The Richwood Deposit Bank
The story broke in the Kentucky Post of May 5, 1910, and the headline read “WIFE PROTESTS MISSING CASHIER IS NOT GUILTY.” But the fact of the matter was, that the man charged with running the Richwood Deposit Bank (chartered on June 18, 1903), it’s cashier, Mr. John C. Byland, and his son, Raymond, who actually ran the bank from day to day, were gone. And so was $18,000.
The next day’s Post was full of details. John C. Byland, the father, was in the insurance business, and by all accounts was a good man. The Post said, “The elder Byland lived very plainly with his wife and two other sons and one daughter. There were many more elegant homes in Walton than that of the Bylands, which was extremely plain. Byland was one of the leading citizens of Walton.” He was a “prominent member of the Baptist Church,” and the pastor of the Baptist Church, Rev. Wayman, is quoted as saying the elder Byland “was a good man; he was like a father to me.” John Byland had previously been elected to the Kentucky Legislature. The Post says “his advice was sought on money matters.” While he had the title “Cashier” of the Richwood Deposit Bank, he was not involved in the day to day running of the bank; that duty fell to his son Raymond.
Raymond’s lifestyle may not have raised the eyebrows of Richwood, but according to the Post, the grapevine of Walton was alive with tales of the young man. They could perhaps understand how a clerk who made only $50 a month might save enough to buy “a magnificent piano,” but it was “common knowledge” that he gave a fifteen-cent tip after getting a shave at the barbershop. Keep in mind that shaves were a dime, so when Raymond plopped down a quarter, and walked out, tongues wagged. The Post goes on: “There are a few favored young men who had the privilege of accompanying young Byland on trips to Cincinnati, the metropolis, before he was married. They recall real grand times, wine, automobiles and all that sort of thing, which is lacking in Walton, which is dry, and quite withal.” Racetracks were also cited as a favorite of the younger Byland. Raymond and his wife lived across the street from his parents. Richwood was not a lot bigger then than it is now. The accompanying photo shows about 10 men, is titled “the Male Population of Richwood.” The Post story says the town has “two general merchandise stores, the brick house bank …and a half dozen residences.” One of the stores was Garrison and Robinson’s. The Richwood Deposit Bank had been formed, and the building built, about five years earlier.
The banking business evidently did not suit the owners, because they were in the middle of merging with the Walton Equitable Bank, which in the coming depression would have to merge with the Dixie State Bank. An audit by Equitable uncovered unbalanced books. The Bylands mortgaged some property and came up with some money. Ordinarily the bank and its assets would have been covered by a bond, but the Bylands had let theirs lapse. So the families, and insiders at the Walton Equitable and Richwood Deposit Banks, knew there were issues. The President of the Richwood Deposit Bank was named Hughes, who is quoted as saying to Byland “You are my friend, John, but if you are still short, I will prosecute you to the limits.” Hughes was “one of the rich men of Boone County,” was president of the Burley Tobacco Society and was active in the fight against the American Tobacco Company. Bylands response was “I give you my word – I’m not short.” Whether Byland believed his recent attempts to cover the shortages were adequate or not, is unknown. What’s known, is that days later, he and his son boarded the midnight train for Louisville.
Subsequent audits, by auditor John L. Vest, established the missing amount as $18,000, although it is not clear if that’s before or after the $8500 or so that Byland raised before he left. There are also indications that some of that $18,000 could be bad loans, not cash losses. Boone County Sheriff B. B. Hume pursued the case, and following a tip, located Raymond Byland – the son – in Sacramento, California, where Byland was living under the alias of Hughes. In April of 1911, Hume traveled to Sacramento and brought him back for trial. Young Byland pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary at Frankfort. The Richwood Deposit Bank’s building was sold, with furniture and fixtures, to Mrs. P. P. Hunter in May of 1911. Hume was also on the trail of the senior Byland, and after several close calls, arrested him in Detroit in August of 1911. Byland’s first words to the sheriff, when apprehended were “I’m glad you got me.” Byland had been using a variety of aliases, including J. M. Boyd, and J. C. Brown. Bail was given by Judge J. M. Lassing, of the Appellate Court of Kentucky, and Attorney Thornton Snyder, and Byland went to work as an insurance agent once again. He was working in Cincinnati and living with his family in an apartment at 1345 Scott in Covington, his home and possessions having been previously taken to cover the debts of the bank. Indications are that Raymond Byland would be brought from his prison cell in Frankfort to testify in a trial, would implicate himself totally, and exonerate the father. John Byland told a crowd on the courthouse steps that he’d like to go back to Richwood. “To face them there?” he was asked. “No, to meet them,” he replied. “I want to meet every one of them as man to man. “Facing” is not the word. I think most of them will be glad to see me. There may be some who will not be so glad, perhaps, but they, too, will believe me after they hear my story.” John Byland’s own account of his story appeared in the August 22, 1911 Post:
Once, several months ago, he returned to Cincinnati, and stopped for a day at the Sterling Hotel. He was anxious to give himself up then, but on the advice of friends, he resumed his exile. “I know that a great many people will ask why, if I am innocent or wrongdoing, I went away. I realize that it was a mistake. I can’t explain any good reason for going away.”
“Only about 12 hours before I left did I know of the condition of the bank. A merger had been agreed upon between our bank and the Equitable Bank of Walton, Ky. Do you think I would have agreed to a merger if I had known the state of affairs that existed in my bank? Every merger is preceded by an audit of accounts, and surely, had I been guilty of any wrong, I would have opposed a combination of the two banks. The audit made by the Equitable disclosed a shortage in the Deposit Bank. When I was told about it I was like a man stunned. And so I left town. I continued to stay away. The answer is that I knew if I came back I would be implicate my son, Raymond. So I made myself a voluntary exile.
”At no time did I ever consider myself a fugitive. I saw considerable of the country. I worked most of the time as an insurance agent. At times I would have welcomed an officer from Boone County. I was distracted by anxiety for my family. But my conscience was in good working order. A man can go a long way on a clear conscience. The worst I can be accused of in connection with the bank is carelessness. I admit I was careless.”
The son was to be brought from prison in Frankfort to testify at the father’s trial, where the father was represented by attorneys Snyder and Dickerson. George Powers, Byland’s brother in law, who put up several thousand dollars to help Bland make good, says that sometimes the best of men will make mistakes, and that personally he does not regret the loss of his money.
“I am not impoverished by it at all,” he declares. “We can nearly all of us afford it,” said Bank President Hughes, “but we hate to lose our faith in men.” The deserted brick house bank is all that’s left to tell the tale of Richwood’s erstwhile faith. Young Byland was given 5 years in the penitentiary in Frankfort.
from contemporary newspaper accounts as noted.