LIMA — The American National Bank was a most respectable place to do business in Lima. In the 1890s, it was an establishment of considerable success that helped secure Lima’s future economic success. On the night before Christmas in 1898, however, an event occurred which would ultimately lead to the closing of this financial institution. That silent night, the bank was robbed, with the criminals leaving no trace of their identities behind.
The American National Bank was founded in 1894 by Gus Kalb and Joseph Goldsmith. These two entrepreneurs were responsible for most of the administrative duties involved in keeping the bank running. For years, the people of Lima entrusted their hard-earned dollars in the hands of these two gentlemen, and all seemed well.
The Lima Republican Gazette of Jan. 2, 1898, reported on the success of the bank, “Goldsmith and Kalb, bankers, while not the newest, is recognized as one of the safest and solidest firms in the city. It is not yet four years since they opened their doors to the public, since which time they have made rapid strides in establishing a fine business and in gaining the confidence of the public by their honorable and upright business methods.”
Ironically, it would be less than a year’s time for this article’s remarks about the security of the bank to be contradicted. On Dec. 26, 1898, the bank’s janitor, Elijah Bowsher, reported to his superiors that the enormous safe was open when he came in that morning. After an examination of its contents, Kalb and Goldmsith discovered that nearly $21,000 had been stolen between that morning and the evening of the 24th.
Especially mysterious in this caper was the lax evidence left behind by the perpetrator(s).
“The robbery was undoubtedly the most clever and the most successful one that has ever occurred in this city,” reported The Lima News Dec. 26, 1898. “Neither dynamite, powder, nitro-glycerine, or other explosive, nor even electricity, the latest and most powerful tool of the safe-cracker were used, but every combination and lock were completely at the mercy of the robber as if they had been made of clay instead of case-hardened steel.”
This event spelled out doom for the American National Bank. Since the perpetrators could not be caught, the bank’s investors and clients began to lose faith that the organization could aptly protect their assets. Lawsuits resulted that would lead to the American National Bank being liquidated by its founders.
For seven long years, it seemed that the villains had gotten away scot-free. In 1905, however, the truth behind the case was revealed. Kalb and Goldsmith suspected Bowsher, the janitor, of having a hand in the affair and accused him of the act. He sued them in return for libelous utterances and cleared his name. Briefly thereafter, the truth of the crime was revealed thanks to impatience and money troubles.
Bowsher did indeed rob the bank, but he had an accomplice — Thomas King Wilkins, an insurance agent who was the true mastermind behind the whole plot. A memo prepared by A.S. Bowers revealed the particulars.
“When Kalb closed the vault door (on the night of the 24th), he locked Bowsher, who knew what he could do and had all the tools to do it with. He soon released himself with all the money packed and ready to go.”
Wilkins served as lookout during the robbery. Once the coast was clear, he alerted Bowsher inside the safe that he was able to break out without fear of discovery. The two left no mark of having broken into the safe simply because they never did break into the safe. They were able to leave so little evidence behind because of the relative simplicity with which Bowsher could release the safe’s door from the inside. In an article in The Lima News written by Paul Fitzgerald, it was revealed that Bowsher was able to crack the safe using “only a toothpick and a monkey wrench.” After that, the pair split their haul and went their separate ways.
The money went surprisingly quickly for Wilkins, who shared the profits and details of the crime with his wife, Mary. Once he fled town with their share of the money, she decided to finally spill the beans on the whole operation. Mary Wilkins got in contact with Prosecuting Attorney William Klinger, with whom she revealed the details her husband had shared with her. This news quickly led to the indictment of both Thomas Wilkins and Elijah Bowsher.
The criminals were tried and convicted thanks to this new testimony. A seven-year crime in Lima’s history was finally solved. These two crooks were incarcerated into a penitentiary and were released after serving their terms.
News on Thomas Wilkins was nil after that point, but he eventually reemerged in Kansas. Bowsher moved to West Virginia for a fresh start.
Goldsmith and Kalb were able to use their remaining funds to open another successful bank in Lima.
Reach Andrew Ewry at email@example.com.
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