the mood to rob a bank. He chose the Bank of Skidmore, at Skidmore, Missouri, a rural town fifteen miles southwest of the Nodaway County seat of Maryville. Grady was, at that time, an unemployed laborer, apparently down on his luck and in need of some quick cash. He may have thought robbery was the most expedient and surest means of obtaining it. 

Grady Ashford's Note
Photo taken by Susan Cronk March 4, 2016
Original held by Skidmore Depot Museum
Skidmore, Missouri
Grady should have checked the odds before gambling his freedom for such a small prize. Grady’s desired amount of $1,000 was modest compared to what most bank robbers of that era were getting for their efforts. Bank robbery, after all, was at the top of the must-do list for gangsters. What Grady didn’t consider was that it was no profession for novices to be entering, particularly in the 1930s. The top-tier Depression-Era bank robbers were dropping like flies in the middle part of the decade. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker’s careers ended violently in May of 1934. John Dillinger followed them to the grave in July, trailed by Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd in October of that same year. Ma Barker, a Missouri-born gangster died in January of 1935 in a shootout with police. A month later, along came Grady Ashford. 

The probability was high that bank robbery would get him arrested or shot, long before it became profitable for him. Perhaps he was counting on being arrested. Incarceration would have at least provided him "three hots (meals) and a cot" in the Missouri state penitentiary through the tough years yet to come. By 1935, the Dust Bowl was proving tenacious and President Roosevelt was still rolling out the New Deal to attenuate the Great Depression. Thousands of people across the nation were bankrupt, out of work, and desperate. Considering that most people weren't depositing their money in banks any longer, especially after more than 1,300 of them had closed their doors by 1933, Grady's expectation of getting a thousand dollars from the Skidmore Bank, or any bank, was absurd, or at the very least overly optimistic. 

Perhaps Grady intended to start out small and needed a grubstake to kick start his career. Perhaps he intended to gradually work his way up in the world of the big-league gangsters. We'll never know. Whatever his reasoning, at approximately four o'clock on a Friday, Grady Ashford handed the Skidmore bank cashier, Mr. Charles E. Linville, a note demanding a thousand dollars and threatened to shoot the cashier if he didn't turn it over. Mr. Linville first thought the note to be a joke, but that notion was quickly dispelled. The quick-thinking Charles told Grady that he would have to get the money out of the vault. He walked to the vault, accompanied by his cousin, Lawrence Linville, the bookkeeper, whereupon they armed themselves with two guns stored inside. The Linville men turned at the vault door and drew down on Grady, demanding that he leave the bank, cash-free. Grady, it was reported, hesitated before pulling a .38-caliber pistol from his belt. To his credit, instead of firing Grady fled. Charles fired a shot at the retreating robber. The shot went wild and nearly killed Bill Ragan, a Skidmore citizen. 

A bit earlier, around the same time that Grady was mustering his courage to enter the bank, Bill Ragan, a local radio repairman, who had a shop a block north of the bank, was locking up for the day. Before heading home, typically a three-block walk to Cherry Street, he stopped by the feed store. It’s important to note that Bill wasn’t one to move too fast. He had lost a leg a couple of years earlier while helping a farmer remove a tree stump from his land. The missing leg had been replaced with a prosthetic, leaving Bill with a noticeable limp. Add to that Bill’s large size and the severity of the muddy conditions of the day, he was still picking his way carefully along the sidewalk in front of an old building across the street from the bank by the time Grady was inside presenting his note to the cashier. As Bill neared the corner, a shot rang out and a bullet whizzed past his head. He looked around to see where it had originated and noticed a young man bounding out the doors of the bank. The man tripped and fell headlong down the stairs, jumped back up, and took off running toward Cherry Street. 

