The Carny Did it… Or did He? The Weird Story of Jack Humrich, Milwaukee’s Wanna-be Bank Robber
On September 24, 1957, a man walked into the First Wisconsin National Bank on Water Street and handed the teller a note. It read, “Don’t get excited. Make up $2,000 in $20 bills and don’t sound the alarm.” Terrified, the teller collected all the money she had in her drawer – just over $1,700 – and handed it over. The man quickly and quietly left the bank, walking past five guards, and vanished into the mass of mid-day downtown traffic.
One week later, in Wichita, Kansas, 28-year-old Jack Humrich was driving a stolen car on the back roads late one night when he was pulled over by a police officer doing a routine license check. After the cop approached the car, Humrich sped away and a high-speed pursuit ensued. After blowing a tire, Humrich and his passenger ditched the car and fled into a nearby cluster of homes. After about 20 minutes, Humrich crept back to the stolen car and was tackled by a pair of officers who had hidden nearby to await his return. He was arrested on a charge of auto theft and taken to the local jail. He said nothing about the car, but confessed – unprovoked – to the Milwaukee bank robbery.
Jack DeWayne Humrich was what they used to call a ‘hard-luck case.’ His only regular employment came as a carnival roustabout and he had been in and out of trouble with the law for most of this adult life. Just a few months before the bank robbery, he and his brother had been arrested for crossing state lines in a stolen car and possessing stolen rifles. His brother got jail time, but the charges against Jack were eventually dropped. The day after the robbery, Humrich was stopped on West Wells Street for speeding and hit with three charges – two moving violations and a disorderly conduct charge stemming from an old sexual assault complaint. In jail in Milwaukee, he was tight-lipped. A few days after his arrest, he plead out on the charges, paid some fines and took a year’s probation. Then, he skipped town.
While papers in Milwaukee were proclaiming the bank robbery was now all but solved, the teller who was the only eyeball witness to the crime said that Humrich was not the man who robbed her. Indeed, she had reported the robber to be a blonde with curly hair. Humrich had dark, straight hair. A Milwaukee detective who went to Wichita to arrange for Humrich’s transfer to Wisconsin dismissed the discrepancy, calling it “one of those unfortunate things.”
The day after Humrich’s confession, a Hales Corners contractor stepped forward to say that the alleged bank robber had been with him on the day the crime occurred, working as a painter. The man said that Humrich had spent the entire day with him, outside of Milwaukee, and had, after his arrest for speeding on Wells Street, asked for his week’s wages to pay his fines. He had not seen Humrich since. Convinced of the contractor’s story, Milwaukee police withdrew their warrant for Humrich’s arrest, which left the roustabout in Wichita – where he was still insisting he had robbed the bank. “I don’t care [what the police say],” he told a reporter. “I’m their man.”
Although the local cops had dismissed his claim, the FBI thought enough of Humrich’s confession to send a man to Kansas to talk with him. Evidently unwilling to risk a charge for lying to a federal agent, Humrich glumly admitted that was not, in fact, guilty of bank robbery. The confession was the first step in a long con, Humrich admitted. He had hoped to be transferred back to Wisconsin, where he would – when authorities in Kansas had given up on his auto theft charge – recant his confession and use his alibi with the contractor to prove his innocence. But for once, it had been the honest part of Humrich’s life that caught up with him. Two weeks later, as Humrich awaited his trial in Wichita, a Chicagoan named Andrew Smith, with his curly blonde locks, was arrested trying to hold up a Los Angeles bank. Once in custody, he admitted to the First Wisconsin robbery. This time, no one could prove otherwise.