Robbery at Day Dawn

Finally, after a busy day on Monday, 19 November 1906, the afternoon was quiet at the Day Dawn branch of the Western Australian Bank. The manager, Charles Jago, was the only person on the premises and was starting to close up when a man walked through the door at about 3 pm. He handed over a £10 note and asked for change. Charles turned away to get the change from the safe and when he turned back he found himself looking down the barrel of a revolver.

If you speak or move a step I’ll blow your —– light out.

Charles was ordered to “stick ’em up” and while the man kept the gun pointed at him, another man entered the bank, jumped over the counter and seized him. The first man followed and as he did so, Charles struggled and attempted to reach for his own gun. Unable to get it, both men took hold of him and restrained him. Charles’s silk handkerchief was removed from his pocket, scrunched up and shoved in his mouth. Another handkerchief was fastened over his mouth and tied around his head.

One of the men then produced some white window cord and bound the manager’s feet together. The robbers determined to take no risks and further lashed the bound man’s feet to one of the counter supports,… … His hands were drawn over his head and likewise secured to a second counter support.

Clever and by all appearances well-organised, the men placed bags under Charles’s feet in order to dull the sound of his kicking. Once they were sure he could not move, they rummaged through the drawers and searched the safe. They took everything bar a few pounds and stuffed the wads of notes into their pockets. Their escape was without fanfare; they simply walked out the front door and locked it behind them.

Bank Robbery

After about 20 minutes, William Johnston of the Union Bank knocked on the door of the Western Australian Bank to see if Charles was ready to go home to Cue. He received no response and assumed that he had already left. Unbeknownst to him, Charles was attempting to make himself heard but was struggling to do so with the gag over his mouth and the bags under his feet. He even tried knocking his head against the floor but could not produce a loud enough sound. William went on his way and left for Cue.

It took Charles over an hour to free a couple of fingers and gradually remove the gag from his mouth. He then yelled for help. At about 4 pm, Mr Jones was walking past the Western Australian Bank on Cobham Street when he heard the cries coming from inside. Unable to open the door, he rushed next door to the Grand Hotel and alerted the publican, George Lewis. Both men and several others returned to the bank and George broke the door down.

Upon entering the building they found Charles bound behind the counter. They freed him and immediately phoned the Day Dawn police. After some time, and with the police in attendance, Charles calmed down and somewhat incoherently described what had happened. Having heard the tale, a notice was sent to the Cue police force who were dispatched to Day Dawn. Sergeant Louis Simpson took over the investigations and started “…vigorously prosecuting inquiries into the daring robbery.

Great excitement prevails in Day Dawn, and the bank is surrounded by crowds of people.

The men had made their escape with about £1,900 and, remarkably, had not even attempted to disguise their faces. Considering that fact, and with the bank located in a “very prominent position” in town, there was some surprise that no one had seen them or noticed anything untoward.

However, according to one reporter at the Day Dawn Chronicle, the robbery in itself was not surprising. What they found surprising was that no one had attempted it earlier. The location of the bank, the fact that it was managed by one person, the sheer amount of wealth found on the premises (sometimes as much as £20,000) and the periods of quietness in the town, all combined to make the perfect circumstances for someone to commit a robbery.

It was not to be expected that such a condition of affairs could continue without a determined raid being made on premises so loosely guarded, and the inevitable has duly come to pass.

Western Australian Bank Day Dawn
The staff of the Western Australian Bank at Day Dawn in 1905 with the largest consignment of gold sent from the Murchison.

Charles provided the police with descriptions of the two men. The man who asked for change was about 36 years old, 5 ft 11 inches tall, had a dark complexion, black hair, dark piercing eyes, sported a dark moustache and had a week’s growth of beard. He was stoutly built and was wearing a dark blue coat, a blue cotton shirt with thin white stripes and a broad-rimmed Woodrow hat described as looking “much worn“.

The second man was about 5 ft 6 inches tall and was clean shaven with a clean complexion. He was of slight build and was wearing a dark suit and a tweed cap. Charles was confident he could identify the first man but was perhaps not so confident about identifying the second.

The police began their investigation with little to go on. While they had no idea which direction the men travelled, they did however have some minor information relating to the bank notes stolen. Eighty new £5 notes numbered 135001 to 135080 formed part of the loot.

With such limited information, all they could really do was search and make inquiries at Day Dawn as well as the nearby towns of Lake Austin, The Mainland and Cue. This included searching the trains. Constable Herbert Laslett stopped and searched a train due to leave Cue for Perth and then remained on it, taking note of the passengers who came and went.

