There simply isn’t a lot of crime in Sylva’s past.
And that’s a great thing.
However, from time to time there were incidents straight out of a hardboiled detective novel. One such instance occurred back in 1950, when tales of a gang of safecrackers roaming Western North Carolina filled the air.
In spring of that year, the tales turned from rumor to fact, as the gang staged a number of hits in the area. From the April 6, 1950 edition of the Sylva Herald:
Safecrackers get $487 at Kirk-Davis Chevrolet office
Officers find no clues, job points to professionals
A safecracking job, with all the markings of a professional, was pulled in Sylva sometime last Wednesday night when the large iron safe in the office of Kirk-Davis Chevrolet Company was stripped open and cash in the amount of $487 was taken.
Bonds and endorsed checks were left on top of the safe. Other papers were scattered about the office.
The robbery was investigated by Sheriff Griffin Middleton, state SBI agents and safe experts from Asheville. No clues were left about the job to give the officers a lead.
On entering the garage part of the building early Thursday morning workmen found the back door between the garage and office had been forced. They then went into the office and found the safe wrecked.
State SBI agent Pearl Kitchens, of Asheville, said that the safe was not blown open but stripped open. The robbers drilled a small hole at the top of the dual doors and were then able to strip off the front shell of the left door. They were then able to release the pins and open the doors. It is said that professional safecrackers do a job like that in about 15 minutes.
A gang of safecrackers is known to have been in Western North Carolina for some weeks, having pulled a job in Hazelwood and having been frightened away from a proposed job at Cullowhee. Eddie Black is now being held in the Jackson County Jail on a charge of possessing burglary tools. He is known to have been with two other men planning the Cullowhee job. Officers believe his two partners are responsible for the Kirk-Davis job. They are not known, and Black will not talk.
Paul Kirk and Homer Davis, owners of the Chevrolet company, carry adequate burglary insurance.
The Herald weighed in with an editorial on the matter:
OUR COMPLACENCY JOLTED
For a long time Sylva was free of breaking, entering and robbery of any kind. In fact there had been so little of this kind of crime here that most of us felt that we were immune, that our people were so law-abiding that we could almost leave our premises unlocked and unguarded. We were given quite a jolt from this kind of complacency last Thursday morning on learning that a “safecracker” had visited one of our business firms and quietly walked off with a good sum of cash, leaving no clues or tell-tale marks of any kind, indicating that it was a professional job. Again this week there was another breaking and entering job at Sylva Airport office. This, however, appears to be the work of amateurs and Sheriff Middleton expects to make arrests in this case at any time. It seems that a gang of robbers is working Western North Carolina but leaving little for officers to work on in an effort to apprehend them. Eddie Black, now in Jackson County Jail, is a member of this gang. He was picked up with burglary tools in his possession. It is believed that members of his gang pulled the Kirk-Davis job. It is hoped these men will be picked up soon, and that men of such criminal minds that think they can take the hard-earned property of honest people will be put where they cannot molest anyone. It seems that there is a wave of crime all over the land and we expect to see it get worse before it gets better. When all citizens raise up in determined indignation, demanding that such crime be put down, and then help the officers in their work, conditions will then improve.
An Associated Press story that appeared in the Rocky Mount Evening Telegram stated the amount taken from Kirk-Davis was $300, and the story and headline hinted that it was a lot of work to crack a safe for such a small amount of money.
For the record, $300 in 1950 would be worth $2,864.34 today. The amount reported in the Herald, $487, would be worth $5,136.78.
We’re sure to the owners of Kirk-Davis Chevrolet, the amount didn’t seem small at all.