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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Tiny Bank at Winona Was Robbed Four Times

The little bank in Winona, W.Va., was robbed on four separate occasions during its years of operation, a statistic which probably makes it the "most robbed bank" in all of Fayette County. Most tourists passing through Winona today, on their way to Nuttallburg, would probably be amazed to learn that Winona once had a bank, or that the town's population had grown to 1,100 persons by 1910, following the opening of several nearby coal mines in the mid-1890s. Following the demise of the area's mining operations in the mid-1950s, little evidence that Winona was once a vibrant and thriving community is left today.

Winona National Bank was organized on September 17, 1910, opening for business on December 1, 1910 in an attractive, but rather small one-story brick building, trimmed with cut stone, located near the middle of Winona. The bank operated successfully until 1959, when its assets were sold to a bank in Gauley Bridge, W.Va. Unfortunately, Winona's old bank building has since been torn down.

The first robbery occurred on June 25, 1931. On that day, two men entered the bank forcing Mrs. Nell Walker, the bank's assistant cashier, into a rear room, while the thieves quickly gathered up money from the cash drawer and counters. The robbers fled via an automobile parked near the bank, getting away with $836. Because Mrs. Walker recognized one of the men, three men were soon arrested in connection with the robbery, including a man who drove and owned the automobile used in the robbery. Both were soon convicted.

The second robbery took place on November 1, 1950. A coverall-clad man quietly entered and bank and as Mrs. Nell Walker walked toward him to wait on him, the man said; “This is a hold-up.” Banishing a “shiny” gun, the robber forced Cashier J. R. Hodge to put all the money from the front cage and the vault into a black bag, which he had carried with him. After taking the bank’s gun from the vault, the robber attempted to lock the two employees inside, but the vault door failed to close. The robber made off with  $19,243, fleeing in a car parked near the bank driven by a second person. The get-away car was later abandoned about a mile and a half from the bank.  Both men were soon arrested, charged, and convicted.

The third bank heist occurred on March 29, 1951. A Beckley man who had been loitering in the bank was informed by Cashier Joseph R. Hisey that the bank "wasn’t a loafing place."  The man left the bank but soon returned handing Hisey a note asking for the bank’s money.  Mrs. Nell Walker, who had become suspicious of the man earlier, retrieved a gun from a drawer in the bank, returning to stand by Hisey’s office door. Hisey took the gun from Mrs. Walker as he passed her, but the robber had a German Luger pistol leveled on him. The thief pulled the trigger but his gun did not fire. Hisey then shot Hisey twice; once in the chest and again in the leg, wounding him critically.  The suspect recovered to stand trial and was convicted.

The fourth and final bank robbery took place on May 2, 1951. This time, Cashier J. R. Hisey was working alone in the bank at the time of the robbery -- Mrs. Nell Walker, the bank’s other employee, was in Charleston. Cashier Hisey was busy balancing books when he looked up to see man with a red-painted face and a fake mustache leveling a blue-steel revolver at him with its trigger cocked. Another man, also wearing red paint on his face along with an artificial plastic nose walked around behind the teller’s window, carrying a sawed-off rifle. As the first man stood by the bank's window serving as a lookout, the second man ordered Hisey to open the vault, saying, “By God, if there’s any shooting one around here today, we’ll do it.” He then ordered Hisey to lie down on his back in the middle of the room, while he proceeded to empty the money in the vault into a large sack, Next, the robber told Hisey to open the cash drawer at the teller’s window.  The gunmen refused to take any $2 bills or money, but managed to make off with $15,546.03, leaving the scene in a automobile they'd parked nearby. The two men were soon captured and convicted.

Mrs. Neil Walker, the bank employee who was working in the bank during three or the four robberies, eventually became vice-president of the bank, working there a total of 37 years.  At the time of her death in 1962, she was serving her twelfth term as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates.


The Fayette Journal (Fayetteville, West Virginia) · Thu, Nov 2, 1911

"State Troopers Tail Winona Bank Robbers", Bluefield Daily Telegraph (Bluefield, West Virginia) · Sat, Jun 27, 1931

"Armed Robbers Get $39,000 At Winona Bank", The Raleigh Register (Beckley, West Virginia) · Wed, Nov 1, 1950

"Youthful Bandit Snatches $19,500 In 'Lone-Wolf' Stickup At Winona National Bank", Beckley Post-Herald (Beckley, West Virginia) · Thu, Nov 2, 1950

"Another Winona Bank Robbery Foiled", Beckley Post-Herald (Beckley, West Virginia) · Fri, Mar 30, 1951

"Winona Bank Held Up Again; Police Seek 2 Masked Thugs", Beckley Post-Herald (Beckley, West Virginia) · Thu, May 3, 1951

"Veteran House Member Dead", The Raleigh Register (Beckley, West Virginia) · Tue, Mar 6, 1962

"'Charlie White Cemetery' Is Well Known", article by Shirley Donnelly, Beckley Post-Herald The Raleigh Register (Beckley, West Virginia) · Sat, Jan 14, 1967

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