High Points from El Camino Real

by Chris Davis

Folks along El Camino Real had plenty to talk about over the Memorial Day weekend, with graduations, dry weather, and a bank robbery, topping the list. I’m going to do my best to get it all straightened out and condensed into six bits worth of news.
On Friday about lunch time I was standing outside the courthouse talking to a Deputy Sheriff, when he said that he had to go because the Bancorp South Bank in Alto had just been robbed.
A cold chill went down my spine as I thought of the ladies that work there. My cousin Kathleen has been working at the bank for as long as I can remember and considering the number of years she has worked in the bank, odds are she has seen more bank robberies than Jessie James. The Good Lord was certainly watching over the three ladies working in the bank on Friday as no one was injured when the masked man entered the bank and began brandishing his gun, shouting profanities, and making threats to the lives of two of the tellers.
The bank robber got away with his getaway driver for now, but hopefully they will be caught at some point. I bet after they get a good hard slap on their hand they won’t do that anymore. The bank robber hadn’t gotten out of the bank good before wild rumors were spreading around town and people were driving every which away hoping to see some action or maybe get a shot at a bank robber.
I was talking to Eloise Williams’ daughter Teresa that was visiting from Guam and she thought it was strange that the streets of Alto just filled up with cars and people after the robbery. Things like this aren’t strange for Alto, but she didn’t know. If something exciting happens everyone comes out to see what is going on. The only difference in this robbery and most of the ones that we have in Alto, is the fact that we didn’t know who the robbers were.

On March 5, 1934 Alto had its most famous bank robbery when the Continental State Bank was robbed. The bank was located where Mollies Diner now sits. They later moved to the location where Bancorp South is now. Here is an excerpt from the March 8, 1934 edition of the Alto Herald. Much has been told and retold on the attempted robbery of the Continental State Bank here early Monday morning, just after the bank had opened for the day’s business. The stories have been weird and extreme and sensational repeated so often.
After time brought opportunity for sober thought and mature deliberation, it can now be said that the two men who attempted to rob the bank, had not a chance in the world to accomplish their purpose, and it is a thousand wonders that both of them were not killed, together with Messers.(I had to look this word up, It is the plural of Mister) Rounsaville, Shattuck, and Earle as there were more than fifty shots fired during the melee, all with in one minutes time, and all of them were fired in the wide open street but two, they were fired in the bank by Mr. Rounsaville”.
I can’t put the whole newspaper article in this issue, so I’m going to give the condensed version of the 1934 bank robbery. Two men, Leo Spencer and Fred McClure stole the school superintendent in Rusk, Mr. Moore’s car, a Willys-Knight Coupe. They came to Alto and had breakfast at the White Swan Café, and hung around til the bank opened. They parked across the road and Spencer came in and asked about getting a check cashed. Mr. Rounsaville saw the guy head back to his car and getting suspicious he stepped into the vault and got a sawed off shotgun. When the robbers came in they were screaming and cursing at Mr. Shattuck, Judge McCuistion, and a Mr. Hughes, the Brookshire Brothers manager at the time. Mr. Rounsaville steps out with the double barrel and lets loose with both barrels, he had to aim high or he would have killed Mr. Shattuck, so the shot peppered the top of the door. One robber shot Judge McCuistion, but his pocket watch stopped the bullet.
It ruined his watch, but saved his life. The robbers ran outside firing as they went and shot a hole in the bank window. At this point everyone that had a gun was shooting. The City Marshall, Mr. Earle emptied his 45 and ran to his shoe shop and got his rifle. He shot Fred McClure clean through with the rifle and killed him. Leo Spencer took off in the car and left his partner laying dead in the street. Marshall Earle and Harvey Treadwell commandeered the Brooks & Pearman Wrecker and took off in pursuit.
Spencer’s tire had been shot out so he stopped the truck by Tracie Pearman’s house just east of the red light and took off on foot. Mr. Treadwell caught up with him and threw down on him walking down the street and the man surrendered. My mother-in-law, Juanita Holcomb told me that she and her friend Jo Gladys McClendon were walking home from school that day and Joe Gladys wanted to go have a look at the dead man laying in front of the bank. My mother-in-law said that the sight of the young man killed always bothered her. Nobody claimed Fred McClure’s body and he was buried in a paupers grave.
The 1934 bank robbery story sounds really glamorous like a Hollywood movie, but when that many bullets are being fired somebody innocent is bound to get killed. I’m glad our 2018 robbery last week ended with our ladies at the bank shaken but safe. I do hope they catch these bank robbers and bring them to justice. Maybe they will get caught doing it again somewhere else and go to prison.
A big congratulations goes out to all the seniors that graduated on Saturday night in Alto at Cam’ron Mathews Field. A cool breeze blew in just as the graduation started and blew over all six of the ferns they had for decoration, but cooled down the crowd. After two nice speeches by two beautiful young ladies, Valedictorian Jacy Howell and Salutatorian Summer White, the diplomas were handed out as the students danced and twirled by. I know that all the parents were proud of the hard work their children put into their educations. Good Luck on your future endeavors! I’ve taken up too much room with all this bank robbery business, so I’m going to have to wind this issue to a close. I’ll see ya next week!
And remember, There will be many chapters in your life. Don’t get lost in the one you’re in now.