By Anne Dyni
Special to the Courier 

It was a dark and snowy night...

 

December 2, 2016



There is no one living today who remembers that December night in 1916 when thieves broke into the Niwot State Bank and stole the contents of its safe deposit boxes. But as its 100th anniversary approaches, the story remains one of Niwot’s more notable events.

On December 19, 1916, three burglars broke into Niwot’s bank despite its imposing brick construction and highly visible location at the intersection of Second Avenue and Murray Street. It was its proximity to the Colorado & Southern railroad tracks just a half block away, however, that proved to be its Achilles heel that night.

And if you believe the hearsay of old-timers who were children at the time, the bank’s vulnerability was further enhanced by the rumor that bank employees had neglected to set the vault’s time clock at closing, and had carelessly left the side door unlocked.

The fateful day was a Tuesday with Christmas only nine days away. Folks were already withdrawing cash for holiday purchases, and a few gifts had likely been hidden from view in family deposit boxes until Christmas Eve.

As she did every business day, postmaster Cordia Clifford prepared to deposit the day’s proceeds and $500 worth of postage stamps in the bank vault for safekeeping overnight.

Meanwhile, the three burglars, George W. Ryan from California, George Wilson from Reno, Nevada, and a third unidentified accomplice had boarded the Interurban train from Denver to Boulder from whence they planned to walk to Niwot after dark. They were familiar enough with Niwot to know that there were tools stored in the section house maintenance shed nearby, along with a handcar that they planned to use for their getaway back to Boulder.


The heist went as planned. According to a detailed account in the next day’s Boulder Camera, the silence with which the three had blown open the vault door proved that they were experienced safe crackers. Walter Hogsett, who lived nearby at Franklin and Fifth Avenue, was the only person in town to hear the muffled explosion at about 1:00 AM, but because he was nursing an ill child that night, he dismissed the sound.

Inside the safe, the robbers found fifteen safe deposit boxes belonging to local bank customers, which were easily forced open. Personal papers and legal documents were tossed aside, but money, watches, jewelry, and two elks teeth belonging to bank president Nimrod Henry were taken along with contents of the cashier’s drawer and, of course, all of the postage stamps.


The railroad handcar was positioned on the tracks outside, but an unexpected sight greeted the trio as they exited the bank. A snow squall had dumped several inches of snow onto the tracks, making it difficult to negotiate their getaway. Adhering to their plan as much as possible, they took off toward the lights of Boulder only to abandon the handcar at the intersection where today’s 63rd Street crosses the tracks in Gunbarrel.

Continuing on foot, they misjudged their direction and ended up trudging through waist-high snow drifts to the town of Lafayette, nearly 12 miles away. Soaking wet and bone tired, they found a room at a local boarding house where Sheriff Sanford Buster, Deputy C.W. Woodcock, and the town marshals from Boulder and Longmont found them the next morning. The lawmen had been alerted by two elementary students who had passed the bank on their way to light the school’s potbelly stove before morning classes began. They noticed suspicious footprints around the side door of the bank and reported it immediately to the authorities.

Tracking the snowy footprints along the tracks and east toward the Lafayette boarding house resulted in their capture early the next morning. The men surrendered without incident although they were heavily armed. All of the loot was recovered except for the stamps, which disappeared along with the third burglar who made a successful escape that morning.


As for the bank, it served Niwot for another fifteen years only to close its doors for the last time in 1931, a victim of the Depression.

 

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