Bank Robber Caught in Fuquay Springs

The Fuquay-Varina Museums staff often receives requests for help with information and research. Recently two sons of former Police Chiefs have come in on such missions and this had led to unraveling some interesting tales from the past.

One of our regular docents (he prefers tour guide) Bryant Tyndall is the son of W. T. (Pete) Tyndall. Policeman Tyndall is noted as an extra on the police force in 1950, served Varina as the night policeman in 1951-52 and was temporary Chief of Police July 15, 1952 while William Vaughan took a month off to harvest tobacco. From his youth, Bryant was interested in the bank robbery experience of his father as a town policeman in July of 1957.

W. T. Tyndall

Worth Whitaker, 41 years old from Garner, decided to hold up the “much robbed” (Independent’s words) Angier branch of First Citizen’s Bank and Trust of Smithfield that July day. This was the 3rd time this bank had been robbed since 1950. The previous week, robbers had taken $30,000 from the Bank in Apex. Whatever his impetus, Whitaker later said he ”didn’t know why” he decided to leap into the life of crime.

Fuquay police were alerted by bank cashier, Haywood Hall, who chased the robber to Fuquay. At the time of the robbery, Hall was out to lunch leaving Teller Ben Price and clerk, Brookie Cotton to confront the robber. Whitaker had his hat pulled down over his eyes and asked for change for a $5 bill. He then handed them a satchel and told them to fill it up. The change at the window amounted to $12,392 all of which Price stuffed into the satchel.

Hall returned and opened the door, but when Whitaker motioned for him to come in, he realized there was a problem, slammed the door and ran to his car. Alerting the police, he gave chase when Whitaker fled in a car.

Whitaker abandoned the get away car he had stolen intending a planned escape to his own car which he had stashed in Fuquay. That’s where Tyndall entered the picture.

“I ordered him to stop several times and he kept going, so I shot him,” Tyndall related. Whitaker was shot in the jaw, treated locally by Dr. Crumpler and rushed to a Raleigh hospital into which he walked under his own power.

Afterwards Tyndall stated, “I thought he had a gun but he says he didn’t. ” Dr. A. G. Crumpler said Whitaker told him he didn’t need the money. Crumpler found him to be a nice guy. Fellow employees at the Raleigh Times-News and Observer described him as “the quietest person known.” His boss at the Times later speculated that he had financial difficulties and had recently purchased a new home. Lost in time is the actual “why?”

Later that August, Tyndall received a letter from J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI. His laud of Tyndall reads, “The splendid assistance rendered by you in connection with the case involving Worth Alexander Whitaker merits the deep appreciation of the personnel of this Bureau and I want to take this opportunity to commend you on your outstanding and courageous performance of duty. All of us are grateful for your help in this matter, and the personnel of our Charlotte office join with me in offering our sincere thanks for your excellent cooperation.”

Bryant remembered the commendation from Hoover and something further. After whatever time Whitaker served for the crime, Officer Tyndall and Whitaker met and became friends. Bryant remembers the reconciliation of these two men from his boyhood years.

W. L. Pritchett

Our second son of a former Chief of Police came while we were trying to uncover the story of Tyndall’s experience. Norwood Pritchett was seeking to discover a story of his father, W. L. Pritchett and a robbery of which he has sketchy memories.

Pritchett is first noted as serving as a daytime policeman during tobacco season in 1947. Town records show he was employed on the force June 10, 1949. From June 4, 1951-July 15, 1952 he served as Chief of Police in Fuquay Springs. After a stint with the Wake Sheriff’s Department, he again returned to be Chief of Police in Fuquay Springs from May 10, 1961-September 1, 1961. For career reasons, he resigned and returned as a Deputy with the Wake County Sheriff’s Department.

Norwood has a picture which he connects in his memory with a robbery incident. We are still working on confirmation of the Pritchett story. Hopefully this may prove a later tale to recount.

Friends of the Museums Board Mourn Loss of Vice President

Our good friend and a member of our Friends of the Museums Board has left us for her eternal home.   Her leaving has created a hole in our hearts as well as a vacancy on our actual Board of Directors.

Eleanor Van Hook Stephenson has served on the Friends of the Museums Board since our first election at the 2010 beginning of our organization. Currently, she was Vice President for this administrative year.   In that role, she rushed to meetings at 8:30 a.m. so she could be ready to open David Anthony’s at 10:00.  For special projects, she often came after her closing at 6:00 p.m. But our greater debt to Eleanor lay in the many things she did in support of the Friends of the Museums.

Her service actually dates from the Centennial Year when she provided us a venue to sell History of Fuquay-Varina, our Centennial Calendars, Notecards, and our T-shirts and sweatshirts.  Never taking a penny for her efforts, Eleanor often lost money when customers paid by credit card . When a design was accepted for Centennial T-shirts and sweatshirts,  she sold them in competition with her own merchandise.

Beginning with our first order of 1000 books and our second reorder of 500 books to the Centennial Commission,  Eleanor never complained and always pushed the sales of items to support the museums. We should add that this was true of Elliott’s Pharmacy, S & K, and other establishments who supported the F.V. Centennial Commission with enthusiasm.

Continuing with subsequent re-orders of books by the Friends of the Museums, Eleanor continued to handle sales along with the museums until her shop closed.  Her store featured a section for F. V.  history, the museums, the Woman’s Club, and more! .  She had a knack for knowing for whom these would be “great gifts.”

Eleanor was a cheerleader for our Fuquay-Varina Museums!  She promoted the museums at every occasion. Visitors often came directly from her store, or as a result of her suggestion to them.  Daily, Eleanor was a one woman spokesperson for Fuquay-Varina!  What would happen if we all emulated her life of giving:  100% support no matter at what cost to ourselves?


