Rebecca Bradley – Girl Bandit
Rebecca Bradley was called Miss Modesty in High School. Her mother Grace was employed by the State Department of Insurance and had been a Deputy Sherriff in Fort Worth for four years while Rebecca was in High School. Rebecca graduated with a BA in History in 1925. All she needed at this point was a thesis on American History to receive her Masters. Rebecca was the stenographer for the Texas Attorney General Dan Moody, who would be the Governor the following month.
To rob the Farmer’s National Bank of Buda, Rebecca posed as a newspaper reporter, chatting freely with the customers and bank officials asking questions about the local cotton crops and other farm activities, taking notes all the time. She got behind the cage with the excuse of borrowing their typewriter, held up Cashier F.A. Jamison and Bookkeeper Wayman Howe at gun point and left with $1,000.00 in $5 bills.
She then locked the two men in the vault, after telling them she hoped that they had enough fresh air. She left taking the back roads back to Austin. About 5 miles out from Austin her car got stuck and Dairyman Frank Hill, pulled her out with a team. She washed her car and returned to her mother’s home where she took $910.00, the automatic pistol, which she emptied of cartridges, but not the bullet in the firing chamber and mailed them to herself in Austin in care of the University office. She registered the package with a value of $5. At 5:00 pm she returned to the car wash to pick up her car and was arrested.
“That was a nice little girl when I left her. I talked to her for 10 or 15 minutes. I asked her if she was single, she said she was. She appeared to be 18 or 19 and had a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes.” stated J.J. Lauderdale, one of the bank customers that she interviewed.
“Yes, I’d call her pretty. Now, I don’t what kind of clothes she wore. I couldn’t even tell you how short her dress was. She was neatly dressed — I guess that tells it. She kept looking over there at Wayman Howe, behind the counter and smiling. So, I said to her, You kinda like that boy, don’t you? ‘Yes, he’s good looking.’ Then I told her he had another asset that he was pretty well fixed. ‘Well, she smiled, that’s the kind to get!”‘
“She was pretty good at the typewriter. She’d make a good stenographer. I guess she had written on a page when I stepped over into the vault for something. “F.A. Jamison told the press.
All three of the men that talked to her described her as between 18 and 20, 5’2, has a round face and weighed about 115 pounds. The men were in the vault for about 10 minutes. One of them found a screwdriver and began hammering on the door. L.L. Carter the manager of the Independent Gin company entered the bank heard the tapping went over to the vault and tried to open it. When he couldn’t he telephoned W.M. Woods the former president of the bank who came over to the bank right away and opened the vault. The bank was insured so will suffer no loss. This was the second time that the bank was robbed. It had been robbed at night a few years earlier when a gang captured the night watchman and made him open the vault.
Rebecca Bradley had been charged with robbery with a firearm. She was taken to the Buda City Hall where she was identified by Jamison and Howe.
John Cofer her attorney was described often in the newspapers as youthful and flashily dressed. Cofer received a writ of Habeas Corpus from the court of appeals at 1:00 am. Cofer and Grace rushed to San Marcos, arriving at 3:00 am. Chief Deputy Sherriff R.F. Magruder had to be wakened up and finally appeared and started going through all the paperwork. Finally, the paperwork was sent to County Attorney Neighbors who refused to go to the Police Station in the middle of the night.
The sheriff tells Cofer that he’s too late. He has the money, the gun, and the confession. Although Rebecca was short $71.70 of the money. She told the Sherriff that she had gotten herself into trouble and she would get herself out of it. She didn’t want her mother spending any money on her. “That girl sure has spunk!” the Sherriff told the attorney.
At 6:00 am Cofer and the Sherriff went into the conference room to discuss Rebecca’s release. Cofer threatened to call the judge in Austin to begin contempt proceedings. Finally, the Sherriff left to get Rebecca. Grace was called from the automobile. As she walked into the police station she was confronted by a reporter. She told him, “I cannot, have not, and will not talk to any newspaperman. I wish to speak with my daughter.”
Rebecca, Grace and Cofer then went into the conference room. Rebecca and Grace were told by Cofer to talk to no one. It should be noted that Rebecca wore a felt hat, a brown coat, a simple Scotch plain dress, black silk hose, mud-smeared black satin slippers, and no make-up. Although called the “Flapper Bandit” by the Press Rebecca has never used rouge or lipstick, never smoked a cigarette, never rolled her stockings. She was very naïve and unaware of the seriousness of her position.
