STOCKBRIDGE -- For the new Stockbridge Police Chief Robert M. Eaton Jr., it was a baptism of fire.
Only 16 days into his leadership of the department following the retirement of Richard "Rick" Wilcox, he and his team of officers, working with New York State Police, had a suspect under arrest just several hours after the downtown Lee Bank branch was robbed in mid-afternoon on Monday.
The irony was not lost on Wilcox, who served 43 years in the department, 28 as chief, without a bank heist in town. No wonder merchants and residents were startled by the news.
In an email, Wilcox recalled that it has been 78 years since robbers hit a bank in the usually quiet Rockwellian town. "Off the top of my head, which is dangerous, I remember it taking place at the Housatonic National Bank on Main Street (now Berkshire Bank) in January 1935," he wrote.
As Wilcox remembers it, his grandfather, Graham D. Wilcox Sr., worked as a teller at the bank but was at lunch when thieves struck. Grace Beebe, another teller, later described how she had been taken to the basement and tied up with a vacuum cleaner cord.
Indeed, the story appeared in the Berkshire Evening Eagle, as the newspaper was then known, as well as the North Adams Transcript.
According to the report, four armed gunmen fled with $10,000, after handcuffing John P. Palmer, then vice president of the bank in the cashier's cage, and securing Beebe in the basement.
The article, published Jan. 10, 1935, states that the robbers, "paid little heed to the 12-year-old boy who quickly stuffed the $15 into his pocket and was the first to run out of the bank and spread an alarm when the robbers left."
According to a history listed on the Stockbridge Police Department website, the 1935 robbery was then Stockbridge's "only bank robbery in 250 years."