True Crime Thursday – Flying Bank Robber Thwarted by Cow

Creative Commons, public domain


Debbie Burke


Today’s true crime is a blast from the past, a 60-year-old saga of crime and justice.

FBI Wanted Poster for Frank Sprenz

Note: click on the photo and it becomes little clearer to read.

In the late 1950s, Frank Sprenz was a bank robber so successful he made the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. His MO: steal a car, rob a bank, flee to another state, and repeat, crisscrossing the country.

Sprenz upped his game when he learned to fly. After robbing a bank, he would then steal a plane and escape to new territory, earning his nickname “The Flying Bank Robber.”

Then came the fateful day when he landed his plane in a Mexican field across the border from Raymondville, Texas. He refueled, intending to escape to Cuba. But on take-off, a cow meandered into his plane’s path. He swerved, hit a tree, and wrecked the plane.

On April 15, 1959, in cooperation with Mexican authorities, the FBI ended Sprenz’s high-flying career.

Here’s the full story.

Sprenz was a lifelong criminal who eventually died in prison, yet his MO showed a certain dash and daring that seems missing in today’s crimes. Or maybe it’s just my nostalgia for the past.

What do you think, TKZers? Are crimes of yesteryear more romantic than current ones?

This entry was posted in #truecrimethursday, FBI by Debbie Burke. Bookmark the permalink.

About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with a Heart. The first book in the series, Instrument of the Devil, won the Kindle Scout contest and the 2016 Zebulon contest sponsored by Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Additional books in the series are Stalking Midas, Eyes in the Sky, and Dead Man's Bluff. Debbie's nonfiction articles appear in national and international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers.

12 thoughts on “True Crime Thursday – Flying Bank Robber Thwarted by Cow

    • Priscilla, you’re right–he sounded like a smart, capable guy. Maybe he was addicted to the adrenaline rush from getting away with it. Also he probably enjoyed poking his thumb in the eye of authority.

  1. I think we appreciate creativity no matter where we find it. I also love those little unanticipated things that happen to make even the best plans go awry. Sprenz’s story had it all.

  2. A majority of criminals in every period are stupid which isn’t romantic. The rest are competent or lucky which isn’t romantic to those they stole from.

    • Having been a crime victim, I hear you, Kay. Maybe romantic isn’t the right word. But humans do have a morbid fascination with criminals who successfully slip through the net many times, even when they’re eventually caught. Thinking of the multitude of movies about Jesse James, Butch and Sundance, Bonnie and Clyde, Al Capone, D.B. Cooper, etc.

  3. When the gun is being pointed at you, you lose the romance of crime and criminals. They are dashing on the page and in movies. Always have been, always will be.

    There are as many dumb criminal stories as ‘dashing’ ones. Two of my favorites:
    A man went to the truck rental place to get his deposit back. Said the truck was stolen. He didn’t realize the VIN was stamped on the truck in various places. He had parked his truck next to the wrong post in the parking garage under the World Trade Center. His bomb didn’t bring down the building. But he was at the truck rental counter wanting his money when the FBI showed up.

    A man without license plates was stopped by a sheriff in Kansas. He was on his way home to Michigan. When asked about his plates, he started to tell the deputy that license plates were not required. Had he said something about taking care of that when he got home to Michigan, he probably could have driven off. But arguing the legality of license plates got him hauled to jail. That is when they noticed he looked a lot like “suspect #2” from the Oklahoma City Bombing.

  4. That is a great story. We do seem enamored with tales of daring-do as you mentioned with the popular movies about criminals. We even hope they don’t get caught. Is it the under dog thing?

    Thank you for sharing. Great entertainment. Who would have thought a cow would bring him down.

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