Walter Hartley: The ‘Ozarks Desperado’

Larry Wood

Larry Wood

By: 
LARRY WOOD ◆ OZARKS HISTORY

Walter Hartley left behind a long history of criminal behavior when he was finally killed in a shootout with law officers on May 18, 1934, near Dugginsville, Missouri, just across the state line in Marion County, Arkansas. The “Ozarks desperado” had a record of bank robbery dating back over ten years.

Hartley was about twenty-five years old when he first got into serious trouble in January of 1924 for holding up the Cabool State Bank, located just a few miles east of the Dunn community near where he’d grown up in rural Texas County. Hartley and a sidekick, Ernest Atkinson, entered the bank wearing false mustaches and brandishing revolvers just after closing time on the 21st. They herded three bank officials into the vault, locked it, and then scooped up all the loot contained in the cash drawer. They got about $2,500 but overlooked over $10,000 in an open safe. The crooks made their getaway in a Ford roadster but were captured late the same afternoon at the Cabool train station, where they were waiting to catch a westbound train.

Hartley was tried at a special January term of the Texas County Circuit Court. Found guilty of bank robbery, he was sentenced to ten years in the state pen but was discharged under merit time on October 1, 1929, after serving barely over half his term.

Hartley and his first wife, Blanche, split either while he was in prison or shortly after he got out, because Hartley, now in his early thirties, married a 17 or 18-year-old girl not long after he came home from Jeff City. The young woman, though, apparently did little to corral her husband’s restless, criminal spirit. Hartley was arrested in January of 1932 and charged in Christian County with robbing the Bank of Sparta, along with an accomplice, on November 6, 1931, and with robbing the Bank Highlandville by himself on December 11, 1931. He was also suspected but not charged in the September 1931 robbery of the Bank of Chadwick.

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