Farmers, Bankers, and Robbers

Diana Lange

© Copyright 2007 by Diana  Lange


Photo of an old bank interior with teller's cages.

 I feel very lucky to have my job. Most of my co-workers at the bank do too, as we live in a very rural community and there aren’t many jobs to be had besides farming. The tiny, Illinois village that I live in has a population of maybe 900. The adjacent village, the one that the bank resides in, has maybe 200 residents. This tiny village has one gas station, a post office, and a farm implement dealer. That’s it. So you see why we all feel very lucky to have the jobs that we do.

I started working at the bank in November of 2001. I had never worked in a bank before and so I found myself asking a lot of questions as you would expect from any new employee. I asked question about normal procedure, of course and about the customers that everyone knew, except me. I asked questions about the history of the bank. One seemingly trivial question that I asked then sticks in my mind even today. I asked, “Has this bank ever been robbed?”

 The answer that I received was a solid, point blank, “No.” The bank has been open since the early 1920’s so I was surprised that in over 80 years this bank had never been robbed. I thought that all banks were robbed sometime or other. There was one robbery attempt, I was told. It happened sometime in the 1930’s. A couple of uninvited guests had jimmied the locks of the bank and upon entering, of course, found the money secured in a state of the art, fire proof, burglar proof vault. Well, the dummies apparently tried to blow the vault door to smitherines with some sort of explosive or other, but were unsuccessful, thank goodness. The bank; therefore, remained unscathed and it could truthfully be said that they had never, ever, been robbed.

 I felt safe knowing this. I really did. I was acually teased because I even asked that question. No one ever spoke of robbery. They just didn’t. We had all of the necessary precautions required by FDIC. We had cameras and procedures for keeping our money safe in case of this disaster. It was all just precaution. It would never happen. Why in the world would anyone try to rob a bank out in the boondocks, in the middle of nowhere, at the end of the earth, a 200 person, one horse town? Just wasn’t ever going to happen.

 It did happen. On a hot, muggy, late May day my bank was robbed. It was the day after Memorial Day. A Tuesday. For those of us working that day, it is a day that will be remembered for the rest of our lives.

The day started like any other. We tellers were working the teller line, while the loan officers peddled their declining interest rates in the back. The receptionist typed away at the front desk, pausing now and again to answer the phone and ask, “How may I direct your call?” The bank president sat in his office behind her, presidenting away, and management was somewhere managing something.

I was drifting back and forth between the front where I would have a customer, and to the drive up window. At one point I remember the drive up dinger going off, “Ding, Dong, Ding, Dong” and a customer walking in at the same time. I looked around for one of the other three girls. I thought sarcastically about, “all of the help around here,” and, “where in the heck is everyone when I need them.” I did try to keep a smile on my face, though. I really did.

I told the customer who had just walked in that I would be right back. I went to the window and proceeded to wait on the man in the pick up truck. As I went back to my cash drawer to get his money, I glanced up at the man waiting for me. I smiled. He did not smile back, he leaned over the counter and sighed. Boy, he was a winner, I thought. Kind of scruddy looking, jeans too big, bandana covering his hair, sunglasses in a dim lobby: and those gloves? He must have had one heck of a hangover. (No I still did not get it) Where in the world was everybody?

By the time I got back from the drive up window to the lobby customer, I was a little frustrated. I was still alone at the teller line. Was the receptionist trying to get my attension? She kept staring at me funny. Couldn’t she see that I had a customer? “Can I help you?” I asked the man in the sunglasses? He sure was tall.

He mumbled something back to me. I thought it sounded like,”Give me your money,” or something. He really needed to speak up, hangover or no. I really couldn’t hear him at all.

 “Excuse me?” I asked. He kind of looked like he was trying to rob the place or something. This was not funny to me right now. I was busy.

He leaned over farther, almost in my face and said,” Give me all of the money, Mame, or I will shoot you.” I started to smile a little. I looked at the receptionist to see if maybe she was in on this bad joke. She was not smiling. I looked at the president behind her in his office and he was not smiling either. He was getting up out of his chair and sitting down. Getting up and sitting down.

Whoa, now people. Maybe, this wasn’t a joke. Or not, or was or….not funny, or ….. I didn’t know what to do. I glanced back at the tall man in the baggy jeans with the bandana on his head. He wasn’t smiling or looking humorous in any way. He was clutching something shiny under a towel. He was pointing it at me. At my stomache. That wouldn’t feel good, I knew. Oh my, oh Lord, Oh, what? Do I give him money? Would I get fired? Would I have to quit? Would I see my kids and husband again? How much would this bleed? I have khaki pants on. Thank God I didn’t wear my new shirt. What do I say? Or do? Does anyone else know that this is going on?

He had thrust a bag at me and I began to fill it with money from my drawer. I found myself staring down into the muzzle of that gun. The gun. Oh my goodness, the gun. It was a huge, chrome, hole, gaping at me now. I loaded him up and he said once, “Hurry it up or I will shoot you, I will.”

I hurried up. I tried once to reach for the alarm button under the desk, and decided I had better not reach too much. He may see me. I gave up that idea.

After all of my money was gone from my drawer, he ran, backward torward the door. His gun still pointed at me, he quickly turned and fled out the door and jumped into a car that had been sitting the whole time at the gas station.

I shook and started to cry. I just couldn’t believe it. This just happened to me. “I thought you said that this bank had never been robbed?” I sobbed to no one in particular.

 They all surrounded me and tried to comfort me. “Not until now,” someone said.

That day was an eye opener for a small town community. We may know everyone that lives here and have more trust for each other than the average city, but we are not as completely immune to crime as we thought. It CAN still happen. We still cannot fathom why someone would come all the way out in the middle of nowhere to rob a bank. There are never really any answers to these things, I guess. The robber was eventually caught in another robbery in Indiana. He was allegedly an ex-con on parole after serving time for armed robbery. He stole a truck and broke into a house. He committed suicide in that house to avoid going back to jail.

 I didn’t quit my job. I still get jumpy; however, when someone comes in wearing sunglasses or I have never seen them before. I cringe when someone yells too loud in a public place or a stranger stands too close and reaches in his pockets. I think a bit of robber phobia will stay with me for a long time to come.

 No matter where you live or who you are, crime can still strike you anytime or anyplace. You can never be too prepared for disaster. It can happen. Make no mistake about that.

My name is Diana Lange. I live in Illinois with my family of 3 young children and my husband. I work full-time at a bank and I also attend night school at our local community college. I have been writing most of my life. I use it mostly as a hobby and a comfort. I hope to someday have more time to freelance a little.

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