In early August 1920, a man described by the Oklahoma Bankers Association as being 25 years old, approximately 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighing 160 pounds with brown hair and a light florid complexion entered the bank at Ponca City, Oklahoma. He gave his name as J. B. Hamons when he opened an account at the bank there and deposited an $895.20 check drawn on the Wayne County Home Savings Bank in Detroit, Michigan.
The man then withdrew some of the money and purchased an automobile. He left Ponca City driving a Dodge Roadster with a new top but with old curtains of brown mohair. The car did not contain a spare tire, but sported four Miller Brothers tires with aluminum painted rims and lug nuts. When he arrived In Wichita, Kansas, the man wrote a fraudulent check to pay for a hotel room.
The man arrived in Sedalia and went to the Le Grand Garage and attempted to purchase a Chandler automobile from Mr. Boehme. He said he was moving to Sedalia and would use the car to bring his wife and children from Quincy, Illinois, to Sedalia.
He also told Boehme that he was purchasing the home owned by Otto Pehl. Boehme was suspicious and contacted Pehl, who reported that the man had not made good on his offer to purchase the Pehl home. Boehme wisely decided not to sell a car to the stranger.
The “smooth stranger,” as he was called by the Sedalia Democrat, was busy here. He visited the offices of two Sedalia Real estate agents — Q. A. Morgan and George Melton and Son — and stole several checks from each firm. He used these checks to defraud three Sedalia banks and local jeweler Charles Bard of more than a $1,000.
The con man passed himself as a farmer when he visited the banks and opened accounts, from which he then took some cash, leaving the remainder of the money on deposit. Under the name R. P. Raines, he went to the Sedalia Trust Company with a forged check from George Melton and Son for $1,285, and withdrew about $600.
He then went to the American Exchange Bank and presented a $727.50 forged check supposedly from Q. A. Morgan. Using the name J. E. Wilson, he left most of the money in the bank. He next visited Third National bank, where using the name A. L. Moore, he deposited a check for $785. He again left most of the money in the bank.
The next victim of the con man was Charles Bard. The stranger bought a watch, a watch chain and a charm for $185. The stranger, giving the name B. F. Sutton, presented Bard with a check from Melton and Sons and asked for his change in cash.
Within a few days, some of the stolen check caught the attention of the Sedalia Clearing House; others were thought to still be in the possession of the forger. Needless to say, the Sedalia Banks felt “keenly the fact that they were victimized.” The Democrat ended its coverage of the incidents with the comment that such incidents will make it more difficult for anyone to cash a check or open an account without “proper credentials.”
Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.