On September 10, 1954, George Quatsling, age 21, holds up the Dishman State Bank in Spokane County and escapes in a maroon, 1952 Chevrolet sedan with $136,000. The following day, two Spokane Police detectives, acting on tips that a man is repainting a red automobile in a backyard garage at night by flashlight, will apprehend Quatsling and recover the loot. But it is not the getaway car he was seen painting; that vehicle will be found later, abandoned 10 miles southeast of Spokane. Quatsling will be convicted of the armed robbery of a federally insured bank and sentenced to 10 years in prison, most of which he serves at the Alcatraz Island Federal Penitentiary in San Francisco. It is, at the time, the biggest bank robbery in the history of Washington state.
One Morning at the Bank
Dishman is a small community located in east central Spokane County approximately six miles east of downtown Spokane. The place was named for A. T. Dishman who established a rock quarry there in 1889. In 1954, the Dishman State Bank was located at E 8412 Sprague Avenue (now the site of Appleway Mitsubishi automobile dealership). The following year, the bank was sold and became the Dishman Branch of the Seattle First National Bank.
Shortly before 9:00 a.m. on Friday, September 10, 1954, Manager Glen W. Harrington arrived at the Dishman State Bank on Sprague Avenue and unlocked the front door. He was startled to find a man, armed with two handguns, already inside the bank waiting for him to arrive. After politely greeting Harrington and several employees arriving for work, the bandit motioned for them to enter and herded the group into the director’s room in the back of the building. “That’s eight out of 12; only four more to go,” the robber remarked (Spokane Daily Chronicle). He stood by the door until the last four employees arrived, and, after locking the door, escorted them into the back room at gunpoint.
Once the entire staff of the bank was accounted for, the bandit cut the telephone lines and forced Harrington to take him to the vault. Harrington managed to open combination lock on the vault door, but was unable to open the lock on the grille protecting the vault’s interior. He summoned Maxine Hepton, the bank’s head bookkeeper, to assist. She opened the grille, but informed the thief she was unable to open the lock on the heavy wire cage containing the bulk currency, without the key. The robber took out a large screwdriver and pried open the lock. Once inside, he began stuffing bundles of currency into a paper market sack. When the sack broke, the bandit located a large cardboard box and scooped money into it. When it was filled, he escorted Harrington and Hepton back to the director’s room, said goodbye to his 12 hostages and departed through the front door with the box of loot. A witness, who worked at Appleway Motors, just east of the bank, saw him drive away, unaccompanied, in a maroon 1952 Chevrolet Skyline two-door sedan, which had been parked at the curb.
A Suspicious Red Car
The robbery of a bank backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is a federal crime under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). At the crime scene, investigators discovered the bandit had used a pry-bar or large screwdriver to jimmy open a window at the rear of the building on the morning of the robbery and was waiting for the employees to arrive for work. Maxine Hepton told police that the bandit, described as a clean-shaven, tall, blond, male in his 20s, had spent time in the bank on the previous day, inquiring about transferring funds and casing the place.
On Saturday morning, September 11, 1954, Spokane Police Detectives Alfred M. Stoser and Menzo A. Clinton were following up on tips phoned in by the public about the bank robber and the getaway vehicle. Averil E. Goff, wife of city detective Charles V. Goff, informed police that on Friday afternoon she was at the Playfair Race Track when a friend, Tillie Mely, told her about a suspicious man who had moved into her neighborhood two weeks earlier.
Tillie Mely, who lived across the street, saw him painting a red car in the garage behind the residence at E 4054 3rd Avenue, at night by flashlight. And, the house was conveniently located just off Sprague Avenue, only three miles west of the Dishman State Bank.
Quatsling's Life of Crime
Detectives Stoser and Clinton went to the house and knocked. The man who opened the door fit the robber’s description. He identified himself as George Quatsling. The detectives asked permission look around and Quatsling let them inside. While Clinton was in another part of the house, Stoser went into the bathroom with Quatsling following. He pulled a gun and told Stoser: “Don’t move or I’ll kill you” (Spokane Daily Chronicle). Undaunted, Stoser snatched the bandit’s gun away and knocked him into the bathtub.
With Quatsling restrained in handcuffs, the detectives made a quick search of the house for accomplices and discovered the bank loot in a suitcase under the bed. In addition to the money, they found 42 handguns, 15 rifles and shotguns, a considerable amount of ammunition and other items hidden in the residence. Quatsling was arrested and taken to the Spokane County/City jail for identification and questioning. A query through the National Crime Information Center revealed Quatsling had escaped from the Jefferson County jail in Golden, Colorado, on August 9, 1954, where he was being held on a charge of armed robbery.