Map
Cue, Day Dawn, The Mainland and Lake Austin. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia.

At Lake Austin Constable Laslett observed that a clean shaven man boarded the train. He interviewed the man and ascertained that his name was Alexander McPherson. He questioned McPherson as to what he was doing in the area and when he failed to give satisfactory answers, he arrested him on a charge of vagrancy and sent him to the Cue lock-up.

The train continued onwards to Mount Magnet with Constable Laslett on board. On 20 November he searched three men and their luggage but found nothing. The Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette noted that no one with definite links to the crime had been arrested.

No Clues

On 22 November 1906, Alexander McPherson was brought before the Cue Police Court. Despite his earlier lack of explanation, further evidence arose which showed that he did have an occupation and was not a vagrant. The police lodged an application and McPherson was “discharged without the slightest reflection upon his character.” Regardless, the whole affair was a rather hard price to pay for an innocent person.

Cue Government Buildings
The Cue Government buildings including the Police Court.

By all appearances Sergeant Simpson was not having much luck with the investigation nor identifying the men. Considering the large amount of money involved and perhaps even the status of the bank, it became necessary for a detective from Perth to take over the case.

Dective Condon

Detective Stephen Condon arrived by train at night on Friday, 23 November. He remained in the Murchison for over a month, during which time the only update printed in the paper was a statement that “Nothing fresh has transpired with regard to the Day Dawn robbery.

On 1 December 1906, the General Manager of the Western Australian Bank, Henry Holmes, offered a £200 reward for information which would lead to the conviction of either or both of the men. Unfortunately for the bank, the reward did not have the desired effect.

Reward

Whatever Detective Condon knew, he kept it close to his chest. By 4 January 1907 he left Day Dawn for Geraldton and then left Geraldton for Perth. It was noted in the Geraldton Express that “very little in the shape of a clue has been discovered” and by mid January it was declared that the case had likely become “enrolled in the list of undiscovered crimes.

Whoever had perpetrated the crime appeared to have gotten away with it and, to make matters worse, was spending their bounty. Many of the numbered £5 notes slowly began returning back to the head office. Unfortunately, there was no way of knowing where they had come from.

By February 1907 the Day Dawn robbery was all but absent from the newspapers. The Day Dawn representative for the newspaper ‘Truth’ was the only one who touched upon the story and declared that the robbery was a “cleverly planned and well-executed affair.” Despite there being no clues as to who the culprits were, the writer gave the impression that there may have been several suspects.

Dash and Daring

Without the police files it is hard to know what (if any) suspects the police were looking into. It is possible they were investigating several people but lacked the evidence to carry out an arrest. It is also possible they had no one in their sights.

On 11 May 1907 the newspaper ‘Truth’ published an exclusive relating to the Day Dawn robbery. According to their sources (which should always be taken with a grain of salt) after the police failed to apprehend the culprits, the directors of the Western Australian Bank took matters into their own hands; they hired private enquiry agents to look into the case.

Truth Headline

Ordinarily such agents would be bound by some sort of confidentiality agreement but it seems the directors chose not to pay them in full. Understandably miffed, they went straight to the press with the result of their inquiries.

The story itself is detailed and rather complicated. They start off by rehashing the facts and continually reassured the reader that Charles Jago (who eventually lost his job at the bank) was not involved. They commended his description of the first man and wondered why that man had not been arrested, especially since he had subsequently left the state with his cut of the money. While Charles’s second description was lacking, ‘Truth’ was of the opinion that “there was not much doubt as to who he was…

Returning back to the date of the crime, that night, on 19 November 1906, one of the men (who I shall refer to as Tom*) supposedly took the train from Day Dawn to Geraldton and stayed several nights at the Freemasons Hotel. The second man (who I shall call Bill*) was thought to have done the same.

Freemasons Hotel
The Freemasons Hotel circa 1900s. Courtesy of the City of Greater Geraldton Regional Library.

What was not obvious at the time was the fact that there was said to be a third man involved (who I shall refer to as Jim*). Jim remained at Cue and visited Charles in the Cue Hospital when he was unwell. It seems Jim did not take part in the robbery itself and Charles only recognised him as someone who lived in Cue.

Charles eventually left Cue and went to Perth. Tom and Bill left Geraldton not long after, also travelling to Perth. The writer for ‘Truth’ then stated that on several occasions Tom and Bill tried to see Charles. This was followed by the claim that one of the men had attempted to bribe a person to suppress a telephone conversation. Were they hinting that the men suspected of the robbery were also hoping to bribe Charles?

