Read an Excerpt
The Great Taos BankRobbery
The Newsroom of The New Mexican first got word of the incident about ten minutes after nine the morning of November 12, 1957. Mrs. Ruth Fish, who had served for many years as manager of the Taos Chamber of Commerce and almost as many as Taos correspondent for the Santa Fe newspaper, called collect and asked for the city editor.
She told the city editor that the Taos bank would be robbed that morning. She said that she would walk over to the bank and watch this operation. She promised to call in an eyewitness account before the first edition deadline at 11:00 A.M.
The city editor asked how Mrs. Fish knew the bank was to be robbed. Mrs. Fish, in a hurry to get off the telephone and become an eyewitness, explained very briefly that one of her lady friends had stopped in her office and told her so. The lady was now waiting so that they could walk down together and watch.
But, the city editor insisted, how did the lady friend know the bank was to be robbed that morning?
Because, Mrs. Fish explained with patience, the two bank robbers were standing in line at this very moment waiting their turn at the teller's cage.
But, persisted the city editor, how was it possible to predict that these two persons intended to rob the bank?
This presumption seemed safe, Mrs. Fish said, because one of the two men was disguised as a woman and because he was holding a pistol under his purse. Whereupon she said good-bye and hung up.
While astonished bythe foregoing, the city editor recalled later that he had no doubt at all that the bank would indeed be robbed in the fashion described. If the reader feels less sure at this point, it is because the city editor had two advantages. First, he knew Mrs. Fish. An elderly woman of dignity, charm, and grand-motherly appearance, she possessed a flawless reputation for accuracy, Second, he knew Taos. While bank robbers probably wouldn't stand politely in line with the paying customers in Omaha or Atlanta, there was no reason to believe they wouldn't in this peculiar little town.
As a matter of fact they were doing exactly this, and theircourtliness was about to cause them trouble. The chain of eventsthat followed did not reach its semifinal anticlimax until sixtyhours later and was not officially ended until the following February, when the federal grand jury met sixty-five miles south inSanta Fe. By then the affair was being called The Great Taos Bank Robbery.
Lest the reader be misled by this title, he should be warned Taos also lists in its litany of notable events The Great Flood of 1935. if the reader can accept the fact that Taos managed a Great Flood without a river and with the very modest amount of water available in its and climate, he is prepared to hear more about what happened on November 12, 1957.
After the city editor collected his wits, he placed a long-distance call to the bank. The secretary who answered didn't know anything about any bank robbery, but she referred the call to a higher ranking official. The city editor asked this gentleman if his bank had been robbed. Certainly not, said the banker. How in the world did such rumors get started?
A few minutes later Mrs. Fish called back, slightly breathless. She reported that she and her friend had walked through the alley behind the Safeway store and arrived at the bank just as two men with drawn pistols dashed from the front door. One of the men was dressed as a woman, as previously reported. He ran awkwardly in his high heels. The two jumped into a green pickup truck parked in the alley and drove away. From what she had learned from spectators fortunate enough to arrive earlier, the two men had not taken any money from the bank. She would investigate further and call back. Mrs. Fish, a woman of impeccable courtesy, hung up without a word of reproach to the city editor for causing her to be late for the event.
The city editor now placed another call to the banker. He asked the banker if he was sure his bank hadn't been robbed, or something. The bank official now was less confident. He was sure nobody had taken any money but he was also sure that something funny had been going on. He had been hearing something about a man dressed as a woman, and two men running wildly out of the bank lobby, and other confusing stories.
Meanwhile, the police reporter had called the Taos police department and said he was checking on a rumor that there had been a bank robbery. The policeman who answered said no, there hadn't been one and he guessed the police would be the first to hear about it if there was one, wouldn't they? The reporter said yes, he guessed that was true. Actually, the police would be approximately the last to hear about it, being informed only after the pastor of the local United Brethren Church entered the picture.
By then Mrs. Fish had made her third call and provided the city editor with a detailed account of what had happened in the bank lobby. The two men had arrived just as the bank opened its doors at 9:00 a.m. They found a crowd of Taos businessmen waiting to check out funds to fuel their cash registers for the day. The suspects joined the rush to the tellers' cages but were outdistanced, perhaps because of the high heels, and were stuck well back in the fine. Customers quickly noticed that the line-stander clad as a woman had a full day's growth of dark stubble bristling through his pancake makeup and that the nylons encased an unseemly growth of leg hair....The Great Taos Bank Robbery. Copyright � by Tony Hillerman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.