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Idaho’s Bonnie and Clyde

The notorious Eagle bank robbery that hit headlines.

By Pamela Kleibrink Thompson

In 1924 Prohibition was the law of the land, and as such alcohol was illegal. It was a time of speakeasies and gangsters, when even the average citizen ignored some laws. From January to early spring of 1924, a bobbed-haired bandit named Celia Cooney and her husband made national headlines when they robbed grocery and drug store chains in Brooklyn, New York. Months later, another bobbed-haired bandit made headlines–this time in Idaho. This is the story of Idaho’s Bonnie and Clyde–Dora Douglas and Oliver “Derby” Jones–who held up the Bank of Eagle in broad daylight.

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When the two met, Oliver “Derby” Jones was serving time at the Idaho Penitentiary for robbery, but Warden Cuddy had given Jones an opportunity to work outside the Pen and wear his own clothes. Jones could go wherever he wished as long as he reported for work on time. When Dora walked into the café where Jones was having dinner, she had no idea he was a convict. Dora had “the prettiest smile I had ever seen,” Jones writes in his book, A Bandit Called Derby. Jones asked the headwaiter for an introduction and a criminal enterprise began.

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Dora Douglas was a widow–her husband Harry had died in late November 1918 during the epidemic of the Spanish flu, two months before her second son, Luther Douglas, was born on January 13, 1919. Her son Gilbert was born in 1915. Dora was a statuesque, slim, raven-haired beauty with cornflower blue eyes. Jones was determined to win her over.

After going out for a few weeks, they went to a movie about a character who had been sent to prison. Dora didn’t think the boy who had been sent to prison got a square deal. Encouraged, Jones revealed that he was serving time. Dora accepted this and even regularly visited Jones at the prison.

After Jones was paroled, a friend introduced him to Chet Langer, who wanted help with a robbery.

“I told him I hadn’t been out long, and if I tried anything, I wanted it to be worth taking the chance,” Jones recalled. Dora didn’t trust Chet–he never looked anyone in the eye.

Dora told Jones, “I would rather go with you myself than have you double up with that guy.” Jones felt that Dora was the light of his life.

She was “the only really good thing I had going in my very rough life. I really loved her and did not want to see her ending up on the run, or worse, in jail,” Jones said.

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On August 11, 1924, a Cadillac touring car driven by Hank Endsley, a taxi driver employed by the Central Livery Company, pulled up to the front of the Bank of Eagle shortly after it opened.  Two masked men got out, while a third masked figure, dressed in a man’s coat, stayed in the backseat behind the driver. There was another passenger in the car–5 year old Luther Douglas.

“We scuttled under the low plate glass window in front of the bank and then burst through the front door,” writes Jones. While Langer cleared out the vault, Jones held banker E. H. Fikkan and his daughter, 18 year old bank clerk Margaret Fikkan, at gun point. Jones locked the Fikkans inside the vault and the bandits made out with the money. Mrs. Reta Moretson, who had seen the masked men enter the bank, pounded on the door of a nearby store, then rushed to the house of Mrs. George White crying, “The bank’s being robbed!”

The next day’s headline in the Idaho Statesman read, “Sheriffs Scour Country for Three Bandits who Looted Eagle Bank.” The article told how the Fikkans were able to escape the vault because E.H. Fikkan kept a screwdriver and some pliers in the vault “in case such an emergency should occur.”

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Jones and Dora went to Orrin Summer’s ranch home about a mile south of Star, where Dora paid for care of her young sons, Luther and Gilbert. The haul from the bank amounted to $2772, which is almost $40,000 today. They separated coins from the currency and put about $24 in pennies in a bag marked “$500” into a trunk, then hid the remaining coins in a sack in a separate trunk. They took a streetcar home to Boise, bringing Luther with them.

Shortly after midnight on August 12th, the police burst into Jones’ apartment on South 10th street at the Kurri Flats. Dora held a gun to Luther’s head to keep him quiet and hold him hostage, but soon surrendered. The police took Dora, Jones, and 5 year-old Luther to jail for questioning.  Langer, the third accomplice, had been apprehended earlier. When Dora was released on her own recognizance she took Luther to her sister’s house.

The front page article of the August 13, 1924, Idaho Statesman featured photos of the suspects and reported that $1947 had been found in a trunk in the Summer’s home, but that $775 was still unaccounted for. The article also reported that Chet Langer confessed to Laurel E. Elam, Ada county prosecuting attorney, and implicated Dora, who was brought to the county jail. The four suspects, including taxi driver Hank Endsley, were committed to the custody of the sheriff at the Ada County Jail.

Determined not to do another stint in jail, Jones and Langer escaped around 2 A.M. on the morning of Thursday, October 16. Jones broke into the main office and took Sheriff Lee Allumbaugh’s personal gun (engraved with the initials L.A.) and went to the women’s ward to ask Dora to come with them, yet she refused.

