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The Great Rock Island Streetcar Robbery

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

It was not anything so romantic as a railroad train loaded with wealthy passengers, but, then, the three boys who robbed the Stephens Park streetcar in Rock Island on the evening of January 6th, 1921, were not the Jesse James gang, either.

The streetcar was nearing the end of the line on its last run at 10:30 in the evening. Just as Conductor Charlie Fraser yelled "End of the line, everybody out," three young boys in black hoods boarded the car and demanded money from the five men and two women. Motorman Gust Engels emptied his pockets of his entire sixty cents. Conductor Fraser handed over the proceeds belonging to the Tri-City Railway Company: $46. One of the robbers went through the pockets of the three male passengers but found that two had nothing to contribute.

By now, however, the robbers had begun to get on the nerves of another passenger, Miss Carol Tilbery, bookkeeper for the New York Store in Moline. "You ought to be ashamed of yourselves," she shouted. The guns dropped an inch or two. "You birds ought to be ashamed of yourselves," she repeated. "Young boys like you doing anything like this. The very idea."

At that moment, Miss Tilbery became inspired, and fired off the ultimate salvo: "It would certainly be nice if your mothers could see you now."

The robbers could take no more. The jumped off the streetcar and into the automobile of a waiting accomplice and sped off. When the police arrived, the robbery was over.

Not everyone was happy, however. The streetcar passengers were incensed when the conductor attempted to collect the usual fifteen cents fee, and the males on board were chagrined at having been upstaged by a woman—especially one from Moline.

As for Moline, that city was not happy with Miss Tilbery, either. What was she doing out after nine o'clock at night, they wondered. As the newspaper account put it: "Any self-respecting Moline woman would not be out at that ungodly hour unless on special business, would she?

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.