Solvay man helps thwart robbers
Syracuse Journal, December 11, 1930

After 24 hours of fruitless questioning and investigation, police today found themselves without a clue to the identity of the two daring daylight bandits whose attempt to snatch the $9,000 payroll of the Onondaga Hotel was frustrated after they had shot Miss Melita B. Ives, 118 Hutchinson Street, a cashier and paymaster, Wednesday afternoon.

Officials of nearby cities and state police were recruited today in the search for the two thugs who were swallowed up in the downtown shopping throngs when they fled from Bank Alley into South Salina Street through stores which have entrances on both thoroughfares.

Certain, however, that the men who made the bold attempt were familiar with the hotel routine, Detectives John Corcoran and Frank Brazell were checking on the whereabouts of several suspicious characters this morning.

The bandits were thwarted in their spectacular attempt through the prompt action of Miss Ives and Ralph Timmins, 302 Hall Avenue, Solvay, hotel receiving clerk, who acted as escort for the cashier yesterday afternoon.

Miss Ives, in struggling with one of the bandits, who was armed, deflected a shot which might have seriously wounded Timmins. The pellet grazed her shoulder and she escaped with a minor wound.

Disregarding the proximity of several policemen, the bandits almost succeeded in making their getaway with the hotel payroll.

Only the stout grip maintained on the large wooden box in which the money was carried by Timmins and the spirit of battle demonstrated by the youthful clerk and by Miss Ives prevented the thugs from successfully completing the largest robbery in years.

While descending the rear stairs of the hotel leading to the service entrance and the steward’s department in the basement, Timmins felt a sharp tug on the box he was carrying. He had paid scant attention to the two youths he had seen loitering on the landing at the Bank Alley level.

Timmins turned around to find two men clutching at the treasured box. One of them had a revolver pointed full at him. Miss Ives was two steps above him.

Disregarding the weapon, Timmins pulled on the box with all his strength. His fingers were painfully squeezed in the handle, but he managed to tear the box free as he crouched instinctively and staggered down the stairs.

At the same time, Miss Ives leaped between Timmins and the gunman. As the thug pressed his finger on the trigger, she shoved him. The bullet meant for Timmins struck her shoulder as she attempted to dodge. The bullet flattened itself against the steel railing of the narrow staircase.

Timmins raced down the stairs, encumbered by the bulky box filled with pay envelopes. At the foot of the stairs, in the hotel basement, he pushed it through the window of the time clerk’s cage. As he slammed it on the ledge of the window, he shouted to J. Floyd Peck, time clerk: “Lock this up! Don’t let anyone take it!”

Peck slammed the windows of the cage and locked the doors as Timmins raced back up the stairs to the aid of Miss Ives, who had fallen under the impact of the bullet wound.


Meanwhile, the two would-be robbers fled the scene.

Timmins, 22, a former athlete at Solvay High School, had been employed at the hotel for three years. He told reporters that while he gazed down the length of a revolver barrel his only thought was thwarting the robbery.

“Plenty of bouquets for Miss Ives,” he said. “I owe my life to her. When that crook stuck his gun out he kept it pointed at my heart. It was only six inches away from me. He couldn’t miss. If Miss Ives hadn’t shoved him away just as he fired, I probably wouldn’t be here.”

Originally Miss Ives was carrying the box, which weighed about 40 pounds. Timmins said he happened to be in the office when she started downstairs. She asked him to accompany her, so he took the bulky wooden case from her and they started down the stairs together. He said most of his attention was focused on the narrow stairs in order to keep from falling.

He remembers brushing past someone, but didn’t take a good look at them. Later, of course, he had a much better look. “I know they were young fellows,” he said, “but I cannot recall ever seeing them before and now I don’t recall what they look like.”

Miss Ives said this was the last chance bandits had to get such a rich haul because this was the last time employees would be paid in cash. A system of paying by check was already in place and scheduled to start on the next pay day. This might have been one of the reasons police theorized the robbery was either an inside job or was committed by two men who knew someone who worked at the hotel.

Miss Ives was treated by a doctor at the hotel and was told to go home and rest. Reluctantly, she did as instructed.

AFTERWARD police got nowhere with their investigation, but 13 months later, in January, 1932, a man identified as William Clark, 22, was arrested in Detroit. He confessed to a $20,000 robbery at a Syracuse hotel in 1930, which puzzled local police because as far as they knew there had been no such robbery.

More interesting was a tip Syracuse police had received that a David Peck had committed the crime. William Clark had a brother named David, and it turned out that both usually went by the last name of Peck. Clark was one of several aliases they used.

As far as I know, the Peck brothers were never tried for the robbery attempt at the Onondaga Hotel, though they might well have been the two men responsible. In June, 1932, another Peck brother, Oliver, was killed in a Michigan automobile accident. His brother, William, was in a Michigan prison, serving time for a robbery there.

As for Solvay resident Ralph Timmins, he later became a machinist at General Electric. He retired in 1972 and moved with his wife, the former Sue Hill, to Oklahoma City to be close to her brother and his family. They moved again in 1984, this time to Tucson, where they lived with their son, Bill, and his wife. Ralph Timmins moved again, in 2002, to Ormond Beach, Florida, where he died in 2005 at the age of 96.

For more on Solvay way back when, check out
the Solvay-Geddes Historical Society