Becca refused to leave the jail in Hays County when her mother, Attorney John Cofer and R. Early Wilson showed up with the bail to free her until the Hearing. “I’m where I belong. I’ll look out for myself and get out of this the best way I can.” Finally, her mother convinced her to go home to Austin with her. Her bond was set at $5,000.00 which was paid by Mayor P.W. McFadden of Austin and Charles Ramsdell, Professor of History at the University of Texas, from where Rebecca had graduated.
So, with all this drama going on, more pops up! Otis Rogers an attorney from Amarillo was headed for Austin. On the way he stopped at a newspaper office and asked if there was any news on the “Flapper Holdup Case”. He then told the reporters that his name was CJ Morris, but one of the reporters recognized him as Otis Rogers an attorney in Amarillo. “I’m her husband” he told the press.
Grace was totally surprised when this newspaper called her for confirmation! “This is a terrible mistake, that couldn’t be!” She left the phone for a few minutes probably to consult with Rebecca and returned to tell them that it was a mistake. She declined to let Rebecca speak to the reporters.
Rebecca Bradley denied that she was married to Otis Roberts or anyone else. She told the reporters, “They are dragging my friends into it now. I have gone with four or five other boys, and suppose they’ll be dragging them in some way or another. There’s certainly some error about this marrying business.”
Otis Rogers spoke with the Associated Press and told them that he was married to Rebecca. He was sitting in John Cofer’s office at with Rebecca at the time. Grace told the press that it was a complete surprise to her.
Otis’s statement to the press read, “Rebecca Bradley is my wife. She and I were secretly married October 28, 1925 at Georgetown, Texas. She and I were students at the University of Texas at the time, and I later received my law degree on June, 1926 and went to Amarillo to start the practice of law. She did not go with me because I was just beginning my practice and was financially unable to provide her a home there. She remained in Austin to finish her work toward her M.A. degree. As soon as I heard of the charges against her I came immediately to Austin to assist her.”
Otis had also attended High School in Fort Worth and he and Rebecca were High School sweethearts. Rebecca told the reporters, “I am glad to see my husband.”
“She did not even send a telegram that she was in trouble,” Otis replied.
“Well, you didn’t send me any telegrams, like some of my ex-beaus did.” she quipped.
“Darn the ex-beaus, I came instead of sending a telegram,” Otis replied with a smile.
Rebecca Bradley had a hearing before Justice of the Peace A.M. Ramsay in San Marcos. Ramsay denied bail to Rebecca because he felt that it was a capital crime. The case then returned to Austin for a second hearing before Judge George Calhoun.
Otis, Rebecca’s husband was the first to arrive for the hearing. Otis, an attorney from Amarillo was dressed in a dark suit with a dark overcoat. His signature eyeglasses were missing. The court room was filled with spectators. Otis spoke briefly with one of the reporters who was a fraternity brother in college. Gosset the reporter said, “I knew Otis and Rebecca were married, but I wasn’t privileged to say anything about it. Only four of us knew about it.” He did not release the names of the other three.
As the hearing before Judge Calhoun began, he told the press that there were to be no moving pictures taken and no pictures taken with a flash. He also stated that since the courtroom was completely full there would be no smoking in the courtroom. Half an hour before the hearing started the courtroom was filled with society women, university students, numerous friends of the Bradley’s and of course the press.
Rebecca was dressed in a green frock with a high cream lace collar and long sleeves, she wore the same mud-stained black satin slippers and a turban of varied colored satin beneath which her auburn-colored bobbed hair showed at the sides and back. She also wore a diamond on her left ring finger and a small gold ring on her left pinky.
Grace was dressed in black with a red hat. John Cofer opened by stating that the writ of habeas corpus had been filed with the state, but he had had no response. He stated, “The only thing the court can do, lacking an answer is to discharge the defendant.”
District Attorney Moore responded, “If it is necessary, Sherriff Allen is here, and we can fix up an answer in a few minutes.” A brief recess was called while Moore and Allen prepared the response. Court was reconvened and Moore read the response at 11:11. A second recess was called while Cofer prepared his response to the state’s response. Cofer’s response was that Rebecca was being held illegally by Sherriff Allen as the Justice of the Peace refused bond. He further explained that by Texas law the crime was a bondable one. And then the witnesses were called.
