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Gary Mitchell

Gary Mitchell, one of two brothers who took part in the armed robbery of a rural tavern in the 1950s.

Just after 9 a.m. on Oct. 20, 1931, three armed men walked into Menomonie’s Kraft State Bank while another waited in a getaway car. The ensuing events spin out Dunn County’s most famous robbery (so far, knock on wood) — which is understandable. A bank robbery during the Great Depression has all the narrative elements you’d want. And while these guys weren’t Bonnie and Clyde, this story is our local paragraph in that national chapter.

But it’s by no means Dunn County’s only armed robbery, and not even its only October armed robbery.

Half past midnight on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 1957 — just 60 years ago this week — two armed men walked into Carl and Irene Trinko’s Tap Tavern, nearly halfway from Menomonie to Spring Valley on State Highway 29. Wearing stockings over their faces, and both brandishing guns in their gloved hands, they ordered the customers to leave their wallets on the bar, and then rustled them into the Tap’s cooler.

In the cooler, they demanded car keys. Customer Eldon Schultz offered his, but by mistake gave them the wrong keys — the keys to his other car safely at home. Angered, one of the robbers pistol-whipped Schultz and in the process his gun went off into the roof of the cooler.

The robbers drove away in Schultz’s 1949 Ford, which police later found abandoned a few blocks away near the Lucas Town Hall. But as they left, they ripped out wires from several other cars in the lot, ripped out the phone lines, and turned off the tavern’s lighted signs. Irene Trinko had to find a car that would start, and drive about a mile to phone the sheriff’s office.

That morning, Sheriff Del Karns got a call reporting that a two-tone Ford had been parked near the Lucas Town Hall, and the caller reported seeing two men walk from that car toward the Tap Tavern late the night before.

Karns radioed that description to area law-enforcement agencies. A Pierce County officer reported that two men in a two-tone Ford stopped in Spring Valley, bought gas and had some drinks at a tavern. They paused long enough to chat up Connie Cooper, who remembered that they were brothers, their last name was Mitchell, and they were from Wabasha, Minn.

Well, shoot: by 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, Karns and his deputy James Reed were in Wabasha, rousting Robert Mitchell out of his bed. Then they called on his brother Gary, who was asleep at home with his wife and two children. They interrogated them at the Wabasha Jail until 6 a.m. By Wednesday afternoon, tavern owners Carl and Irene Trinko had identified them at the Wabasha Jail.

Both Mitchell boys had been born in Menomonie, and both had records.

Robert started early: he had escaped from the Waukesha School for Boys at age 12. Later, he served time for armed robbery in Omaha, Nebr., until he broke out of prison there. Before his capture, he’d engaged police in gun battles in both Omaha and Minneapolis.

Gary’s record seemed pretty mild in comparison. He’d spent three years at the Green Bay Reformatory for violating his parole after being convicted of taking 21 cases of beer from the Menomonie Bottling Factory.

The Mitchell brothers had left the Tap Tavern with a haul of $600 (about $5,300 today, adjusted for inflation): a little over $400 from the tavern’s till; $140 from Schultz, the fellow they pistol-whipped; and the rest from the wallets and purses of the other bar patrons.Frank Smoot, executive director at the Dunn County Historical Society, can be reached at 715-232-8685, or director@dunnhistory.org.

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Frank Smoot, executive director at the Dunn County Historical Society, can be reached at 715-232-8685, or director@dunnhistory.org.

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Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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