In a police line-up, witnesses positively identified Quatsling as the Dishman State Bank robber. During questioning, he bragged about the bank holdup and told detectives he cased the job for two days. Quatsling also admitted burglarizing Morlan’s Outdoor Sporting Goods, East Sprague Hardware, and Buchanan Chevrolet in Spokane and at committing least two armed robberies in Denver, Colorado. He said he worked his way to Washington by stealing cars and staging a series of holdups en route. Quatsling arrived in the Spokane area about August 25, renting the house at E 4054 3rd Avenue around the beginning of September.
The car used in the holdup, a maroon, 1952 Chevrolet sedan, was found that morning, abandoned some 10 miles southeast of Spokane. It had been stolen from Buchanan Chevrolet’s used-car lot and was not the one Quatsling was seen painting. That car, a red 1950 Hudson sedan, had been stolen near Rathdrum, Idaho, on September 4, to replace a Chrysler Quatsling had driven from Colorado and wrecked. He brought the Hudson to the house in Spokane, painted it green a few days before the robbery, then stashed it near Edgecliff TB Sanitarium (now Edgecliff Park), some two-and-a-half miles away, to use as a getaway car. The Spokane Police recovered the Hudson on Friday afternoon and discovered a loaded Johnson 30.06 caliber, automatic rifle, stolen from Morlan’s Outdoor Sporting Goods, hidden in the back seat.
On Saturday afternoon, September 11, 1954, Quatsling was taken before U.S. Commissioner Thomas P. Delaney for his initial appearance. Assistant U.S. Attorney William Tugman filed an information with the court, charging Quatsling with the federal crime of bank robbery. His bail was set at $50,000 cash or surety bond. Meanwhile, the FBI hastened to bolster the case against Quatsling by proving additional federal violations disclosed during his interviews with police.
On October 4, 1954, Bernard E. Hammond, claims manager of the Hartford Accident and Insurance Company, the firm which insured the bank’s holdings, presented Detectives Stoser and Clinton with rewards of $500 each for capturing Quatsling and recovering the bank’s money. Averil E. Goff and Tillie Mely, who had provided information to the police, also received $500 each as a reward for their participation in suspect’s capture.
On Monday, October 20, 1954, the federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment against Quatsling, charging one count of bank robbery, two counts of interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle, and two counts of interstate transportation of stolen firearms. He was arraigned the following morning in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Washington, before Judge Sam M. Driver. Quatsling pleaded not guilty to the charges and Judge Driver approved a motion by his attorney, Anthony J. Felice, that the defendant undergo a psychiatric examination to determine his mental competence.
On Wednesday, December 7, 1954, Quatsling appeared before Judge Driver and pleaded guilty to one count of bank robbery. On a motion by U.S. Attorney William B. Bantz, the court dismissed the additional four felony counts included in the indictment.
A Gangster and His Fantasies
Prior to sentencing, Bantz told Judge Driver that George (Juraj) Quatsling was born in Smolink, Czechoslovakia, in 1934. The family immigrated to America in 1938 and lived in New York, where George attended high school and belonged to the Boy Scouts of America, achieving the rank of Eagle Scout. In the early 1950s, George and his mother, Maria Quatsling, moved to the Denver area where he had been in trouble with the law ever since. He fled to Spokane after escaping from the Jefferson County jail in Golden, Colorado, on August 9, 1954. During his journey west, George had committed a series of burglaries and holdups and had crossed state lines in stolen automobiles with stolen firearms. Bantz said George had been previously examined at Colorado State Mental Hospital in Pueblo and found to be sane. However, a psychiatrist there reported the defendant had fantasies of becoming a gangster such as John Dillinger or George “Pretty Boy” Floyd.
For pulling the biggest bank robbery in the history of Washington state and endangering the lives of 12 hostages, Judge Driver sentenced Quatsling to the maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. U.S. Marshals took him immediately to the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary to start serving his sentence. On March 24, 1955, the Federal Bureau of Prisons transferred George Quatsling (prisoner No. 1177-AZ) to the Alcatraz Island Federal Penitentiary in San Francisco Bay, a maximum-security prison established in 1934 to hold incorrigible prisoners.