F.A. Jamison was the first to testify. He was one of the men Rebecca locked in the vault. “She walked in and said she was representing a newspaper, the Beaumont Enterprise, and she was getting data for a story on crop conditions. She talked to different people who came into the bank and was there about 30 minutes and asked the names of influential farmers. She wrote her information in a loose-leaf notebook. She asked me if she could use the typewriter. She was at the door. Only Howe and I were in the room. She had a little handbag. She wrote on the typewriter. I went into the vault and as I came out, she was standing 5 or 6 steps away with a gun pointed at me. Howe was at the desk writing. She told me ‘Stay where you are’, the gun held downward. She told me to stop, I stopped.” This made all the spectators laugh and Judge Calhoun had to call for order in the courtroom.
Jamison renewed his testimony, “She told Howe to go over beside me. And he did. She told me to open the safe that she wanted cash. I walked back and opened the safe and brought out the currency. She said, ‘Lay it on the on the filing case inside.’ I laid several packages down.
“She was in the door to the vault and reached inside and took some of the money and opened her handbag. She asked us if there was enough air in the vault for us to stay about 30 minutes. I told her I thought there was. She was very cool up to the time she set her hand on the money. She then was getting nervous. The gun was a blue automatic. Looked pretty good size to me. ”
The crowd started laughing again and the court was again called to order. “I had no fear of bodily harm. I was very much surprised. I wasn’t as frightened as I would have expected. I went into the vault because I didn’t want to take a chance on being killed. “
John Cofer cross examined, “Did she put the gun in her purse?” Jamison responded, “I think so — I don’t remember. She had the pistol and the purse in one hand. I’m not sure whether she put the pistol in the purse. The last I saw of her I saw the pistol too. I didn’t think she would go out with it in her hand. I didn’t tell the papers. I didn’t think I could identify her.”
W.H. Howe, the bookkeeper was the next witness called. “I heard the girl ask if she could use the typewriter.”
Moore the prosecutor asked, “The young lady who is smiling?”
Howe responded, “Yes,” smiling himself.
“She told me to join Mr. Jamison over there. I went over. She pointed the pistol at first one and then the other.” The rest of his testimony was the same as Jamison’s. “She was very considerate.” he told Cofer in the cross examination.
Sherriff G.M. Allen was the next to testify. He told how he had gone to Austin and picked up Rebecca Bradley and taken her to Buda to be identified by the bankers. After they left Buda they were headed to San Marco. Sherriff Allen testified, “After she and I left Buda alone to San Marco she burst out laughing and said, ‘I have a whole lot to live down, but not as much as those men back there who let a little girl hold them up with an empty gun. When I got to South Austin I saw a motorcycle policeman. I saw a little boy with a bandaged arm. I picked him up. I turned off at the bridge on the Del Valle Road. I went around and came back. I bought a box of candy and put the money and the gun into the box and took it to Scarborough’s to be wrapped. I told the man at the counter it was an iron. Some women would call the gun an iron, so you see I didn’t yarn about it. I addressed the package to the University Station because I didn’t want to get it back too soon. The money is either in the main post office or at the university station. So, you see I didn’t yarn when I told you I didn’t know where it was.’
“She gave me a parcel post receipt and an order for the package. I got the package at about 3:30 Sunday from D.O. Wilson at the post office. It was addressed to Miss Rebecca Bradley, University Station. There was $910.00 in bills, a money purse, and a 32 automatic in the box. The gun had a cartridge in the chamber, but the magazine was gone. “
In cross examination Cofer asked Sherriff Allen where the gun was now. Sheriff Allen left the courtroom to go to Sheriff Miller’s office where the pistol was being stored.
“Let’s be careful with it,” Judge Calhoun counseled.
“It’s not loaded now,” Allen responded.
“Have you the cartridge?” asked Cofer.
“Yes” Allen answered. Allen cut the strings of the package and lifted out a purse, opening it up and handing Cofer the gun. There was also a cartridge that Allen had marked. Allen then presented Rebecca’s notebook, typed page, and some paid bills. Otis objected as the items were privileged information. Judge Calhoun overruled.
The next witness called by the Prosecution was D.O. Wilson the Assistant Postmaster. He retold the story of Sherriff Allen picking up the package. He identified the package and told them that the return address was N.J. Smithson, Abbey Apartments, Austin.
