Commemorating the First World War Centennial in Kansas

The Camp Funston Bank Robbery

Last week Blair posted his 33rd installment of selections from The Annals of Kansas  and the entry  about this incident piqued my curiosity, so I found some newspaper articles that provide more detail. According to various sources, $62,826 in 1918 had the value of over $1.1 million today.


Slayer Is Thought to Have Expected a Rich Haul at Cantonment Bank, But Shipment of $475,000 Came Day Late

Camp Funston, Kan. —Interest In the amount of money taken Friday night, January 11, by Captain Lewis Whisler from the Army bank here, after the killing of four men with an axe and the injuring of a fifth, Monday night, was secondary to the question of what became of it and whether Captain Whisler, who committed suicide when suspicion pointed to him, had accomplices. Careful search of the cantonment has revealed nothing, and Major Frank Wilbur Smith, assistant chief of staff and head of the intelligence department, went to Kansas City, Mo., to conduct an investigation of packages mailed from the cantonment Friday night and Saturday morning. The amount stolen is estimated at from $65,000 to $80,000. Army authorities have been investigating the report that a motor car went through the guard lines at the west gate of the reservation Friday night an hour and a half after the robbery and murders, despite the restrictions clamped down when the crime was discovered… Major John C. H. Lee, chief of staff, Monday made public the details leading up to the suicide of Captain Lewis R. Whisler. Major Lee’s statement was given out to refute a suggestion that Captain Whisler had been given an opportunity to commit suicide as a form of “maintaining the honor of the Army.” Major Lee’s statement follows: “Captain Whisler … overheard a conversation between the top sergeant and company clerk in the next room. One of them made the statement that Kearney Wornall had recovered sufficiently that he believed he could select the name of the murderer from the list of depositors. “Captain Whisler opened the door between his office and the room … and said: ‘What’s that you said about Wornall recovering?’ “Whisler was told what they had just been saying, and seemed to stand dazed for a minute. Half to himself and half to the sergeant and clerk, he said: ‘Well, if that’s the case they are bound to catch the murderer.’ “Those were his last words. Going back into his office, he closed the door, and in a few seconds the report of a rifle was heard, followed closely by the second shot. The door to his office was not locked, and men rushed in, but he was dead before they reached him. “To include Captain Whisler in the class where the lenient terms of the unwritten law of the Army applies is to slander the sense of Justice and right of the officers of this command.”

Camp Funston, Kan. — With the finding late last Saturday of the body of Captain Lewis R. Whisler of Salina, Kan…. the mystery which had surrounded the looting Friday, January 11, of the Army bank and the subsequent murder of C. Fuller Winters of Kansas City, head of the Army bank; John Jewell of Springfield, O., editor of the camp newspaper, Camp and Trench, and son of the editor of the Springfield Leader; Carl Chelson, bank clerk and son of a Kansas City contractor, and O. M. Hill, bank clerk, and the serious injury of Kearny Wornall, cashier of the bank, was cleared up. Wornall identified Captain Whisler as the man who committed the murders… Army officials … said that his identification would be taken as conclusive and that the case would be regarded as closed. Officers of the Army bank, it was said, completed checking up the money in the bank tonight, and made their report to the divisional commander’s office. The exact amount of money obtained in the robbery was not disclosed, however. Some Army officers declared that only a small sum was taken. Their opinion was that Captain Whisler was short of funds and planned to take only enough for his immediate needs. Their theory was borne out by Wornall’s statement that when the man entered the bank he said he was “short of money and hated to do it.” Another fact tending to confirm their theory is that the body of Winters was found lying on top of a large number of bank notes …  The suicide of Captain Whisler was discovered by brother officers, who heard the two shots and rushed to the room. They found him lying on the floor, the army rifle nearby. Captain Whisler flred two shots from a regulation army service rifle into his head. The first bullet glanced downward through one cheek, but other went true and lodged in his brain. The suicide followed a general order from headquarters, instructing all captains at the cantonment to report and have their finger prints taken. A note was left by the army officer, addressed to a woman whose name the authorities so far have declined to divulge. The note said: “I have been thinking of committing suicide for a long time, but I have never had a good reason. Yesterday I went out and made myself a reason.” The room in which Captain Whisler’s body was found was smeared with blood spots. Two blood-soaked towels were found in the room and the table was spotted with gore. Captain Whisler borrowed two hatchets from a supply company Friday, according to officials, and he borrowed two more Saturday. Army officials declined to say whether any of the money which the robber is supposed to have obtained was found in Captain Whisler’s room. The suicide of Captain Whisler was the climax of a day of investigation by the army authorities, who were confident as the day progressed that the murderer had not left the reservation. Their most definite information was furnished by Wornall, the fifth man attacked by the robber and whose condition was said to be serious. Wornall, who recovered consciousness Saturday morning, told the authorities that the murderer was an army captain whose face he recognized and who, he said, was a close friend of C. Fuller Winters of Kansas City, head of the Army bank, one of the men killed….Wornall, In describing the murderer, said a man came to the door of the bank about 8:30 o’clock last Friday and rapped insistently. He was admitted, and covering the five men with his revolver, forced Wornall to tie the hands of the four men, after which he tied Wornall’s hands. The man then looted the bank safe and had reached the door when Winters said to Wornall: “You recognize him, don’t you?” Wornall answered that he did. The murderer turned to Winters and said: “You know me, do you?” “I sure do, you black scoundrel,” was Winters’ reply. Wornall says at this point the man hesitated and then suddenly leaped at them swinging his hand ax. He struck the helpless men down, one by one. Wornall was the last struck. When he recovered consciousness he managed to untie his hands and made his way into the open air, where he was discovered by a sentry.

Camp Funston, Kan. — A handkerchief saturated with blood was found by searchers last Saturday near the place where police dogs put on the trail lost the scent. Nearby were found thirty $1 bills and a canvas cap such as is worn by soldiers. The money was not bloodstained. Captain Whisler’s former wife, from whom he was divorced about a year ago, and a son, Duane, 14 years old, reside in Salina, Kan. His parents live at Goodland, Kan. Captain Whisler fought in the Spanish-American war and later saw considerable service in the Philippines. During the Mexican border trouble he attempted to form a regiment in Kansas and offer it to the government, but the plan was not carried out. When the war with Germany came he entered the officers’ training camp at Fort Riley, Kan., and was commissioned captain. He was about 40 years old.”

Crime fiction fans: Do you think that this crime was solved?


James (“Jim”) Patton BS BA MPA is a retired state official from Shawnee, Kansas and a frequent contributor to several WW1 e-publications, including "Roads to the Great War," "St. Mihiel Tripwire," "Over the Top" and "Medicine in the First World War." He has spent many hours walking the WW1 battlefields, and is also an authority on British regiments and a collector of their badges. An Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, he does work for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission and is affiliated with the WW1 Historical Association, the Western Front Association, the Salonika Campaign Society and the Gallipoli Association.

1 Comment

  1. Garry T Yarbrough

    Obed N. Hill July 23, 1888 to January 11, 1918. ( Bank clerk that was murdered is laid to rest in Yale Cemetery, at Yale Arkansas. His death is described upon his tombstone.

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