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Remembering the Great Altoga Bank Heist of 1912

altoga bank heist collin county history downtown mckinney altoga

The Altoga Bank heist | Historic downtown McKinney | Courtesy of the Plano Public Library

Through the fabric of a dark September night, Dr. W. T. Dunn heard the sound of an unidentifiable crash.

It was a Saturday in 1912, somewhere in the vicinity of 1 a.m., and three mysterious men had just stolen $1,345.14 from the Altoga Bank, located in a small unincorporated community just north of McKinney, without the burden of a holdup. They’d preferred to use dynamite. 

The sound that had startled Dunn out of sleep was the explosion, and subsequently part of the inner safe door hurtling through the bank wall and crashing into a nearby barber shop. When a lamp light came on in one nearby home, the robbers shot it out. The family would find a bullet in their kitchen the next morning. 

The racket was enough to get Dunn—and anyone else who had heard the sounds of destruction—clothed and on the street to see the damage done. Out of a crowd of 200, only one man showed up with a gun. They found a broken bank vault, a destroyed adding machine and a missing $1,345.14. 

The robbers, in an effort to be thorough, had taken the time to cut what they thought were all telephone wires connecting Altoga to any help. Of course, they’d missed one line. Dunn, the bank cashier, had put it in as a private line earlier because the cotton season was on its way. The line had only been live for about a day, but it allowed Altoga to call for help. 

Altoga didn’t seem to be a beacon for crime. The man who had christened it with its eternal name wanted it to reflect a heartfelt motto, “all together.” The Altoga Bank heist was the biggest shock the little community had ever seen.

Dr. W. T. Dunn had gone to medical school in Dallas and practiced in East Texas for a few years before coming back to Altoga. The doctor, also known as “Papa Dunn,” going by his 1951 headstone, was the bank cashier. He owned the drug and grocery store that housed the bank and had served as the solo cornetist in the local band. 

Read more: The three historians who (literally) wrote the book on Hidden Plano

“He has a heart as large as a Waterbury watch,” read one McKinney Weekly Democrat Gazette article from 1911. 

Later on, Dunn would recall the middle-aged man with one arm who had visited Altoga the previous weekend. The man had attended the local church service, and Dunn said he seemed out of place, or “in a good church but in the wrong pew,” as one article put it. Dunn noticed something else, too: every time Dunn turned to look at him, the man would be eyeing him, too. Dunn would later announce that he was sure this man, whose description fit that of a wanted safebreaker in Oklahoma, was involved in the Altoga Bank heist. 

After Princeton’s city marshall got a late-night call, he put out a town watch. At around 4 a.m., the marshall shot at two figures bounding away from a cotton wharf. One had been seen earlier, seemingly examining the area’s telephone and telegraph cables. They had ignored the marshall’s calls to stop and escaped his whizzing bullets. 

They left behind a silver bucket filled with explosive supplies, bread, and cheese. The bucket, Dunn said, had come from his store. 

Later that morning, Dunn started his business day with $5.80. Within an hour, he had over $1,000 in cash. Eventually, money from McKinney came to his doorstep so that he could pay back each depositor. The president of the Collin County National Bank stopped by to assure everyone that he would financially support Dunn. 

Nobody asked for their money. In fact, they gave him more. 

“The people have confidence in Scott and in Dunn,” read a Sept. 19, 1912 article of The Weekly Democrat-Gazette, “hence everything went as merry as a wedding bell.”

Originally published in the January 2020 Hidden Collin Issue of Local Profile. 

Audrey Henvey
Audrey Henvey is a former editorial intern at Local Profile and a current senior at the University of Texas at Arlington. She has worked at the UT Arlington newspaper, The Shorthorn as a College of Engineering and Student Government reporter and also written for Star Local Media.

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