The next witness was J.E. McClain, city detective, who was one of the arresting officers. He testified about finding a magazine for a 32-caliber pistol in a desk drawer in Rebecca’s apartment. The pistol was loaded he told the court.
Jamison was recalled to identify the currency. He testified that it was the same denominations as what was stolen.
F.W. Hill was the next witness called. He testified to Rebecca’s car getting stuck in the mud by his home. Mr. Hill identified Rebecca as the girl he had helped out of the mud. He also testified to a telephone call that he had overheard between Rebecca and her mother.
” She called from my house to Mrs. Bradley and told her mother she was stuck in the mud on 14th street. That peeved me and I told her she had better get someone else to help her. I lectured her a little severely and told her to tell her mother the truth. I sent a boy to pull her car out of the mud. The car was in the crossroad between Del Valle and Travis Heights.”
With Hill’s testimony the prosecution rested its case.
The defense consisting of Cofer and Rebecca’s husband Otis called close to a dozen character witnesses including high school and college teachers, students, friends, Sunday school teachers and the president of the University of Texas.
Rebecca’s college friends are at a loss of why she would rob a bank. “Rebecca’s strict demeanor always commanded the highest respect from her associates. Her quiet lady-like bearing would disarm even the suspicion of frivolity.”
“Serious Rebecca is the antithesis of the ‘girl bandit’ so often read about.”
Cofer then asked for bail to be set between $2,000 and $2,500. Judge Calhoun set the bail at $5,000.00. Also, a special prosecutor was retained, Samuel B. Dickens of the firm Dickens and Dickens was retained. Oddly enough this was one of the law firms that offered to represent Rebecca pro bono.
Rebecca Bradley is charged with arson in connection with burning down a house in Round Rock. Apparently “Plan A” was to rob a bank in Round Rock which is south of Austin. Part of her plan was to burn down a vacant house near the bank and then when everyone left the bank to see the fire, she would help herself to the money.
Becca’s attorney John Cofer was finding signers for her $2,000.00 additional bail bond for the arson, ($29,000 today). Preliminary hearing for arson in Round Rock was held in the Farmer’s State Bank before Oscar Humphreys, justice of the peace of Williamson County.
Becca had been arrested in Seton Infirmary, the hospital, by the bed of her sick husband, Otis Rogers. Otis had contracted tuberculosis.
Becca used the alias of Grace Lofton, a reporter from Waco. Acting as Grace Lofton, she asked the bank employees what they would do if there was a fire. Rebecca took some kerosene and a box of matches and entered a house that had been empty for years. She was seen going into the house about 10 minutes before the fire broke out.
While the fire was in progress, she ran into the bank shouting “Fire! Fire!” The bank employees said that they had become suspicious of Grace Lofton after she had hung around the bank a few days, so they ignored her. The bank officials gave the police a description of Rebecca and the license plate of her car.
Rebecca’s trial for arson was continued until July with no change of venue. The continuance was granted because her husband Otis Rogers, one of her attorneys and a material witness was unavailable due to a serious illness.
The arson trial was to take place in San Marcos and Rebecca’s defense was a plea of insanity. Polls by the newspapers show that most Texans wanted Rebecca to be released and as not guilty.
It came out in the arson trial Rebecca Bradley was really short of funds because of a form letter she had written to bring subscriptions for a historical magazine. She was temporarily in charge of the Texas State Historical Society while the professor that normally ran it was on vacation. He told her that she could keep $1.40 of every $3.00 she collected. So, she hired several stenographers to send out thousands of letters for donations. Unfortunately, there were almost no donations, and the expenses for the stenographers and the stationary, etc. exceeded $2,000.00.
Grace, her mother took out a mortgage on their home for $1,500 to cover some of the costs, but Rebecca was about $1,000 short. To meet the debt, she wrote a check from the Fort Worth bank one day and robbed a bank for funds the next intending to deposit the funds to cover the check.
Otis who was still suffering with tuberculosis, had to be carried into court on a cot, from which he argued his wife’s innocence. G.R. Lundlefus, a Round Rock banker testified that Rebecca was the woman who had interviewed him on business trends on two successive days before the fire.
On the third day Rebecca came into the bank and said she had seen smoke coming from the deserted house. She asked him what their fire protocols were, and he told her they set off the fire alarm. During this conversation, the fire alarm went off but none of the employees left the bank.
