|The 1939 Robbery of The Raritan State Bank
By Bruce Doorly
|Eighty years ago, on July 18th 1939, the small town of Raritan was rocked when one of their banks The Raritan State Bank was robbed. The small trusting town where many families did not even lock their doors when they went out proved to be too trusting as four bank robbers saw the Raritan bank as an easy hit.|
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|The Raritan State Bank which had opened in 1927 was located on the corner of the main street in Raritan (Somerset Street) and Anderson Street.
The building was quite impressive, made of brick
with an externally mounted clock extending outward from the corner.
The building today still looks like it did in 1939. It is occupied by Tropiano & Son Jewelers.
|At 1:15 PM on July 18th four bank robbers left their car, which they had just stolen, running in front of the bank.
They timed their arrival so that the one policeman on duty in town, Police Chief Lorenzo Rossi, would be at lunch. Each man had a gun.
When they first entered the bank no customers were present, just two employees of the bank, Raritan residents Alice Bardo and Albert Klein.
The robbers did what bank robbers do, pointed their guns at the employees and said this is a stick up.
As they preceded, they would find their heist to be quick, easy, and lucrative. The lack of preventative measures by the bank is fascinating by today’s standards. There was no silent alarm to signal for help and lots of cash on hand.
Bank Employees Alice Bardo and Albert Klein|
pose for a photo for a local newspaper
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|Seven customers would arrive at the bank soon after the robbery began.
The bank robbers had planned to deal with this. Two of the robbers would greet the customers as they entered and then herd them into a corner.
To prevent those outside from viewing the holdup the robbers simply closed the curtains on the windows. (Putting curtains on bank windows was obviously a bad decision.)
The robbers, who did not wear masks, went to work on emptying the various cash drawers. To carry the cash the robbers used the small trash cans that the bank had in the lobby.
|Raritan's Alice Bardo had a gun pointed at her.|
|The silver coin collection on hand was not locked. It was valuable, but heavy, thus the robbers quickly debated among themselves
if it was worth taking and choose to do so. In fact, they took everything they could. Two of the customers had the cash in their hand nabbed.
A 16 year old Pat DiPaolo, who would later be mayor of Raritan, had $10 ripped out of his hand. Ann Cunningham would suffer the same fate with her $65. One quick thinking guy Ed Harcarik, who would later be killed in World War II, pocketed his money and was not searched by the robbers.
|The thieves took their time, not fearing that a silent alarm had been triggered. They asked Albert Klein to open the bank vault where much more money was stored, but he explained and soon demonstrated, after they threatened to blow his brains out, that the vault had a 15 minute delay when opening. They decided they could not wait for that.|
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The Raritan State Bank after the robbery
|When they had collected all the cash and the silver the bank robbers put all the people inside a special caged area within the bank,
locked them in and exited. But this cage was designed to keep people out, not in, thus seconds after they left the employees exited and called the Raritan police.
The police station was in the back of the Anderson Street firehouse practically right next to the bank. Ed Diesbusky, the head of public works, was manning the police phone. A fearless man who was dedicated to his town Diesbusky tossed a rifle into his car and went on the chase. He could see the getaway car going up Anderson Street and pursued, but a train was coming just after the getaway car passed the tracks and the gate went down. Diesbusky was able to go around the gate, but this slowed him up and he lost site of the getaway car. He later told the newspaper that he was prepared to shoot it out with them.
Ed Diesbusky chased after the robbers.|
Today Busky Lane is named after him.
Click for information about him
|The robbers would speed up to Route 22 and head east. They would make a left at Adamsville Road in Bridgewater
(the road then had a section north of 22) and go to Foothill Road where they transferred to another stolen car which had been left in a lovers lane area.
Once they were in their second vehicle, they cruised at a leisurely pace to avoid suspicion.
A bit cocky at this point they drove right back through Raritan as they took the Somerville Circle on their way back to their home base near Philadelphia.
|The town folks gathered around the|
Raritan State Bank after the hold up.
|The town was shocked by the robbery. Nothing like this had happened before.
To add to the shock the robbers had gotten away with an incredible amount of money, $11,000 in cash plus $4,000 in silver.
Even by the standards of today that is a tremendous amount for a bank robbery.
No doubt the bank did not take enough precautions to prevent a robbery nor did they try to minimize the cash on hand in case of a robbery.
|Local authorities along with the FBI began a massive investigation to find these bank robbers.
The two employees of the bank and the seven customers who witnessed the robbery were taken to Trenton to view photos of the many known criminals in the area.
Here the bank robbers were identified. But law enforcement did not know their whereabouts.
|After a month, a detective in Philadelphia overheard a conversation that led to the location of one of the robbers.
While tailing the suspect for a few days it was learned that he had a stolen car in his possession. The suspect was brought in for questioning about that.
In a long interrogation/conversation the unsuspecting robber was asked about some of his friends (the other robbers).
He casually mentioned the various locations that his friends were staying.
The detective, who said nothing about the bank robbery, pretended to believe his story that he did not know the car was stolen and he was released.
After that the police planned a sting to arrest all four of the bank robbers at once. One morning four separate police teams hit the location of each gang member to make the arrest. One robber would briefly attempt an armed standoff, but soon dropped his weapon. All other arrests went without incident. One of the bank robbers told the authorities where thousands of the dollars of the stolen money was located.
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|Each bank robber pleaded guilty. It is known that one of the bank robbers was given a seven-year prison sentence.
(The old newspapers did not seem to report on the prison sentences of the others, but they probably received a similar sentence.)
|Mug Shot from local newspaper.|
Robber was given 7 years in prison
|Click to read article about what |
the robbers told the newspaper.
|The Raritan State Bank learned a valuable lesson. Do not be an easy target for a robbery and do not keep unneeded cash on hand.
In 1961 the Raritan State Bank would move to 34 East Somerset Street.
Around 1980 it would become the Heritage Bank. Throughout the years there have been numerous takeovers/mergers and today it is TD Bank.
The bank vault at the original location is still in use by Tropiano. But that vault now stores jewelry as opposed to cash.
|The location today is occupied by Tropianos Jewelers|