Cedar Rapids was in a state of emergency March 18, 1929, as the rising Cedar River was flooding a wide swath of the city.
Every person who could help build dikes was put to work, including seven inmates from the Linn County Jail, who were enlisted to help unload coal from train cars to place on top of the temporary levees.
While the jailers were distracted by the curious crowd and the rising water, one of the prisoners slipped away into the milling crowd and disappeared. It took 20 minutes before one of the jailers noticed he was missing.
That was how Richard Dean Forbes, 21, a driver for Red Top Cab and a member of a bootlegging gang, used the flood to his advantage.
Forbes and the gang leader, B.E. Phillips, 32, a suspected rum runner from Cicero, Ill., had been arrested Jan. 3, 1929, in Forbes’ taxi.
They had narrowly escaped arrest earlier but police then found Phillips sitting in Forbes’ taxi in front of another bootlegger’s home in Cedar Rapids
Forbes sped away, to no avail. The police were able to stop the cab. They found Phillips had a loaded .38-caliber revolver with a cartridge belt under his left shoulder, with a loaded, single-barreled shotgun on the seat. Forbes had an Army cartridge belt with a holster and a loaded .38 caliber handgun slipped into the seat beside him.
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The two were arrested, and the FBI told Cedar Rapids Police Chief W.C. Benesh that Forbes had been charged with manslaughter in Chicago on Sept. 30, 1925, and with stealing an automobile in Aurora, Ill., in 1927.
Forbes was charged with carrying a dangerous and concealed weapon. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in jail. Phillips was sentenced to two years of hard labor at the penitentiary in Fort Madison.
Less than two months later, Forbes walked away from his flood work detail and disappeared, probably in Chicago.
Forbes resurfaced in Davenport on Jan. 31, 1932, with Herman Robert “Bob” Wall, 30.
Forbes — who also used the last name of his Cedar Rapids foster father, George Morse — had married a San Francisco woman named Virginia in Omaha in early January. Wall, also a newlywed, had married Cornelia Morse, Forbes’ sister, in December in Omaha.
Wall and Forbes hatched a plan to rob a small-town bank.
They spent the night in Marion on Feb. 1, where they stole a Ford touring car with a Benton County license plate.
On Feb. 2, 1932, Forbes entered the Union Trust & Savings Bank in Stanwood, in Cedar County, around noon, while Wall waited in the car.
Forbes ordered cashier C.H. Haesemeyer into the bank vault, grabbed $575 in cash — the equivalent of $10,000 in today’s dollars — and ran to the car, which sped away.
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The bank robbers then switched cars, dumping the Ford for a newer car with a New Mexico license plate. Fifteen minutes later, they ran into the law.
NABBED IN LOWDEN
Immediately after the bank was robbed, law officers and bank guards began watching roads for the robbers. Four men were keeping a lookout on a road near Lowden, about 13 miles east of Stanwood.
“We spotted a Ford car coming toward us at a high rate of speed,” Marshal M.V. “Walt” Pauls of Lowden later reported. “I told Ray Marks, the driver of our car, to swing the car across the road as a blockade. As he did so, I stepped to the pavement and held up my hand at the approaching car, displaying my badge at the same time.
“The car stopped but had to pull off on the shoulder of the road to avoid hitting our car. I was the only man on the road and, seeing only one man in the car, the driver, I started around behind his car to question him. I was immediately at the rear of the bandit car when a man rose up in the back seat and fired at me through the rear window.
“At least I thought he fired through the window. Later I failed to find a bullet hole in the glass, so I must have been mistaken. I was that excited. He must have fired after he had slid out of the car on the far side.”
The ensuing hail of gunfire riddled the bandits’ car. Forbes was killed, and Wall was wounded in the arm.
Forbes’ body was taken to Tipton, and Wall was taken to the Cedar County Jail. He pleaded guilty to bank robbery and was sentenced to 25 years in prison, but was paroled eight years later in 1940.
Forbes’ wife, Virginia, refused to go to Cedar County to claim her husband’s body. She left instead for her parents’ home in San Francisco. Other relatives made arrangements for Forbes to be buried in Franklin Grove, Ill.
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