June 2009...On a warm Sunday in late June, I had the rare pleasure of having history come alive in the village of New Knoxville, Ohio. In many ways, the landscape remains close to what it had been like ninety years ago.
Most of the buildings are still standing. And although the roads are no longer dirt or gravel, they retain their character with curves and angles that have resisted modern day attempts to homogenize the journey.
Myron Fledderjohann of the New Knoxville Historical Society graciously gave me a tour of the surrounding community, which is located southeast of St. Marys, Ohio. He patiently answered questions and explained some of the connections between the communities during the early part of the past century.
I was there to see the location of an early bank job that Charles Makley was reputed to have pulled off. Unlike many of his later heists, plenty of landmarks surrounding this robbery still exist.
Makley evidently had a soft spot in his heart for the New Knoxville area, not only robbing its bank but taking the time throughout the Roaring Twenties to stash stolen automobiles around the neighborhood.
The old bank building is there although the portion that housed the bank has become a hair salon. However, it still retains some of its former glory. You can get a shampoo or a perm within view of the vault and part of the old teller line.
The homes of the bank founder and his family remain as well, located across the street from the bank. Various articles belonging to the bank are housed at the Historical Society including the cash vault that Charles Makley never even tried to break into.
And if you’re so inclined, you can still drive parts of the get-away route Makley took on that balmy night in October.
I highly recommend it.
Mr. Fledderjohann at New Knoxville Historical Society Museum - DM Testa
Interior view of old bank building at New Knoxville, Ohio – DM Testa
Bridge at Shinbone, Ohio – DM Testa
October 1919…A few months after the Armistice was signed in November of 1918, various sections of Ohio and Indiana became plagued by a rash of crimes. Some seemed run of the mill, the kind you’d expect to occur in rural areas. But tucked among the humdrum, were a handful of robberies and cons unusual for the place.
Smooth Crooks With New Game
“Diamond” Apparently Picked Up From Highway Sold To Interstate Tourists As Valuable Stones.
H.O. Heslet and his wife of Toledo, en route to Indianapolis, Saturday, in an auto, stopped at St. Marys (Ohio) to have a tire changed and stated that when they reached a point south of Lima, they were hailed by two men afoot, who appeared to be farmers. They inquired of the Heslets if they had seen a stray horse. While the parties were talking, one of the “farmers” made a few steps ahead of the car and apparently picked up an object from the pike.
He walked back to the Heslet car and exhibited his “find”. Mrs. Hestlet was convinced that it was a diamond and declared that it was worth $100.00 if worth anything. The “farmer” stated that he needed $8.00 to purchase a pair of shoes, and that he had no idea of the value of the “diamond” but would take $8.00 for it.
Mrs. Heslet bought it.
After relating their experience, Mr. and Mrs. Heslet inquired of a jeweler concerning the value of the supposed diamond, and found that it was a perfectly good specimen of ordinary glass, and worth only a trifle. The jeweler stated that it was the second time that day he had been called upon to value pieces of glass, indicating that the same artists were busy on the job.
The Wapakoneta Daily News, Wapakoneta, Ohio, October 10, 1919
The Great War
By the fall of 1919, World War I, the war to supposedly end all wars, was winding down. The actual fighting had stopped almost a year earlier but the aftereffects were still trickling back to the nations who had participated. It had been the second bloodiest conflict in recorded history.
The United States had registered over twenty-four million men for the draft. There were three draft registrations which included all men residing in the USA; whether they were native born, naturalized or alien. Any man between the ages of 18 to 45 was required to register.
On June 5, 1917, Charles Makley good-naturedly signed-up, and then proceeded to fudge the part about his age.
Luckily for him, he was never called up for service. It’s a pretty good bet that “Charley O” Makley wouldn’t have enjoyed much about the military. However, there was one aspect that he might have appreciated. At the time, it was nicknamed the “Trench Broom”, although this hand-held machine gun never saw action during World War I.
The Thompson submachine gun or as newspapers dubbed it, the “Tommy gun” was adopted for use by the United States Marine Corps. It became even more famous when featured in headline-grabbing crimes during the 1920’s and 1930’s.
Carrying Thompsons with the stocks sawed down and a 20-round clip replacing the drum magazine was a trick Makley picked up later on. These modifications allowed the gun to be carried concealed under an overcoat and fired one-handed which was handy if you were carrying loot with the other hand. But for now, there were other leftovers from World War I that were proving far more lucrative to him.
