Yeggmen, as The Guthrian called them, had stolen a Hudson six in Des Moines from in front of the Orpheum Theater the night of March 29, 1921.
In the middle of the same night, five men ordered breakfast at Stuart’s Princess Cafe, where train crewmen also ate at odd hours. Then they broke into a shed at the Rock Island coal chute, stole a pickax, a sledge, and a chisel which they used to break into the Stuart bank.
At 4:15 that morning, night watchman, John Kerr Myers, walking through the alley south of the bank, came upon some of the gang and attempted to arrest them.
A gunfight broke out.
Even though the thugs had cut several nearby phone wires, a woman living over the harness shop, awakened by gunfire, had her son ring up “central.”
Soon the town was roused by the fire whistle.
Finding Mr. Myers wounded, local men took him to a hospital. The would-be robbers didn’t get any cash before they were discovered, but one of three bullets that had hit Mr. Myers severed an artery in his leg. He died at 8:30 that morning.
Stuart men formed a posse and notified surrounding towns of the attempted robbery, also Sheriff C.C. Kennedy of Guthrie County, the Polk County Sheriff, and the Des Moines police department.
According to The Stuart Herald, the town had organized a Vigilance Committee for the purpose of “helping to suppress the wave of crime prevailing in the county.”
A bullet had pierced the radiator of the getaway car. Racing to Des Moines, the criminals stopped at Jungman’s farm near Earlham for gas, and for water for the radiator.
When the black Hudson sped through Van Meter, several men fired shots at it. The car, with bullet holes in it and blood stains on the seats and floor, was found in Des Moines later that morning in a shed in an alley between Locust and Walnut, west of Ninth.
Clabe Wilson was hired as the new night watchman, staring pay $73.60 per month. Soon a second man was added.
The town provided a .32 caliber revolver, but Wilson didn’t trust it. Instead, he carried a sawed off shotgun with buckshot and a .45 caliber pistol of his own. When he practiced with his guns north of town, he often took young Delbert and Donald with him.
The State of Iowa offered a $500 reward for the arrest and conviction of the men who tried to rob the bank. The First National Bank of Stuart put up the same amount, and the Guthrie County Bankers’ Association offered $1000 “for the arrest and conviction of the men who murdered Nightwatchman, J. K. Meyers.”
On May 12, John Watters was arrested for the murder of Mr. Myers. The next day Wilsons’ twins, Dale and Darlene, were born.
A second suspect, Dave Masters, was arrested in July. Only the two men were bound over to the grand jury in October, charged with murder in the first degree, and with breaking and entering.
The State asked for the death penalty. Clabe Wilson rode the Liza Jane branch train with other Stuart citizens to watch the trial. In spite of over three dozen witnesses for the State, after 27 hours of deliberation, the jury acquitted both men.
The judge announced that the two still faced breaking and entering charges. They paid $3000 bond each and rode off in a Cadillac with one man’s wife, mother, and sister. . . and the other’s girlfriend.
Were they ever convicted of breaking and entering?
When young Delbert Wilson watched his father go up the street at night, he worried. But he was also proud of him–carrying a gun and wearing a badge.
And all the kids at school knew who his dad was.
More Stuart stories about the Wilson family are told in Leora’s Early Years: Guthrie County Roots.