Lester Gillis (aka Baby Face Nelson) and four associates had knocked off the bank on Aug. 18, 1933, and upon fleeing encountered Kinkema and his Remington repeater shotgun.
Moments earlier, a sixth participant — the getaway car driver known only as Freddie — ducked and bolted off when Kinkema leveled his shotgun at him.
The stranded bandits — Nelson, Eddie Bentz, Chuck Fisher and Tommy Carroll —commandeered citizens' vehicles to make their escape. Bank robber Earl Doyle was tackled and was the only robber apprehended at the scene.
One cannot pick up any book concerning the criminal career of Baby Face Nelson without reading of Kinkema's actions during the Grand Haven bank robbery. What has been lost to history is Kinkema's previous bank shootout encounter, which occurred 18 months earlier in Lansing.
On Jan. 26, 1932, Kinkema was in Lansing on business and walking down the sidewalk when a woman ran out of the Capitol National Bank yelling a bank robbery was taking place. Kinkema rushed into the bank's lobby and witnessed an armed man shouting, “Where's the big shot?”
The man — identified as Daniel Mead, a 52-year-old Lansing resident described as “a once-rich bachelor and eccentric” — fired his revolver eight times, striking five people.
One of those shot was David Timmons, a bank guard who was standing right next to Kinkema in the lobby. Timmons had fired three shots at Mead, wounding him, before Mead turned and shot Timmons in the hand.
It was reported Mead had “brooded for five years” over the foreclosure of a bank note and wanted revenge, especially on the bank president.
The Grand Haven Tribune reported the event in its Jan. 27 edition based on a phone call Kinkema made to the news department immediately following the shooting spree. Kinkema said “employees (at the bank) were frantic as they tried to dodge the revolver covering many cages of the bank, behind which most of the employees were terrorized.”
The bullet that struck bank guard Timmons was only a couple of feet away from where Kinkema stood.
Knowing police were on the way, Mead shot himself, taking his own life.
Four of the five persons he shot recovered in the hospital. But one — Berthold W. Nichols, a 29-year-old assistant cashier of the Olds Motor Works Co. — died from a bullet wound in the neck.
“It all happened so fast, I didn't have time to be frightened,” Kinkema told the Tribune. He added that he was rather “dazed” as he saw the shooting occur.
Little did Kinkema know at that time that 18 months later he'd be in a similar situation — a shootout at a bank — but this time, he'd have a gun.
The question is, did Kinkema's earlier bank shootout experience influence what happened in Grand Haven? Kinkema's son, Edward Kinkema, now 79, said he doesn't know, but thinks it might have.
“It's possible. My dad never said a thing about (the bank robberies),” the Grand Haven man said. “My mother kept a scrapbook about it (full of newspaper articles), and that's the only way I came to know about it.”
What is known is that Frederick “Ted” Bolt, then vice president of the Peoples Savings Bank, was a cousin to Edward Kinkema. The bank had installed an alarm in Kinkema's furniture store across the street to sound in the event of a robbery. And, according to Kinkema's son, the bank also “gave” his father the Remington repeater shotgun he used on Aug. 18, 1933.
Kinkema's son has always wondered why the bank “gave” his father the gun.
Was the alarm bank installed in Kinkema's store and gun given to him the result of what Kinkema experienced in Lansing 18 months earlier? It's possible. One can imagine Kinkema talking with his cousin, Ted Bolt, about his experience, and a response formulated to protect the Grand Haven bank from a crazed gunman or robbery.
Eighty years later, the principal characters are no longer with us to ask.
But eighty years ago, Kinkema grabbed his weapon and confronted danger. Baby Face Nelson sprayed machine gun fire overhead while he and his cohorts exited the bank, making their escape and way into history.
It was reported Kinkema returned fire and he aided in the capture of robber Earl Doyle by striking him in the head with the butt of his gun. Doyle was the only robber captured that day.
Edward Kinkema died Feb. 8, 1965, at a Grand Rapids hospital following a five-day illness, suffering from pneumonia and other complications. He was 60.
The connection, if any, between the 1932 Lansing bank robbery and what happened in Grand Haven in 1933, remains a mystery.