At their home on Cherry Street, Bill’s wife, Georgia was putting the finishing touches on the day’s ironing, which she did on the screened porch on the east side of the house. Near her feet rested the stray dog that had adopted them. Her name was Fluffy. Georgia went into the bedroom and was standing by a window when she noticed a shadow flash by. Fluffy noticed it too and began barking, wanting to be let out. Georgia, looking out the window and seeing a young man running away and thinking it to be one of the Newton boys chasing down a stray pig, she let Fluffy out, telling her to “Sick ‘em!” Georgia, amused at the idea of watching the boy and Fluffy chase the pig, decided that she would go and see how things were proceeding. She left the house and walked in the direction they had gone. By the time Georgia reached a short section of fence, over which the man had climbed, Lawrence Linville, armed with his pistol, appeared wanting to know which direction the man had gone. He told Georgia that the man had just tried to rob the bank. Georgia pointed in the direction of a nearby barn and called for Fluffy. When the dog returned she picked it up and carried it quickly back to the house. Georgia promptly locked herself inside. Bill returned home moments later and told Georgia about nearly being killed by the stray bullet.

Lawrence, still in dogged pursuit, caught sight of Grady near the barn and exchanged two more shots with him. In the meantime, Charles had organized an armed posse. Georgia and Bill watched from their home as Grady, who had evaded Lawrence, made his way back up Cherry Street toward them. Grady did not stop running, but continued eastward, jumped over a ditch, and ran up a hill. A nearly exhausted Grady, hopeful that he had lost his pursuer, took refuge on the back porch of a house just south of Doug and Angeline McClain’s home. Doug had been out hunting that morning and upon hearing some nearby excitement, exited his house, a rifle in his hand. McClain noticed Grady, who immediately shouted, “Don’t shoot, Doug! Don’t shoot me.” McClain was dumbfounded, not knowing what was happening. He replied, “Well, I ain’t going to shoot anybody.” At that moment, Roxy Wilson and the rest of the posse arrived on the scene, shouting “Shoot him! Shoot him! Shoot him right now!” Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, Grady surrendered his weapon, and he was taken into custody.

For Grady, the day was both lucky and unlucky. The three shots that had been fired at him missed their mark, but he didn’t get the cash windfall he had hoped for. After the posse took charge of Grady, they escorted him back to the place where the trouble started. He was later turned over to Sheriff Ed Wallace and Prosecutor Virgil Rathbun. Witness statements were taken and Grady was loaded into a wagon for transport back to Maryville. Because of the impassible condition of the roads between Skidmore and Maryville, it was necessary to drive the wagon several miles south to Oregon, Missouri, then turn east, and north again toward the “Y” north of Savannah. From there, the party continued on in the darkness until they reached the Nodaway County jail at Maryville, where Grady was finally provided a cot and a meal. No doubt he was thankful to get them.

Grady was taken before Justice John F. Roelofson the following morning, charged with two felony counts; attempted robbery, resulting in a bond of $2,500, and felonious assault with intent to rob, resulting in a bond of $5,000. “I guess I might as well waive and get it over with, for I am guilty,” Grady told the court. Grady waived his preliminary hearing and was held for arraignment before Judge Thomas A. Cummins later that same day. According to Prosecutor Rathbun, Grady could expect sentences of two to fifteen years for the first count, and two years to life for the second. When he appeared before Judge Cummins that Saturday afternoon, he plead guilty to the charge of felonious assault with intent to rob and received a sentence of fifteen years. His career as a bank robber had lasted all of twenty-four hours and yielded exactly nothing. As far as Georgia, Bill, and Fluffy were concerned, the excitement of the bank robbery and foot chase were soon forgotten and their lives returned to normal.

Some facts regarding this incident were gathered from articles in the Maryville Daily Forum, dated February 16, 1935 and February 18, 1935. Additional information came from an interview with Georgia Ragan in 2007. She was 94 years old at the time. 


Photo of Grady Ashford’s robbery note was taken by Susan Cronk, March 4, 2016. All rights reserved. The original document is held by the Skidmore Depot Museum, Skidmore, Missouri.