"In October of 1961, when it became clear that the big day was approaching, Officer James Cillo was posted at St. Joseph's Rectory, where he began painting undercover with his gun hidden in the rain gutter."

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The Great Mendham Bank Robbery of 1961

by Charley Carter

Back in 1960, when two would-be bank robbers pegged Mendham Borough as a podunk town with lax security and bragged that it would be easy to rob the local bank, they couldn't have been more wrong.

Within a few days of Robert Grogan's and William Redic's decision to rob the Morris County Savings Bank, virtually everyone in town knew what they were up to. The police chief, Earl Moore, began taking down notes about their rumored plans and suspicious behavior and kept them all together on index cards in a big manilla envelope.

The Bowers Building in Mendham

Soon Chief Moore confided his suspicions about the plan to the bank manager, the shopkeepers along Main Street and other interested parties — and you can bet there were no uninterested parties in a town as small as Mendham was back then (less than 3500 people.)

One result: The first time William Redic came into the bank to case the joint (pretending he wanted a mortgage loan), Murph Rae (in the butcher shop across the street) called Herbert Miller (the bank manager) to let him know one of the bank robbers had just gone into the bank.

Miller already knew, however. He had a nervous Redic sitting in front of him. And bank managers don't like nervous bank robbers.

After that the town stepped-up its readiness. The bank's home office in Morristown began calling the Mendham branch at regular intervals to make sure everything was all right. Ann Niel, the Mendham bank's only female employee, was told to head for the ladies' room whenever Grogan or Redic appeared.

In October of 1961, when it became clear that the big day was approaching, Officer James Cillo was posted at St. Joseph's Rectory, where he posed undercover as a house painter, his gun hidden secretly in the rain gutter. The Mendham Borough Police (which in those days was just Chief Moore and Officer Cillo) enlisted Officer Frank Geraghty from Mendham Township to help keep watch.

On October 18th, the robbers struck.

When Murph Rae in the butcher shop recognized the robbers' car parked across the street, he immediately tried to telephone Chief Moore, but the line was busy. So, he gave a bag of bones to customer Mary Caccio and sent her over to the police station at the Phoenix House to alert Chief Moore. In the meantime, as the bank robbers announced their intentions and manager Miller stuffed bills into a Federal Reserve bag for them, the home office in Morristown called. They figured out what was going on right away.

Outside the bank, the police were frantic.

The Phoenix House was filling up with Mendham Garden Club women, who were blocking Moore's and Geraghty's view of the crime scene.

It was several minutes before the pair of policemen could position themselves strategically on the sidewalk to nab the robbers.

When the Mendham Garden Club's refreshment chairman, Mrs. McFadden, arrived with bottles of cider The Phoenix House was in an uproar.

The police had caught the robbers red-handed with $10,679 in stolen cash and the 35 Garden Club ladies beat a hasty retreat to McFadden's home.