Napanee’s world famous bank heist

Elizabeth Hall
A Walk Through History

In January of 1878, The Dominion Bank opened right across from the Town Hall. But after signing a lease with a woman named Elizabeth Blewett, they moved the bank to a three-storey brick building on the south-west corner of John Street and Market Square. Five years later, in 1896, the bank fell victim to a robbery. It caught international attention and was featured in the news all over the world after it was found that $32,000 was stolen. Since the outer and inner doors of the vault were undamaged, suggesting that the thief knew the combinations, a local man named William Ponton, a teller at the bank, was arrested and later accused as the inside man by three other men, who were also apprehended. He was placed in the county jail (today’s county museum) where he waited for his trial. Ponton had political connections, and was referred to in a newspaper article as a “prime favourite”.

Ponton swore he was innocent, and everyone but the authorities believed him; he was so loved by the community that over 100 people visited him in jail, many bringing flowers with them. His trial was moved to Coburg in September 1899 due to the overwhelming amount of sympathy in Napanee, and in just one hour the jury found him not guilty-who knew being popular and pretty would get you out of jail?

A man named George Paré, a notorious safe cracker, was arrested in Montreal after a massive manhunt. A man named “Big Bill” Holden was caught in Boston, and the remaining conspirator, Jack Roach, was arrested later. Paré and Holden escaped from the county jail but were later found on the run in New Brunswick.

Random History Fact: Socrates was executed with hemlock because people didn’t like that he was asking so many questions, and making the young men of Athens question things too, like religion and politics.

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