In November 1931 Mr A. Laurie was employed as sole officer at the Broadmeadow (Newcastle) branch of the Bank of New South Wales. The bank was located at Belford Street, by the Nine Ways commercial centre. As a sub-branch it was only open between the hours of 11.00am and 2.30pm each day.
After eating his packed lunch on November 4, Mr Laurie left the premises to put his wrappers in a rubbish bin. It may have been against head office rules for him to leave, but he made sure the back door was secure. The front door locked automatically behind him.
When he returned a few minutes later he was shocked to find that the cash drawer had been emptied of ₤260 in notes and coins. This was a considerable sum in the days of the Great Depression. It had been brought in by Mr Laurie that day to cover designated pay-outs. The odd thing was, there was absolutely no sign of a break-in. The police were called and they were as baffled as Mr Laurie and his superiors. Newspaper reporters compared the crime to one of novelist Edgar Wallace’s locked room mysteries
DEAD END – BANK ROBBERY – POLICE PUZZLED, NEWCASTLE.
The police investigating the theft of ₤260 from the Broadmeadow branch of the Bank of N.S.W. yesterday are at a dead end. Many theories as to how the theft was effected have been probed, but with no measure of success. One police official said today: ‘We are puzzled. It is the most mysterious theft in my experience, and we appear to be up against a brick wall. The police have nothing in the nature of a clue to work on. No strangers were seen in the vicinity yesterday or on any other day. (Maitland Daily Mercury 5 November 1931.)
It seems that the theft may have resulted in Mr Laurie losing his job, because shortly afterwards he was replaced as manager by Mr. T. Parton.
As time went by, Mr Parton became aware of a very slight depression in the area of the floor below the cash desk. He took little notice until at the beginning of April he spotted lines through the floorboards and decided to call the bank’s main branch in Newcastle. When the boards were pulled up, the mystery of the robbery was solved. They formed part of an ingenious trapdoor, large enough for a man to crawl through. From above, it must have looked similar, but even less visible, than the example in the image below.
Detectives discovered that from a vacant allotment at the rear of the Belford Street buildings, the robber had broken into the foundations of an empty shop. From there he wormed his way below the floor of a fish shop, located directly next door to the bank. He then breached the foundations of the bank and dug out soil directly below the cash counter, working at night. The resulting hole was lined with hessian bags. A fine hacksaw was used to cut through the floorboards. Dirt was then rubbed into the fresh cuts to further disguise them. It was noted that the trapdoor still lifted soundlessly months after being constructed, because the hinges had been so well oiled. One question comes to mind….how did he know the exact location of the cash counter? I hesitate to cast suspicion upon Mr Laurie, but….. 😎
A CRIMINAL CRAFTSMAN
The work completed by the perpetrator suggested he could have made a living as a carpenter. ‘Nobody without an expert knowledge of joinery could have made such a perfect fit. On the back of the trapdoor, which was made of the floorboard and portion of the joist were two strong hinges, which had been carefully counter-sunk. At both ends were cleats designed to keep the door in position, and to prevent the floor from sagging.’ Well it did sag in the end, but not until after the fellow was well away!
No money was ever left in the small Broadmeadow branch overnight, but how did the thief know that?
And did he really just sit in the hiding place from 11am to 2.30pm each day, hoping for an opportunity to strike? It seems highly unlikely, as he may have waited for weeks without result. We know his chance came when Mr Laurie popped out to dispose of his lunch wrappers. Was this the bank officer’s regular habit, observed by someone willing to go to great lengths to capitalize on any tiny breach in security? Or was that short absence pre-arranged?
As far as I am aware no-one was every charged over the robbery.