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Fred William Bowerman
FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives
Born January 8, 1893(1893-01-08)
Pipestone Township, Michigan, United States
Died May 1, 1953 (aged 60)
St. Louis, Missouri
Cause of death Killed by police
Charges Armed robbery (1932)
Armed robbery (1939)
Penalty 5 years imprisonment
7 years imprisonment
Status Paroled in 1937
Released in 1946
Occupation Bank robber
Added March 5, 1953
Number 46
Killed During Attempt to Capture

Fred William Bowerman (January 8, 1893-May 1, 1953) was an American criminal, bank robber and Depression-era outlaw. A veteran holdup man, his criminal career lasted over 30 years and was placed on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list in 1953. That same year, Bowerman organized and led the disastrous Southwest Bank holdup in St. Louis, Missouri, which resulted in a standoff between himself and his three partners against a strike force of over 100 officers of the St. Louis Police Department. The events were later made into a film, The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (1969), starring Crahan Denton and Steve McQueen.

Biography

Fred William Bowerman's criminal career began in the 1930s and was eventually arrested in Illinois for armed robbery in 1932. He served five years and was paroled in 1937. Shortly after his release, Bowerman began committing robberies throughout the Chicago area. While living in Michigan, he drove to Chicago using stolen cars committing 36 robberies between June-October 1938. By the time he was finally captured a year later, he was sentenced to Joliet Prison where he would spend the next seven years.[1]

Released in 1946, Bowerman kept a low profile for several years. However, he was eventually identified as one of several men who robbed a bank in South Bend, Indiana for $53,000 in September 1952. The violent daylight robbery attracted national attention, much in the style of Thomas Holden or Alvin Karpis, as a bank employee was shot for "raising his hands too slowly". Nearing 60, Bowerman was named #46 by the FBI of its "Ten Most Wanted" list on March 3, 1953.[1]

A little over a month later, Bowerman participated in one of the most violent bank heists in American history. On the afternoon of April 2, 1953, Bowerman and three other men entered the Southwest Bank in north St. Louis, Missouri, and attempted to hold up the bank. At first, the robbery went as planned as the men quickly gathered up around $140,000 from the bank teller's cages and prepared to carry them out in a nylon satchel. Unknown to Bowerman and the others, a bank employee had set off a silent alarm. As the robbers were about to make their getaway, nearly 100 police officers arrived and surrounded the bank. As the robbers began firing at police through the windows, the bank employees hid in the vault to escape the firefight and tear gas being thrown into the building. One police sergeant was killed in the fight, shot in both hand and the neck, but eventually time began to work against the robbers.[1]

Bowerman, attempting to find a getaway car outside, was shot in the chest by police officer Melburn F. Stein. The bullet had pierced a lung and lodged itself in his spine. One of his partners, William Scholl (though this also has been attributed to Bowerman)[2], took a female hostage and held a shotgun on her as he too attempted to escape. He made it as far as the sidewalk before he shoved his hostage to the pavement, breaking both her wrists, and attempted to shoot it out with police before a bullet knocked him sprawling. Scholl attempted to go for a backup weapon but police were able to disarm him and dragged him off in handcuffs.[1]

Finding themselves trapped in the bank, Bowerman's partners panicked. One man, Frank Vito, chose to commit suicide and shot himself with his pistol. A lone survivor, one-time college football star Glenn Chesnick, escaped on foot without the money. He was captured by detectives three days later. Bowerman was taken to a local hospital where he identified himself as John W. Frederick. However, the FBI used his fingerprints to prove his identity. Bowerman died of his wounds on May 1, 1953.[1] He was later portrayed by Crahan Denton in The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (1969); Melburn Stein, the officer who shot Bowerman, had a small role in the film.[2]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e Newton, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Robberies, Heists, and Capers. New York: Facts On File Inc., 2002. (pg. 36-37) ISBN 0-8160-4488-0
  2. ^ a b Bell, Kim (2008-04-25). "Bravery never gets old". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/stlouiscitycounty/story/E272D9A834E91AA08625743600105E76?OpenDocument. 

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