For a moment think about what banks do… You may think of the friendly Baily Building and Loan in It’s a Wonderful Life, loaning your deposits to your neighbors at a small fee so your community can grow and develop. Or you may think of sub-prime mortgages, derivatives, usury interest rates and $35 fees on a checking account overdraft and all those bankers who were bailed out rather than going to jail for their role in the Great Recession. If you think the latter, little “Willie” Dalton’s lawyer would have wanted you on his jury.
On this day in 1921 “Willie” Dalton was arrested and held for the bank robbery of the Northern Trust Company of Chicago. “Willie” is not to be confused with William Dalton, the famous Kansas bank robber, co-leader of the Wild Bunch and one of the Dalton brothers of the infamous Dalton Gang. No “Willie” was a 17-year old, pimple faced boy who stood a mere 5 foot 3 inches tall and 103 pounds. He sported a pompadour hair style. He had been a clerk for the Trust Company, getting a little more than $2 per day. His job was to move things and deliver things. On February 24th, 1921 he was handed a bundle of Liberty bonds with a face value of $772,000 or a current cash value of $8.5 million. He was told to take it somewhere. Lunch came. “Willie” left the building and didn’t come back. He cashed in one of the bonds for $500, bought a Ford roadster to make his getaway. The car soon broke down and he shifted to taking the train where he saw the breaking news of the robbery with his picture in the paper.
This set in motion one of the largest manhunts in the history of Chicago, at that time. Mrs. Dalton, a widow and mother of “Willie”, claimed he was a good boy who went to church on a regular basis and spent most of his time at the local YMCA. A few days later her son was apprehended at pool hall in Heyworth, IL.
Dalton’s lawyer made a strong case that bank was wrong to give this underpaid clerk that sort of responsibility. He was too young and the temptation too great. After a couple mistrials, the jury found young “Willie” not guilty.