These three men (Tom, Bill and Jim) were described as being very close in Day Dawn and their disappearance after the robbery resulted in suspicion turning towards them. When they were all in Perth in February 1907, the bank’s hired agents began their inquiries. Letters, pretending to have been written by Tom to Bill and vice versa, were sent to arrange an appointment in South Perth. A letter was then left at a stable for Bill and one of the agents phoned him (pretending to be Tom) to tell him the letter was there.

Bill: Is anything wrong?

Pretend Tom: I can’t tell anything over the telephone, but you had better get.

Bill: All right, I’ll get away at once.

These letters and phone calls, created by the agents pretending to be each of the men, went back and forth several times. Meetings were created and abandoned. Telephone conversations were recorded. It is not known whether the men questioned these requests and appointments, subsequently exposing that it was not them making them.

What is known is that the men became suspicious. One arranged meeting between Tom and Jim (set up by the agents) was to take place at the Australia Hotel in Perth. The agents kept watch on the pair. At the time of the meeting they saw Tom walk straight past the meeting place and observed Jim peering out the window of the Albert Club. The meeting did not go ahead.

The watchers concluded the men were afraid to meet.

Tom and Jim tried to meet again but were always cautious. Jim caught the ferry to South Perth and walked past Tom’s house several times. He later returned to Perth without seeing him. On the next morning Jim concealed himself and waited for Tom to disembark the ferry. They did not speak nor approach each other but walked in the same direction, six metres apart.

For all their careful behaviour, again the meeting did not go ahead. Perhaps a little frustrated, Jim decided to visit Tom’s house, asked a family member where he was and invited him to a boat party. According to the agents, Tom was in the house the entire time.

Again the agents picked up the telephone and called Bill, pretending to be Tom, telling him that he needed to keep Jim away from the ferry as he was being watched. They then pretended to be Bill and a conversation was set up with the real Tom. Tom’s first sentence shows his suspicions.

Things are looking a bit dicky over the Dawn affair.

The conversation continued with Tom mostly concerned about the “fives” which he was surprised to learn (probably from the press) had “got out“. The whole saga was slowly getting to Tom and (indicating some sort of close connection to the affair) he said:

Well, I’ll be glad when there’s an end to it. You see I’ve got to bear all the brunt of it now. That —– Condon is always flitting in and out. It’s a bit rough on me.

Was Tom somehow connected to the Western Australian Bank?

The conversation continued on the following day. Tom again spoke to the man pretending to be Bill and once more referred to the five pound notes. Wanting to get rid of the “flimsies“, he came up with a scheme. It is another statement which implies that Tom may have worked in a bank.

Let me have them, and I think I can work them off by changing them for others here. They will not find anything out for months.

Shortly afterwards Bill left Western Australia. By June 1907 it was reported that the man connected with the robbery (perhaps referring to Bill) was last seen at Chile and was making his way to Buenos Aires.

In all honesty, ‘Truth’s’ article was a bit of a mess. It’s possible they were confused by the report and confused by the twisting and turning of the story; one minute reading about the real suspects and the next minute reading about the agents pretending to be them. The fact that they seem to have made mistakes does however throw some doubt on their exclusive. Was the story true or false?

Then there is the private agent’s various interactions with the men. If the three men were really that close, wouldn’t they have known each other’s handwriting and picked up on someone else’s? Of course, perhaps the letters were typed. However, raising serious questions are the telephone conversations. Surely the men would have known each others’ voices and recognised an imposter.

What we do know for sure is that no one was convicted of the armed robbery and that the directors of the Western Australian Bank simply had to accept the loss. The men, whether by perfect planning or sheer fluke, pulled off the heist and got away with it. It is not known whether the final two remained in the state or likewise left the country.

Why does it [the Western Australian Bank] not prosecute and punish the thief or thieves who have monkeyed with its funds?

In a world where the banks have been recently (and rightly) put through the wringer, ‘Truth’s’ final question seems just. Was it simply (and honestly) a case of there not being enough evidence to prosecute? Or, was the robbery an inside job, the details of which the bank preferred to keep from the public?

We know now the true story of the robbery of the Day Dawn branch of the W.A. Bank. The unanswered conundrum is: “How much more may a Board, which conceals so much, conceal?”

*These names have been made up. I do not know the real names of the suspects referred to in Truth’s article.

Sources:

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