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Judicial CP - February 2007

Corpun file 18864


Winnipeg Sun, Manitoba, 18 February 2007

Once Upon a Crime: Robbers get the lash

By Bob Holliday

Drawing of old motorcar

Harry Dundas and Manley Conhiser were so brazen, they left their faces uncovered during a bank robbery.

Security cameras weren't in existence on Aug. 26, 1931, when the pair of gun-toting bandits entered the Royal Bank of Canada at Sargent Avenue and Arlington Street, so if caught, only eye witness recognition could seal their fate.

Or so they thought.

Four employees were in the bank when the bandits appeared at 12:48 p.m. and demanded cash, quickly.

"Stick 'em up," was the order.

When two customers walked into the bank, they were shoved behind the counter.

"You get in there, there's a little game on," ordered one of the bandits.

The bank secretary, Miss N. B. Lawrie, was typing a letter when approached by the manager, F. Thordason.

"You'd better put up your hands," Lawrie was told.

One of the customers was standing near a window and tried to get his hands high enough into the air they would be seen by anyone passing on the other side of the street. He was ordered to lower his hands and face the wall when one of the bandits spotted his attempt to attract attention.

Manager Thordason outsmarted the bandits' attempt to lock everyone in the vault. As they were herded into the vault at gunpoint, Thordason slammed a small door closed which prevented Dundas and Conhiser from locking the main door.

Before running outside to their getaway car, the pair grabbed $11,130.99, but forgot to cut the telephone wires. Within minutes, the staff was out of the vault and several police cruisers were headed to the area.

While police scoured the city of Winnipeg, which did not include the suburbs, Dundas, 22, and Conhiser, 34, were living in a pair of shacks in East St. Paul, about 17 miles from the scene of the crime. They didn't even try to hide.

The men were so brazen that the night after the robbery they stopped to help an East St. Paul market gardener fix a flat.

Theodore Pritchard was northbound on Henderson Highway when a car bearing American licence plates, and containing two men and two women, stopped.

As the men were leaving, one said: "Goodbye. If anyone asks you about the bank robbers, tell 'em we've gone to Chicago."

As Dundas and Conhiser sped one way, Pritchard went the other to call police.

The bandits had been living in the area for more than a month and were well thought of by their neighbours, especially the children who were given treats by the pair.

The pair were so brazen, they attended a garden party in the area the day before they were arrested. What the pair didn't realize was that the bank manager was there to confirm their identity.

Also at the party were Winnipeg police officers, Insp. Jack Bishop and Sgt. James Melville, who led a raid on the East St. Paul shacks the next morning.

No guns were found on the men, their car or in the two shacks. Police seized a car, but not the one used in the holdup. That had been found on Carlton Street hours after the bank holdup. All but $600 of the loot was recovered.

Both men gave New York City addresses but both men, especially Conhiser, were familiar with Manitoba.

During their first court appearance when they pleaded guilty to bank robbery, Conhiser told Magistrate R. M. Noble, that he was born in Minnesota and had moved to Manitoba as a child. He'd joined the Canadian Army to fight in the First World War.

Prior to the Great War Conhiser worked on a farm near Homewood and at the Carman Hardware Company.

Neither man was handcuffed for their appearance, but the courtroom was in the police station and several uniformed and plain clothes cops were present.

Conhiser pleaded guilty immediately but Dundas asked Noble several questions before he also pleaded guilty.

"No, I don't want a jury trial. I'll be tried right here and plead guilty," said Dundas.

Two days after pleading guilty, Dundas and Conhiser stood in the prisoner's dock and clinched the railing tightly as Noble delivered their sentences.

"Crime has been increasing in Winnipeg. Leniency has proved of no avail, so I have no alternative but to be severe. In the last few months we have experienced several bank robberies and in one, murder was committed. Something has to be done to preserve law and order. I am going to give you long sentences and lashes," Noble told the men.

Conhiser's knees buckled as he heard the magistrate proclaim a sentence of 15 years and 10 lashes. Dundas clinched the railing tightly as he was handed a 12-year sentence plus 10 lashes of the cat o' nine tails.

Conhiser got the extra time because Noble remembered a prior court appearance on an liquor charge.

The Sun thanks Karen Fulham of Manitoba Justice and the staff at the Provincial Archives for their co-operation.

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