The military ran up a large tab during World War I. In order to pay off our share, the United States government issued a series of loans known as Liberty Bonds. The general public could purchase these bonds. Once the war was over, the government would pay back the loans with interest. If a private citizen couldn’t afford the cost of a Liberty Bond, they could instead purchase war stamps for a smaller amount of money.
Americans across the country were encouraged to buy Liberty Bonds. Many communities held special bond drives enticing folks to do their patriotic duty and support the troops. Although these events were held throughout the country, they proved extremely popular in Ohio.
Many of these Liberty Bonds were registered by the purchaser with the Federal Reserve Bank so that they could be replaced if lost or stolen. However, there was a portion that went unregistered, similar to what was known as Bearer Bonds. These unregistered bonds were considered as good as cash because they belonged to the person presenting them, or in other words the bearer.
Although the unregistered Liberty Bonds were more valuable, the registered ones could still be fenced for a tidy sum if they were “laundered” through the right bond dealers. And so, a new “specialty” in robbery was born.
Never one to let any grass grow underneath his feet, Charles Makley decided to upgrade from the petty burglaries and auto thefts he had been engaged in out west and take advantage of these new-fangled Liberty Bonds and Stamps.
Ripe For the Picking
The small village of New Knoxville, Ohio is tidily located in strip of real estate which runs from Cincinnati all the way north up to Toledo. Nicknamed “The German Corridor” because of the heavy influx of German immigrants, many settlements were named after their European counterparts. However, New Knoxville proved unique in that respect.
Although the village was predominantly German, it was instead founded in 1836 by a James K. Lytle, who was Scotch-Irish in origin. In keeping with tradition, it was suggested to name the village “Lytleville” to honor the founder but Mr. Lytle discouraged the idea. It took twenty-five years and several other suggestions before the name New Knoxville was agreed upon.
The village prospered over the years with an influx of businesses. But all transactions conducted locally were on a cash-only basis because there was no financial institution. A few of the larger businesses used the banks of nearby towns such as St. Marys, five miles to the north, or Sidney, a few miles further to the south.
In 1910, seeing an opportunity for growth, Herman Kuhlman, a local entrepreneur, along with one of his sons, opened The Peoples Savings Bank, right across the street from his brick residence. Although it was conveniently located on the corner of Main Street and Route 219, the bank sat a bit further north from most of the other businesses located along Main Street. Its surrounding neighborhood was residential which meant less foot traffic at night.
A few years later, Charles Makley saw opportunity of a slightly different nature. He too, was seeking to expand his enterprises. The Peoples Savings Bank of New Knoxville would soon be introduced to the safe cracking business.
An Assembled Car and Proud of It!
The evening of Friday, October 3rd, 1919, was warmer than usual for the time of year. A production called “The Captain and the Kids” was enjoying a successful run throughout Northwest Ohio. It was scheduled for an engagement at the St. Marys Grand Opera House for Friday night only. Good word of mouth insured that many folks from the area including New Knoxville would give the play a large audience.
Charles Makley was taking a pass on the St. Marys entertainment. He had been hanging around the area since summer but was restless. Things hadn’t been going right for him lately and he needed money fast. Tonight he and several associates would attempt to break into the New Knoxville bank.
But first he was headed down to Sidney to swipe a car. From past experience, Makley knew the importance of a quick getaway. Over the years he had developed a taste for high powered automobiles among other things. And recently he had spotted a honey.
The particular set of wheels that caught Makley’s eye was a 1916 Cole 8 Touring Car. The Cole originated out Indianapolis, Indiana and was the first to include four-door bodies, mounted electrical lights and a self-starter. Another big difference from its competitors was that the founder, J.J. Cole, used top of the line parts from various manufacturers to assemble his cars with special attention paid to the engine.
Cadillac was the only other company in the United States, who was producing a V-8 model at the time but the Cole outdid it not only by reaching top speeds of over 70 miles an hour, but by looking good too. No detail was overlooked. Even the Cole’s engine was covered in polished nickel plate, glossy paint and a porcelain enamel finish.
Makley decided if he was already speeding down a slippery slope, he may as well cut a dapper figure while doing so. At some point before midnight, he slipped into W.H.C. Goode’s garage in the town of Sidney and nabbed his getaway car.
Instead of changing license plates, Makley chose to strike out two of the existing numbers. He then drove back north to New Knoxville. Once there, he rendezvoused with the rest of the gang outside the village.
The dynamics of this group were fluid, consisting of two to five members depending on the particular job. At the time, Charles Makley in all likelihood, was not the leader but acted as an advance man, scouting out the bank layout and subsequent getaway route.
