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Blanket bank burglary and failures

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin
Donnie and Ronnie Lappe

The original Blanket Sate Bank building, which is located at 712 Main Street, was built in 1901 by William Thompson (W.T.) Smith. On August 11, 1926, the Brownwood Fire Fighters saved the bank building when the three wooden buildings south of the bank burned. The rafters in the bank building show signs of having been burned.

An article in the October 25, 1954 Brownwood Bulletin recorded that on October 23, 1954, burglars entered the Srickland Garage and stole a tire tool. They used the tire tool to pry open the front door of the bank building. After entering the bank, the burglars gained entrance to the vault by using a torch to cut a hole next to the combination lock in the vault door. They only took $40 worth of pennies because they were not able to open the safe where the rest of the money was kept. The pennies were not put in the safe. The $40 worth of pennies weighed approximately 27.5 pounds. It would be difficult to carry that many pennies and spend them without being discovered.

Upon receiving notice that bank robbers were in the area, the Comanche County Sheriff positioned himself under the porch at the Strickland Service Station across the street from the bank. When the Comanche Sheriff noticed that two men were in the bank, he entered and told them to keep and eye out for the bank robbers, who were in the area. After discovering that the two men were the burglars, he proceeded to make an attempt to apprehend them. They fled through the back door, and a foot chase took place across the area in a northwesterly direction. Nolan Cantwell stated that he heard the shots which were fired during the foot chase. Nolan was sleeping on his front porch, which is about three-quarter mile from the bank building. The burglars got away.

On this same night, burglars entered the Powers Grocery Store by breaking the glass in the front door and opening the lock. About $5 was taken from the grocery store. From the grocery store, the burglars gained entrance to the Blanket Post Office by breaking a door, which was between the grocery and the post office. They took fifteen cents from the post office. They did not get much for all of their effort.

According to Lawrence Thompson, Ransom Amos’ brother from Comanche was one of the burglars. The librarian at the Comanche County library confirmed this information that Ransom Amos was in the roofing business in Comanche.

One March 16, 1955, burglars again attempted to break open the vault in the Blanket State Bank, but were unsuccessful. The burglars took tools from Strickland’s Garage once again. Entry into the building was the same as before and the burglars tried to break the hinges on the vault door, rather than use a torch. The tools were left behind in the bank building and were identified as having been taken from the Strickland Garage.

In 1965, examiners from FDIC began to notice a pattern as they made examinations of the Blanket State Bank and the Bangs State Bank. When they examined the Bangs Bank, they found large deposits from the Blanket Bank and when they examined the Bangs Bank, they found large deposits from the Blanket Bank. The final investigation of the bank records began in August, 1965. The examiners found the fraud when they examined both banks at the same time. Someone was trying to hide losses by switching assets to the bank that was about to be examined. The directors of the Bangs Bank were able to cover the losses in the bank and save it from being closed.

The Blanket State Bank was officially closed on January 26, 1966 and after the investigation, the trials and giving depositors a change to move their accounts, the remaining items were consolidated with the banks of Marlin, Covington, and Malon in December, 1966. Many personal accounts were transferred to the First National Bank in Brownwood. Brenda and Linda Lee accompanied the last load of records to Brownwood, and were employed by the First National Bank.

Alvin Richmond was listed among the first directors, and Alvin served as a board member until Morris Hill created an advisory job for him in 1965. Alvin and the other directors spent some sleepless nights over the problems of the Blanket State Bank.

When the bank closed in January, 1966, there were approximately 1,225 active checking accounts. Morris Hill had eight different accounts. The depositors did not lose any money because their accounts were insured by FDIC; however, the stockholders lost their investment.

Dale Baker served as an assistant cashier thirty days prior to closing. He was hired by the FDIC to help close out the bank and later worked in the liquidation department for a number of years.

Dick Bailey stated that while the FDIC examiners were liquidating and closing out the bank records, small fires were seen out behind the building late in the afternoon. Robert Minor was the FDIC employee in charge of the liquidation and final closing.

It has been reported that a well-known state officer had sent word to the Blanket State Board of Directors that if $10,000 were deposited in his bank account, he would see that the Blanket State Bank remained open. The board refused the offer.

Morris Ray Hill pleaded guilty to 22 counts on May 24, 1966. Hill was charged with mail fraud in connection with forged notes, insufficient fund checks, willful misapplication of funds, making false entries into the checking accounts of the Sliger Brothers, making false entries into the bank’s books, making false reports to the FDIC, and various other charges. Hill was given a four year prison term by Federal Judge Joe E. Estes.

Richard William McDaniel pled guilty to mail fraud, making false entries in bank records, and being connected with the failure of the Blanket State Bank. Federal Judge Joe E. Estes gave McDaniel a one-year sentence.

Three separate indictments were involved. Hill received two-year sentences for mail fraud and making false entries and another two-year sentence for embezzling $30,000 from the Bangs State Bank. McDaniel received two concurrent one-year sentences for false entries and conspiracy.

According to a reporter for the San Angelo Standard Times, Morris Hill and Richard McDaniel’s stories, which they told at the trial, made them look more like community heroes than embezzlers. The members of the community were divided over the Morris Hill issue. Morris Hill was a member of the Blanket First Baptist Church. It was reported that during the trial, the Hill supporters sat on one side of the auditorium during church services and those against Hill sat on the other side.

Morris Hill, who came to Blanket from Leuders, was a very active person in the Blanket community while serving as president of the Blanket State Bank. Mr. Hill was responsible for getting streetlights and purchasing the community center from the Presbyterian Church. He gave generously to the First Baptist Church, supported school activities, and he built a nice house in town. Mr. Hill dabbled in oil and gas ventures. Morris Hill became a preacher after he was released from prison.

Richard McDaniel came to Blanket from Jasper where he had worked as a warehouse manager for the Visidor Company, near Dallas, He had two young boys. He built the house on the corner of Fifth Street and Avenue C.

During the depression, from 1929 through 1932, all of the banks in the United States were in trouble with one out of every five closing. However, the Blanket State Bank was one of the banks which survived this period. It has been reported that T.J. Baker and W.J. Richmond made private loans to those in need to keep the bank in sound condition. Neither of those men lost any money from the private loans.

Taken from the research of Doris Teague, “Blanket in a Nutshell.”

The Brown County Historical Commission has a book for sale, “Historic Tour of Brown County” that gives history and directions to the sites.