Brooklyn Heights

‘Brooklyn Bank Heist’ is latest in series of local thrillers

BookBeat: During Depression, Montague St. Bank Was an Inviting Target

November 30, 2015 By Raanan Geberer Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Photo courtesy of John B. Manbeck
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Brooklyn historian and writer John B. Manbeck has published the latest installment in his “Brooklyn Heights Crime Series,” a historical caper called “Brooklyn Bank Heist” (Breuckelen Books).

It’s particularly relevant to this time of the year, since it takes place during the Christmas shopping season of 1930.

Just like every year, there were large crowds buying presents at the fancy Fulton Street department stores. Since credit cards hardly existed (although Manbeck mentions “charge cards,” most likely issued by a particular store), most shoppers would likely have to withdraw money from a bank. And because ATMs, banking by phone and banking by computer were non-existent, the banks were much more crowded than they are today.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Of all the banks along Montague Street, the biggest, most prestigious was the Brooklyn Trust Company (which now houses a Chase branch).  If you guessed by the title that a bank robbery was in the making, you’d be right.

As usual, Lt. Jared Lewis, Sergeant Murphy and the bagpipe-playing Sergeant Burns of the Poplar Street precinct house quickly get on the case, but leads are few. Meanwhile, the rag-tag gangsters who pulled off the job are hiding out in back of a candy store in East New York (modeled after the real-life Brownsville candy store that served as the headquarters of Murder Inc., with some changes).

The gang doesn’t look like much, but behind them are some top-level mobsters, both in Brooklyn and in the Midwest. They are using the proceeds from this and similar robberies to provide seed money for racketeering, bootlegging and so on. At the center of it all is a thrill-seeking “society dame” who finds her Park Avenue life too boring and becomes a willing accomplice in the robberies.

Manbeck is a former Brooklyn borough historian and Brooklyn Daily Eagle history columnist as well as a retired professor at Kingsborough Community College. In each volume of his Brooklyn Heights Crime Series, he seeks to highlight a different aspect of the Heights, circa the early 1930s. For example, “Skeleton in the Attic” focuses on a skeleton found in the library of the Long Island Historical Society (known nowadays as the Brooklyn Historical Society), while “The Disappearance of Patricia Murphey” deals with the disappearance of a student at Brooklyn College—when the college was still located in Downtown Brooklyn.

We won’t tell you how Lewis and his crew crack the case of the Brooklyn bank heist. For that, you’ll have to read the book. It’s available on Amazon and other online outlets. And while you’re at it, you can check out the other books in the series: “Death on the Rise,” “The Disappearance of Patricia Murphey” and “Skeleton in the Attic.”


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