The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

May 25, 2009

Recycled Newspaper: The Great Redmond Bank Robbery That Wasn’t

Filed under: History, Recycled Newspaper, Redmond — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:40 am

Update 5/26/09:  Added  details on the sentencing of the seven co-conspirators in this plot based on a Seattle Times article I was able to find.

It sounds like a plot straight out a Hollywood blockbuster. Seven members of an extremist organization devise an elaborate plot to rob three small town banks in one day. And we’re not talking your run-of-the-mill bank robberies either. Surely there would be no way that a small-town police force would be able to respond to three banks being robbed simultaneously. Nonetheless, just to make sure that the police wouldn’t be able to interfere with their plans, they were going to take the police force out of commission. To do this, they were going to bomb the police station and take control of the police airwaves, which would then be used to coordinate the plot. Not only that, but they also planned to bomb the city’s main power transmission lines to cut the city’s power and prevent whatever police remained from being able to call for outside help. In the ensuing chaos, they would rob the three banks, andescape in stolen getaway cars before anyone could even respond.

Even in the movies, an elaborate plot like this sounds farfetched, but this is exactly what seven members of a right-wing extremist organization known as the Minutemen planned to do in Redmond in January of 1968. In the last Recycled Newspaper post, I covered a number of crime stories from Redmond as reported by the Sammamish Valley News in May of 1968. Although stories of a high-speed car chase around Education Hill and a quickly foiled armed robbery attempt certainly grab the headlines, it turns out that just a few months previous to these, there was a much bigger crime story in Redmond that I managed to miss completely.

Unfortunately for the would-be bank robbers, the FBI had been tipped off to their plot several weeks in advance, and an elaborate investigation by the FBI ultimately resulted in all seven co-conspirators being arrested before their plot could be carried out, with significant amounts of weapons andexplosives in their possession. Ultimately, not only would the seven men be charged with conspiracy to commit robbery, but the leader of the Minutemen would also face conspiracy charges related to the robbery plot. As it turns out, this plot was covered not only by the Sammamish Valley News, but also received extensive coverage from the Seattle Times and P-I as well, and the story even reached a number of national papers, including the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. Much of the local coverage of this story can be found in the Redmond Historical Society’s archives in printed form. As with many of the items found here, the Internet also helps fill in a number of additional details, mostly in the form of court documents related to the criminal proceedings resulting from this plot. After the jump, a look at the Great Redmond Bank Robbery That Wasn’t. Oh, and you might want to grab a drink or something, because this one is long.

The seven co-conspirators in this plot were members of an extremist right-wing militia group known as the Minutemen, a group which formed during the era of McCarthyism based on the premise that a Communist takeover of the Federal Government was imminent, and when it occurred they would need to overthrow this Communist regime by force. By 1968, members of the Minutemen had already been involved in stockpiling weapons, and the group’s founder Robert DePugh had been convicted on a federal weapons charge the year before. In 1966, 19 members of the group in New York were accused of a conspiracy to bomb 3 camps run by left-wing groups in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, and two other Minutemen were arrested in a thwarted attempt to bomb a left-wing bookstore in Manhattan. In 1967, the group’s own offices in Independence Missouri were bombed, purportedly by a left-wing militant group.

Meanwhile, Duane Ivan Carlson, the leader of the group’s Seattle cell, had determined that a budget of somewhere between $89,000 and $100,000 would be required to fund the group’s operations for the next year, and he had no intention of trying to raise that amount of funds with a bake sale. Instead, Carlson and a number of other members of the organization in Seattle hatched a bold plan by which they would rob three banks in Redmond in one day, and made tentative plans to go back a few weeks later and rob a fourth bank to their plan in the town of Des Moines. Although some of the different accounts of this plan that are available seem to disagree on the details, the gist of the plan as outlined in the several accounts is similar: First, they would create a diversion by knocking out power to the City of Redmond, then they would somehow disable the police before sending two teams to simultaneously rob two banks, followed by a third robbery by whichever team finished their robbery first. After the robberies were completed, the group would escape town in getaway cars stolen in Kirkland, and if successful planned to rob other banks in the area in similar fashion. Other accounts of the plot suggest that they intended to set barns outside of town on fire using Molotov cocktails to divert the police before carrying out their plans. Although it was initially believed that the Redmond Police Station would be bombed, testimony provided during the trial of the co-conspirators suggests that this was later modified to instead use some sort of knock-out gas to put the people at the police headquarters to sleep, then make use of the radio equipment to coordinate the robberies. The operatives in this plan even assigned themselves code numbers from 001 to 007 to be used during the heist in an apparent nod to the James Bond films. Nonetheless, as the group planned their daring heist, there was a spy among their ranks.

