December 20, 1920 most likely started off as a typical weekday in Seligman, Missouri. That all changed mid-morning, around 10 o’clock, when an automobile pulled in front of the Bank of Seligman. A dark complexioned, tall man and his shorter tow-headed companion stepped out of the vehicle and entered the bank. A third man stayed behind, behind the wheel, waiting.
With his head held high, the tall man and his partner proceeded to rob the Bank of Seligman. One of the men drew a revolver and instructed the bank cashier, Walter Stapleton, and the two other men inside to “Put ’em up”. The leader of the hold up, the taller of the two men, held his gun on the men while his partner looted the vault and cash drawer. Possibly because he was not satisfied with the size of their take, the tall man asked Mr. Stapleton for Liberty Bonds. This request was not honored because the bonds were kept in banks in Springfield, Missouri.
After locking Stapleton, Mr. Chapman and Mr. Frost inside the bank vault the two bandits made a leisurely escape, with over $1,200, by walking out the front door of the bank to the waiting automobile. A few minutes later they were speeding southeast over the state highway to Eureka Springs.
Inside the bank Stapleton managed to manipulate the vaults lock from the inside and set himself and the others free. He was the first to raise the alarm and urged for a posse to be formed.
Sheriff L.A. Ramey followed the trail southeast of Seligman where they found the getaway car in flames at the bottom of a steep embankment. Speculating that the automobile was intentionally wrecked and that the occupants had “took to the hills” the posse followed the trail until it was lost in the rocky soil. The search was called off and it was suspected that the heist had been pulled off by men who were familiar with the country surrounding Seligman.
The Banker’s Association offered a reward of $300 each for the capture of the bandits- described as about six feet tall and wearing colored glasses and about 5’8 and lightly nervous in his actions. The Banker’s Insurance company also offered a reward and Stapleton said that he could readily identify them since they had not worn masks.
Nearly two months later, February 18, 1921, four men robbed the People’s State Bank in Harrison, Arkansas. During their escape William J. Meyer, the former president of the bank, pulled a gun out of the vault and shot the gang leader, Henry Starr, the Cherokee Badman, in the back, the bullet lodging in his spine. He was imprisoned in the Boone County (Arkansas) jail and the bullet was removed, but the wound was mortal. From his jail cot death bed Starr boasted to Dr. J.H. Fowler that he had “robbed more banks than any man in the United States”. February 21st, 1921, he confessed that he, Dave Lockhart and Rufus Rowland had held up and robbed the Bank of Seligman in Missouri December 20, 1920. He died the next day with his wife and eldest son at his side.
Henry Starr started robbing banks on horseback in 1893 and ended up robbing his last in a car in 1921. He was the first bank robber to use an automobile in a bank robbery. While imprisoned in Colorado State Penitentiary he penned his life story in “Thrilling Events: Life of Henry Starr”. He is also the star of the 1919 silent film “A Debtor To The Law”. He was sentenced to death by Judge Isaac Parker and escaped the noose with a presidential pardon from Theodore Roosevelt.