What became of car used by Brinks bandits remains a mystery
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Sun-Gazette offers the next installment in a weekly history series that tells the stories of those who came before us.)
With the passing of Dushore resident Gerard Richard Kaier in September of 2015, the last known link to the mystery of what became of a car used by two of the culprits in the famous Brinks Building robbery of Jan. 12, 1950, was lost.
According to his published obituary, Kaier was an employee of the Towanda car dealership where the vehicle was taken to be disassembled, but no records apparently exist about what became of the parts.
Neither the Massachusetts license plate number nor the vehicle identification number for the vehicle are known, according to Joseph Dupont, of Towanda.
In 1978, the famous robbery was immortalized on film in “The Brinks Job,” starring Peter Falk, but, according to Dupont, the movie did a “disservice” to those who nailed two of the robbers in Towanda.
Dupont has been trying find out what happened to the car, as well as to police reports and other records involving local officers’ and state police troopers’ roles in bringing the Brinks gang to justice, but to no avail.
Dupont’s efforts to gain information from the state police were thwarted after a Right-to-Know request he filed in November was denied in December due to the purported non-existence of the state police report filed on the incident.
“First, the FBI destroys these records in 1999 and 2012 after spending $25 million to solve the case. The local police have no records of their amazing sheriff, and now the state police will deprive Towanda, Kane and Coudersport valuable info to give proper credit to those state police and others who caught these thieves and broke the case wide open,” Dupont wrote.
Kaier worked for Eighmey Buick in Troy and later for Benson Oldsmobile and Buick in Towanda, now Ferrario’s on Golden Mile Road, at the time of the robbery in January 1950.
That was when the Brinks Building in Boston, Massachusetts, was robbed of $1.2 million in cash and another $1.6 million in checks, money orders and other securities by an 11-member gang.
Billed as “the crime of the century,” at the time, it was the largest robbery in the history of the United States.
All 11 gang members, including Joseph “Big Joe” McGinnis — the originator of the heist, according to information later gleaned from Joseph “Specs” O’Keefe — as well as Anthony “Fats” Pino and Stanley “Gus” Gusciora, eventually were caught and arrested. Two were caught because of police work in Bradford County, Dupont asserted.
According to published reports in the Boston Herald American, to prepare for the heist, O’Keefe and Gusciora secretly entered the Brinks’ depot by picking the outside lock with an ice pick and the inner door with a piece of plastic.
Pino recruited seven other men, including Pino’s brother-in-law Vincent Costa, Michael Vincent “Vinnie” Geagan, Thomas “Sandy” Francis Richardson, Adolf H. “Jazz” Maffei, Henry Conan D., James Ignatius Faherty and Joseph Banfield, and waited for the optimal time to pull off the heist.
Pino reportedly studied schedules and was able to determine what the staff was doing based on when the lights in the building windows were on. O’Keefe and Gusciora stole the plans for the site alarms.
The gang members then entered the building on practice runs after the staff had left for the day. Costa monitored the depot from a room of a tenement building across Prince Street from the Brinks Building.
Duplicate keys made
According to news reports, the gang gained access by removing the cylinders from the five locks, one at a time, so a locksmith could make duplicate keys for them.
But in an interview available on YouTube with investigative reporter Ed Corsetti, a cub reporter for the Boston Herald American at the time of the robbery, he admitted to “making up” much of the detail in his stories on orders of his editors to “keep the story in the headlines” to “sell papers.”
Corsetti died in 2012 at the age of 87.
By the time it acted on Jan. 17, 1950, the gang reportedly had planned and trained for two years. They donned clothing similar to that of a Brinks’ uniform with navy peacoats and chauffeur’s caps, along with rubber Halloween masks, gloves and rubber-soled shoes.
While Pino and driver Banfield stayed in the getaway car, seven other men entered the building at 6:55 p.m.
With their copied keys, they came to the second floor through the locked doors and surprised, bound and gagged five Brinks employees who were storing and counting money.
They failed to open a box of the payroll of the General Electric Co. but scooped up everything else. The robbers walked out at 7:30 p.m. after also taking money and four revolvers from the employees.
The gang rapidly counted the loot, gave some of the members their cut and agreed not to touch the rest for six years, after which the statute of limitations would have expired, then scattered to establish their alibis.
Stopped in Towanda
Two of the culprits, O’Keefe and Gusciora, were apprehended on June 12, 1950, in Towanda, and their vehicle, a 1949 Buick sedan, was brought to Benson Oldsmobile, where Kaier dismantled it under the supervision of the FBI, which required him to stay at the garage for the entire two-day period.
According to information supplied by Dupont, the pair robbed Rosenbloom’s Men’s and Boy’s Clothing Store, 207 N. Main St. in Coudersport, and the Towanda chief of police spotted the luggage they stole in the rear seat of the Buick on June 12, resulting in their arrest.
O’Keefe and Gusciora were traveling back to Massachusetts through the Northern Tier after visiting the grave of Lt. Edward Gusciora in St. Louis, Missouri, when they stopped to steal guns from Wayne Moore’s Sporting Goods Store at 16 Greeves St. in Towanda, Dupont said.
State police troopers John Mancuso, Lynn Bohr and Donald Burke, of the barracks in Athens, responded to stop the pair on Route 220 at the Ulster Narrows. The two were held and faced charges by the Justice of the Peace David O’Neal on Firearms Act violations. They spent time in the Bradford County Prison and the Bradford County Courthouse.
O’Keefe was sentenced to three years in Bradford County Prison, and Maffie was convicted and sentenced to nine months for income tax evasion.
Police heard through their informers that O’Keefe and Gusciora demanded money from two others involved in the robbery, Pino and MacGinnis, in Boston to fight their convictions. It later was claimed that most of O’Keefe’s share went to his legal defense.
FBI agents tried to talk to O’Keefe and Gusciora in prison, but the two professed ignorance of the Brinks job.
After O’Keefe was released, he was taken to stand trial for another burglary and parole violations and was released on $17,000 bail. O’Keefe later claimed he never saw his portion of the loot after he gave it to Maffei for safekeeping. Apparently in need of money, he kidnapped gang member Vincent Costa and demanded his part of the loot for ransom.
Pino paid a small ransom but then decided to try to kill O’Keefe.
After a couple of attempts, he reportedly hired underworld hitman Elmer “Trigger” Burke, who traveled to Boston and shot O’Keefe, seriously wounding but not killing him.
As time ran out
The FBI approached O’Keefe in the hospital, and, on Jan. 6, 1956, he eventually decided to talk.
On Jan. 12, 1956, just five days before the statute of limitations was to run out, the FBI arrested Baker, Costa, Geagan, Maffei, McGinnis and Pino.
They apprehended Faherty and Richardson on May 16 in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
O’Keefe pleaded guilty Jan. 18, Gusciora died in prison on July 9 from a brain tumor and Banfield already was dead.
A trial began on Aug. 6, 1956, and all eight of the remaining gang members received maximum sentences of life imprisonment.
All were paroled by 1971 except McGinnis, who died in prison.
O’Keefe received four years and was released in 1960.
Only $58,000 of the $2.7 million was recovered.