Henry Edward Warren was a member of the Minutemen who had initially applied to join the organization in June of 1965, and was admitted as a full member in 1966. Nonetheless, even before he was made a full member of the organization he began to be troubled by their activities, and in February of 1966 he wrote a letter to the FBI about the organization. In response, the FBI contacted Warren and asked him to continue reporting on their activities, which he continued to do as planning of the bank robbery proceeded. As the Minutemen continued to plan the robbery, they were put under surveillance by FBI agents, particularly when they went to Redmond. Six weeks before the date of the robberies, Redmond Police chief Robert Solitto was informed of the plot by the FBI, as were executives of the targeted banks, but none of them were allowed to discuss the plot, even with their families. As the day of the planned heist approached, arrangements were made for the King County Sheriff’s Department to take emergency calls in Redmond for the day, and the Washington State Patrol was on hand to deal with any automotive accidents which might occur, while the Bellevue and Kirkland Police Departments were also advised of the situation, and these departments lent equipment to Redmond in order to help counter the threat. Police guards were placed at each of the targeted banks, although the bank managers were advised to try to stick to business as usual. If anyone was going to try robbing banks in Redmond, they were going to have a fight on their hands.

On January 25th 1966, the evening before the planned robberies, a final planning meeting among the co-conspirators was held at the Rainier Lanes bowling alley in Seattle. Among the participants in the meeting was Henry Warren, the FBI’s informer within the organization, who came to the meeting wearing a hidden recording device, the first use of such a device within the Pacific Northwest, and one which required direct approval from US Attorney General Ramsey Clark. As the conspirators left the meeting, six of them piled into a car, including Warren, who became concerned that the close proximity would result in the recording device being detected. He told the others in the car he thought they were being followed, and asked to be brought back to his own car to return home. The driver of the car complied with this request, and as Warren left, instead of going home he went to the local FBI office with the recordings obtained during the meeting. From this recording the FBI concluded that it had sufficient evidence to act against the co-conspirators. At 10am the next morning, four of the conspirators were arrested in a parking lot in Lake City, and the other three were arrested in the parking lot of the shopping center at 140th and Bellevue-Redmond Road (which, if my prior research is correct, was the location of a Valu-Mart store at that time) on charges of Conspiracy to Commit Robbery, a federal offense. When they were arrested, they had in their possession ten Molotov Cocktails, nine sticks of Dynamite, a pipe bomb, three guns, blueprints of the Redmond City Hall and each of the four banks targeted in the plot, and a large quantity of other paraphernalia related to the robbery.

Seattle Times Front Page, January 26th 1968

The news spread quickly, and the afternoon Seattle Times was first to report on the arrests with a big front page headline, and with several large follow-up stories in the next couple of issues. The next morning’s January 27th 1968 edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer also provided significant coverage of the story, taking the better part of several pages with photographs and text on the foiled heist. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the Bellevue Library’s microfilm archives have the 1968 editions of the P-I, so I have to rely on the fragments of coverage in the Redmond Historical Society’s archives for that, although they do have a significant amount of information.

Here is the text of the Times article shown above, clipped into a hopefully more readable format than that in which the original article was typeset.

