The Nightmare Before Christmas
When three chronic criminals invaded the town of Montrose eighty three years ago looking for some extra spending money for the holidays, they didn't find what they looking for. What they did find was not what they expected to find in the vault of an isolated rural bank. Despite their repeated efforts to pick up some cold Christmas cash, the yuletide yeggmen were frustrated at every turn.
On a warm early December Monday morning of December 21, 1931, the mayhem in Montrose was about ready to begin. Town Marshal L.G. English had gone to a room over the depot of the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad to spend the rest of the evening when he heard the sound of a truck outside. Thinking it was a little unusual, Marshal English went outside where he found three men getting out of their truck near the bank.
The trio asked the marshal for some water to put in their truck's radiator. Just then, one of them grabbed him in a stronghold from the rear. English struggled and managed to pull his pistol from its holster. Firing two shots into the ground, the marshal hoped that the reports of the gunfire would alert several allies nearby.
The captors grabbed his gun, watch and some of his pocket change before tying English up with a heavy cotton window sash cord. English was carried to a swamp and dumped on the rain-soaked ground, his feet bound together with his hands tied behind his back and tied to a tree. One bandit remained to watch English while the other two thieves raced back to town to blow the bank's safe with no fear of any interference by law enforcement officers.
Little did the burglars know that the Montrose Banking Company was undergoing a voluntary liquidation by agreement of the stockholders during the deep and darkest days of the Great Depression.
The two burglars broke into the bank through a side window and immediately set out to blow open the vault. The criminals beat, burned and blew off the outer vault door. Several holes were drilled with an acetylene torch, stolen from Schofield & Sons in Macon two weeks prior. The inner door presented a major obstacle, one that the criminals could not manage to crack open despite the pressure of intense heat which left the metal door red hot several hours later. The combination lock on the safe was so badly damaged that neither the thieves nor bank officials could open it. A Macon lock smith had to be brought in confirm that the $300.00 inside was still there according to Special Deputy M.V. Pickron. Disappointed in not being able to get into the main vault, every desk, drawer and cabinet was looted. The total take, approximately $4.00 in silver coins, foiled the villains, who took off back to the swamp.
When the two main miscreants returned to pick up the guard, English, once again, began to struggle, managing to get off a couple of shots. Threatened with the loss of life if he continued to resist, Marshal English kept quiet until his captors were out of sight. He finally wiggled free from his bands and walked a two-mile trek back into town in the pitch-black, pre-dawn darkness. English's shots were heard by several persons, who quickly dismissed the noises as pre-Christmas revelry.
The suspects, W.S. Elliottt, Grady St. Clair and W.C. Carr, took off toward Macon in a truck which was reported stolen in that city earlier in the evening. Twiggs County Sheriff Samuel Kitchens enlisted the aid of four Macon city detectives, who were familiar with the trio of thieves. Before their return to Macon, the trio of crooks, dumped their equipment into a creek after one of tires on their stolen truck went flat.
Marshall English was of very little help, only being able to identify his guard as a tall thin man. Bank President W.G. Thompson surveyed the damage and sighed in relief that the bank had not lost a significant sum of money. Montrose merchant Clint Wade scoured the stores of the town to look for additional burglaries, failing to find any. Ironically, within a year, Montrose postmaster Wade accidentally took his own life when a gun he placed in his vehicle inadvertently went off and killed him.
Within two weeks of the Montrose Robbery, a similar string of burglaries took place in Macon. Macon Police Chief Ben T. Watkins began to suspect the three Montrose suspects. Based on information obtained in the Macon case, police officials were able to obtain an arrest warrant for Elliott St. Clair, W.C. Carr, Loren Carr and one Grady Sinclair, all of Macon. Marshal English was able to positively identify Sinclair as one of the three men who attacked him, testifying that it was Sinclair who said, "I reckon you will know me when I see you again!"
Before the end of January 1932, St. Clair was found guilty of a robbery in Houston County, just as the Laurens County Grand Jury began listening to evidence against him and the others in the bank burglary and the kidnaping of Marshal English. Within a few weeks, St. Clair found himself on trial in Bibb County and yet again in March.
Loren Carr was found not guilty in a Bibb County trial of stealing a car used in the theft at Montrose. W.S. Elliott, who entered a Kentucky reform school at the age of 9, had a twenty year criminal career, turned state's evidence against Grady Sinclair, admitting to the Bibb County crimes and the Montrose caper. He admitted that it was the first time that Elliott, who was sentenced to 13-15 years in prison, and Sinclair had conspired to commit a crime.
J.L. Carr offered to plead guilty to Laurens County Solicitor General Fred Kea by agreeing to two consecutive, five-year prison terms. The remaining cases against W. S. Elliott, Grady Sinclair and W.C. Carr, who confessed their crimes, were dead docketed as all three were already serving substantial sentences in Georgia prisons and headed for the chain gang in White County, Georgia.
Just a day after Carr was sentenced and the case was closed, Walter Wilson was found dead shot in the heart with a shot gun on yet another Monday mayhem in Montrose.
By the beginning of World War II, W.C. Carr was back in a Bibb County jail on charges of theft. In late August of 1966, Grady St. Clair, part of a large organized gang of thieves, committed his last burglary when he was shot by Warner Robins policemen in a burglary of a food store.
And as Santa's stockings were hung by the chimneys of Montrose with care on , a cool, clear and Christmas night, all was silent and bright in the town of Montrose with no mayhem in sight.