In Weeping Water, Nebraska, 1934, Louise Martinez ran into Daniels, a distant relative of Maurice “Blondie” Denning, a bank robber the FBI never apprehended, as the sky raged and a tornado swelled overhead. She was attempting to run to her lover, away from her home, and Daniels attempting to run from his stalled car with a large canvas bag of cash from the Superior bank robbery slapping against his side.
When they hit, she, petite but strong, knocked lean Daniels down. His head bounced on the old brick street. Death was instantaneous, the coroner declared, though Daniels’ legs ran and twitched for almost two minutes.
Martinez kneeled by Daniels, clutched his jacket, then cupped his head in her hands, dropped his head, opened the bag, saw the cash, and grabbed it. When she rose, the tornado sucked up the canvas bag then dashed it against her, knocking her over, her head caved in by the curb. The tornado sucked the bag again into the air. Martinez survived, mentally diminished, refusing to leave her basement.
Northwest, minutes later in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, a strong, broad woman named Elaine, a bird watcher, with curly brown hair, downed water from a canteen and pulled a canvas bag of cash back out of a gulley where she had seen it drop from the sky. A thin, almost wispy tornado circled overhead, shocking white in its infancy, attractive. As she stood to watch it, a shingle from an old barn hit her head and felled her. Her partner reached for Elaine at the very second the canvas bag lifted, and his shirt, pulled out of his pants, wrapped around his neck in a quick corkscrew. Between the pull of the tornado and the pull of gravity, it made him dance across the prairie like a sad scarecrow over a few hundred yards. When officers found the ragged body, they said life had been sucked out of it, the strap to the bag still wound around his torso, the bag itself lost in the clouds.
People conjectured the subsequent landing of the canvas bag, plotted, and imagined it fell across the Missouri River near Council Bluffs, Iowa. No one came forward for the reward, and the FBI gave up this search as well after seven years.
A retired treasury agent by the name of Frank Glaspell, however, continued to search off and on, through the 1960s, parking his RV in small towns and on the eastern bank of the Missouri. He searched bank records for large deposits. He searched for a suddenly rich farmer. He searched for a pauper turned prince, but failed to find one.
His wife, Elizabeth, who wore gaudy rhinestone sunglasses and short shorts at all hours, reported Frank dead south of Council Bluffs after a dust devil dashed him to the ground, a canvas bag underneath his head, old and empty.
Or so she said.
Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California, and works in mental health. He has contributed to The Nervous Breakdown, Per Contra, Bird’s Thumb, and Gold Man Review.