By David Fleet
Hadley-It was a bold bank robbery.
On Jan. 13, 1926, a bandit gang stopped in the main street near the Citizen Bank and raided the establishment for $3,331. The gunfight and drama that transpired on that cold winter day on the downtown throughfare would be dubbed the “Great Hadley Bank Robbery.” Today, more than 90 years after the heist one of the handguns used in the firefight is now owned by the Hadley Historical Society.
Kent Copeman, president of the Hadley Township Historical Society said the story of the robbery was reported in local newspapers and recalled by eyewitnesses.
“It’s really a story about townsfolks taking matters into their own hands,” said Copeman. “The handgun is a unique part of local history to pass on to the next generation.”
While it’s not clear just which crook used the gun in robbery, area newspapers reported that four Toledo residents, William Willard, Benton Ford, Andrew Berry and Franklin Todd conspired to rob the small main street bank.
Plans for the bank heist actually began in about 1921, when Willard drove up from Ohio and visited Hadley relatives Thomas and James Hayden.
“They all thought it would be an easy job,” said Copeman. “It was worth robbing explained the Haydens.”
One account suggested more than $50,000 in cash, worth about $700,000 in today’s money was in the bank at the time. A worthwhile endeavor considering the average yearly income was less than $2,000.
So the gang drove to the Citizen Bank the day before the job and got change for a $20 bill—the idea was to case the joint eying while determining vault location. The Haydens, since they were local, would serve as lookouts, drive the getaway car and clip the lone phone wire connecting Hadley to Lapeer.
So on Jan. 13, 1926, the bandits—Ford, Berry and Todd burst into the bank, tied up the uncooperative lone teller, Edwin Potter grabbed a bag of money and with guns blazing ran out into the street firing at anything that moved.
That’s where the plan started to unravel.
The getaway car driver Will Hayden was ordered out of town due to his out of town Ohio licence plate had wrecked on a log submerged under the snow a few miles away, leaving the bandits stranded in Hadley.
If that was not enough, several townsfolk noticed the shades in the bank windows were pulled down, a sign of closed for the day, far too early since it was about 2:30 p.m. So by the time the trio of robbers left the bank word got out the bank was being robbed, just enough time for townfolk grabbed weapons and opened fire. Within about 30 minutes of the robbery all three men were down wounded in the street. None of the bandits died since the townsfolk just shot at their legs and feet, reported the newspapers.
“We determine that during the gun battle one of the bandits dropped a gun in bushes behind the bank,” suggests Copeman. “Charley Haddrill lived near the bank and after the robbery found the gun in the bushes near his home. He just kept it. Years went by and the gun was donated to the historical society by a family member a few years go.”
On April 8, 1926, Judge Harry E. Dingeman sentenced seven of the eight men involved in the Great Hadley Bank Robbery.