All he carried were a gun and a grudge.
January 26, 2015
BUDDY PREUSS HAD ALWAYS KNOWN he wanted to track down and write the news in small town Texas.
He even thought he might be an editor someday, but he never expected to own a newspaper.
He was a senior in high school when Lawrence Pope dropped by the principal’s office one afternoon, and said, “I’ve just bought the Giddings Star, and I would like to hire a young man who wants to learn the newspaper business. Right now, he will only work part-time, a couple of hours after school, and serve, more or less, as a printer’s devil. Pay’s not real good. But the hands on experience he would get working deadlines at a real newspaper might be invaluable some day.”
The job sounded good to Buddy.
He was accepted.
But he couldn’t start until the semester ended.
After his first meeting with Lawrence Pope, however, he wondered what secrets lay behind the man’s eyes. “They were,” he said, “the most piercing eyes I had ever seen. They could look right through you and would certainly startle a man on a dark night.”
Buddy Pruess didn’t quite get the newspaper office soon enough.
And he never did go to work as a printer’s devil for Lawrence Pope.
A few weeks later, Central Texas was stunned when an armed robber, carrying a .38 caliber snub-nosed revolver, had the audacity to rob the banks of Thornton and Schulenburg on successive Saturdays in October of 1960.
These weren’t what anyone would call normal, traditional, stick-a-gun-in-somebody’s-face, fill a bag with loose cash, and speed away in a waiting get-away car kind of robbery. No. It was nothing like that.
The bank robber didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry at all. He calmly took time to read over the ledgers to make sure he knew the amount of money in the bank’s cash drawers, then he forced bank employees to remove their clothes while he casually took photographs of them – old and young, all as naked as the proverbial jaybird – in assorted lewd and suggestive positions.
He locked them in the vault and threatened to provide the photographs to newspapers if any of his victims dared stepped forward to identify him. The robber escaped with only seven thousand dollars from both banks and would say, “It wasn’t so much a matter of me being desperate for money as it was just being real damn mad at bankers.”
He was disillusioned.
He was angry.
He had exacted his measure of revenge at what he regarded as fraudulent and unethical banking practices.
Any bank would do.
The ones at Thornton and Schulenburg were merely handy.
Buddy Pruess, like everyone else, assumed that Lawrence Pope, the guiding light of the Giddings Star, would be out with his press pass, covering the robberies and writing about the arrest of the culprit. He might have, too.
But he couldn’t.
Lawrence Pope was the culprit.
Long before he ever thought of buying a newspaper, Pope had worked as a national bank examiner, investigating financial institutions in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Louisiana.
He had served as a bank cashier in Abilene, vice president of a bank in Houston, and, along with three other investors, became part owner, as well as president, of the West National Bank in West, Texas.
Without bothering to tell him, however, his partners unloaded their stock shares to a swindler in Dallas, and Pope walked in one morning to discover his bank facing serious financial difficulties.
Bank examiners were running amuck and finding uncovered marginal loans. Lawrence Pope was the only one left standing to blame. He was fired and rode out of town under the humiliating cloud of scandal.
Working in a bank was the only business he had ever known, and Pope thought he was pretty good at it. But, he realized, a career in banking was out of the question. Word would get around, he knew.
The storm of controversy at West would dog his footsteps no matter where he went. In reality, he bought the Giddings Star cheap for the sole purpose of using the newspaper’s printing press to produce banking forms that some of his friends, sitting behind executive desks of various financial institutions, had promised to buy.
Pope quickly discovered that friends had a way of disappearing when a man carried the taint of scandal on his shoulders. Overnight, he had become a stranger to them, and they just did not purchase forms or any other merchandise from strangers.
Lawrence Pope simmered in anger.
He rolled out of bed one morning and decided he wasn’t going to let the banking industry abuse him or kick him around anymore.
To hell with his future, if he had one.
Lawrence Pope reached for a snub-nosed .38 revolver and a camera. He would make somebody pay, and he didn’t care which bank he hit first.
He later told police, “Bankers have stolen more than all the criminals have stolen.”
Pope never made any bones about his guilt.
He was sentenced to fifty years, and none of them would be spent at the Giddings Star.
The story of Buddy Preuss and Lawrence Pope can be found in my book: Gamble in the Devil’s Chalk.