How Did a Temple, Texas Man Become The State’s Most Prolific Bank Robber?
Temple, Texas is a place with a lot of hidden historical gems. Some of them are well known, like the fact that Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame was part of a vehicle theft that ended with the car's owner, Doyle Johnson, being fatally shot on 13th Street on Christmas day of 1932.
It's a story many of us who grew up in the Temple area have heard or read about at some point in our lives, but one story I'd never read of until recently is the tale of William Guess, aka the Polo Shirt Bandit.
'The Last Ride of the Polo Shirt Bandit'
I came across the story of William Guess while Googling around for interesting facts about Temple.
The sole source of information I've found about the case online is a story from the March 1997 edition of Texas Monthly penned by Helen Thorpe. Titled 'The Last Ride of the Polo Shirt Bandit', it details the rise and fall of a man who grew up in Temple, Texas, lived what appeared to be a simple, country life in Oenaville, but was secretly the subject of a nearly decade-long manhunt in the Houston area.
Who Was William Guess?
According to the article, Guess was a Temple native who graduated from Temple High School and married his high school sweetheart. Thorpe described him as an intelligent but seemingly unambitious man who easily got good grades in school, but never achieved the success in his adult life people might have expected.
The man didn't seem to resent his successful friends, though. He reportedly played golf with them pretty regularly, and was involved in the used car trade. He made frequent trips to the Houston area, where he bid at car auctions.
William Guess Was a Gambling Man
Everyone has a dark side or a secret struggle. According to Thorpe's research, William Guess was addicted to gambling.
His friendly golf games came with increasingly high stakes bets, and he was apparently part of several poker games with prominent citizens and some less than scrupulous folks. He also liked to bet on the horses in Austin.
Then Came the Bank Robberies
Though its possible his first bank robbery happened in Harris County back in 1985, the first robbery that would put him on the path of becoming the Polo Shirt Bandit happened in 1989, when Guess struck the San Jacinto Savings in Houston.
Master of Disguise
During his first few robberies of his criminal career, Guess wore a nice business suit. That would later change, but what remained the same throughout the years was his realistic fake facial hair.
The man had a remarkable talent for applying fake beards and mustaches that were so convincing that even when the investigation into his crimes led detectives to Bell County, people who knew Guess well had no clue they were looking at pictures of him.
The Mercedes Bandit Becomes the Polo Shirt Bandit
Police initially dubbed Guess the Mercedes Bandit because of his MO of fleeing the scene in luxury cars. He later started using less flashy vehicles, likely bought at auctions or rented, and even used stolen plates at times to help him evade patrol officers.
With the change in getaway vehicles came a change in attire. Guess started wearing polo shirts during every robbery, which probably made him stand out less. That is, until police got wise.
Too Close to Home
While the majority of Guess' robberies were carried out in the Houston area, he did hit banks here in Central Texas.
In May of 1993, he robbed what was then the Peoples National Bank in Salado. He liked hitting banks that were close to major highways, and at the time, that bank's parking lot exited right next to an I-35 entrance ramp. It was the closest to home he'd ever strike.
Two years earlier in 1991, he robbed a bank in Austin and came closest to being caught that he'd be until his run came to an end in 1996. After getting away from the bank, he kept trying to get on I-35 for a quick getaway, but patrol cars kept popping up.
He ended up stopping on a dead-end street, taking off his disguise and stolen plates, and throwing them away along with the money. Police showed up on the street a short time later, but he'd already sped off. They didn't have a vehicle description and Guess didn't look like the man witnesses had described, so there was no catching him that day.
It All Came Crashing Down
On November 27, 1996, Guess was in Houston after attending a car auction and decided to rob another bank.
By this time, an entire task force had been assembled with the sole purpose of capturing this guy. Houston-area bank employees had been given training on how to spot him, and police were patrolling all over the place based on the robber's pattern.
Guess was spotted by a bank employee as she was exiting and he was entering. She called 911 and was able to tell police exactly what car Guess was in, the plate number, and which direction he was headed.
The Polo Shirt Bandit found himself in a real police chase for almost a quarter of an hour, but it was a civilian who ultimately brought the chase to an end. A plumber in a pickup truck who didn't approve of the way Guess was driving slammed on his brakes, and Guess rear-ended him before being rear-ended by a police cruiser.
The Tragic End of the Polo Shirt Bandit
Guess' car was pinned in place. Rather than surrender to police, he put a gun to his temple and pulled the trigger. He died a few weeks later in the hospital, having never regained consciousness.
Sadly, he left behind a wife and children back in sleepy little Oenaville. They, along with his friends, were shocked to discover that Guess had become the most prolific bank robber in Texas history right under their noses.
Why Did He Do It?
We can only speculate now, but it's likely that Guess' gambling habit was racking up huge debts, and that the robberies were a way of both getting easy cash and doing it in the most thrilling way possible.
Read the Full Story
You can find a full archived copy of Helen Thorpe's article here. My very brief synopsis can't do it justice, and it's a fascinating read.
Santa Claus Robbed a Bank?
While on the subject of notorious Texas bank robbers, did you know Old Saint Nick hit a bank in Cisco, Texas in 1927?
Okay, it obviously wasn't the real Santa, but on December 23, 1927, four men entered First National Bank in Cisco looking to steal some cash. Their leader, Marshall Ratliff, was dressed as Santa, and had even greeted and talked to kids while in character as he and his gang approached their target.
The robbery was going as planned until a mother and daughter wanting to talk to Santa entered the bank, saw what was happening, and ran out, alerting townsfolk and police.
That led to a shootout in an alley as the robbers made their getaway. To make matters worse, they had two children as hostages and were using them as human shields, and police officers were killed in the gunfire.
The robbers were all wounded in the shoutout, and one would soon after die in a hospital after his cohorts left him behind during a botched carjacking.
What followed was one of the most massive manhunts in Texas history. Ratliff was caught after days on the run, and ended up being lynched to death by an angry mob. Two other men in the gang were captured a short time after Ratliff. One was executed in the electric chair, while another was sentenced to life in prison.
Talk about a bad Santa!
Meet the 'Safety First Bandit'
I want to leave you with one more Texas bank robber story that's a little more light hearted.
On October 28, 2021, a robber held up a PNC Bank in Texas City. The Galveston County Daily News reported that the suspect was wearing high-visibility safety gear along with white headphones.
The guy, who I'm calling the Safety First Bandit, looks like he should be directing traffic around a work zone, not sticking up some poor bank teller.
On November 11, a guy by the name of Omar Anthony Salazar was arrested in connection to the crime.
Police didn't say how they came to link him to the crime, but I like to think he raised red flags spending a ridiculous amount of money on reflective vests.
13 Celebrities with Roots in Central Texas
LOOK: 15 Pets You CAN'T Own in the City of Temple
That Time We Found Derelict War Planes Hidden in Temple