Horace Walker was stepping off a trolley when he spotted four men pushing a blue Buick sedan in front of the Olney Bank & Trust bank on Mascher Street. He started across the street to lend a hand. As he got closer, he saw the men had stockings pulled down over their faces. Seconds later, he was caught in a fusillade of bullets.1
The 26-year-old druggist had unwittingly walked into the middle of the most sensational bank robbery in Philadelphia history.
The Olney Bank & Trust Robbery of 1926 also would have been the most lucrative bank heist in city history – if it had worked.
For a few brief moments, the young bandits had $80,000 in their hands — almost $1.2 million today.
Any savvy bettor would have predicted the robbers would prevail. They were professional holdup artists who planned the caper for weeks and timed it to a T. They outfitted themselves with high-caliber weapons and plenty of reserve ammunition. They successfully exploited a weak link in the bank’s cash transfer routine. They knew that 60-year-old bank messenger William Miller would have at least $80,000 with him when he stopped at the Mascher Street branch at 9:45 a.m. on Tuesday, May 4, 1926.
What they didn’t count on was the extraordinary pluck of the ordinary people of Philadelphia.
Instead of running from a hail of bullets, men and women ran out onto the streets to offer any help they could. Those who had cars invited police officers and armed strangers to jump in. Citizens armed themselves with handguns and rifles and knives, and, in one less-successful instance, a broom.