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The Last Deposit at the Western National Bank PDF Print E-mail
Written by Buddy Johnson   
Thursday, 04 June 2009 06:00

By Buddy Johnson, Metropolitan Library System


The Richardsonian Romanesque building pictured here was known as the Masonic Temple when it was built about 1893 on the northwest corner of Main and Broadway – one of the busiest intersections in the city. M. L. Turner opened his Western National Bank on the first floor of this building in 1899 and proved to be a shrewdly successful financier. His rivalry with First National Bank’s Frank Johnson ended in one of the legendary tales of Oklahoma banking. But the most fascinating story surrounding this building is what did not happen inside it. 





 On Thanksgiving Day, 1906, twenty year old ex-convict Claude Ray Kohl entered the Dilworth Hardware and Sporting Goods store across the street from the bank with the aim of stealing a pistol. Kohl was a self-styled anarchist who had decided to foment revolution by taking money from the government and every company that had ”extracted a dollar here and there from the poor.” The soldiers in his revolution would be former cellmates he would free from prison. He intended to begin this revolution by robbing the Western National Bank and to do that he needed a gun. This first robbery did not go well however, and W. P. Dilworth paid for it with his life. Kohl was apprehended soon after the murder and received a life sentence to be served first in Leavenworth Federal Prison, and later at the state prison in McAlester.  

Kohl made several attempts to escape from both places early on, but later became a model prisoner. Illiterate at the time of his apprehension, he educated himself and became a prolific writer and inventor. Prison officials dubbed him ‘Edison’ and said he “could do anything with electricity.” By 1923, Kohl had served 16 years with good behavior and, having improved himself, he was allowed a six month parole to try and market his inventions. Finding himself in Fresno during this time, Kohl slipped again and was placed in California’s Folsom Prison for armed robbery – of 76 cents.


  Nearly two years later, he devised an ingenious trapeze-like device which he and a cellmate could use to swing to freedom outside the prison walls. On November 11, 1925, the would-be revolutionary, Robin Hood, and inventor began his flight over the prison quarry where he’d spent many days at back-breaking labor. Alas, as we are constantly reminded, crime never pays – his grip was too loose and Claude Ray Kohl fell to his death on the jagged rocks below. 

Oh, and the bank? Frank Johnson bought Western National and merged it into his American National (later First National) in 1917. The Western National/Masonic Building would stand another three years until the 10-story Tradesmen’s National Bank was built on the site in 1921. That building now houses BancFirst and is still standing to this day.


- Reprinted by permission from "info," the official magazine of the Metropolitan Library System of Oklahoma County.