Rebecca Bradley Rogers – Girl Arsonist
Rebecca Bradley Rogers – Girl Arsonist, is not only a bank robber with a secret husband, but she had a wild scheme to rob a different bank by setting a fire. Although the house burned she didn’t get to rob the bank. Rebecca 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). The 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, and so she became Rebecca Bradley Rogers – Girl Arsonist!
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 acquitted.
It came out in the arson trial, Rebecca 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 had been unbalanced last December. Three alienists (psychologists) testified that she 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 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.
Back to the Bank Robbery
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 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 was no longer Rebecca Bradley – Girl Bandit, or Rebecca Bradley Rogers – Girl Bank Robber or Rebecca Bradley Rogers – Girl Arsonist!
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.