In search of the elusive getaway car driver

Eighty years ago Sunday, mobster Baby Face Nelson and five associates rode into Grand Haven and robbed the Peoples Savings Bank.
Kevin Collier
Aug 19, 2013

Well, actually five of the men pulled off the job. The other guy, the getaway car driver, left before the job was finished.

When furniture store owner Edward Kinkema heard the bank alarm, he ran out into the street and saw a suspicious man seated behind the wheel of a large 1932 Buick. Kinkema aimed his Remington repeater shotgun at the stranger — but the man ducked, then sped off, leaving the others to fend for themselves.

When Nelson, Eddie Bentz, Chuck Fisher, Tommy Carroll and Earl Doyle exited the bank and discovered that they had been abandoned, bystanders heard the men shout, “Where the hell's the car?”

Nelson, Bentz, Fisher and Carroll commandeered automobiles from citizens in the streets, while Doyle was tackled and captured.

Ever since, some historians have wondered and theorized who was behind the wheel of the getaway car.

Numerous books written about the career of Baby Face Nelson have something to say about the Grand Haven robbery on Aug. 18, 1933. A few speculate on who was the driver, known to authorities as “Freddie.”

For the record, the identity of the driver remains unknown. But, there were suspects, and the best information concerning “Freddie” came from statements made by Eddie Bentz at the Atlanta, Ga., prison nearly three years after the heist.

The report caught the attention of Grand Haven Police Chief Lawrence DeWitt, who in short order gained access to Bentz for questioning on April 6 and 7, 1936, in Atlanta. DeWitt was still looking for “Freddie.” Beyond being a federal case, it was still a local robbery in this city.

DeWitt was joined by Sgt. Phillip L. Hutson of the Michigan State Police.

During the questioning, Bentz spoke and wrote a statement that described Freddie and his encounters with the man prior to the Grand Haven bank robbery.

Bentz had never met Freddie prior to the planning of the robbery. They met at the cottages at Long Beach, Ind., with Nelson and his associates present. It was Nelson who knew Freddie and persuaded all to include him in the Grand Haven heist.

Besides Bentz's statements, the book “Baby Face Nelson,” written by Steven Nickel and William J. Helmer, provides information on Freddie and his attendance at the Long Beach cottages.

According to Bentz and the book, Freddie (also known as Freddie Monahan) was at the cottage in the company of a young woman introduced as Monahan's wife. She was said to have looked like an actress.

Freddie was missing the middle two fingers on his right hand and it was said he had once been a member of the Roger Toughy's Chicago gang.

The best the FBI could offer DeWitt upon further inquiries regarding mobsters matching Freddie's description was William Jack “Three-Fingered” White. But they didn't support the notion it was White who was the getaway car driver — he was too "big-time" to be involved. White was also dead, killed by fellow mobsters.

White, born 1900 near Chicago, had a lengthy criminal record involving several bank robberies dating back to 1919. He'd been in prison a couple of times, once for murdering a police officer, but was always released on some technicality.

White had been a member of the Toughy gang and Baby Face Nelson had befriend him in the mid-1920s. White had helped Nelson relocate out west following his 1932 escape during a prison transfer.

White had two fingers missing on his right hand. The digits had been amputated in childhood after a falling brick at a construction site crushed part of his hand. A Catholic, he was a friend of Father Philip Coughlin, the man who had stored the infamous Buick in his garage, about four miles from Long Beach. Nelson knew Coughlin, too, from childhood.

A week or so prior to the Grand Haven robbery, Jack White had been married at Crown Point, Ind. — about 40 miles from Michigan City, Ind., where Father Coughlin lived and ministered. White's young bride, Nancy Kelly, was a night club singer, dancer and actress of sorts.

On the morning of Aug. 18, Father Coughlin arrived at the Long Beach cottages, driving the Buick, and brought “Freddie” with him.

Was “Freddie” Jack White? Diehard Nelson historians reject the idea.

However, if Father Coughlin married White, that could connect White to Nelson during the time the final plans were being arranged for the Grand Haven robbery.

Scenario: White pops in on Coughlin to marry him. Coughlin informs White that Nelson is at Long Beach planning an easy-money robbery in Michigan. White connects with Nelson, stays at Coughlin's home until the day of the heist. Maybe?

But, maybe not.

White was gunned down by rival gangsters on Jan. 23, 1934, at Oak Park, Ill. And, the mystery endures.

           

          

Comments

Say no to new taxes

Great story! I wonder what ever happened to that Buick? That was one fine automobile in it's day.

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