HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
The Great Trilby Bank Robbery
By SCOTT BLACK
This article is copied with permission from the EPHS website.
It was the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day in 1922 and the morning had started quietly at the Trilby State Bank. Lena Crum, the bookkeeper, worked at her desk, but kept an eye out the window where her three year old son, Youell, was riding his tricycle on the patch of sidewalk in front of the building.
This was the time of day when she was alone at the bank and was seldom disturbed during this time. Like clockwork each day, the two north-bound trains would pull into Trilby and many in town would meet at the depot and the nearby post office as the mail bags were exchanged and the local mail sorted. On cue, her husband, Lester, the bank cashier, would also daily leave his post to join the other town folks for this ritual.
On this particular morning, as she glanced toward the window, watching for young Youell, Mrs. Crum noticed a man walk around the corner of the bank and pause, but then he continued on. However, a few minutes later, he returned with another man and they both entered the bank together and interrupted her usual quiet time.
Mrs. Crum stepped up to the teller cage and the first man nervously approached the counter and asked her to change a five dollar bill. While she was assisting him, the second man pulled on a mask and pushed his way through the gate. She instinctively screamed and reached for a hidden revolver, but he pointed his own gun and stopped her.
During this perfectly timed heist, the masked man pulled a sack out of his pocket and emptied the cash drawer into it and then led Mrs. Crum into the vault where he told her to open the safe. Even under gunpoint, she protested and claimed that she was only the bookkeeper and did not know the combination. He tried without success to open the safe himself and finally gave up, but did bag some additional loose money that was in the vault.
With their haul of almost $1000, as well as confiscating the bank’s revolver, the two men proceeded to lock Mrs. Crum inside the vault as part of their getaway. She immediately began to protest, citing concern for her son’s safety as he played outside the bank, but they assured her they would not harm him and forcibly trapped her within the locked vault and began their escape.
As she prayed in the darkness, Mrs. Crum remembered that a representative from the vault company had shown her and her husband how to open the locked vault from inside, so she felt along the top of the shelves until she found the screwdriver that had been kept there for that purpose. After about fifteen minutes of working in complete darkness, she finally managed to open the vault door and found little Youell safe and sound.
Mr. Crum and all the gathered townspeople at the depot and post office were quickly alerted to the situation by the emboldened Mrs. Crum and the pursuit of the bank robbers began. She was able to give a good description of the men to Sheriff Sturkie and neighbors between Trilby and Lacoochee and beyond related how a fast car had recklessly passed through earlier. The telephone operator began calling ahead for assistance in apprehending the speeding car, but the telephone lines were apparently cut at Webster and word could get no further.
A period of celebrity followed for Mrs. Crum and she received many congratulations for her conduct during the robbery. The Trilby State Bank board presented her with a cash award of $25 in appreciation for her action and offered a $100 reward for the arrest and conviction of the “bandits who so daringly held up Mrs. Crum on Thursday, Dec. 28.” She received a letter from the editor of the Southern Banker of Atlanta asking her to write an account of the robbery for publication.
The newspapers carried the story and praised Mrs. Crum for her bravery through the ordeal and for her “nerve” in thwarting the robbers’ attempt to open the safe where “the bulk of the bank’s currency was locked.” The Tampa Times mentioned the holdup and editorialized about how the state should do everything possible to prevent the lawless from following the tourists to Florida and committing such crimes in the winter months.
The directors of the Trilby State Bank used the incident to their marketing advantage and made assurance in a press release that “every cent” was covered by insurance through the United States Fidelity and Deposit Company of Baltimore and would be quickly reimbursed. A quarter page advertisement in the Dade City Banner alluded to the robbery and touted the security of the bank and its insurance versus the hazards of not using a bank. The next month, the bank reported that assets had nearly tripled over that past year from $40,346.29 to $113,389.36 (due partly to road construction funds) and looked to a continued increase in resources in 1923.
A year later, in early January 1924, Lester Crum gave thirty days’ notice that he would be leaving the bank to serve as bookkeeper for the Cummer Cypress Company in Lacoochee and was immediately elected by the bank’s directors to the ceremonial role of vice president. Mrs. Crum was appointed as interim cashier until a replacement could be hired.
The bank continued to rosily advertise in the Dade City Banner until mid-May of that year. However, on July 25, 1924, the Dade City Banner reported on the failure and closure of the Trilby State Bank and the arrival of bank examiners from Tallahassee. Receivers were soon appointed and a letter was printed in September by the former bank president pledging that “every penny” would be paid to the depositors.
The ten year run of the Trilby State Bank was over, although the Dade City Banner mentioned in May 1926 that representatives of Chicago capitalists were visiting to consider re-opening the bank, but nothing further was ever reported. The brick building was utilized for offices and upstairs apartments for several years before its destruction. The small vault where Mrs. Crum was held captive for several harrowing minutes remained on the site until the late 1990’s and the foundation and sidewalk and sections of the decorative tile floor can still be found today under a layer of oak leaves.
Our neighbor, Clifford Couey, had first told me about the “great Trilby bank robbery” when I was very young and I enjoyed playing around the old bank vault, searching in vain for lost treasure. As a high school student in the summer of 1979, I enjoyed hearing about the story from Una Mickler Dees, sister of Lena Mickler Crum Stanton, in a taped interview. The microfilmed copies of the Dade City Banner at the Hugh Embry Library in Dade City document this much talked about incident in Trilby’s history and pinpointed its actual date.
Scott Black October 2011