By Shelby Stewart
August 1933, downtown Grand Haven, Mich.—notorious robber Baby Face Nelson walks into the Peoples Savings Bank. Nelson and his gang grab the cash then exit—except his driver already split.
At 7 p.m., Oct. 25 the Brandon Township Public Library will be hosting Tom Powers, author of “Stick ‘Em Up: Michigan Bank Robberies of the 1920s and 1930s” who will share the conclusion of Nelson’s life of crime.
“I’ve been a student of Michigan history since my college days,” said Powers. “When I started the book, I was actually curious as to why people like Machine Gun Kelly, Baby Face Nelson, never robbed any banks in Michigan.”
Powers says in his research he came across a story of Lester Joesph Gillis, better known by his aliases of George Nelson and Baby Face Nelson, a career bank robber of the 1930s, where he had helped rob a bank in Michigan.
“It turned into a fiasco, he literally shot up the town,” he said. “And the hero of the day was the town’s funeral operator.”
The operator had heard the bank was being robbed and stood outside of it with his shot gun, having already scared off the getaway driver. The robbers used employees as human shields to get away, said Powers.
“Michigan was ranked eighth in the number of bank robberies among states,” he said. “I had no idea that bank robberies were so wide spread. At one point in the late 20s, the Detroit police commissioner threw up his hands and said they could not do anything about the bank robberies. He actually blamed the banks for not hiring more guards.”
Powers will have his book available for purchase at the library, as well as signing copies after his presentation.
“The surprising facts I uncovered about the number of bank robberies, I didn’t know there was literally an organized vigilante system throughout the state,” he said. “They literally had guns in cars on main street, ready to give chase to bank robbers.”
Anyone interested can register at brandonlibrary.org or by calling 248-627-1460.
“It was a very interesting experience researching this,” said Powers. “I had a ball writing up these stories that had never been told before, or since the article that had been in the paper 50 or 60 years ago.”