High Point men were wrongfully jailed for 1932 bank heist

Sep. 2—EDITOR’S NOTE — That is the primary story in a two-part Excessive Level Confidential sequence.

HIGH POINT — They claimed from the beginning they had been harmless.

In early September 1932, when a foursome of unmasked, armed bandits robbed the Carolina Financial institution and Belief Co. in Denton, making off with roughly $6,000, the following day authorities nabbed 4 younger Excessive Level males — Sylvan Palmer, Joe Horne, Walter Bridgeman and Victor “Child Face” Fowler — and charged them with the crime.

The suspects scowled appropriately for his or her mug pictures, however they nonetheless seemed youthful. Horne was 23, Bridgeman was 21, and Fowler and Palmer had been solely 19.

Not surprisingly, as crime suspects usually do, the younger males swore they’d nothing to do with the heist.

Regardless that, previous to their arrest, they’d tried to elude police in what The Excessive Level Enterprise known as “a spirited chase,” the 4 suspects nonetheless maintained their innocence. They had been working for different causes, they mentioned — acknowledging that they weren’t precisely choirboys — however they insisted it wasn’t as a result of they’d robbed the Denton financial institution.

Actually, all of them had alibis indicating they weren’t even in Denton when the heist went down.

Sadly for them, nevertheless, eyewitnesses to the crime nonetheless pegged the 4 because the culprits. Horne, Bridgeman and Fowler had looted the financial institution at gunpoint, the witnesses claimed, and Palmer had pushed the getaway automobile.

“I do know that is the person,” one witness mentioned as he eyeballed Palmer. “Until he has a twin brother.”

Which Palmer did not.

Based on one newspaper account, Palmer truly smirked when the witness recognized him, prompting a Excessive Level police captain to warn him, “That is no laughing matter.”

Palmer cockily smirked once more and replied, “It quickly will likely be, if it ain’t now.”

Alas, three months later — after solely three hours of deliberation — a jury convicted the 4 younger males of the infamous felony. They had been sentenced to fifteen years in jail, and off they went to the state penitentiary, nonetheless professing their innocence.

And possibly not smirking anymore.

However here is the factor — they actually had been harmless. We all know this now.

Sure, all 4 of the younger males had felony information — they had been well-known to Excessive Level police — however the Denton financial institution job was not of their doing. So once they acquired despatched up — 15 years for a criminal offense they did not even commit — they had been understandably bitter, and their future seemed bleak.

Till…

In Might 1934, almost 18 months into their sentences, a former Excessive Pointer named Mike Stefanoff made a dramatic, loss of life row confession. As we wrote in Excessive Level Confidential final month, Stefanoff was one among 4 Excessive Pointers — together with Bascom Inexperienced, Lester Inexperienced and Ed Black — who’d been convicted of killing a cashier throughout a extensively publicized financial institution heist in Taylorsville. He was the primary of the 4 to go to the electrical chair.

Within the ultimate hours earlier than his execution, Stefanoff confessed he had participated within the Denton financial institution theft, and the 4 younger males imprisoned for the crime had been harmless.

Stefanoff’s confession additionally included the blockbuster accusation that a number of present and former Excessive Level law enforcement officials had been complicit within the Denton financial institution job, too, both actively collaborating within the theft or at the very least protecting up for individuals who did.

In an uncommon twist, the confession was made to Nannie Palmer, Sylvan Palmer’s mom, who had been working tirelessly to clear her son’s title.

“I had by no means seen Stefanoff earlier than I talked to him in his cell only a few minutes earlier than it was time for him to die,” she advised The Enterprise. “I took his assertion in shorthand, and after I acquired to a typewriter, I used to be so overjoyed at what it contained — corroboration of my findings proving my boy harmless — that I might hardly see to kind.”

Sadly, there was a fly within the ointment. As a result of metropolis law enforcement officials had been implicated within the theft, Excessive Level’s prosecuting lawyer needed to examine the confession to see if he might verify the officers’ position within the crime. After a number of months, he introduced he’d discovered no proof supporting the allegation, thus clearing the officers.

Consequently, that discovering forged doubt on Stefanoff’s different assertion — that the 4 younger males convicted of the crime had been wrongfully imprisoned — so their sentences continued.

The narrative started to alter when one other of Stefanoff’s conspirators, Lester Inexperienced, confessed previous to his execution that he, too, had participated within the Denton financial institution job. Inexperienced unequivocally mentioned the 4 younger males imprisoned for the crime had been harmless. He additionally disputed Stefanoff’s competition that present Excessive Level law enforcement officials had performed a task within the heist.

Inexperienced did say, nevertheless, that Ben Lowe — a former Excessive Level bike cop — had masterminded the entire thing. Since leaving the power, Lowe had been linked to a gang of automobile thieves believed to have stolen as many as 100 cars, so the shine on his badge had lengthy since been tarnished.

If authorities might in some way show Lowe’s involvement within the Denton heist — or if Lowe had been to admit — maybe the 4 harmless Excessive Pointers might be pardoned and let out.

For one of many 4, although, such a pardon wouldn’t come quickly sufficient.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The conclusion of “Useless Man’s Pardon” will likely be revealed in Tuesday’s Excessive Level Enterprise.

jtomlin@hpenews.com — 336-888-3579

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