The Great Taos BankRobbery
The Newsroom of The New Mexican first got word of the
incident about ten minutes after nine the morning of
November 12, 1957. Mrs. Ruth Fish, who had served for many
years as manager of the Taos Chamber of Commerce and
almost as many as Taos correspondent for the Santa Fe
newspaper, called collect and asked for the city editor.
She told the city editor that the Taos bank would be
robbed that morning. She said that she would walk over to
the bank and watch this operation. She promised to call in
an eyewitness account before the first edition deadline at
The city editor asked how Mrs. Fish knew the bank was to
be robbed. Mrs. Fish, in a hurry to get off the telephone
and become an eyewitness, explained very briefly that one
of her lady friends had stopped in her office and told her
so. The lady was now waiting so that they could walk down
together and watch.
But, the city editor insisted, how did the lady friend
know the bank was to be robbed that morning?
Because, Mrs. Fish explained with patience, the two bank
robbers were standing in line at this very moment waiting
their turn at the teller's cage.
But, persisted the city editor, how was it possible to
predict that these two persons intended to rob the bank?
This presumption seemed safe, Mrs. Fish said, because one
of the two men was disguised as a woman and because he was
holding a pistol under his purse. Whereupon she said good-
bye and hung up.
While astonished bythe foregoing, the city editor recalled
later that he had no doubt at all that the bank would
indeed be robbed in the fashion described. If the reader
feels less sure at this point, it is because the city
editor had two advantages. First, he knew Mrs. Fish. An
elderly woman of dignity, charm, and grand-motherly
appearance, she possessed a flawless reputation for
accuracy, Second, he knew Taos. While bank robbers
probably wouldn't stand politely in line with the paying
customers in Omaha or Atlanta, there was no reason to
believe they wouldn't in this peculiar little town.
As a matter of fact they were doing exactly this, and
theircourtliness was about to cause them trouble. The
chain of eventsthat followed did not reach its semifinal
anticlimax until sixtyhours later and was not officially
ended until the following February, when the federal grand
jury met sixty-five miles south inSanta Fe. By then the
affair was being called The Great Taos Bank Robbery.
Lest the reader be misled by this title, he should be
warned Taos also lists in its litany of notable events The
Great Flood of 1935. if the reader can accept the fact
that Taos managed a Great Flood without a river and with
the very modest amount of water available in its and
climate, he is prepared to hear more about what happened
on November 12, 1957.
After the city editor collected his wits, he placed a long-
distance call to the bank. The secretary who answered
didn't know anything about any bank robbery, but she
referred the call to a higher ranking official. The city
editor asked this gentleman if his bank had been robbed.
Certainly not, said the banker. How in the world did such
rumors get started?
A few minutes later Mrs. Fish called back, slightly
breathless. She reported that she and her friend had
walked through the alley behind the Safeway store and
arrived at the bank just as two men with drawn pistols
dashed from the front door. One of the men was dressed as
a woman, as previously reported. He ran awkwardly in his
high heels. The two jumped into a green pickup truck
parked in the alley and drove away. From what she had
learned from spectators fortunate enough to arrive
earlier, the two men had not taken any money from the
bank. She would investigate further and call back. Mrs.
Fish, a woman of impeccable courtesy, hung up without a
word of reproach to the city editor for causing her to be
late for the event.
The city editor now placed another call to the banker. He
asked the banker if he was sure his bank hadn't been
robbed, or something. The bank official now was less
confident. He was sure nobody had taken any money but he
was also sure that something funny had been going on. He
had been hearing something about a man dressed as a woman,
and two men running wildly out of the bank lobby, and
other confusing stories.
Meanwhile, the police reporter had called the Taos police
department and said he was checking on a rumor that there
had been a bank robbery. The policeman who answered said
no, there hadn't been one and he guessed the police would
be the first to hear about it if there was one, wouldn't
they? The reporter said yes, he guessed that was true.
Actually, the police would be approximately the last to
hear about it, being informed only after the pastor of the
local United Brethren Church entered the picture.
By then Mrs. Fish had made her third call and provided the
city editor with a detailed account of what had happened
in the bank lobby. The two men had arrived just as the
bank opened its doors at 9:00 a.m. They found a crowd of
Taos businessmen waiting to check out funds to fuel their
cash registers for the day. The suspects joined the rush
to the tellers' cages but were outdistanced, perhaps
because of the high heels, and were stuck well back in the
fine. Customers quickly noticed that the line-stander clad
as a woman had a full day's growth of dark stubble
bristling through his pancake makeup and that the nylons
encased an unseemly growth of leg hair....