Many things happened in Omaha, Nebraska in 1920. Public transportation, mostly streetcars, reached 61 million riders. Omaha’s population reached 191,601 which included 10,315 African Americans. Dodge Street past present-day Central High, was lowered 12% to 7% making the road more user friendly. The King Fong Café opened at 315 South 16th Street, and Nelson B. Updike bought the Omaha Bee. Criminal acts, however, still abounded. [i] The year 1919 ended with a bang: four robbers stole $115,000 from the Farmers’ and Merchants’ State Bank in Benson on a Wednesday morning at 11:05 am on December 31, 1919. The year 1920 started with Omaha police trying to solve the crime.[ii]
The robbery happened quickly. Robbers pulled a gun and demanded money. The bank employees complied. The four robbers made their escape in a Cadillac found deserted later that day at 12th and Chicago St. Detectives believed that the thieves went to Omaha, left the automobile, and went to Union Station catching trains leaving Omaha with their loot. No detectives were on duty for at least three hour after the robbery at Union Station. Three-fourths of the $115,000 were Liberty bonds, but the police never found any of the bounty. [iii]
On January 2, 1920, police made their first arrests. They picked up Harry Porche at his home at 2117 Sherman Avenue. Bank clerks, A.W. Helbing and Irene Rose, along with a customer, Bert Morton, identified Porche as a robber that stood guard at the door. A meat cutter by profession, the police said that witnesses told them that Porche told the other robbers when they entered the bank to, “cover the field.”[iv]
After the court released Porche on a 10% bail bond for his appearance at his preliminary hearing on the robbery charge, Lincoln, Nebraska, police rearrested him on a fugitive from justice warrant. They accused Porche of being the, “brains of a gang of automobile thieves that worked in Lincoln for several years” His brother, Ray Sandivich, and a cousin said that Porche worked as the fence for stolen automobiles. Police said Porche’s mother who lived in Lincoln was wealthy.[v]
Porche had no money from the robbery in his house. He offered an alibi for the morning in question. At 10:30 am, L. Herbert, a mechanic, and floorman Sam Madsen, at the Strelow Terrance garage at 2107 Sherman Avenue, said that Porche drove his car into the garage, leaving it as he went to the corner cigar store. Jim Cudahy, clerk at Montrose Cigar Store on 2901 Sherman Avenue, said Porche was there at 10:45 am. Herbert and Madisen said that Porche returned to the garage about twenty minutes later and left at noon. [vi]
Two other suspected bank robbers fled to St. Paul, Minnesota. Tom Finn, aka Thomas McKay, and his brother, Mike Finn, were the two alleged gunmen. Courts recently acquitted the Finn Brothers for the Malashock jewelry store robbery that involved a shootout with police. They were members of the Beryl Kirk gang. [vii]
The police never caught the fourth robber. Witness statement contradictions freed both Porche and the Finn brothers. Several years later, Police arrested Porche as being the brains behind the Edward G. Bremer kidnapping in St. Paul, Minnesota that requested a $200,000 ransom. Courts convicted Porche for the kidnapping, and the court sentenced him to life in prison in 1935.[viii]
[i] Liz Rea, “History at a Glance,” Douglas County Historical Society, 2004, revised and expanded 2007, accessed 26 March 2020. http://douglascohistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/History-at-a-Glance.pdf
[ii] “Police Working on Bank Robbery Are Without a Clue” (2 January 1920), Omaha World-Herald, pg. 2.
[iii] “Police Working on Bank Robbery Are Without a Clue” (2 January 1920), Omaha World-Herald, pg. 2.
[iv] “Police Working on Bank Robbery Are Without a Clue” (2 January 1920), Omaha World-Herald, pg. 2.
[v] “Lincoln Gets Porche on Auto Theft Charge” (5 January 1920), Omaha World-Herald, pg. 1.
[vi] “Arrest One Man In Benson Bank Case” (8 January 2020), Omaha World-Herald, pg. 6.
[vii] “M’Kay and Brother Arrested in St. Paul” (4 January 1920), Omaha World-Herald, pg. 1.
[viii] “Porche Conviction Affirmed on Appeal” (9 March 1937), Omaha World-Herald, pg. 5.