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Akeley bank has colorful history of unsolved robberies

Friday's robbery was not the first to occur in Akeley.

"Clues thin on Akeley branch bank robbery," the Park Rapids Enterprise headline declared Aug. 22, 1984.

Like Friday's incident local, state and federal law enforcement officials descended on the village looking for clues after a male in a hooded sweatshirt, wearing a paper towel over his head with slits cut and mirrored sunglasses absconded with $14,750 in cash.

A suspect was never apprehended, the case never solved.

Officials admitted the trail was not "red hot." Fingerprints were not available because the suspect wore gloves.

This robbery also occurred on Friday, the suspect arriving just after noon. He had his hand in his pocket, indicating he had a gun. He demanded the teller's car keys after receiving the money.

Meanwhile, the clerk triggered a silent alarm in the Akeley policeman's home. Sheriff's officers from Hubbard, Cass and Beltrami counties blockaded roads and three aircraft were dispatched.

One of the planes later discovered the car on a logging road south of Akeley. The alleged robber had stripped his outerwear and left in another vehicle.

After an investigation, Sheriff Larry Johnson determined the suspect's route.

He'd parked his vehicle on a logging trail and walked into Akeley, wearing the hooded sweatshirt and regular glasses.

Several people stated they saw the suspect in an alley prior to the robbery.

After the robbery, he headed east, then south to CSAH 49 where he removed his clothes and departed in the other vehicle.

The day after the incident, the sheriff's department received information of a pickup leaving the area at a high rate of speed.

"But by then, it was an old trail," the article noted.

"He was very professional," Johnson said.

Law enforcement searched by land and air, including vacant cabins, "but to no avail."

Officers did, however, discover marijuana plants at one of the sites, valued at an estimated $1,500.

'Daring robbery' of 1906

The Enterprise pointed out the last bank robbery in Akeley occurred in September 1906, when robbers blew up the bank safe with nitroglycerine. Like the 1984 incident, the alleged robbers were never found.

This story also appeared on the front page, next to an ad supporting Charles A. Lindbergh who was running for a congressional seat.

"A daring bank robbery, resulting in a large haul for the artists, was made in Akeley Tuesday morning when the Bank of Akeley was forcibly entered, the safe blown and $8,000 in money taken," the Enterprise reported.

"At 2:10 in the morning, parties living near the bank were aroused by hearing a deafening explosion which shook the fronts of several buildings for nearly a block from the bank.

"F.G. Warren, who lives in the building adjoining the bank, heard the explosion and attempted to run out of his home, but was met at the door by a determined looking individual armed with a big revolver who ordered him to return to the house and stay there or 'he would blow his head off.' Warren quickly got inside."

Others living near the bank were given similar orders.

Meanwhile, a doctor coming down the street after a nocturnal house call discovered the bank had been robbed and "hastened to the house of his brother and together they began arousing the citizens to inform them of what had happened.

"The explosion of nitroglycerine blew the door off the safe, scattered the contents, including a large quantity of silver, all about the floor, demolished the plate glass front and shook the building from foundation to roof. The robbers (believed to be four in number) hastily grabbed the money that was in the safe and on the floor and made their escape in the darkness."

The article points out had the robbery occurred the previous day, an additional $6,000 would have been in the vault. The money had been paid to Red River Lumber Company employees.

In October 1906, a body was found in shallow water near Bemidji, the male, initially thought to have drowned or suffering from heart trouble, fell into the water.

But the coroner found a map showing what was believed to have been the robbers' escape route, towns marked where subsequent robberies had taken place.

Officials determined the event was likely murder, the other robbers concerned the victim would turn state's evidence.

The bank closed during the Depression, revived a few years prior to the 1984 incident.