History Mystery: Daring Silver Lake bank robbery featured fake deputies

BY DIANE GILES
dgiles@kenoshanews.com
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Last week’s question: In 1932, bank robbers went to the home of an assistant cashier and tied up his wife and a school teacher before ushering him to his place of employment to gain access to the vault. Which Kenosha County bank was it?

Answer: The Silver Lake State Bank was the scene of a stealthy planned robbery, the likes of which hadn’t been seen before.

Two men disguised as sheriff’s deputies, complete with uniform hats, badges and leather coats bearing sheepskin collars, arrived at the home of Clifford Janke at 7 a.m. on April 14, 1932. They drove a car sporting fake police license plates.

When Mrs. Janke answered the door, the pair told her they were there to see her husband. When Clifford appeared, they pulled revolvers and quickly subdued Janke, his wife and a boarder, school teacher Mabel McKee.

After tying up the women in the basement, they took Clifford to the bank.

Investigators later said the robbers were familiar with the Janke home and the bank.

At the bank

They timed their arrival at the bank four blocks away to coincide with the 7:30 a.m. time lock on the bank vault.

As Janke unlocked the front door, two customers, Peiber VanderZee and his 14-year-old son William, approached. They were permitted to enter the bank building and found themselves at gunpoint.

“Have your key ready and don’t make any blunders,” the robbers told Janke at the vault. “If you try any monkey business, we’ll blow your brains out.”

Then the banker and the VanderZees were herded into the vault and onto the floor, and Janke was handcuffed to the grill. All the cash and silver were taken.

As soon as the robbers made their getaway, the VanderZees went to the home of bank manager Erik Hansen two blocks away to alert the authorities.

As Hansen ran to the bank to set Janke free, the VanderZees hurried to release the women, who had gone into shock and required a physician.

The village blacksmith was summoned to take a hacksaw to Janke’s cuffs.

$5,000 booty

The robbers escaped with more than $5,000, but it wasn’t a smooth getaway. A witness reported seeing the car with “starred” license plates up on a jack, its occupants hastily changing a flat tire.

The car was found abandoned in some woods along Camp Lake Road a couple of miles away. Investigators learned the license plates were made from cheap tin with the letters and star cut from cardboard and pasted to the metal.

Kenosha County Sheriff’s deputies and authorities from Wisconsin and Illinois tried to capture the robbers without luck.

The Kenosha Evening News and the Burlington Standard Press reported that it was the second time in 18 months the bank had been robbed. Two men robbed the bank of $2,700 on Nov. 6, 1930.

It was also the fourth bank robbery in Kenosha County in two years.

This week’s mystery: The girls at Kemper Hall almost lost their school home in a 1923 fire. Deputy Sheriff Walter Wells ran into the burning building to retrieve ... what?

To see previous History Mystery articles visit the Kenosha News website and the webpage www.kenoshanews.com/news/historymystery.php.

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