Otis pleaded that Rebecca Bradley had been unbalanced last December. Three alienists (psychologists) testified that was suffering from dementia praecox, which makes a person unable to determine right from wrong and suffer from delusions of grandeur. Dementia praecox today is known as Bi-polar disorder.
To which the prosecutor proclaimed, “a disease criminals get when they are caught.”
Otis put on the stand Dr. Max Handmand and Campbell Beard, University of Texas professors, and Dr. Livingston Anderson an Austin physician to testify that she was unbalanced and irrational.
Grace Bradley was called to testify to hereditary leanings. Grace told of Rebecca’s father who she described as eccentric. He spent all his time working on inventions that never came to anything. He then left his family for no apparent reason.
Six state witnesses testified as to seeing Rebecca Bradley in Round Rock on the day that the house burned down.
A storekeeper from Austin testified to Rebecca buying kerosine and matches the day before the fire.
As prosecutions rested the jurors were sent to come up with a verdict. The jurors wrangled for over 6 hours. At about 9:00 pm with a vote of 11-1 to acquit the Judge sends them to bed, thinking they will have clearer heads with some sleep. But that doesn’t happen the next afternoon the judge has to declare a mistrial because of a hung jury.
Judge M.C. Jeffrey, the judge of the bank robbery trial ordered a change of venue to La Grange because of the inability to secure jurors. The state indicated by its questions that it was seeking the death penalty. Most of the jurors were dismissed because they had already formed opinions on the case and the death penalty was not part of those opinions. As a result, Rebecca was to go on trial for the bank robbery on December 5, 1927.
The bank robbery trial which was moved to La Grange went pretty much the same as the bail hearing with the same players testifying, and Otis claiming Rebecca was innocent due to insanity. This time the jurors didn’t buy it and found Rebecca Bradley guilty and sentenced her to 14 years in prison.
Rebecca’s other attorney John Cofer and his father Senator Cofer take the case to the Criminal Court of Appeals and get a new trial. The case was reversed and remanded based on improper argument by Prosecutor Fred Blundell. The improper argument was in his closing statement where he stated that if Rebecca had dementia praecox that she should have been taken to probate court and institutionalized.
Once again there was a difficult time getting jurors due to a long list of hypothetical questions dealing with mental health and the death penalty. Only 5 of 22 men interviewed were accepted on the first day.
Finally, a jury is seated. Our friend Mr. Jamison, who is the prosecutions star witness had changed his mind in the three years since the robbery occurred. F.A. Jamison the cashier of the bank testified that his observations of Rebecca in the previous two trials and along with her nonchalance boldness on the day of the robbery convinced him that she had no realization of the seriousness of her acts. Score one for the defense!
The defense goes pretty much the same as the Arson trial with most of the same witnesses and the same testimony. The jury is sent to deliberate.
Jurors in Rebecca’s trial report that they are deadlocked. The Judge tells them to go back and come up with a verdict. The next day, the jurors were dismissed at 5:40 pm as deadlocked. They were 9-3 to acquit. It was the first mistrial in the county in 10 years.
Otis was a little disappointed as he wanted Rebecca acquitted as a birthday present for his 27th birthday. But he thanked all the jurors for their service.
The Prosecutor was unsure as to what he would do next. He asserted that if Otis really thinks that she is insane that she should receive treatment. For himself Fred Blumfield feels that she is sane.
For the next three years the Rogers held their collective breaths, but the trial was never rescheduled. On September 23, 1933, the charges were dismissed, and Rebecca was a free woman. The next day, Rebecca and Otis welcomed their first daughter to the world, Mary Ellen Rogers.
Rebecca and Otis moved to Fort Worth and Otis opened a very lucrative criminal defense practice. Rebecca was his legal secretary when she had time away from raising three children, Mary Ellen, Virginia and Otis, Jr.
Rebecca died at the age of 45 in 1950. It was a testimony to Rebecca and Otis that none of her obituaries or newspaper reports of her death included the bank robbery or arson trials. Otis died at the age of 48 in 1951, newspaper reports did mention Rebecca’s numerous trials as that was how he achieved prominence in the criminal defense arena, he had several high-profile trials that he won after Rebecca’s. Rebecca’s mother Grace outlived them all passing away in 1954 at the age of 85.