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The Big Jewelry Store Robbery of 1933, recorded in Bryan Legends and Legacies and narrated by Ken Smith

On December 14th, 1933, about 6:30 PM, Mrs. Celeste Caldwell drove to downtown Bryan to pick up her husband, John at Caldwell Jewelry Store. As she and John came out the back door, some men swung around in the middle of the block and yelled, "We want you! We want what you got!" The men forced John to unlock the door and open the safe. They wouldn't let him turn on the lights, but struck matches on the safe to give him light to dial the combination. Nerves and flickering matches made it difficult for him to open it. Mrs. Caldwell removed her diamonds and dropped them into the trash basket. The bandits thought the noise was an alarm. This made them more nervous, but they took all the jewelry out of the safe.

Mrs. Caldwell recalls, "It was the first Ford V8, John Sealy, and I owned and I was bundled in the back along with Blackie Thompson. They began to speak in Pig Latin, which we of course could understand. They said that they would take us to the other side of Kurten. They turned on the first road to the left and crossed the creek. The robbers took us from the car and led us away from the road. I was having a hard time walking in my high heel shoes. We had to jump across a gully. Johnson, the one who had been nice to me, helped me across. The bandits tied our arms around a tree and tied us up with their dirty handkerchiefs. They tied our thumbs together with copper wire, and the wire cut my hands before I could get free and free John Sealy."

Within about 30 minutes, the couple had managed their freedom and returned to Kurten. From there, they hitched a ride to Bryan with a local insurance man, Clifton Steen, who was hauling a Christmas tree in the back of his car. Mr. Steen didn't believe their story until he overheard Mr. Caldwell talking to Sheriff Jim Reed, trying to make him understand that they had been robbed and the back door of the story had been left open.

Later that night, the Caldwells went to the Houston Police Department and identified the men from mugshots. The robbers belonged to the Whitey Walker Gang, a group of dangerous and vicious gangsters who were known to associate with other criminals, such as Pretty Boy Floyd, Raymond Hamilton, and Bonnie and Clyde. When they returned to Bryan, the Caldwells spent several weeks at the hotel for fear that the gang would return and make good their promise to harm anyone who reported the crime.

About 30 days later, the gang paid cash for a Cadillac in Florida. Suspicious Florida police found out they were dealing with the Whitey Walker Gang and began a search. In early February, they captured Whitey and Ben Johnson after a running gun battle, and they captured Blackie Thompson at a beer joint. The gang was also wanted for the burglary of a Palestine jewelry store and for bank robbery and kidnapping in Marlin.

In February, 1934, hundreds of people were turned away from one of the most exciting trials in the history of Brazos County. To prevent other gangsters from breaking the prisoners out, Sheriff Reed placed numerous officers at key points in and on top of the jail and the courthouse. JW Hamilton, a member of the Bryan Police Department and later the sheriff of Brazos County, was ready with the machine gun. The streets around the courthouse and jail were blocked, and the path from the jail to the courthouse was roped off. Every precaution was taken to prevent other gangsters like Bonnie and Clyde from aiding in the Walker Gang's escape. Rumors were rampant and the town was very excited and fearful of the other outlaw gangs. The jury found all three men guilty, and Judge WC Davis sentenced each of the robbers to 99 years in the Texas Department of Corrections.

Adapted from the Bryan College Station Eagle on Thursday, April 27th, 1989.