Bank Robbed in Old Town Clovis

(L to R): Tom Howison, Felix Sloper, Emory Rayburn, O.J. King and Catherine Ryan. (Photo Ron Sundquist)

There’s one bank in town that gets robbed in February each year. The Clovis-Big Dry Creek Museum reenacts the bank robbery of 1924, 98 years later.

The reenactment of the Clovis Museum Bank Robbery took place on Saturday, Feb. 19 and had 8 rounds of action filled robbery. 159 people came out to watch, which is a noticeable decrease in what it usually has been throughout the years.

Paul Gonzalez was out in front of the museum playing his 100 year-old concert roller organ.

The President of the historical society, Beth Christensen said, “The museum is a great place, I am trying to fill Peg Bos’ shoes, they are some big shoes to fill.”

Almost a hundred years ago, the Clovis-Big Dry Creek Museum located on Pollasky was the Clovis Bank. Around noon on February 4, 1924, the bank was robbed.

The trio of robbers consisted of Thomas “The Owl” Griffin, a member of the San Francisco underworld. He had served two terms in state prison and had previously participated in one payroll and two bank robberies.

He traveled with Catherine “The Moll” Ryan, who would leave evidence at their temporary Fresno home that would eventually lead to their arrest. She was described as a fashionable woman adorned with several diamond rings.

Felix “The Lone Wolf” Sloper was also a known criminal that had served a term in San Quentin State Prison.

The robbers stole a blue Chandler car that they painted black with fake license plates and bought nails to throw on Clovis Avenue during their escape so nobody could catch them.

Cashier Thomas Howison was alone in the bank when “The Owl” entered and requested change for a $20 bill while “The Lone Wolf” snuck behind Howison and held him at gunpoint.

Howison was forced into the bank vault where the robbers stole $31,800 worth of bonds, gold certificates and currency.

The money was never recovered, but both robbers eventually paid the price.

The museum has photographs of the bank, and the vault still stands, now holding Clovis’ precious memories in yearbooks and other documents. In addition, the bank has a revolver and a nail from the getaway on display in a case surrounded by sheriffs’ badges.

The recovery of the car and capturing the robbers was just as intense and climatic as the robbery.

On the 76th day of the investigation, they were arrested, then returned to Clovis for trial. Evidence against “The Moll” was shown insufficient and she was released. However, it took the jury only 35 minutes to deliberate and sentence “The Owl ” to Folsom State Prison. But, he later escaped by hiding on a flat railroad car loaded with rock.

“The Owl” sprained his ankle and his fellow escapers abandoned him. Three days later, along railroad tracks 10 miles from the prison, he was found dead of pneumonia.

On April 10, 1925, “The Lone Wolf” was arrested for the murder of a police officer during his solo robbery of the Mercantile Trust Bank in San Francisco. He was found guilty of bank robbery and first degree murder and was hung at Folsom Prison on June 25, 1926.

A melodrama of the robbery was presented on Saturday, Feb. 19th at Clovis Museum from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The event is always free to the public. The melodrama is a true story of our rich heritage in Clovis.

Brooke is a senior at Fresno State double majoring in Communication and Media, Communications and Journalism with an emphasis in broadcast journalism. Brooke is a senior at Fresno State double majoring in Communication and Media, Communications and Journalism with an emphasis in broadcast journalism. Brooke has a passion for storytelling and community. Brooke has experience in print news working for Oakdale Leader and The Collegian, as well as broadcast news by doing Fresno State Focus TV. She is also a student member of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) and takes part in the Youth Advisory Council for ABC30. Brooke is currently focusing on multimedia journalism for the remainder of her time at Fresno State, before graduation in May 2022.