A Bank Is Robbed, A Cop Is Killed, A Movement Is Hung

Wednesday, September 23:

"BOSTON, MASS.-Three bandits held up a Brighton branch of the State Street Bank shortly after it opened for business today and shot a Boston patrolman in the back while making their getaway.

"The patrolman, Walter Schroeder, 42, a decorated Boston police officer, was rushed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Brighton where he is reported in critical condition.

"The bandits who escaped with $26,000 are targets of a widespread search by police and FBI."

And thereby hangs a tale.

Thursday, September 24:

The front page headline in the Boston Globe read "Priest, Housewife Stabbed to Death"; above it, as an addendum shuffled off to the side of a picture of the wounded cop was the reminder "Officer Wounded During Brighton Bank Robbery." Details of the now famous State Street Bank robbery did not appear on page one. In the back sections, the Globe included four paragraphs on the incident, referring to it as "one of three bank robberies in New England yesterday."


The Globe and the Herald-Traveler treated the story as another day of humdrum violence, hardly cause for alarm compared to the previous day's announcement that Nixon would send 1000 FBI men on campuses. The story was one of those barstool classics that only the Record-American could relish, and they did.

A "gun happy robber gang," the Record reported, converged on the bank and immediately fired a shot into the wall "to show they meant business." While escaping, they fired 30 bullets. "At least four of the shots fired by the bandits crashed into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Antony Rossi of 287 Everett St., one smashing into the wall just above a picture of Jesus," the Record continued. Another bullet struck patrolman Schroeder in the back after he rushed in the front door of the bank trying to capture the robbers.

A suspect in the robbery, Robert Valeri, 21, identified through bank pictures, was arrested as he stepped from a cab, in front of his Somerville home Wednesday night. Paroled last June from Walpole State Prison after serving two years for car theft and attempted burglary,Valeri was held for questioning.

The office of Boston Police Commissioner Edmund L. McNamara Thursday morning filled up quickly. Patrolman Schroeder had just died a half hour before in St. Elizabeth's where he underwent four hours of surgery and had received 77 pints of blood.

This was McNamara's first press conference in more than a year. If some reporters expected McNamara simply to culogize the slain officer and offer his condolences to the family, others knew the Commissioner's growing anger and confusion over what was happening in his city. Over the summer, a Roxbury police station was bombed; another station was hit in nearly Burlington; and reports of police slain in Des Moines, San Francisco, and Minneapolis received more than passing consideration as they crossed his desk.

McNamara accepted the Commissioner's job from former mayor John Collins, who wanted to upgrade the position by bringing in a professional cop rather than another in the long line of politicians who had occupied it previously. After 18 years as an FBI agent, McNamara was not accustomed to dealing with the highly politicized role in which he was cast. As the police liaison with City Hall, he had to contend with political tampering from above and internal pressure "to take off the handcuffs" from below. He was the mediator and fixer in all personal police matters: off duty cops getting drunk, one cop screwing another's wife, extortion attempts on individual cops from their friends, etc., and the enforcer of all departmental rules, all city laws, and all of the political edicts.

It's an uncomfortable position in which most of the people the Commissioner deals with wear their feelings on their sleeves. The job does not breedsubtlety; the best you can hope for is honesty. And McNamara this morning was honest to the point of embarrassment.

"As far as I'm concerned, they're damned radicals and damned revolutionaries," he blasted out as Schroeder's brother, also a police officer, stood weeping in the background. Admitting he had no "documented evidence," McNamara charged that the crime was not "an individual act" but one with "undertones of revolutionary type individuals" (sic), a violent robbery and murder committed by "a conspiracy involving more than these five."

Hostile reporters pressed McNamara for clarification. This was the first time the possibility of radical involvement had been mentioned. Declining to give further information, McNamara unloaded some unguarded "personal opinions." "When a group springs up from our colleges that robs banks, that's revolutionary," he said curtly. Are all college students bank robbing revolutionaries? "No," he answered, "I have two daughters in college and they're not revolutionaries." A precarious friendship with Mayor White after the Hemenway incidents, a nation-wide wave of radical bombings, a timid Boston citizenry, afraid to go on the streets at night, a soaring heroin problem, a dead herocop, a police department that wants to bust some heads, and two daughters living right in the midst of the enemy! Commissioner McNamara broke all rules on pre-trial publicity and ... blew his cool.

Bedraggled reporters left the Commissioner's press conference with a police identification on five suspects, including Valeri- who was already in custody (and it turns out, provided the other names)- the Commissioner's word that two of them were Brandeis students involved in "radical organizations," and McNamara's charge (perhaps it seemed more like a promise) that this was a "conspiracy involving more than these five."