When the gang was assured the citizens of New Knoxville were settled in for the night, they gathered their tools and headed to The Peoples Savings Bank. A lock on the window at the rear of the bank building was easily broken and the window pried open. The robbers quietly hoisted two tanks, one containing a hundred cubic feet of acetylene gas and the second, a smaller oxygen tank, along with a cutting torch and other gear through the opening. Given the height of the window, a small ladder or stepstool was probably used as well.
Once inside, the lookout promptly closed the bank’s blinds and proceeded to cut the wires about three feet from the telephone itself. He then took a position at the front window with a stopwatch while the others went to work on the vault.
The robbers set up the torch to cut open a 2’x1’ hole next to the locking mechanism on the outer fire-proof door. This kept another member of the gang busy applying wet towels to the vault door to keep it cooled down so that when the opening was complete, the lock could be worked on right away.
After the lock itself was cut into pieces, they had easy access to the vault. And this is where it gets interesting.
The cash vault, a sturdy cannonball safe, was basically ignored. The robbers used it as a stand for two candles to illuminate the interior of the vault. Instead of the vault, they focused their attention on the twenty-five safe deposit boxes contained in a metal case. All but one of the boxes were knocked open and the contents rifled. Notes, deeds, insurance policies, and naturalization papers were taken while other items lay scattered on the floor. But the most valuable loot garnered was the Liberty Bonds.
Approximately $5,500.00 registered and $1,500.00 unregistered Liberty Bonds were stolen that night. Local newspapers later speculated that the registered bonds would be worthless to the robbers but they were wrong.
Toledo, Ohio had become a clearing house for Liberty Bonds. Thieves could unload the bonds there for a tidy sum. Even the registered bonds were worth something since they would be sent on to Philadelphia or New York City for bond dealers to launder.
At a pre-determined point, the lookout called time and the gang quickly packed up and left with Charles Makley leading the way out of town in his Cole 8.
Makley headed almost directly east on Route 219. Several miles outside of New Knoxville, he decided to ditch the smelly acetylene and oxygen tanks so he pulled up on a bridge and dumped them both into the shallow water of a creek bed near the tiny settlement of Shinbone.
The Smith family lived nearby and was awakened by the sound of the Cole 8’s idling engine. Before they could investigate, the car thundered away but was followed shortly afterwards by two other automobiles. Mrs. Smith noted that it was between three and four o’clock in the morning when she heard the car stop.
Meanwhile Makley turned north and then west heading back for St. Marys while his partners took off in another direction.
As he was passing through another small burg by the name of Moulton, he was spotted by John Kachelries who was standing near the Detjen store. Realizing that he was a suspicious figure driving around at four o’clock in the morning right after the nearby bank had been robbed, Charles Makley decided to try talking his way out a potentially tight spot. So he pulled over and had a conversation with Mr. Kachelries.
After they exchanged greetings, Makley asked for directions to Lima, Ohio. He told Kachelries that “he was in a hurry to get to Lima as he was going from there to Toledo and then down to Dayton.” All the while Makley was talking, he gestured with a flashlight so that it was difficult for Kachelries to get a good description.
After Makley drove off, Kachelries was left with the impression that he had dealt with a man who was anxious to throw folks off his trail. Makley had mentioned cities to the east, north and south but none to the west which is where he was actually headed.
Although Mr. Kachelries could provide only general information, he described the “lost driver” as being “short of stature, with a full, round face and who (sic) spoke in a heavy gruff voice.” And evidently he noted a woman in the Cole 8 as well.
Later That Morning
When Herman Kuhlman awoke and looked out his bedroom window, he noticed the drawn blinds at the bank. Realizing that something might be amiss since the blinds normally were left up to give an unobstructed view into the bank, he ran across the street to check the situation out.
At street level, he saw that his bank had been robbed. First he called his son, who was the bank cashier at the time. Together they contacted the sheriff of Auglaize County.
In the meantime, the Smith children wandered down to the creek and found the gas tanks. And so the sheriff got a second call that morning. Later on after the news about the bank robbery had traveled, the sheriff’s office received a third call from John Kachelries concerning his early morning conversation.
Meanwhile back at the scene of the crime, the sheriff and his deputies were sifting through the evidence which included a pry bar, a large hammer, a towel belonging to the bank and a small piece of cloth used by opticians to clean glasses. The cloth had “The Queen Optical Co. 526, corner of Huron and Madison streets” printed on it. The address was from a business in Toledo, Ohio. Because of this conspicuously left “clue”, the sheriff was sure that the safecrackers operated out of Toledo.
