The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery Takes Place: April 24, 1953

Steve McQueen in the Great St. Louis Bank Robbery
Steve McQueen in the Great St. Louis Bank Robbery • Public Domain

A lethal heist gone wrong took place on this date in 1953. At the corner of Kingshighway and Arensal a crew led by 60-year-old Fred William Bowerman entered Southwest Bank and attempted to carry out a robbery. At the time to robbery got underway, Bowerman was #46 on the FBI’s most wanted list for his previous exploits, which included a bank robbery in South Bend, Indiana. Employees who noticed what was happening were able to trigger a silent alarm as well as phone the police without being detected. The criminals began loading up money when the first officers, Melburn Stein and Corporal Robert Heitz, arrived on the scene. They had only been a few blocks away at the time that the call went out.

According to report by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Bowerman and his gang had loaded up $140,769 by the time the officers arrived. Having spotted them pulling up to the scene, getaway driver Glenn Chernick, a former college football star, sped away and abandoned the getaway car. As for the men inside, they opened fire once they realized they were trapped. Bowerman took a hostage and attempted to use her as a human shield, but Stein had a clear shot and took it, mortally wounding the ringleader. By the time it was over about one hundred police officers had arrived on the scene. Realizing it was hopeless, one of the remaining crew members shot himself in the head inside the bank. The other surrendered. Days later the police tracked down Chernick in Chicago and arrested him as well. Bowerman succumbed to his wounds on May 1. As for Officer Heitz, who was injured in the crossfire, he made a full recovery.

Being one of the most notable bank heists in US history, a movie adaptation was made in 1959, starring young Missouri native Steve McQueen as the getaway driver.