Floyd Flood

Mistaken eyewitnesses, and perhaps a vindictive cop, sent Floyd Flood to prison for a bank holdup he did not commit

The week before Christmas 1924, Floyd Flood was convicted of bank robbery in St. Clair County, Illinois, and sentenced to prison for 10 years to life.

The robbery was committed the previous August by six men, four of whom entered the First National Bank of Freeburg armed with revolvers, while the others waited in a getaway car outside. The president of the bank was forced into a vault and three employees were held at gunpoint until the robbers fled with about $10,000.

Vague descriptions

The bank president did not get a look at the robbers, and the employees — Minnie Holst and sisters Susie and Emma Wolf — were able to provide only general descriptions, including their dress and stature. One, they reported, wore a dark coat with a turned-up collar and a dark stocking cap pulled down, partially obscuring his eyes.

The getaway car, which had been stolen, was abandoned shortly after the robbery 12 miles away, near the Mississippi River, but there were no promising leads.

A few days later, however, police in St. Louis, Missouri, notified St. Clair County authorities that they had arrested a man who resembled one of the robbers. It is not apparent how it was possible to discern the purported resemblance, given the victims' vague descriptions. But the suspect was Floyd Flood, a St. Louis cab driver with a solid alibi and no criminal record.

Positive identifications

Susie and Emma Wolf were taken to St. Louis to see if they could make an identification. Flood, whom they viewed alone in a cell, was ordered to pull a cap down over his eyes, extend his hand as if holding a gun, and say, "Stick 'em up." The women then agreed that Flood had been one of the robbers. He waived extradition to St. Clair County, where the third employee, Minnie Holst, also identified him.

Meanwhile, some of the stolen cash turned up at a bank in Jonesboro, Arkansas, leading to the arrest of two other suspects — James Breene and Ralph Southard. In their possession was more of the stolen cash, which was readily identifiable because most of it was in national bank notes that had not yet been put into circulation, and they were promptly extradited to St. Clair County, they also were identified by the three women.

The trial

The three were tried together before St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge George A. Crow and a jury. The evidence against Breene and Southard was strong, but the case against Flood rested entirely on the eyewitnesses.

Flood took the stand in his own defense. He testified that at the time of the crime — 2:30 p.m. on August 23, 1924 — he had been working on his car in the garage of his home in St. Louis. Between 2 and 2:15 p.m., because he wanted to continue working on the car, he had called his employer, the Yellow Cab Company of St. Louis, and asked if he could be excused from work. His request was denied, and he reported for work as scheduled at 3:30 p.m. Every detail of his alibi was corroborated by the testimony of neighbors, family members, and Yellow Cab employees.

The jury nonetheless found Flood guilty along with the Breene and Southard, and all three were sentenced to 10 years to life and sent to the Illinois Penitentiary at Menard.

Evidence of mistake

A few weeks later, Flood's attorney, Joseph B. McGlynn, received a letter from Breene, who said he and Ralph Southard indeed were guilty, but that they had never even met Flood until after their arrest, when they were brought together at the St. Clair County Jail in Belleville.

McGlynn interviewed Breene and Southard in person at Menard. They both insisted that Flood was innocent, but refused to name their actual cohorts. McGlynn reduced their statements to sworn affidavits, on which he based a petition for a pardon. The Illinois Bankers Association publicly condemned the pardon effort, however, and the State Parole Board refused to grant a hearing.

Two years later, two other members of the gang — John Lyons and Benjamin Ingram — were arrested after passing more of the stolen cash in Ohio. Extradited to Illinois, they negotiated lenient sentences in exchange for pleading guilty.

McGlynn obtained affidavits from each identifying the remaining unknown participants in the robbery — Arthur Richardson and Brice McConnell. Susie and Emma Wolf then provided an affidavit to McGlynn saying their identification of Flood might have been mistaken, but the Bankers Association still persisted in its opposition to a pardon.

Only after Richardson and McConnell pleaded guilty several weeks later did Governor Len Small finally pardon Flood based on innocence, although conditioning the pardon on a binding promise that Flood would not sue for his wrongful incarceration.

Cop's alleged vendetta

Several years later, Yale University Professor of Law Edwin M. Brochard looked into the case. In his 1932 book, Convicting the Innocent, Brochard reported that Flood claimed to have been arrested as a result of a grudge held by a St. Louis police officer.

A woman Flood was dating turned down the officer's request for a date, after which, according to Flood, the officer vowed to "make it tough on her sweetheart."

— Rob Warden