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Robbery in Front of the Denver Mint

By Roger W. Burdette, special to CoinWeek …..
 

On the morning of December 18, 1922, a shipment of $200,000 in new five dollar bills was being loaded onto a truck from the Federal Reserve Bank in Denver. Just as loading the sacks of currency was completed, a car pulled up, and three men jumped out with sawed-off shotguns and revolvers blazing. A Federal Reserve bank guard, Charles T. Linton, was mortally wounded as soon as the firing started[1]. The car had pulled to the left of the bank truck, so the truck shielded the robbers from most of the return fire from mint guards. Having obviously rehearsed the robbery, the thieves quickly loaded their car and drove off. One of the men stood on the right-side running board and was wounded by a single rifle shot from either mint guard Peter Kiedinger or A.E. Moynahan as the thieves made their getaway[2]. Later examination of the Denver Mint building revealed at least 40 bullet holes in the transom above the entrance and second-story windows. Bullet holes from the robbers’ .38 caliber handguns peppered other buildings nearby[3].

Official Mint correspondence informing the Director of the Mint of the robbery.
Official Mint correspondence informing the Director of the Mint of the robbery.

The next day, Denver newspaper, The Rocky Mountain News printed this illustration showing the robbers’ route:

Figure 1. Illustration by James J. Lynch of The Rocky Mountain News shows the bandits route following therobbery in front of the mint. (The Rocky Mountain News, December 19, 1922. 8.)
Figure 1. Illustration by James J. Lynch of The Rocky Mountain News shows the bandits route following the
robbery in front of the mint. (The Rocky Mountain News, December 19, 1922. 8.)

Mint guard Kiedinger described his experience to an Associated Press reporter:

DENVER, Colo., Dec. 19—(The Associated Press)—An impulse to fire a final volley at the guards of the mint and Federal Reserve guards may have cost the youthful bandit who directed the $200,000 robbery yesterday morning his life, according to Peter Kiendinger, one of the mint guards who witnessed the daring holdup and shooting.

“When the robbers, with $200,000 in bills in their car, turned into the Civic Center, less than a half block away from the mint, the leader poised on the running-board of the car and emptied his revolver at the guards. Wearing a light overcoat, his figure stood out clearly against the background of the drawn side curtains. A bullet from my gun or one of the other mint guards aimed directly at the bandit struck him. The bandit swayed and collapsed. An auto door opened, and he was pulled inside the car, which sped on.

“I believe he was the man who shot Charles Linton.”

WORK WITH RAPIDITY.

“The whole affair took less than a minute,” Kiendinger said. The robbers’ car, a Buick touring car with side curtains drawn, pulled up alongside the Federal Reserve truck. The leader was in the seat with the driver. He carried a revolver. One of the men in the tonneau had a rifle, the others sawed-off shotguns.

“As the men took the money Joseph Hurd, who assists me at the door, and I began firing at the holdup men with our revolvers. I fired a couple of shots and then dropped my revolver and grabbed a rifle from the wall. Finally one of the men in the rear seat of the car fired a sawed-off shotgun, the shot spattering all around us. I had shot in the rifle when the car started away and I was determined to get one of the robbers. After Linton had been shot, the bandit devoted his entire attention to getting the money into his automobile and left the firing for the men that remained in the automobile. When the money had been safely loaded into the car he shouted to the driver to start the car and jumped on the running-board.

GUARD SHOOTS.

“The bandit car paused on the opposite side of the reserve truck from me, and I didn’t get a chance to get a good aim until the car had swerved and was turning into the Civic Center. At that moment the bandit half started into the car, but evidently turned, stood upright on the running-board, aimed his revolver at the mint door and fired. This gave me my opportunity; I drew down on him and shot. I believe I wounded him through the body.”

Louis Albi, a chemist employed by a wholesale drug company across the street from the mint, declared he witnessed the robbery from a fifth-story window and that there were four bandits, one at the wheel and three on the sidewalk.

RAIN OF BULLETS.

Albert S. Kolmqvist, an eye-witness to the hold-up, declared: “Immediately after the bandits opened fire the guards from the mint rushed out and returned their fire. My attention was attracted to the bandit car before the shooting. The car drew up alongside of the Federal Reserve car and the bandits gave the guards no warning whatever. They simply started shooting and the bank guard fell, the money dropping from his hands.”

Miss Catherine Feist, employed as a waitress in the Mint Restaurant, directly across the street, declared she heard the first shot and rushed out of the front door. “I saw two men behind telephone posts in front of the guard coming out of the mint and then the guards from the front started shooting and I was forced to retreat, so steady can the rain of bullets.”[4]

Denver Mint as depicted on a pre-1922 postcard.
Figure 2. Denver Mint facing Colfax Avenue is shown in a pre-1922 postcard. The eastbound Federal Reserve
The Bank vehicle was parked on Colfax in the car’s position at the Mint entrance above. The robbers pulled
their car to the immediate left, so the FRB vehicle shielded it from bullets.

Denver Mint Superintendent Robert J. Grant was in his office at the front of the building. When he heard the first shots, he triggered a general alarm that rang throughout the building. This caused employees to grab available shotguns and run toward the windows to protect the building[5]. A few hours later, Grant sent this short report to United States Mint Director Frank Scoby:

Denver, Colorado, December 18, 1922

At ten thirty this morning Federal Reserve Bank Denver automobile called at Mint to get two packages

Federal Reserve notes fives amounting in all to two hundred thousand dollars.

