It was a hot summer afternoon in Potsdam, a lazy college town that had turned its students and teachers out to summer pasture. The merchants were complaining about things being “slow” (as they always did at that time of year), yet they, like everyone else, were secretly enjoying the quiet of the off-season. Then it happened: The Great Bank Robbery of 1987.
It certainly wasn’t on anybody’s list of expected occurrences, so the robbers had the advantage of surprising the employees of Community Bank’s tiny satellite location. While they had the element of surprise on their side, they had the distinct disadvantage of being the only three black men in a white Cadillac convertible within probably a hundred miles, and that in a county full of rednecks in pickup trucks.
The local police quickly jumped into action, although they weren’t exactly sure what sort of action they should jump into. By 2:00, Alfred, the town’s one black businessman, had been arrested twice by two different State Troopers, only to be immediately recognized by the local chief and turned loose, his apologies to Alfred gradually morphing into a string of expletives aimed at the visiting forces.
The police did manage to set up roadblocks while the robbers were driving around town trying to decide which way to leave. It would later be learned that they had come to Potsdam on the invitation of a local professor who hoped to do them some social good, but apparently they were in such a hurry to make the most of the opportunity presented that they hadn’t bothered to get their bearings. Someone reported seeing the trio studying a map in the hospital parking lot shortly after the commission of the crime.
At 3:00, Alfred was arrested again, freed again, and decided he might as well go home for the rest of the day.
Lost, confused and road-blocked, the robbers eventually decided to ditch the car and make their get-away on foot. The Cadillac was found at the south side of town, on the north edge of the great swamp.
Meanwhile, the local coffee counters were a-buzz with speculation as “Three men and a Cadillac” began to take on gangland proportions. Not everyone, however, had heard the news. Irv Thompson, high-school English teacher, was home relaxing in blissful ignorance of the excitement… in his house bordering the swamp…
News of The Event reached Vic Jarvis early in the day. He was the proprietor of Vic’s Barbershop and Figure Skating Leotard store, and one after another his clientele wasted no time in giving him the scoop. “Just in case,” Vic set his scissors aside, took his pistol out of storage and placed it in readiness for any would-be robbers. He’d never had any black men come looking for haircuts (or leotards, for that matter), so he figured he’d know them for what they were if three came knocking on this afternoon. Maybe it was the latent figure skater in him, maybe it was just good common sense, but Vic was nervous.
When the location of the found Cadillac was announced, Vic’s fears reached panic proportions. He grabbed the gun, flipped over the “OPEN” sign, jumped in his car and sped south. Although he didn’t know it, Vic reached Irv’s place about the time the first of the bank robbers quietly and peacefully gave himself up.
Bursting into his friend’s living room, gun in hand, alternating frantic questions concerning Irv’s well-being with excerpted news bulletins, Vic made an immediate and profound impression. The idea was that Irv should have the gun to protect himself; an idea punctuated by the deafening blast it made as Vic endeavored to show Irv that it was safe because it wasn’t loaded.
The town’s memory of that eventful day has faded with time. The fate of the bank robbers and their collegiate co-conspirator is forgotten by most of us these years later – most of us except maybe Alfred who still shakes his head in wonder at honky stupidity, and Irv and Vic who occasionally look at a hole in the fireplace mantle and chuckle at how lucky they both were when the shot was fired.
This is a true story. I have changed the names, and 1987 is my best guess at which year these events actually took place.