Fred William Bowerman

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Fred William Bowerman
Mugshot 5 November 1950
Mugshot 5 November 1950
FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitive
Charges Armed robbery (1932)
Armed robbery (1939)
Born (1893-01-08)January 8, 1893
Pipestone Township, Michigan, United States
Died May 1, 1953(1953-05-01) (aged 60)
St. Louis, Missouri
Cause of death Killed by police
Occupation Bank robber
Penalty 5 years imprisonment
7 years imprisonment
Status Paroled in 1937
Released in 1946
Added March 5, 1953
Number 46
Killed during attempt to capture

Fred William Bowerman (January 8, 1893 – May 1, 1953) was an American bank robber and Depression-era outlaw. A veteran holdup man, his criminal career lasted over 30 years and he was placed on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list in 1953. That same year, his last, Bowerman organized and led the disastrous Southwest Bank holdup in St. Louis, Missouri, which resulted in a standoff between himself and his three partners against a force of over 100 officers of the St. Louis Police Department. The events were later made into a film, The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (1959), starring Crahan Denton and Steve McQueen.


Fred William Bowerman's criminal career began in the 1930s and he was eventually arrested in Illinois for armed robbery in 1932. He served five years and was paroled in 1937 but soon after his release, he began committing robberies throughout the Chicago area. While living in Michigan, he drove to Chicago using stolen cars committing 36 robberies between June and October, 1938. Captured a year later, he was sentenced to Joliet Prison where he spent the next seven years.[1]

After his release in 1946, Bowerman kept a low profile for several years, but he was eventually identified as one of several men who robbed a bank in South Bend, Indiana for $53,000 in September 1952. The violent daylight robbery, much in the style of Thomas Holden or Alvin Karpis, attracted national attention in the United States as a bank employee was shot for "raising his hands too slowly". Nearing 60 years of age, Bowerman was named #46 by the FBI of its "Ten Most Wanted" list on March 3, 1953.[1]

A little over a month after the South Bend incident, Bowerman participated in one of the most violent bank heists in American history. On the afternoon of April 2, 1953, he and three other men entered the Southwest Bank in south St. Louis, Missouri and attempted to hold up the bank. The robbery started out as planned as the men quickly gathered up around $140,000 from the bank teller's cages and prepared to carry them out in a nylon satchel. However, unknown to Bowerman and the others, a bank employee had set off a silent alarm. As the robbers were about to make their getaway, nearly 100 police officers arrived and surrounded the bank. As the robbers began firing at police through the windows, the bank employees hid in the vault to escape the firefight and tear gas thrown into the building. One police officer, Corporal Robert Heitz, was wounded in his head and neck, but eventually time began to work against the robbers.[1]

Bowerman [2] took a female hostage and held a shotgun on her as he attempted to escape, making his way out onto the sidewalk before he shoved the woman to the pavement, breaking both her wrists. Bowerman was shot in the chest by police officer Melburn F. Stein. The bullet pierced a lung and lodged in his spine. Scholl attempted to go for a backup weapon but police disarmed him and dragged him off in handcuffs.[1]

Finding themselves trapped in the bank, Bowerman's remaining partners panicked. One man, Frank Vito, committed suicide by shooting himself with his pistol. The other, one-time college football star Glenn Chernick, escaped on foot without any money. He was captured by detectives three days later at his father's house in Chicago. Bowerman was taken to a local hospital where he identified himself as John W. Frederick. However, the FBI used his fingerprints to prove his identity. Bowerman died of his wounds on May 1, 1953.[1]

He was later portrayed by Crahan Denton in The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (1959); Melburn Stein, the officer who shot Bowerman, had a small role in the film.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e Newton, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Robberies, Heists, and Capers. New York: Facts On File Inc., 2002. (pg. 36-37) ISBN 0-8160-4488-0
  2. ^ a b Bell, Kim (2008-04-25). "Bravery never gets old". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 

External links[edit]