“She said she believed she could beat the rap, and didn’t want to go,” writes Jones. “They still had not officially charged her yet. They were just holding her on suspicion. I told her to lay all the blame on me, and to tell the D.A. I had forced her to do what she had done. She said she wasn’t about to do anything that low.” Dora was formally charged with bank robbery on December 3rd.

Jones was recaptured in Twin Falls and returned to the Ada County Jail on December 9th and placed under double guard. He pleaded not guilty to the charge of bank robbery on December 13th. On December 16, the newspapers reported that Chet Langer had given himself up in Bakersfield, California. Jones suspected Chet might turn state’s evidence and finally convinced Dora to do the same. On December 18, Dora received immunity and all charges of robbery against her were dismissed when she agreed to testify against Langer and Jones, both of whom had pled not guilty.

After pleading guilty to being an accessory after the fact to the robbery, Hank Endsley, the taxi driver, was released on parole on December 22. No one believed that the bandits had kidnapped him and forced him to be their driver.

Shortly before 4 P.M. on Monday, January 5, 1925, Dora Douglas and Oliver Jones were married at the county jail by Lawrence Johnston, justice of the peace. The ceremony was witnessed by other prisoners including Dora’s friend Frances L Fitzpatrick and Jones’ attorney Ivan Hiller.  Dora had obtained a marriage license at the county recorder’s office earlier that day. Dora could not be required to testify against her husband.

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Langer and Jones changed their pleas to guilty just before a trial was set. Langer was sentenced to 6-15 years in

the Idaho Pen for his part in the robbery of the Bank of Eagle.

On Monday, January 19, 1925 at 2 P.M., Judge Clinton H. Hartson sentenced Oliver Jones to 10-20 years in the Idaho Penitentiary. The judge pointed out that Jones had been given a chance at a decent life when he had been released from prison the first time, but had failed to take advantage of it. Dora Douglas-Jones stood in the rear of the court room, near the entrance, and made no sign of emotion when the sentence was pronounced.

Dora and Jones left the court room together, and walked to the county jail accompanied by a deputy. Jones was taken to the penitentiary at 5:45 P.M. During one of the first visiting days, Dora told Jones that the police were harassing her about the missing money. Jones told her that he knew where the money was–that the police had found out and kept it.

“I knew what I was saying wasn’t true,” writes Jones, “but Dora and the guard didn’t.”

In 1926, Jones attempted a prison break and was sent to a cell house with extra security. Dora was refused visitation. She left word that the police were still badgering her and she was moving to Portland, Oregon. She would come every chance she got. The police were still looking for the missing money.

“I was the only one who knew where that money was hidden,” writes Jones, “and I would never talk, no matter what.”

When Dora came to visit, she and Jones would kiss passionately, and pass notes mouth to mouth.  During one of their visits, Jones told Dora that he wanted her to get a divorce.

“She didn’t want to. She said she would wait as long as it took, but I told her I didn’t want her tied to me, that she was free and should be living her life,” writes Jones. “The Idaho courts turned her down. She tried again in Oregon, but they turned her down too. She later got one in Washington State.”

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Jones was released from the Idaho Penitentiary on July 2, 1931. He ran into a friend he had done time with and they held up a pool hall in Montello, Nevada, on July 30th and got away with about $20. On November 2nd, Jones was sentenced to 5-15 years for that robbery and started serving his time in the Nevada State Penitentiary in Carson City, Nevada on November 13, 1931. Exactly six years later Oliver Jones was released. Friends convinced him to go home and visit his mother in Urbanette, Arkansas. On December 23, 1937, he arrived in his hometown. He met a friend he had grown up with who told him that it was up to him to go straight and he finally did. In the spring of 1938 he went to a dance in a nearby town and met an 18 year old woman named Jesse Lilly Hopper, whom he fell in love with.

They had three children–a son called Derby, and two daughters, Betty and Billie.

In the epilogue of A Bandit Called Derby, Oliver’s son Derby wrote, “Dad had truly loved and respected Dora, and spoke of her often during our childhood. While doing the research for this book we found that after Dora Douglas got divorced from Dad she remarried a miner in Washington. The marriage did not last long, and she moved back to Idaho. Her youngest son, Luther, became a pilot when he grew up and flew 29 successful bombing missions over Germany during WWII.”

After Dora Douglas divorced Oliver Jones she never saw him again. She did not have any more children after Gilbert and Luther.

Her granddaughter, Boise author Conda Douglas, daughter of Luther, writes, “She got married (or maybe just changed her name while living with a guy) a number of times, maybe as many as 10. She’s buried in the Star cemetery but not under the tombstone that she shared with my dad’s father that was carved in 1918. After she returned from Washington (where she ran a brothel in a mining town) she lived in Nampa until her death many years later. Her final husband was named Edgar Hunter. She’d go with any man anywhere and every time people found out who she was, she changed her name. Her name at death was Marian S. Hunter and I have no idea what the S. stood for.”

The missing $775 (more than $10,000 today) from the Bank of Eagle holdup was never recovered.