Virginia City’s first bank robbery Ð Whatever happened to the money?
Sometime in the wee morning hours of Tuesday, Oct. 25, 1927 George Moore and Charles Fitzsimmons chopped a hole in the roof of an abandon tailor shop next to the Wingfield Bank (old Bank Of California) at the corner of “C” and Taylor streets in Virginia City. After gaining access to the building, the two men hid themselves by the front door and waited until cashier William Henley arrived at 9:30 a.m. to open the bank. Just as Henley was opening the door, Moore & Fitzsimmons exited the tailor shop and followed Henley inside the bank and stuck a gun in his back.
Both men were wearing handkerchiefs over their faces and, as one man held Henley at gunpoint, the other cleaned out the vault. Both men then took Henley to the basement and tied him to a coal bin before making their escape down Six Mile Canyon in a late-model Jewett. Henley managed to free himself in a few minutes and telephoned Storey County Sheriff Thomas Hurley. Hurley immediately called Reno Police Chief John Kirkley, who, in turn, notified Sparks Police Chief H.H. Fletcher.
By a stroke of luck, Pershing County Sheriff J. H. Clawson happened to be in Fletcher’s office at the time investigating another case when the call came in from Kirkley.
Figuring the robbers would take Highway 50 east at the bottom of Six Mile Canyon and then take Highway 40 west to make their escape to California, Fletcher and Clawson lit out on Highway 40 east to intercept the pair. The lawmen’s hunch proved right and arrested the men on the road to Ramsey just three hours after the robbery. Neither man put up a fight and denied any involvement in the robbery. However, when the men were searched they were found to have $822.56 in cash on them. Moore and Fritzsimmons were first taken to Reno but were returned to Virginia City the next day and were arraigned on larceny charges before Storey County Justice Of The Peace, Willard Mooney. Bond was set at $ 20,000.
Meanwhile, a tally of the bank’s assets showed $33,945 had been taken in the heist. $14,000 was in stocks and bonds, $10,000 in travelers checks and $9,945 in cash. Bank officials immediately put a stop-payment order on the negotiable paper and travelers checks. Other than the money found on the robbers, there was still more than $9,100 in cash and $24,000 in negotiable securities unaccounted for. So where was it?
When investigators went over the escape route, they found the stolen Jewett had gone off the bridge at the bottom of Six Mile Canyon, but the men were arrested in a Chevrolet registered to Charles Fitzsimmons. Lawmen concluded the pair had hid the Chevy in advance of the robbery and switched cars for fear the Jewett could tie them to the crime scene. Investigators also estimated there was sufficient time for the men to cache the loot in the foothills of Six Mile Canyon before their hasty departure. When newspapers published that information, treasure hunters descended upon the area in such great numbers that the sheriff finally had to run everybody out of Six Mile Canyon until they completed their search for the loot, which they never found. And so began a legend that still persists to this day, that somewhere at the bottom of Six Mile Canyon lies buried the remains of more than $33,000 in swag from the Virginia City bank.
The preliminary hearing for Moore and Fitzsimmons was held on Nov. 7, 1927, where Justice Of The Peace Mooney bound the men over for trial on Dec. 7. Both men were represented by Reno attorney Milton Moore who was not related to the defendant. The prosecution would be headed by Storey County District Attorney William Boyle. The trial began with Judge G.A. Ballard on the bench. Boyle paraded over a dozen witnesses to the stand to bolster his case. The most damaging evidence came from bank cashier Henley who testified that even though the men were masked, he plainly recognized the voices of the men who stuck a gun in his back and ordered him to “Throw up your hands.” Another incriminating piece of evidence were the shoe prints the pair left on the dusty floor of the abandoned tailor shop. The prints matched the shoes that Moore and Fritzsimmons were wearing at the time of their arrest.
Defense attorney Moore presented witnesses who testified they had seen the accused in Yerington on the morning of the robbery and the money found on the men was from a prior business deal. The trial lasted five days and on Monday Dec. 12, the 11-men-and- one-woman jury needed less than 30 minutes to find the pair guilty. On Dec. 22, Judge Ballard sentenced both men to five to 20 years. Both served a month shy of five years when they were paroled on Nov. 15, 1932.
So where’s the remainder of the bank loot? Well that’s been a fascinating legend on the Comstock for 77 years, but in all likelihood it was found shortly after it was stashed.
Two months after beginning their prison term, Moore and Fitzsimmons confided to their attorney they had buried the loot by the side of the road to Ramsey and even drew him a map of the exact location. The attorney claimed to have searched the area, but failed to find the money. Believing a double cross was in the making, George Moore confessed to warden Matt Penrose about the entire caper but it did little good. When Penrose and a search party went to the area all they found was a metal container by the side of the road.
Milton Moore relocated to Oakland and was under a good deal of suspicion. An injunction was issued freezing all his banking accounts, but he was eventually cleared when investigators could not prove he had taken the money. He later moved back to Reno where he continued to practice law. If Moore was involved, he took that secret with him when he died in Reno in February 1945.