Post Office Robbery - 1920
This story was taken from Papers Past. It is an item about my uncle Arthur WHITBURN and my grandmother, Helen WHITBURN, the Postmistress at the time of the robbery, 1920.
Another sensational post office robbery is reported, the locality this time being Runciman, a small township on the Waikato railway, 23 miles south of Auckland, New Zealand. It is stated that about dusk on Tuesday evening, a stranger, armed with a revolver, held up the Runciman letter-carrier (who is the son of the Runciman postmistress), at a spot about half a mile from the office, demanded the keys, and after having got them from the lad, told him to clear off home, and fired a shot after him. The post office was subsequently robbed.
Arthur Charles WHITBURN, aged 17 years, son of the postmistress at Runciman, Mrs Helen WHITBURN, made a statement reviewing the incidents of the affair. He said he was letter-carrier, and in the habit of opening up the post office at 7 o'clock each morning, remaining there until relieved by his mother two hours later. The usual procedure was followed yesterday, with the exception that his sister Florence, relieved him instead of his mother. His duty when relieved was to deliver the rural mail, which occupied his time until 3.20, when he returned to the office, and stayed until 5p.m., in company with his sister. When she left at 5p.m., he took charge, sorted and delivered the evening mail over the counter, finally closing the office at 5.30p.m. He left for his home, which is about a mile and a half distant on the Karaka Road, and was riding his bicycle. He had covered about half a mile, when he was met by a young man whose head was wrapped in a muffler, who called upon him to stop. WHITBURN alighted, and the man said he wished to get a letter out of the post office, and for that purpose demanded the keys. The lad refused, but offered to return to the office and get the letter. The stranger replied: "I will go myself," at the same time drawing a revolver, and adding, "Hurry up and give me the keys." Being rendered nervous by seeing the revolver, WHITBURN handed over the keys. The man also took WHITBURN's bicycle, and as he rode away, called out "Hurry home immediately." As WHITBURN turned in the direction of his home, the stranger fired a shot, but in what direction the weapon was aimed is not known, as WHITBURN's back was towards the man. Having secured the keys and bicycle, the man road off towards the post office. Ten minutes later WHITBURN returned with assistance but only to find that the door was open and that thirty pounds in cash and twenty seven pounds in cheques had been stolen. Attached to the keys handed over was one that fitted the safe, and this was used to gain access to the money.
Sergeant COWAN, of Pukekohe, and Constable WOLFENDALE, arrived on the scene within a very short time.
Constable JOHNSTON of Papakura, was communicated with by means of the telegraph to the railway station, and was informed that the thief was riding the stolen bicycle on the main Runciman-Drury Road towards Papakura. Constable JOHNSTON kept a close watch as he went to Runciman, but did not see the man. That the thief did go by that route is proved by the fact that the stolen bicycle was found on the main road in the ditch about 100 yards from the Constable's residence.
Detectives McHUGH and O'SULLIVAN, of Auckland, arrived at Runciman this morning to assist the local police.
Runciman Post Office is on the main road close to a store and a drapery shop. These are not occupied after closing hours.
Further details in connection with the Runciman robbery go to show that events moved with rapidity, particularly in the case of the bold adventurer, who can be said to have made a very lucky escape after what must have been a very hazardous bicycle ride over a slippery, muddy road and without the aid of a lamp to light his way.
After leaving the post office, the robber set out on his dash, which was evidently full of incident, for since the evening of the occurrence, a lady has come forward with a report that she saw a fleeing figure on the stolen machine, riding at break-neck pace on the main road between Runciman and Papakura. He was taking practically the whole width of the road to accomplish his task, the bicycle and its rider taking a zigzag course in the darkness. His course was so erratic that the lady anticipated until the man had passed her, that an accident was inevitable.
He is also reported as having been seen crossing Slippery Creek bridge en route, but the police have not as yet ascertained the name of the person who saw the stranger at this stage of the journey.
Once at Papakura, the man abandoned the stolen bicycle on the side of the Papakura township main road, adjacent to Richardon's picture theatre, and evidently diverted to the railway line, for on the stretch between Papakura and Takanini, several cheques missing from the post office were found. It is thought probable that the man continued the journey towards the city by train.