Infamous area history
By BILL SHEA
KNIERIM – It was the car that first caught the attention of Len Burmeister.
That car was a 1934 Ford, and it was new when Burmeister, who was in sixth grade during the winter of that year, initially spotted it parked on a street in Knierim. Days later, he saw it racing past his country school north of the small Calhoun County city.
What he didn’t know at the time was that the car was being used by Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. It served as the getaway car for the infamous Bonnie and Clyde and their accomplice, Raymond Hamilton, when they robbed the bank in Knierim.
That Feb. 1, 1934, heist gave the town a measure of notoriety, and Burmeister, 91, has vivid memories of the time.
Today, he lives in a house across Williams Street from the former bank building, which is now a home.
When Parker, Barrow and Hamilton came to make their illegal withdrawal, the building was the home of the Knierim State Savings Bank.
The outlaws were in the area for a few days before robbing the bank.
Burmeister recalled that he and his father left the family farm on a Saturday before the robbery and went to Knierim. In town, he met a friend, Kenny Knierim, whose grandfather founded the city. They spotted the car.
”We seen this car sitting in the street,” he said. ”It was a ’34 Ford. We thought, boy, who would own a nice new car like that?”
He recalled that the vehicle had what he called ”suicide doors” with hinges on the back of the door frames rather than the front.
Hoping to find out who owned the car, the boys went into a nearby small luncheonette attached to a gasoline station. There, they spotted two men and a woman they had never seen before. The woman, he said, was wearing a brown suit and a hat. The men, he recalled, wore felt hats and light overcoats.
”They were dressed well,” he said.
”We found out later it was Bonnie and Clyde and another guy,” he added.
Burmeister was in school when the robbery occurred at 2:40 p.m. Feb. 1, 1934. He pieced together the events of the day by talking to people later on.
The bank was next to the telephone company building. He said before the robbery the bandits cut the wires linking the two buildings so that no one in the bank could call for help.
He said Barrow and Hamilton robbed the bank, while Parker waited outside in the car.
While the robbery was underway, Chris Georg, who owned a local service station, walked into the bank, according to Burmeister.
”They said, ‘Mr. Garage Man, you can stand over there,”’ he said. ”And they showed two machine guns.”
The robbers escaped with $300.
At Burmeister’s country school, it was recess time when the robbery occurred. The kids were out in the schoolyard when the getaway car went roaring past.
”I said, ‘There goes that car that we saw uptown Saturday,”’ he said.
The car was heading north on what was called the Manson Road when it disappeared from view, he added.
Burmeister said he heard reports that the robbers had shot at someone as they sped away, but he doubts that’s true.
He didn’t hear about the robbery that day. He said he found out about it days later when his family went into town.
In early 1934, the Knierim State Savings Bank received a large deposit from the federal government which was to be used for farm support programs in the midst of the Great Depression. According to Burmeister, the robbers planned the holdup for a time when they could get some of that money.
”They knew of that,” he said.
He doesn’t know where the robbers stayed while in the Knierim area. He said some people reported hearing gunshots out in the country which were later attributed to Parker, Barrow and Hamilton.
Burmeister said no one apparently recognized the robbers while they were in the area.
The Knierim robbery came near the end of the crime spree conducted by Parker and Barrow. They were killed in a police ambush on May 23, 1934, in Louisiana. Hamilton, who was captured in a separate incident, was executed in the electric chair by the state of Texas on May 10, 1935.
The bank closed not long after the robbery.