Just as they got the money in the automobile in front of the Mint a machine [a car] drove up and ordered the guards to throw up their hands.

One of the Federal Reserve guards was shot probably fatally and in the melee the robbers got away with the money.

The Mint guards and clerks fired about thirty shots at the bandit’s automobile as they left and we think one man was wounded.

The Federal Reserve guards and bandits were in such position it was hard for our men to shoot from the windows on account of not being able to distinguish one man from the other.

The number of the car was gotten and the police department were on the trail inside of two minutes.

No results so far.

The front door of the Mint was all shot full of holes by the bandits trying to keep our men in the building.

Will advise if bandits are captured.

Grant, Superintendent[6]

All roads leading from Denver were guarded, and state and federal agents across Colorado and neighboring states were on the lookout. Nothing turned up until January 14, when a bullet-riddled Buick car was found in a private garage at 1631 Gilpin Street. Inside was the body of the wounded robber. He was frozen solid. Bloody rags littered the garage from an apparent attempt by his companions to provide first aid[7]. By the next day, police had identified the body as that of J.C. Sloan (later recognized as Nicholas Trainor), the suspected ring leader of a gang of thieves specializing in “big money” robberies. It wasn’t until 1934 that Denver police claimed to have solved the crime. They issued a press release giving names of the gang members and stating that all but two were dead, and the remaining pair were serving life sentences for bank robbery and kidnapping. Police Detective Albert Clark claimed to have substantial evidence and that he was going to turn it over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but no one was ever prosecuted for the robbery or murder.

Serial numbers had been recorded for all the bills in the shipment. Numbers were in two ranges: 20852001 to 20876000 and 20940001 to 20956000. Approximately $80,000 was eventually recovered in Minnesota but the remaining cash vanished.

The robbery quickly faded from newspapers, but the breach of security bothered Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon. On the Secretary’s orders, the Philadelphia Mint collection was transferred to the custody of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Public announcements stated this was to improve the display and consolidate U.S.-owned collections in one place. But the reality was that Mellon feared armed robbery from the collection and possible forced entry into the mints. Additionally, all public tours were suspended, not to return for many years.

It is the wish of the Secretary that all the Mints be closed to visitors indefinitely. Instructions were given last week to Philadelphia and San Francisco to put this order into effect. It is understood that your Mint will not again be open to visitors until further notice.[8]

Additional weapons were ordered, and everyone went through the motions of improving security, but when Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross took over in 1933, it was found that:

Protection was so inadequate that a Secret Service agent, in an official statement written soon after Governor Ross became Director and had a survey made of conditions in the Mints, expressed himself as follows in relation to the Denver facility: “It is well to know that for the first time in many years intelligent and careful attention is being given to the proper safeguarding of the Mint. It has been only a wide-spread belief that the Mint was impregnable and heavily guarded, that has prevented an attack on it. Two men, one of them a sick man, were the only ones on duty nights for a long time.”[9]

By 1938, 24 big, stalwart, alert guards were on duty at Denver. All had modern weapons and were trained in military procedures.

* * *

Notes

[1] He was the father of actor Harry Linton, a popular Pennsylvania stage comic of the 1920s.

[2] The name “A.E. Moynahan” does not appear of any Denver Mint time and attendance sheets for 1921-23.

[3] “Bandits Rob Truck Before Denver Mint; Flee with $200,000”, The New York Times, December 19, 1922. p.1.

[4] “Story of Mint Robbery Is Told By U.S. Guard”, San Francisco Bulletin, December 19, 1922. 10.

[5] Ibid.

[6] RG104 Denver E-23 Box 5b. Letter dated December 18, 1922 to Scoby from Grant.

[7] “Dead Bandit’s Body Found in Denver Garage, Lying in Automobile Used in Mint Robbery”, The New York Times, January 15, 1923. p.1.

[8] RG104 E-235 Vol 450. Letter dated December 27, 1922 to Grant from Acting Director O’Reilly.

[9] Wyoming State Archives, H-81-1 Edness Kimball Wilkins papers, box 10, US Mint, Oct 1936 – Oct 1940. Letter dated March 10, 1938 to Sen. Joseph C. O’Mahoney from Edness Wilkins, private secretary to Ross. 2.

* * *

Roger W. Burdette
Roger W. Burdette
Responsible for much original numismatic research in recent years, Roger Burdette was named the ANA Numismatist of the Year in 2023. Besides CoinWeek, he has written for Coin World and The Numismatist, among others. He is the author of Renaissance of American Coinage 1916-1921 (2005); Renaissance of American Coinage 1905-1908 (2006); Renaissance of American Coinage 1909-1915 (2007); A Guide Book of Peace Dollars (Whitman, 2009); and Fads, Fakes & Foibles (2021). He also co-wrote the NLG award-winning Truth Seeker: The Life of Eric P. Newman (2015) with Len Augsburger and Joel Orosz. Burdette served as a member of the Citizen’s Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) from 2008 to 2012.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Roger, thank you for presenting such a fascinating piece of history!

    One question: given that – as many of us collectors are fond [not!] of repeating – the Mint doesn’t make paper currency, what was the Denver Mint’s role in handling these banknotes versus the modern system?

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