WECo robbery — bandits fled from crime scene in stolen car

by Bruce Cherney (part 2)

After receiving the phone call from George Morley, the owner of the International garage, the police shortly  arrived and took Winnipeg Electric Company (WECo) driver Sydney Knowler to help in the search for the five robbers involved in the August 14, 1925, payroll heist. Knowler had been forced at gun point by the bandits to use the WECo Studebaker he drove to bring the payroll to the company’s headquarters as their getaway vehicle.

Passers-by during the WECo robbery, which netted the five-man gang over $87,000, were unaware a crime was being committed until they heard the Studebaker roaring down Notre Dame and they saw Richard Shaw, the messenger who carried the satchel of cash into the building, lying in the doorway bleeding from a gash in his head. Shaw received medical attention in the WECo building, at the corner of Notre Dame Avenue and Albert Street, but his injuries were not serious enough to be admitted to hospital, so he received further treatment at his 213 Kennedy St. home.

G. Scott, an employee of the Remington Typewriter Company of Canada, was looking out his office window opposite the WECo headquarters and saw the tussle between Shaw and a man, but didn’t realize a robbery was in progress until he saw the glint of a gun in the hand of one of the bandits. He also observed a man sitting in the rear seat of the Studebaker driven by Knowler, “fondling a gun, a long Luger pistol (with) a barrel about 18 inches long.”

“A second after (I saw the guns) I yelled at Watson to get the number of the car and phone the police,” Scott told a Winnipeg Tribune reporter on August 14. “Watson took the car license number as 470.”

When he contacted the police, A. Watson said, “There’s a hold-up at the Winnipeg Electric Building, rush over your men.”

“In the front seat of the car was the driver (Knowler) in uniform and another beside him. The driver was on the left-hand side, away from the curb nearest the entrance doors of the building. The other man was crouched down on the right side of the front seat.”

Scott related that the bandit in the front seat had a greenish-coloured coat.

“I did not see any gun in the hands of the fellow in the front seat,” Scott said. “Two fellows on the sidewalk had guns. One of them was pushing away pedestrians who came along the street. One woman came along and when she saw the guns let out a yell. Another woman came along and stood perfectly still until the whole thing was over.

“Then three men rushed out of the Electric Chambers and all jumped into the back seat and the car shot west on Notre Dame ave.”

Scott described all the robbers as well dressed, with one of the three engaged in the fight with Shaw dressed in a dark suit and wearing a grey fedora hat and black shoes.

“He was tall and slim and appeared about 30 or 35 years of age.”

Within a short time, all the bandits were in the car and hastily driving away from the scene of the crime. 

According to the August 14, 1925, Tribune report, police arrived on the scene within two minutes after Watson’s call, but the bandits were gone.

Alex Greechen, 16, a Canadian Pacific Railway employee, who also worked at the WECo cigar stand, was nearby when he witnessed the robbery. In his account of the crime, Greechen said, one robber kept Montgomery covered, while the taller man of the gang — over six feet — demanded the bag from Shaw. When Shaw refused and tried to push past the man, the bandit clubbed him on the head with his weapon. The messenger was not totally stunned and kept hold of the satchel, so more blows were administered.

When the two bandits had the satchel, they rushed out the door and jumped into the waiting car to make their getaway.

A Mrs. Goodwin was leaning her elbows on the showcase at the WECo cigar stand when a man in a blue serge suit and wearing a straw hat wheeled around and told Shaw to, “Stick ’em up.”

“I knew it was a hold-up,” she said, “the minute I saw the gun and I didn’t know whether they were going to turn around and tell me to open the cash register or not. I couldn’t move or speak.”

A day after the robbery, Leslie Montgomery, a WECo guard, told a Tribune reporter that he and Shaw had walked to the bank Friday morning. “We usually do this, taking the empty grip, and a car drives up and picks us up. We went to the bank about 9:10 (a.m.) and came out a few minutes after and the car was standing on Main st., directly in front of the bank door. We both got in the back and the driver started back (to the WECo Building).”

The car was driven to the door of the company’s offices by Knowler.

“Mr. Shaw was sitting on the right hand side of the rear seat and directly the car pulled up, he got out and went toward the east door,” said Montgomery. “The first fellow slipped in ahead of Mr. Shaw. I did not notice how it had all been planned until things started and I saw what was up. The second fellow slipped in ahead of me and I was suddenly blocked in the doorway and could not get ahead. The fellow in front of me had a gun.

“At the same moment I saw the other fellow make a grab at the bag from Mr. Shaw. Then I saw him strike him over the head with a gun and in the scuffle which followed two or three more blows were struck and Mr. Shaw fell.”

(Next week: part 3)