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October 18: Rugby Bank Robbery

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At 11:15 a.m. on this date in 1934, “a lone bandit” robbed the Merchants Bank in Rugby. He made off with $429. In the bank at the time were its president, cashier and a farmer, who happened to walk in mid-holdup. The robber quickly fled in a vehicle stolen the day before from a veterinarian in Minot. The robber also held up a gas station attendant in Granville and stole 10 gallons of gas. The Associated Press called the crime the first bank robbery in Rugby’s history.

About nine hours after the robbery, Grand Forks police arrested a 19-year-old former student of the University of North Dakota who lived in Minnewaukan. Police caught him in the stolen car near the law school at UND. He was taken back to Rugby to face charges. He admitted to the bank robbery, car theft and gas station holdup. Officers found the bank money under his shirt, and also found the gun used in the holdups. A taxi driver who spotted the stolen car had led police to the campus.

The suspect’s arrest also came shortly after his mother asked Minot police to help find her son after he left without telling his family. She had thought her son was headed to Fort Peck, Montana, to work on the dam project there.

The case was closed in about a week. The suspect pleaded guilty, and a judge deferred sentencing and committed him to the State Training School in Mandan, a reform school for youth. The judge said the commitment was to determine whether the youth had criminal instincts or was suffering “from a temporary brain storm.”

Many people asked the judge for leniency, including several hundred Benson County residents and the Rugby bank president himself. The youth couldn’t give a good answer as to why he robbed the bank, saying “it happened so fast.”

His attorney told the judge that “dissension between (his) parents made his life unbearable.” Neighbors of the robber also showed sympathy by reimbursing the gas station in Granville for the stolen fuel.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, October 18. Page 1: Rugby bank raided by lone bandit in second N.D. holdup
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, October 19. Pages 1, 4: Minnewaukan lad, Rugby bandit, captured
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, October 22. Page 3: Rognlie awaiting trial for robbery
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, October 25. Page 1: Rognlie committed to training school
  • Hope Pioneer. 1934, November 8. Page 6: News of North Dakota
  • Youth Correctional Center: history.nd.gov/archives/stateagencies/youthcorrectional.html

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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