On January 9, 1921, the Newton Gang drove into Hondo, Texas, a small town 30 miles west of San Antonio, to rob one of the two banks in town. It was just past midnight and the temperature was near freezing.
The Newtons knew the night watchman in Hondo, and as was his habit, they found him huddled around a pot-bellied stove in the depot. They cut all of the telephone wires and then went back to check on the night watchman. He had not budged from his spot by the stove so Joe was placed across the street as a lookout while the rest went to the bank.
In his 1979 interview, Willis proudly told his version of the story:
“Sometime you just get lucky ’cause they had left the vault door open. They had left it unlocked so we didn’t need no nitro or nothing. We jimmied the window, walked over to the vault, tried the handle and she opened! You would be surprised how many times them banks would just close the door so it looked locked during the night.
“We had the vault cleaned out in no time and went to see if the night watchman was still in the depot. Sure enough, he was reading a magazine and drinking coffee by the stove. Well hell, we figured we had plenty of time so we’d go over to the other bank and give it a try. I kept Joe and Doc watching the night marshal while Jess and I went down to the other bank.
“We got inside that bank and cleaned it out. Damn, two banks in one night and the night marshal, he never come out of the depot!”
The local newspaper, the Hondo Anvil Herald, carried the story with a splash headline:
Yeggs Rob Hondo Banks
One of the Most Daring Robberies Ever Staged in Texas Occurred Here Sunday Morning
The people of Hondo were amazed and angered Sunday morning when it became known that both banks had been entered by yeggs, between midnight and daylight, and robbed of both money and valuables. Entrance to the First National Bank was effected by forcing the front doors; while the entrance to the State Bank was effected by prizing down the bars over the last window in the alley between Parker’s and the bank.
The newspaper went on to give an elaborate description of the robbery:
Owing to most of the money in both banks being in the money safes, with time locks set, the loss in cash was not serious, the First National losing a total of $2,814 while in the matter of actual cash loss the State Bank was a little more fortunate, its loss being $1,879; both banks losing a total of $4,694 nearly all of which was silver coin.
The funds of both banks were covered by burglary insurance, consequently neither will suffer loss. [Just like Willis had assured his brothers.]
Owners of private boxes, who had put their valuables in the vaults of the banks, are the heaviest losers, and their actual loss will not be definitely known for some time-probably a month-as the owners of the boxes are the only ones who can clear up the loss, the officials of the banks not being advised of the contents of the boxes.
The safety deposit box owners had cash, government bonds, War Savings Stamps, jewelry, and other valuables in their boxes so it was impossible to determine the exact amount taken in the robbery. Estimates of as high as $30,000 were never confirmed.
The article continued to describe the “safe experts:’
… That the robbers were experts is borne out by the fact that they were able to work the combination on the vault of the First National Bank. [Willis said it was left unlocked.] They were also experts in the use of explosive, the vault doors of the State Bank being blown open by one of the most powerful explosives known-TNT [ Willis swore in his interview that he never used dynamite-only nitroglycerine.]
The vaults were thoroughly ransacked and the floors were strewn with papers about two feet thick.
From the thoroughness with which the robbers made their search for securities it is evident that they spent two hours or more in the vaults of the banks and the private boxes of the customers are in a sad plight, most of them showing that they were beat open by some heavy instrument, probably with a sledgehammer that had been stolen from the blacksmith shop of Mask & Co.
… That the robbers were no tyros (archaic word meaning Window Cleaning Newton MA beginners) in the business of robbing is again borne out by the fact that they took every precaution against being apprehended by the possession of jewelry, gold coins, and so forth, which might lead to their identity. The floors of the vaults were literally strewn with such articles as might lead to their detection. Notes and other articles of value that could not be turned into money were cast aside and left behind.
It is generally believed that the band was composed of from six to eight men, and that both banks were robbed simultaneously, a gang being assigned to each bank.
Another circumstance that indicates that the robbers were not new to the game of bank robbing is borne out by the fact that every telephone line in town was cut, apparently, before the banks were robbed. And this part of their plans was carried out most effectively and by an expert telephone man.
… Cables were severed, apparently with saws, and single wires were cut with wire clippers. Only three telephones connected with the local exchange were working Sunday morning.