Seattle P-I, January 27th, 1968

From the P-I, we get this look at a display of some of the weapons and supplies seized from the suspects during the arrest, making it quite clear that these guys weren’t coming to Redmond for a walk in the park. Thanks to the efforts of the police and the FBI, what could have been a dark day in Redmond’s history was instead business as usual for the vast majority of Redmondians.

Seattle Times, January 27th 1968

The next day, the Times (along with the P-I) continued to cover the story extensively, as shown by this photo spread taking most of a page. In the large photo on the left, FBI Special Agent Earl Milnes shows the weapons and paraphernalia seized in the arrests, while the top photo on the right shows Captain Fred Patricelli of the Redmond Police Department and Redmond police dispatcher Darlene Robinson (identified as “Mrs. Ronald J. Robinson” in this caption) who would have been directly in harm’s way if the bombing plot had been executed. At the lower right are James McClure andRichard Johnson, managers of two of the targeted banks in Redmond.

Also on this page were two additional photos, seen here. On the left is Redmond Police Chief Robert Solitto with a copy of the previous day’s Seattle Times (apparently an earlier copy than the one in the archives, since the layout is different and the photos are missing.) With him is Detective Paul Ediwards. On the right are Wesley Storey and Robert Hannaford, two executives of the third targeted bank in the plot.

From the book Redmond Reflections compiled by Naomi Hardy of the Redmond Historical Society, we learn that Bob Solitto served as Redmond’s police chief from 1962 to 1980, inherited a police force of three officers, and had to bring his own gun. Within six months, Solitto demanded (and received) the hiring of four more officers, and within a year the police force had grown by more than 300 percent. Even with the additional officers, in the evenings calls to the police went to the King County Sheriff’s office, which then dispatched the Redmond officers on duty. Solitto was also known for stopping at Redmond’s taverns just before closing time to offer a safe ride home to whoever may have needed it. The bio in Redmond Reflectionsalso provides a couple more minor details about the Minutemen plot, stating that they had planned to throw the pipe bomb into City Hall just after it had opened for the day, and that the suspects were captured while attempting to steal what would become their getaway cars. We also learn that when Solitto assumed the duties of the Redmond Police chief, he raised some eyebrows by quashing the other officers’ habit of taking “a snort” of alcohol before going out on patrol.

Seattle Times, January 27th 1968

Although the pictures seen above are all smiles, this article makes it clear that for the six weeks preceding the planned robberies there were many people in Redmond who had to make preparations to keep Redmondians safe and to potentially confront the robbers if that’s what it came down to, as well as the very real possibility that they might not have been coming home that night.

Seattle Times, January 27th 1968

Seattle Times, January 27th 1968

Also from the Seattle Times, an article briefly discussed the role of the electronic recording device in collecting the evidence necessary to press charges against the co-conspirators, then proceeded to rehash many of the details of the case already discussed elsewhere.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 27th 1968

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 27th 1968

And just what did Minutemen founder Robert DePugh have to say about all this? Mostly a lot of denial. Although the FBI identified alleged ringleader Duane Carlson as a full-time employee of the Minutemen, DePugh denied this to be the case, and claims that he had been kicked out of the organization for non-payment of dues. As we will see in a few minutes, it will soon become apparent that the FBI wasn’t buying this excuse. Aside from the coverage from the Seattle newspapers , this story also received coverage in several national newspapers through the wire services, including the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. The New York Times articles is not included here, but I will include information on it and several other relevant articles below. The King County Library System provides access to the New York Times Historical Backfile which can be used to access these stories, which can be accessed from this page (you will be prompted for your library card number before you will be granted access the database.)

Sammamish Valley News front page, January 31st, 1968

Sammamish Valley News front page, January 31st, 1968

Meanwhile in Redmond, the Sammamish Valley News got to the story in its next weekly issue, published on January 31st 1968. Although the text of the story printed here is substantially similar to that printed elsewhere already, the images that are included with the article provide a bit more local context to the story. On the left side of the page above is a photo of Redmond’s City Hall/Police Station/firehouse which was built in 1950. This building remains standing today, and now serves as the Old Firehouse Teen Center, a facility used as a venue for live concerts, and an activity center and hang-out place for teens.

