HAMILTON, Ohio — It has been 60 years since the FBI took serial bank robber Frank Sprenz into custody after a crime spree across the country, including Hamilton, Ohio.
On April 15, 1959, the FBI put the handcuffs on Sprenz, a Ten Most Wanted Fugitive who was also known as the “Flying Bank Robber,” in Laredo, Texas.
Sprenz had been in trouble with the law at an early age. By his late 20s, he had landed in federal prison in Akron. In April 1958, he made a key out of a piece of metal from his bed and managed to unlock his cell door. Sprenz and four of his fellow convicts overwhelmed the guards and fled. All but Sprenz were quickly killed or captured.
Following his jailbreak, Sprenz crossed state lines. Using a variety of aliases, he stole more than two dozen cars and crisscrossed the county stealing from banks.
At one point, he traveled to Washington state, where he took flying lessons using the proceeds from one of his thefts. That is how he was able to keep ahead of law enforcement. According to the FBI, Sprenz would steal a car, rob a bank, drive to the airport, steal a plane, fly to a distant city, and repeat the process.
In February 1959, Sprenz took a plane in Pennsylvania, and flew to Vermont. The next month, he robbed a bank in Hamilton, stealing about $25,000 and another plane.
By this point, the FBI and its partners were in full pursuit.
When the news media further increased Sprenz’ notoriety by dubbing him the “Flying Bank Robber,” he decided to flee the country. Using a small plane he purchased with stolen money, he eventually flew to Raymondville, Texas, near the border of Mexico. Fearing he had been recognized, he quickly flew on to Mexico.
Authorities contacted the FBI. The Bureau’s international office in Mexico City was put on alert.
Sprenz had refueled and was taking off for Cuba when fate intervened, according to the FBI. A cow stepped in front of his plane, causing him to swerve and hit a tree. His plane was damaged beyond repair. Authorities tracked down Sprenz, and he was arrested and later returned to the U.S. He was found guilty of various crimes and sentenced to 25 years in jail. He was paroled in 1970 but later returned to his life of crime and again landed in prison.
According to the Akron Beacon Journal, Sprenz, a native of Akron, died in in August 2016 at Grafton Correctional Institution at the age of 86.