Picture a quiet Tuesday afternoon Feb. 5, 1924, all is well as locals go about their daily business, when a stranger walks into the First State Bank on Pollasky Ave. in Clovis.
The bank manager had stepped out briefly for lunch leaving assistant cashier Thomas Howison alone in the bank. Howison was fairly new to the job recently graduating from college; this was sleepy Clovis after all! Howison greets the stranger with a “How do you do?” while the man puts down a $20 bill asking for change.
Bank heists were a rare occurrence in the Central Valley so Howison had no reason to expect what was about to unfold. It would be another decade before the daring bank robberies by the likes of bandits such as Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd. Meanwhile, as the stranger nicknamed The Owl waited for his change, his co-conspirator Felix The Lone Wolf Sloper, slipped in through a rear door creeping up behind the cashier. Howison found himself looking down the barrel of a revolver and was ordered to “stick ‘em up.” Tying his hands behind his back they shoved him into the vault, and quickly looted $31,000; a mix of currency, gold and stocks.
Fleeing the scene, The Owl and The Lone Wolf were surprised by the return of bank Vice President Emory Reyburn! Ordering him into a corner they jumped into their waiting getaway car, stolen earlier in the day. Reyburn gave the alarm as the fleeing bandits made their get-away heading south on Clovis Avenue. Nearby, the Sheriff was at a local elementary school and quickly gathered some boy scouts who happened to be there, giving chase. Pursuit of the robbers was cut short by a trail of roofing nails the bandits had dropped on the road as they fled.
Meeting up with another accomplice, the young and charming Catherine Ryan, girlfriend of the not so lone, Lone Wolf Sloper, the robbers tried to stay low hiding out. Investigators traced the trio to a house in Fresno rented before the Clovis heist. As the pursuit and investigation progressed, led by Sheriff Bill Jones and Deputy Sheriff O.J. King, they uncovered a key piece of evidence left behind… an article of clothing with a laundry tag on it. This lead to where Ryan lived and detectives put her under surveillance. Patience and careful observation eventually led them to the trio who were soon arrested at gunpoint.
Want to hear the rest of the story? Be sure to stop by the Clovis-Big Dry Creek Museum the last SAT of February as the robbery is reenacted with a short mellow drama in the very same bank building, at the southeast corner of Pollasky and Fourth Street.
Meanwhile, why not join our walking adventure Nibbles & Bits of Old Town and hear more stories? We tread through the charming streets of Old Town February 16th walking our way through interesting history, some cool art and even include food tastes along the way… Just $49pp. reserve online at www.AboutTownTaste.com