As you can see here, aside from some fencing and other adornments on the building, it still looks much the same today as it did back when the photo was taken.

The Puget Power Redmond Substation located across the street from Redmond Elementary is one of the alleged targets of the attackers, with the intent of knocking out power to the city as a diversion before carrying out their plot. This power substation is still here, and still looks much the same now as it did in 1968, with the exception of the trees in front being much taller now.

You can (sort of ) see the substation in this picture, but since the street it’s on was closed for construction when the Google Streetview car passed by this is as close as we can get. Not that there’s really much to see here anyway, it’s a run-of-the-mill power substation.

Also pictured on the front page along with the article were the three banks to be robbed in the plot: The Redmond State Bank, the People’s National Bank and the First National Bank of Redmond. Although no addresses for the banks are given in the articles (I guess that in a town as small as Redmond everyone would just know where they are already) I think I can be reasonably certain of the locations of each of the banks, and HistoricAerials also helps to pinpoint them. In 1968, much of the land along what is now Avondale Way was undeveloped, aside from a few scattered houses and a baseball field that covered much of what would be turned into the Bear Creek Center in 1975. With as little as existed, about the only place this could have been is the corner of Redmond Way and Avondale, which is where the First Mutual Bank is located now. It appears that this small square building was demolished when the current building on this location was constructed. A HistoricAerials image of the site is shown below (note that this is the 1964 image rather than the 1968 image, since the 1964 images seem to be much clearer for some reason.)

The second(in no particular order) of the three targeted banks in Redmond was the People’s National Bank, located on Leary Way. More recent Redmondians may be more familiar with this particular building in its more recent (but now departed) incarnation as the Workshop Tavern, a dive bar which was established sometime in the Seventies (a 1977 “Meet Your Merchants” section in the SVN includes an entry on the Workshop,) and demolished in 2008 to make way for the Bear Creek Parkway extension currently nearing completion.

Finally, the third targeted bank in the plot was the First National Bank of Redmond, which was located at the corner of 164thAve. NE (which turns into Redmond-Woodinville Road as it leaves town) and NE 80th St. Based on my vague recollections, this particular building was demolished sometime around 1996-1997 or so and replaced by a building that initially hosted several short-lived brewpub tenants (complete with all the requisite bright shiny equipment displayed in large picture windows at the front of the building,) but eventually became home to another bank branch (Banner Bank) anda AAA office, which currently occupy the site. As the caption of the photo attests, this building is/was right around the corner from the Old Firehouse.

Seattle Times, 6-14-68 (Click for a larger version)

Seattle Times, 6-14-68 (Click for a larger version)

With the plot thwarted and the suspects in custody, attention now turned to the trial of the seven suspects. This Seattle Times article from June 14th 1968 details the testimony of Minuteman-turned-informant Henry Warren as he outlined the group’s plot before the court, and described the apparent secrecy under which the plot was planned, with many details being disclosed on written pink slips of paper with coded messages. The article also says that Warren’s family was moved to an undisclosed location by the FBI, and seems to imply that he may have been placed in the Witness Protection Program after testifying against the Minutemen. For their part, the suspects tried to claim that they had no intention of robbing the banks at all, and that the whole plot was intended as a training exercise. This excuse appears not to have been very credible, as on June 23rd 1968, all seven plotters were convicted on Federal charges of conspiracy to commit robbery, an offense carrying a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine (roughly equivalent to $60,000 in 2008 dollars.)

