Century old Genoa Bank robbery-murder still a mystery

Lou Hebert

One hundred years ago, the streets of small town America could be popular places on Saturdays.
It was the night farmers came to town. Finished with their labor for the week, they would come to town for groceries, supplies, hardware, and of course to do their banking.
So it was not unusual for E.G. Bowland, the cashier of the Genoa Bank, to open up the doors of the Main Street bank on Saturday night to accommodate the farmers and others who banked there. So on the night of Nov. 18, 1922, E.G. Bowland did what was routine. About 7:30 that evening, he unlocked the doors and along with other cashiers and tellers got the bank ready for business.
What they weren't ready for, is what happened next.
Under the cover of early evening darkness, no one in Genoa seemed to notice the large dark sedans that rolled into the downtown area, packed with a large group of men. Men with weapons and bad intentions.
The cars were parked in the shadows along the alley behind the bank and the men got into a nearby barn to hide; while some of the group made their way to a shack about 200 yards south and set it ablaze. In minutes, the fire and smoke prompted a fire alarm and distracted many peoples' attention away from the center of town and the bank.
The distraction, as designed, allowed the other men to go into action and they rushed out of the barn and one man positioned himself to stand guard in the rear of the bank, while two others stood guard on Main Street, flanking the bank's front doors. Four others, dressed in hunter's garb, entered the bank's front doors. All of the men were masked and heavily armed - some with rifles, some with shotguns, and some with revolvers. In a matter of minutes, two men crawled over the top of the cashier windows and issued threats to the startled tellers to get on the floor, as they began to scoop up cash and bonds and stuff them into a black travel bag. One cashier, Paul Lehman, was ordered to open the safe where the bandits grabbed about $8,000 in cash. Outside the bank, a potential customer tried to enter the bank but the armed men waved him away. They did the same to Mrs. William Herman who lived nearby. As she began walking towards the bank down the sidewalk, she too was turned away by the armed men. So far, no one had been injured or shot.
That was not to last.
Wynn Rhodert, the druggist, whose pharmacy was but a few doors south of the bank, became worried that his aging mother, who lived in a house across the street, might have been frightened by the fire alarm. He ran out of the drugstore and started across the street to his house to check on her safety. Unaware of the robbery, he stepped onto Main Street. One of the bandits yelled at him to stop. He glanced at them and kept walking. In seconds, gunshots echoed in the street. The young druggist was hit and fell to the pavement, bleeding and dying on Main Street. William Reeman, a local farmer, witnessed the shooting and ran to Rhodert's aid. His movements also drew more gunfire and then, according to news accounts, the bandits opened fire on even more people. Farmer Otto Base ducked for cover and a bullet pierced the lapel of his coat. He was not hit, but a new Overland sedan parked in front of William Herman's meat market was riddled with bullets. Fortunately no one else was hit by the blaze of gunfire the bandits sprayed even as they ran to their waiting cars and then sped out of town.
The fusillade of gunfire did not deter two quickly formed posses from taking chase as the bandits’ sedans headed down Woodville Road toward Toledo.
Calls were made to Toledo police to try to intercept them, but the trail went cold. The bandits were gone. Wynn Rhodert was dead. The Genoa Bank was missing $10,000 in cash and $8,000 in bonds. The town was shaken up and the newspapers had a big story to tell. It became the story of bold headlines and big drama.
The killing of Wynn Rhodert hit the town hard. He was a young man and said to be a recent arrival to Genoa. He left behind an aging mother in Genoa and a sister in New Jersey. In a twist of sad irony, the NewsBee printed an article about a poem found on his desk at the drug store called the "Clock of Life." It spoke of how one never knows when death will come but when it does, the clock of one's life will stop forever.
It was reported in the article that when he was carried from the street to this house the clock in the hallway stopped at 8:15 p.m. Whether true or not, Rhodert's untimely death only magnified the determination of local law enforcement agencies to track down the bandits and make them pay. But it was no easy task. The men were heavily masked and most of the witnesses and tellers said they could not identify them. A quickly formed line-up of possible suspects came to no conclusions the next day. There were theories and suspicions one of the bandits may have hid in a closet inside the bank the previous night in the bank to case it. That was never proven.
A break did come in the case in March, 1924 when four men were arrested and indicted for the robbery and the killing of Rhodert. One was from Virginia, another from Toledo, another from Bowling Green, and a fourth man from Fremont. They all declared their innocence. They fought the charges against them and in September the first of the group, Clifford Truax, was tried in Ottawa County court and acquitted.
Since the evidence against the others was identical, all charges against them were dropped. No one else was ever arrested or tried.
Were those men innocent? Prosecutors were convinced they had the right suspects and police said they found some of the Genoa bank bonds among their belongings when they were arrested. But apparently not enough evidence for the jury to convict. A century has passed since that night in November of 1922, the questions linger and the mystery still lurks in the shadow of the past.


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