It had completely slipped my mind.

But Jan. 9 marked the 90th anniversary of the "Great West Louisville Bank Robbery."

It was a day nobody who was there that day ever forgot.

The day that Grace Browder and her husband, Carl, came to town.

In 1935, Startling Detective magazine wrote the tale of "Tracking Kentucky Girl Machine Gunner," based on interviews with Daviess County Jailer Robert Weikel, the man who captured the Browders.

This information comes from that story.

It was the afternoon of Jan. 9, 1929.

Martin O'Bryan, the 47-year-old cashier at Farmers Bank of West Louisville, was sitting at his desk, working with an adding machine.

His 14-year-old son, Henry, who would later become a Catholic priest, had just brought in some coal for the stove.

T.R. Hicks, 43, who lived near West Louisville, was leaving the bank after transacting some business.

He noticed a Studebaker pulling to the curb beside the bank, but he paid little attention.

Two people got out of the car.

One carried a sack under his arm.

Men strolled from in front of the general store to Heady's Garage to get a better look at the strangers.

One was a tall, slender man in overalls, leather jacket and aviator's helmet.

The other was slim and short, wearing a sheepskin coat, khaki breeches, kneeboots and a cap.

"I got something for you, Mister," the taller of the two said, as they entered the bank.

Banker O'Bryan looked up into the muzzle of a Thompson submachine gun.

He jumped to his feet and raised his hands.

The smaller bandit was guarding the door with a pistol.

"Take this and let go on 'em if they move!" the leader commanded, handing over the submachine gun.

"Don't move a finger or you get it!" the small robber said, in a voice as soft as a woman's.

The tall bandit cleaned out O'Bryan's cage and said: "If I ain't got all the cash money you got, you're sure going to get a shooting! Now, march!"

The O'Bryans walked out of the bank with the small bandit behind them.

Two boys came out of Mackey's Store.

"Stick 'em up and get inside!" the lead robber is said to have yelled.

They didn't move fast enough.

So he opened fire, sending the boys diving for cover.

Hays Bratcher, a West Louisville farmer, was sitting at the garage waiting for a bus.

When he heard the shooting, Bratcher walked to the door to investigate.

The gunman turned, spraying bullets in that direction.

Bratcher was hit in the right side and critically wounded.

Then the pair leaped into the car and roared away. In the scramble, they dropped 42 cents -- the only money ever recovered.

The other $838 was never found.

Sheriff Len Dawson was at the courthouse in Owensboro -- 14 miles away -- when the call came in.

He assigned the case to Weikel, a 6-foot-3 deputy who was an expert with pistol and rifle.

Weikel led a three-car posse of deputies and citizens into southwestern Daviess County in search of the robbers.

Hours later, they found the getaway car stuck in the mud in the Green River bottoms.

When they reached Calhoun, shortly after dawn the next day, they learned a ferryman had been held up near Eastwood by two tired travelers who forced him to ferry them across the Green.

The submachine gun was recovered near the ferry, wrapped in a sweater, hidden in a bush.

A Buick coupe, stolen in Calhoun, was discovered abandoned near Central City.

Inside were bags with a man's shirt monogrammed with the letter "B" and a woman's dress, shoes and lingerie.

"The little robber is a woman!" Dawson was said to have exclaimed. "A gal that totes a machine gun!"

A storekeeper in Central City had sold a woman's coat, hat, shoes and dress to a helmeted young man in overalls that day.

He paid with new bills.

But there the trail ended.

Dawson and Weikel headed for Louisville.

The Studebaker had been stolen there three days earlier.

The monogram pointed to Carl Browder, 26, tall and slender at 140 pounds.

He had been in Hawesville the day before the robbery.

Later, he was seen in Calhoun and Owensboro.

Calhoun friends told about his pretty young wife, Grace.

Both had lived along the Green River.

But the couple had vanished.

Finally, Weikel discovered an Atlanta phone number for a friend of the Browders.

He got two warrants and headed south on Jan. 13.

With Atlanta police in tow, Weikel knocked on the door of the house he tracked the pair to.

Police grabbed the man who answered the door.

And Weikel ran in with a .45 in his hand.

Grace Browder, 23, who had an ear infection, was lying on the bed.

Covering her with his pistol, Weikel yanked open a closet door.

Then he heard a sound from beneath the bed.

"I'm holding on you!" he reportedly said. "Come out, Browder. And let's see your hands!"

"I'd have given you a right smart fight," Browder said, "if I didn't have to move my legs so you heard me."

Under the bed, Weikel found a .45-caliber pistol.

The two were charged with bank robbery, auto theft and malicious shooting and wounding.

Grace said when they married, the couple had moved to Detroit.

But "Carl hankered for Kentucky all the time," she said. "And I did too. He talked about the Green River and the frogs a-hollerin' in the bottoms. We planned to buy a place near Calhoun and settle down to be near the river. Carl was going to get some money quick and put it on dice at Louisville and win enough for the home."

When Weikel and his prisoners arrived at Owensboro's Union Station, the crowd was so thick police had to shove a path through to the patrol wagon.

The couple were indicted on Feb. 4.

Carl's trial was set for Feb. 13.

The jury heard all the evidence, including Bratcher's dramatic testimony, which included pointing a finger at Browder and exclaiming, "That is the man who shot me down!"

But the case ended in a hung jury.

Two days later, Grace went on trial.

At 7 a.m., two hours before the trial, the courthouse was already packed.

It took the jury 35 minutes to sentence her to the maximum 20 years in prison.

The state waited 11 days to put Carl back on trial.

This time, it took a jury 45 minutes to give him 18 years.

"Green River puts a spell on folks," Grace said. "And Carl and I will go back and have a home there when we get out."

But for Carl Browder, it was a death sentence.

Three years later, at age 29, he attacked a guard at Eddyville prison and was shot to death.

Grace, Daviess County's only "flapper bandit," served more than 10 years.

She was released shortly after her 33rd birthday and returned to Atlanta to live.

Weikel was elected jailer that fall, eventually serving two terms -- 1930-38.

He died in 1966 at age 85.

Farmers Bank is long gone.

But Grace and Carl Browder's submachine gun is still on display in the Daviess County Sheriff's Department, a reminder of another time.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301,

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.