Seattle Times, August 2nd 1968, P. 2

Seattle Times, August 2nd 1968, P. 2

Sentencing took place on August 2nd 1968, and five of the seven plotters were sentenced to prison.  Duane Carlson and Milton Dix each got the maximum five year sentence and were ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation.  Jerome Diemert and Mervyn Henderson each got three years, and Ervin White received a 3 1/2 year sentence, and all three of these men were immediately eligible for parole.  The two remaining plotters, Joseph Hourie and Kelly Delano each received five years of probation and were placed in a young offenders program.  The five men sentenced to prison would go on to appeal the ruling, and from this appeal we find an opinion passed down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  It seems that the main strategy of the appeal was to have a mistrial declared based on several perceived procedural errors during the trial. From this opinion we are able to glean a few additional details on the plot (outlined above), but we also see that the appeal was unsuccessful, and the convictions and sentences of the five plotters were upheld. One other interesting detail within the appeal specifies that in addition to the five defendants on the appeal, there were four others, instead of the two who received probation among the seven arrested.

The other two defendants in the case were Minutemen founder Robert DePugh and his assistant Walter Patrick Peyson, who were named as co-conspirators in the robbery plot in an indictment made on February 20th 1968 and unsealed on March 4th. You may recall that when the seven co-conspirators in the robbery plot were arrested, DePugh was quick to denounce them as not being members of the Minutemen, claiming that Duane Carlson had been removed from the organization for non-payment of membership dues. Although none of the sources I have found on this plot have talked about any direct role that DePugh may have had in planning this, it is clear that the FBI considered him to be a part of the conspiracy. At the time the indictment was issued, DePugh was already wanted for skipping bail on a prior charge, and had gone into hiding. On March 20th 1968, a mimeographed “Underground News Bulletin” purporting to be from DePugh was issued stating that DePugh and Peyson were “Fugitives from Injustice,” and alleging a government conspiracy against him. From this point on, DePugh and Peyson would be considered to be fugitives.

From there, it would be seventeen months before the two would be captured. On July 13th 1969, DePugh and Peyson were arrested by FBI agents on a highway outside of the town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (a town which renamed itself after the popular radio game show of the same name in 1950.) DePugh had apparently been in that town for nearly six months without arousing the suspicion of the locals by growing a thick black beard and assuming the appearance of a prospector. After DePugh and Peyson were arrested, it soon became apparent that they had not changed their ways though, as a two-day search of the small house they rented on the banks of the Rio Grande revealed a massive cache of weaponry including 48 guns of several different types, large quantities of ammunition, and many different types of explosives.

Although I have not been able to find any information on results of any charges faces in connection with the robbery plot, DePugh was first sentenced on February 20th 1970 to four years in prison for the bail violation, then on October 10th 1970, he was sentenced to 10 additional years in prison on firearms violations related to the stockpile of weapons found at his New Mexico hideout. He would end up serving less than three years of this sentence before being released from prison in 1973.

Meanwhile in Redmond, life continued as usual. Nobody here would have to find out what the consequences of this dangerous plot would have been if it had been carried out, especially if there had been no prior knowledge on the part of the FBI. What could have been easily turned into a major tragedy and a dark day in the history of Redmond is instead a minor historical footnote, thanks to the efforts of the Redmond Police and other local police agencies, as well as the efforts of the FBI.

Related New York Times articles:

(As noted above, these articles from the New York Times may be accessed via the New York Times Historical Backfile available to KCLS library card holders found on this page. Patrons of other libraries may also be able to get access to this database through their respective libraries. The articles may also be accessed directly from the New York Times, but this requires either a subscription or a payment for each article.)

  • “Rightists Seized in a Robbery Plot,” NYT, January 27 1968, P. 54
  • “Minutemen Founder Cited in Theft Plot,”, NYT, March 5 1968, P. 19
  • “DePugh Charges US Plot,” NYT, March 20 1968, P. 45
  • “Minutemen Chief Captured By FBI,” NYT, July 14 1969, P. 25
  • “Fugitive Minutemen Never Aroused Suspicion in New Mexico,” NYT, July 20 1969, P. 47
  • “DePugh Gets 4 Years for Bail Violation,” NYT, February 21 1970, P. 16
  • “Minutemen Chief Sentenced to 10 Years on Arms Counts,” NYT, October 10 1970, P. 30

1 Comment »

  1. Great story! Thanks for all your hard work on this.

    Comment by mavky — March 10, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

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