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Clay Coppedge
Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

The Unflappable
Flapper Bandit

by Clay Coppedge

The woman who walked into the Farmer's State Bank in Buda that December day in 1926 and started asking questions about the local cotton crop identified herself as a reporter for a Beaumont newspaper. She talked to people who came into the bank about the weather, the local crops, and the names of the area's most prominent farmers.

Near the end of her charade, the woman asked cashier J.W. Jamison if she could use one of the bank's typewriters. She took her notebook and handbag to the typewriter and began typing. Jamison ducked into the vault for a minute, and when he came out he was staring down the barrel of the woman's .32 caliber pistol.

"Stay where you are," she told him.

She then pointed her gun at another employee, J.R. Howe, and told him to go to where Jamison was and stay there. She ordered the men to open the safe, remove the money, and lay it on the inside cabinet. Jamison did as he was told. The woman took about a thousand dollars and stuck it in her purse. She then locked Jamison and Howe in the vault, but not without some misgivings.

"Y'all got enough air in there to last about 30 minutes?" she asked.

The men said they did, and so the pretty young woman left, got into her Model T coupe and drove away. The hostages used a screwdriver to jimmy the vault lock, escaped within minutes, and alerted every law enforcement agency they could think of. And they had her license plate number: 810-863.

By that time, the woman was on her way back to Austin, where she worked at the state capitol for attorney general and future governor Dan Moody while studying history at the University of Texas. Her name, as far as most people knew at that time, was Rebecca, or Becky, Bradley. Newspapers would dub her "The Flapper Bandit."

Becky might have looked the part of a flapper, but she didn't have the means to live like one. While others of her generation were doing the Charleston and drinking bathtub gin, she was working on a master's degree in history from UT. But it was a hard slog. She had student loans to repay, more tuition payments to arrange, and now her mother, who had just lost her job in Fort Worth, was living with her. She had previously worked part-time for UT professor Charles Ramsdell, who also handled the business affairs of the Texas State Historical Association.

That job ended badly after Ramsdell went on vacation and left the affairs of the association in Becky's hands, even agreeing to let her have $1.40 from every $3 in dues she collected from new members. Becky went at the fund-raising effort with everything she had- actually more than she had. She hired dozens of stenographers to write solicitations to thousands of members, used her own money to get the ball rolling, and "borrowed" some of the association's money when hers ran out. She ended up owing the TSHA another $1,200, or about twice the price of a new car.

Moody, Becky's employer, had no sympathy for bank robbers. He and the state's law enforcement agencies were dealing with an average of three or four robberies a day in the 1920s. The Travelers Insurance Company reported that property crime-everything from bank robberies to drugstore stickups-jumped from 17 to 965 from 1920-1926 in its Dallas office alone.

Initially, Becky decided to join the crime wave by robbing the same bank Sam Bass had tried to rob some forty years earlier, a strange choice for a student of history since Bass got shot and died in his attempt.

In Round Rock, as she would later do in Buda, Becky posed as a reporter seeking information about the local crops. Her plan was to get into the bank and wait until there no customers and few employees, but the customers and employees didn't cooperate. They just kept hanging around.

Becky decided to create a diversion by setting fire to a vacant house near the bank, which she did, then ran into the bank shouting "Fire!" The customers and employees must have figured this sounded like a job for the fire department because nobody left the bank to investigate.

Robbing banks, she discovered, was harder than the newspapers made it sound.

When she returned to Round Rock the next day people started asking her if she knew anything about that fire at the vacant house, since they still thought she was a newspaper reporter. Becky knew the real story but she wasn't going to reveal her sources. She drove to Buda, spotted the Farmers National Bank, and robbed it.

A fair number of the1920s-era bank robbers who took the money and ran never got caught. Becky wasn't one of them. She got her car stuck in the mud near Creedmoor and had to rely on a friendly, unsuspecting dairy farmer to pull her out. In Austin, she mailed the gun and the money to herself at a university post office box and took the car to a car wash. An alert Austin policeman took note of the license plate number, recognized it as the one every law enforcement officer in Central Texas was looking for, and arrested her when she came to pick up the car.

The Austin cops turned her over to Travis County Sheriff George M. Allen, who drove her to San Marcos for booking. As they passed through Buda, Becky laughed out loud and said to Allen, "I have a whole lot to live down, but not so much as those men back there who let a little girl hold them up with an empty gun!" In a decidedly unamusing twist, Becky's gun wasn't empty. When the cops confiscated her .32 automatic from the glove box, the magazine was gone but there was a bullet in the chamber, ready for firing.

In the course of much pre-trial publicity, the public found out that the woman formerly known as Becky Bradley was a secretly married woman. Her legal name was Rebecca (Becky) Bradley Rogers, the lawfully wedded wife of Otis Rogers, a rookie lawyer in Amarillo.

Otis came out of anonymity to serve with his wife's defense team. It didn't go well. The jury convicted Becky of armed robbery and sentenced her to fourteen years in the state penitentiary, but an appeals court reversed the conviction. Subsequent trials in New Braunfels and San Marcos ended in mistrials. When a Round Rock jury acquitted her on arson charges, Rebecca Rogers Bradley was a free woman.

Farmers National Bank had closed by the time the string of trials ended in 1933. The changing times were too much for bank owner W.D. Carrington. "When women start robbing banks I'm selling out," he said, and sold out. Austin National Bank bought Farmers National but closed it for good after another robber got away with about $1,200.

Becky and Otis moved to Fort Worth, where she served as his legal secretary for many years, and the couple raised three children. Becky died in 1950, followed by Otis a year later.
Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" October 19, 2019 column

Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • Monroe Fisher's Higher Calling 9-23-19
  • Temple's International Man of Mystery 8-27-19
  • Rocket Mail 8-1-19
  • James Brock's Honesty of Purpose 7-16-19
  • William Burroughs in Texas 6-28-19

    See more »

  • Related Topics:

    Texas Small Town Sagas


    More Columns
    Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • Monroe Fisher's Higher Calling 9-23-19
  • Temple's International Man of Mystery 8-27-19
  • Rocket Mail 8-1-19
  • James Brock's Honesty of Purpose 7-16-19
  • William Burroughs in Texas 6-28-19

    See more »























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