I have recently been working on a writing project and had to do some research. I had heard a story sometime back about a law passed in the depression paying people to kill bank robbers in the State of Texas. This was something I could work with.
For a couple of months I had been trying to chase down details. Was this an urban myth or real? Who offered the reward, and when? What were the details? I kept striking out. Finally someone in the writers group suggested I write the Library of Congress and ask. I hit pay dirt!
To start with I was trying to be too fancy with my wording. I was asking about 'Bounties' paid on Texas bank robbers, or rewards offered for bank robbers in the State of Texas. No, the Texas Bankers Association (TBA) was much more basic. They called it THE DEAD BANK ROBBERS REWARD PROGRAM.
Texas country folks had been having hard times long before Black Thursday in October of 1929 when the rest of the country caught up. Bank robbery had become very popular, to the tune of two or three a day state wide. In 1926 a reward of $500.00 was offered for any bank robber killed in the act. In 1927 the reward was raised to $5,000.00 dollars.
Does this sound fantastic? It gets better. To clear up any misunderstanding the statement went on to say the TBA would not pay a penny for bank robbers captured or wounded. Bank Robbers were worth $5,000.00 dead - each!
Of course, Texans being enterprising folk, were not always content to sit around waiting for someone to rob a bank. There are always a couple of good ol' boys, not real bright but greedy. Combine them with the town thugs, equally greedy and ruthless, and you get the idea. When the good ol' boys come out of the bank with the money, their friends that were suppose to cover their getaway shoot them down like dogs.
Bloodthirsty? Oh Yeah! In the end there was only one side of the story told. Pretty good return, considering some of these robberies would have netted way less than $1,000.00 dollars. Beside that there was the practical side to consider. You didn't want to go taking pot shots at Dillinger or Bonnie and Clyde. Those crazy bastards would kill you.
This became extremely wide spread, to the point that the Texas Rangers sent no less than Frank Hamer, later of Bonnie and Clyde fame, to investigate. When he reported that a large number of the people being slaughtered in these robberies were set up, the TBA was unmoved. They argued anyone who could be talked into taking part in a bank robbery should be killed.
There was so much bad press on the subject that the TBA did reword their statement to read they would pay the reward only on 'Legal Kills'. The shootings started being investigated seriously. Bank Robbery became a Federal Crime in the mid 1930's and the FBI got involved. At that point collecting on the Dead Bank Robbers Reward Program just got to be too much like work. So, did the reward go away? Yes - in 1964!
At this point, I could use some help. As you might guess City Fathers don't put this sort of thing on their city web pages. I know this happened, a lot. If I know where, I can work backwards and get details. So, if any of you know of a Texas town where such a Bank Robbery Scam took place I would be grateful if you left a comment or emailed me at P47f6f@aol.com