A Streetcar Named Detention

bandit captured

June 11, 1927

A man entered the Hollywood branch of the California Bank at 3900 Sunset Blvd. early this morning to make a withdrawal – at gunpoint. Brandishing a revolver, the robber forced bank manager P.A. Beaton, assistant manager C.R. Gray, and Deputy United States Marshal Dave Reynolds into a back room, locked them in, and then stuffed a sack with $4000 ($47,514.02 USD 2007) in cash.

At the same time the bandit was hurriedly jamming money into a bag, Marshal M.A. Duarte was waiting outside wondering what was keeping his fellow U.S. Marshal from their meeting. Much to Duarte’s shock, a few moments later he encountered a man exiting the bank clutching a bulging sack of money in one hand and a revolver in the other.


For a split second their eyes locked – and then the thief saw Marshal Duarte reach into his pocket. He quickly realized Duarte’s intent and fled down the street with the marshal in hot pursuit. Midway down the block Duarte began to tire. Huffing and puffing, he sputtered to a stop and fired two shots. At the crack of the first shot the bandit flung his booty to the ground. When the second shot whizzed past his head he threw down his gun. Duarte fired a third shot just as the fleeing felon was about to board a streetcar and escape. This time the man raised his hands to surrender.

The suspect gave his name as Gus Palovack aka F.J. Palivas, of 1017 Monterey Road.

Gus PalovackOne of the most perplexing aspects of the case, other than why he chose a streetcar as his means of escape, is what drove Gus to bank robbery. Known about town as a realtor with political connections, Gus owns property and has several accounts in a number of downtown banks.

Hard work and a knack for saving money may be the reasons for the bank accounts and real estate holdings – but police don’t think so. They believe that Gus has recently made similar withdrawals from other local banks. Gus is charged with the robbery of the California Bank, and two robberies of the same branch of the Commercial National Bank located at 1572 Sunset Blvd. Bail is set at $25,000 ($296,962.64 USD 2007).

Gus either abandoned his brief career as a bank robber or became more adept at it, because there are no further mentions of his exploits in the Los Angeles Times after June 1927.

The Imaginary Friends of the Monkey Mask Bandit

Ingenius LA Bank Heist, 1927 March 30, 1927
Los Angeles

Afterwards, when they examined the attic, they found evidence that he’d hidden for days up there, nourishing his evil plans with a diet of orange juice and liquor, quietly scheming during banking hours, constructing his army of robot helpers after everyone went home.

Ah, yes, the robot helpers. These were artificial arms with toy guns in their “hands,” constructed with ropes and weights to smash through the ceiling of the Merchants’ National Trust and Savings Bank branch at 24th and Hoover just as the robber, clad in a hideous monkey mask, confronted his prey. Who would dare take on the robber while unseen, if strangely still, friends held the room at gunpoint?

And so it was that the robber, Luger in one hand and .22 in the other, held up Manager Philip Simon and five employees and relieved Simon of about $8400 in bills prepped for the day’s banking. He was hard to ID beneath the gruesome cheesecloth monkey mask covering the upper portion of his face, but his victims noted that he was a small man, with a distinctive jaw and thick foreign accent with which he called some of them by name, apparently having spied on the workers during his time above.

This was the second peculiar robbery to befall Merchants’ National in less than a week;  on March 25, two cliche Old West cowboys armed with .45s ambled into the branch at Jefferson and San Pedro and courteously relieved the cash drawers of about $2000 after suggesting customers and staff find comfy spots on the floor.

As for our mad attic genius, he made a clean getaway, and his identity remained mysterious until November 2, 1929, when officers stopped a man named Pete Marzec (aka Pete Nanzec), 33, while he was walking near Seventeenth and Main. They asked if they could open his suitcase, and Marzec obliged, but around the time they pulled out his gun, rope ladder and mask collection, he made a dash for a nearby fence. He didn’t make it; a bullet through the gut sent him to Georgia Street Receiving Hospital in critical condition. Later, more burglary tools and guns were found in his room nearby at 1622 Santee Court.

Marzec recovered in time to be indicted on the 1927 job and an earlier bank robbery that netted $12,600. Despite the claims of a confederate that he was in Kansas City at the time of the crimes, Marzec was damned by the discovery of guns recognized by his victims, masks matching those worn in the robberies, and a notebook in which the dates and amounts taken from the banks was noted in Polish.

Marzec was a three time loser who as Michael Blevika had escaped from a New Mexico Prison in 1922, so his conviction came with a minimum sentence of 14 years in Folsom Prison. Superior Judge McComb, perhaps in recognition of the extra robbers unable to be tried for the crimes, doubled the sentence to 28.

Marzec appealed on the grounds that it was unfair to convict someone of both burglary and robbery for the same crime, but was denied, and shuffled off to prison, where we trust he built many imaginary friends to protect himself and keep off the lonelies in the long, dark nights.