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Author: Tara Oldfield
Thursday the 24th of February 1921 had been a day like any other at the Bank of Victoria in Fitzroy. It was nearing 3pm and the staff on duty were preparing to close up.
Clerk Alexander Henry Christie sat finishing up the last of his work at his desk, accountant Allan Dudman Fox was behind the counter, Muriel Margaret Dillon was posting ledgers and Thyrza Eddels was packing up near the side door when the sound of the front door and heavy boots at the entryway caused all four bank workers to look up in surprise.
Two masked men in overalls, one standing tall, the other crouching, were entering the bank with guns aimed and ready to fire.
“Hands up,” the crouching robber shouted in the direction of Thyrza Eddels and Muriel Dillon as they jumped up in shock.
All staff did as instructed as the taller of the armed robbers jumped the counter, ushering Allan Dudman Fox inside the back telephone room. “Don’t stir or we will shoot you,” he said. The shorter robber pointed his gun towards Christie, ushering him to the back room also. Both men were trapped and guarded by the point of the shorter crim's gun as the taller one emptied the till.
During the commotion Thyrza and Muriel managed to slip out the side door. They screamed out for help:
“the bank is being robbed.”
While waiting for police to arrive, Muriel, quite smartly, took careful watch as the robbers exited the building. When Constable McFarlane arrived on the scene, Muriel was able to tell him in which direction the robbers had gone. He took chase. With the help of a witness he was able to apprehend one of the thieves on Condell Street.
Paul Frederick Frazier
The crim was found to be a man by the name of Paul Frederick Frazier. A 24-year-old American born seaman, of 5 feet 8 inches, medium build. This was to be his first and only offence in Victoria. Why he chose to rob a bank is unclear from the records available online, perhaps he was in need of a ticket home?
The witness who assisted in the arrest, once Frazier was in custody, went in search of the other offender. He and police caught up with him at the rear of a house in Budd Street.
The other offender was found to be John Bernhardt. Another seafaring man from overseas, 27-year-old John was originally from Denmark, two inches taller than Paul, he was the one who’d emptied out the till.
In total £460 was found across the pockets of both men. Quite a large sum for the time.
Send us back to America
According to the newspaper reports, they asked the judge if they could be sent back to America. The judge could not grant such a request, sentencing them instead to five years imprisonment at Pentridge.
“This is a serious offence. You stuck up a bank and stole £460. I have read your statements, and I cannot see any mitigating circumstances. You have asked me if I can see my way clear to send you back to America, under some penalty never to return again. I have not the power to do that, and if I had I would not exercise it.”
In prison, Paul’s record appears to be clean while John’s prisoner record is marked up a couple of times for bad behaviour including having outside tobacco in his possession and refusing to obey an order.
They were both released early in 1924. Perhaps they then set sail for America, or at least cleaned up their act, as it appears from their prison registers that this was their one and only sentence in Victoria.
Allan Dudman Fox
Sadly, accountant Allan Dudman Fox survived the ordeal of being held up only to lose his life tragically a few years later. In 1925, aged 47, he fell from a moving tram. He was still working with the Bank of Victoria at the time of his death, at the North Melbourne Branch.
This article showcases the kinds of stories that can be uncovered by researching our online collections in conjunction with Trove. It is possible that research into our physical record collection, in particular the criminal trial briefs, would reveal even more about this story. But where research at the Victorian Archives Centre isn’t possible, there is still so much that can be discovered by simply searching online.
Search our prison registers here: https://prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/explore-topic/justice-crime-and-law/register-male-and-female-prisoners-1855-1947
And other online collections here: https://prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/online-collections
Thank you to reader Margaret who delved a little deeper into this story, she says she searched National Archives Australia Recordsearch and found that John Bernhardt had a listing for arrival in 1921 and possibly applied for naturalisation in 1927. She couldn't find a departure for either of the robbers. So perhaps they stayed in Australia after all?
- Paul Frederick Frazier VPRS 515/ P1 item 70, record Page 422
- John Bernhardt VPRS 515/ P1 item 70, record Page 421
- Allan Dudman Fox VPRS 24/ P0 unit 1073, item 1925/636
- Revolver colt, Museum Victoria
- Daily Examiner, 25 Feb 1921
- Richmond River Express, 25 Feb 1921
- Daily Examiner, 26 Feb 1921
- Northern Standard, 26 Feb 1921
- The Argus, 26 Feb 1921
- The Age, 26 Feb 1921
- Naracoorte Herald, 1 March 1921
- Albury Banner, 11 March 1921
- Western Star, 12 March 1921
- The Herald, 23 March 1921
- Gippsland Times, 24 March 1921
- Ballarat Star, 24 March 1921