Charles Makley may have slept in that morning but he had one last piece of business to attend to. Early on Sunday morning, the Cole 8 touring car was returned to its owner. But instead of replacing it in the garage where it had been taken, the car was parked at the owner’s farm out in the country. It stank of acetylene. A screwdriver and a pair of scissors which belonged to the Peoples Savings Bank were found inside.
Despite common sense telling him otherwise, the sheriff remained convinced that the safecrackers had driven up to Toledo and then back down to Sidney just to return the car. He conveniently overlooked the fact that at least one of the robbers knew the owner of the Cole 8 well enough to drop it off at his farm instead of his residence.
Makley Goes Straight…or Does He?
For about two weeks the New Knoxville case remained at a standstill with no new leads and no suspects. But on Thursday, October 23rd, there came a break. The large acetylene gas tank yielded a clue. Originally it wore a collar which displayed the manufacture’s name on a plate but that had been destroyed to make it more difficult to trace. However, the robbers had missed the serial numbers.
There were only a handful of manufacturers who made that size acetylene gas tank in the country. When they were contacted the serial numbers got a hit. The Linde Company which at the time was located in New York City was able to trace those numbers back.
Originally while researching this piece I surmised what happened next based on comments made by Makley. The scenario went something like this…Charles Makley begged, borrowed or stole the large acetylene gas tank from his cousins in St. Marys who owned a blacksmith shop. When local newspapers published stories about the robbery and how the tank serial numbers could be traced, his cousins hit the panic button. They may have even been visited by the sheriff asking questions about acetylene gas tanks. With the threat of jail time hanging over his head, Makley solemnly promised his relatives that he would turn over a new leaf. He took off and headed west to Chicago.
Once there he changed his name, got a job as a trainman and tried to go straight. Instead he was harassed by the “bulls” and “bank dicks” until he was forced back into a life of crime as he sadly related fourteen years later. Most of the facts did check out on the 1920 census. It was a tale that could bring a lump to your throat.
And that’s all it was…a tall tale.
Charles Makley, consummate con artist, knew that the best lies are the ones with some truth thrown into the mix. So yes, he did live in Chicago under an alias, holding down a job with a train company. And maybe he didn’t steal a red cent from his employer but that’s where the truth comes to a screeching halt.
What Makley neglected to mention was how he continued to make unauthorized withdrawals from small town banks throughout the Midwest. In all likelihood, he kept the day job and wife as a cover for his illicit activities. The trail left behind will never be fully realized since Makley has done an outstanding job of leading me and countless others down the garden path of his own choosing.
They say fact is stranger than fiction. That is certainly true. Although Charles Makley did weave a tangled web of lies, half-truths and other fabrications that make for good stories, he actually lived one helluva a fascinating life.
It’s a life worth uncovering.
Coming in February 2010…”Billy Miller”
New Knoxville Bank Robbed, October 4, 1919, Wapakoneta Daily News, Wapakoneta, Ohio
Good Prospect Of Quick Action, October 6, 1919, Wapakoneta Daily News, Wapakoneta, Ohio
New Knoxville Bank Is Robbed, October 6, 1919, Sidney Daily News, Sidney, Ohio
Bank Robbery Perpetrated In Peoples Savings Bank, New Knoxville, Friday Night,
October 10, 1919, The New Bremen Sun, New Bremen, Ohio
Contents of Safety Boxes Only Were Looted, October, 10, 1919, Daily Standard, Celina, Ohio
Smooth Crooks With New Game, October 10, 1919, Wapakoneta Daily News, Wapakoneta, Ohio
Information Being Sought, October 23, 1919, Wapakoneta Daily News, Wapakoneta, Ohio
St. Marys Robbery –sidebar, October 4, 1933, The Lima News, Lima, Ohio
“Bulls Forced Him to Go Bad Makeley Holds, February 16, 1934, Morning Courier, Findlay, Ohio
Out of the past – 75 Years – October 14, 1919, and October 15, 1919, October 14, 1994, Sidney Daily News
The second production V-8 in America after Cadillac naturally went to Cadillac’s rival, Cole…but GM built it. David Traver Adolphus, June 1, 2007, Hemmings Motor News,
Cole Motor Car Company, Historical Sketch, www.indianahistory.org
History – The Thompson Submachine Gun, Charles H. Smith www.auto-ordnance.com
World War I Timeline, www.worldwar-1.net
World War I Draft Registration Cards, Warren Blatt, Jewish Gen. www.jewishgen.org.
Liberty Loans – Ohio History Central, www.ohiohistorycentral.org
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