Needham History Center & Museum Needham History Center & Museum, Needham Massachusetts 02492

Needham Trust Company Robbery, 1934

The Needham Trust Bank (now the other half of the Needham Bank) was robbed in February 1934 by the Millen-Faber gang from Boston. The members of the gang were brothers Murton and Irving Millen, Abraham Faber, and Norma Brighton Millen (wife of Murton). They timed the robbery by the train schedule, so that the trains passing across Great Plain Avenue would hinder the police trying to reach the Bank.

This photo by Boston Globe photographer Leslie Jones shows detectives at the scene on the day after the robbery

The gang held up the Bank with machine guns – the first machine-gun crime in MA – wounding two of the Bank personnel, and briefly taking one hostage. They fled the scene in a 1932 Packard.  During their escape, they also killed two members of Needham’s small police force, Forbes McLeod and Francis Haddock, as they responded to the alarm. Assigned to downtown patrol, Haddock and McLeod were well known in the community.  They were long-time residents of the town, and heroes to the children who greeted them on their way to school each morning.  They were also both veterans of World War 1.  The robbers also wounded a fireman, Timothy Coughlin, as they sped through the Heights.

Robbers (l. to r.) Irving and Murton Millen and Abraham Faber being led in to the Dedham Courthouse for trial

The crime was so shocking and daring that state police originally thought that it had been committed by Pretty Boy Floyd, though by the next day they know this was not the case.  The guns, as it turned out, had been stolen from the State Police’s own armory, where the newly-acquired Thompson sub-machine guns were on display.  The robbers were identified from the registration on the Packard’s battery.  The car had been discovered on a quiet road in Norwood. The Millens had tried to burn it, but it was solidly built, and enough was left intact to trace its owner.  A real estate agent later testified that three men in an expensive 1932 Packard drove around town with him a few days before the robbery, claiming that they wanted to rent a house.

Officers Frank Haddock and Forbes McLeod

The robbers escaped to New York City, where the police lost track of them.  However, Norma Millen (for whom this event seems to have been a great adventure) wrote to her mother from the hotel, identifying their whereabouts.  THe police, who were watching the house, intercepted the postcard, and the robbers were caught fairly quickly.  The men tried and executed. Norma, who was very young, was returned to the custody of her father, and eventually remarried.

The slain officers were given heroes’ funerals.  Schools and town offices were closed so people could attend to pay their respects. In gratitude for their sacrifice, the town voted pensions to support their widows, and the Bank established a fund to provide education for their young children.

The funeral processions for the two officers took them through Needham Center (above) and down Highland Avenue in the Heights (below).