Eleanor in center of Board of Museums Officers, 2010

Eleanor Van Hook Stephenson at Centennial Gala, 2009 with Docents & Questers Betsy Johnson Gunter and Frances Poe Tindal


The Museum continues to do research on topics which surface as we are working or as we receive requests for information. Recently, an interview with Eleanor Howard resulted in a “query” about a Robert Wadlow visiting town. We had found a reference in the Independent files about a “giant” coming to town, so putting these two leads together, we are sharing our finding with interested museums fans.

“Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man, will visit Fuquay Springs on Tuesday, December 5,” quotes the Independent of Nov. 30, 1939. Rufus S. Ashworth, whose establishment had opened in 1937, sponsored the visit. Mr. Wadlow arrived at 5:00 p.m. Ashworth had sent invitations to 5000 persons announcing the event. The young man also visited Angier on the same date according to the Independent.

While we don’t know how many actually came to the local store, Mrs. Howard and Mrs. Sara Ragan both remember seeing the visitor. “He sat upon a truck,” Mrs. Howard remembers. Several of the Ashworth family also recall the visit.

The young giant, who hailed from Alton, Illinois, was accompanied by his father who was a normal size of six feet. Young Wadlow was listed as eight feet nine and one half inches in height. Taller than anyone in the United States or modern world history, he is still regarded as the tallest individual for whom there is no refutation. His height came from a pituitary gland condition called hyperplasia.

Continuing to grow until he died at the early age of 22 years, he was last measured at 8 feet, 11.1 inches. Because of his condition, he required braces to walk. His death resulted when a blister caused by the brace became infected.

Research shows that Wadlow died on July 15, 1940 and was buried in Illinois. A life-size statue of him was erected in Alton in 1896.

He intended to study law but because of his condition, he became a celebrity with the Ringling Brothers Circus. The two ladies believe that his appearance was connected to publicity for a shoe company. Indeed research shows that he did a promotional tour in 1938 for the International Shoe Company which provided his shoes. Wadlow was also a Freemason. Coincidentally, Mr. Ashworth was also a Mason and could have heard of the fellow Mason who required the largest Freemason ring ever made.


The Friends of the Museums express our sorrow over the loss of our friend, Robin Gale Mangum Simmang. When taken from us on May 26, 2018, Robin’s sudden death created a hole in our hearts. The daughter of Betty Mangum and the late Richard Mangum, she grew up with one big brother, Dale. Much of her early life was spent around the world while her dad served his country in the U. S. Navy. After retirement, the family settled on Ennis Street in Fuquay-Varina.

Robin was a graduate of Fuquay-Varina High School. As President of the Junior Class, she and her dad worked on prom decorations, building a bridge for the picture background that year. Following graduation, she received an Associate Degree from Wayne Community College in 1979 and subsequently served our country in the United States Navy for nine years. These years enabled her to become an IT expert extraordinaire. Her military & civilian career were spent in the field of computers and technology but her life was invested in family, friends, church, and community.

Our debt to her is immense. In 2009, she gave us innumerable hours of work as we wrote the History of Fuquay-Varina. Each chapter copy went to her along with the pictures we had associated with that material. Sitting with author, Shirley Simmons, Robin worked tirelessly to put each picture as nearly as possible with the narrative, wrapping text, moving text, and arranging text. Many pictures were of poor quality, but the only one available for the subject. These Robin spent time converting into the best possible pixels for print while tirelessly inserting the proper identification for each photograph.

Careful proof reading, detail orientation, and error correction took hours. Often, at the last minute, an interview or research would provide some new material to be inserted. Her patience was endless. No record exists of the hours she donated to this effort.

Finally, every chapter was completed and Robin used her expertise to prepare the entire material for the printer. Even the cover arrangement bears her imprint. Shirley Hayes wanted to pick her favorite pictures for the cover montage. Robin managed to lay them all out with care and exactitude. Hers was the cover color choice. Robin sent the book to press.

After the book was reality, Robin worked with her son Chris Simmang to prepare the final version of our video history. Taking narrative read by David Caudle, they managed to place photographic images, even selecting and enhancing some, which fitted our story. The musical background was all Chris. He is his mother’s son, the epitome of patience and long-suffering.

Upon the opening of the museums, Robin worked to set up the audio visual room so the public could enjoy the historical video production. Many times, in the first months, she served as the expert, helping docents to operate the projector. Even the first projector was borrowed from Robin.

Robin’s many talents were so well documented by Rev. Ben Pearce at her memorial service. While her contributions to church, family, community and nation were multiple, we are so proud to proclaim, “because of Robin, we have the written History of Fuquay-Varina and an historical audio visual introduction to the museums.” Gratefully, the Friends of the Museums publish this tribute to a giant among our “friends.”

Betts Family Information Being Sought

The Fuquay-Varina Museums has acquired a copy of a diary of Chaplain Alexander Davis Betts entitled “Experiences of a Confederate Chaplain 1861-1865. Edited by his son, William Archibald Betts, the diary is housed at the University of North Carolina.

Rev. Betts was serving at Smithville (Southport) when Governor Clark enlisted him to serve as chaplain for the 30th North Carolina Regiment on October 25, 1861. Surviving the war, Rev. A. D. Betts, DD was renowned for his service to the Methodist Episcopal Church across North Carolina.

The only member of his family to receive a college education, this fourth son of William “Billie” Betts and Temperance Utley Betts, was thrown from a wild steer and crippled at seventeen years. Educated at the University of North Carolina, he both taught school and preached. Upon his death in 1918, he was buried at Green Hill Cemetery, Greensboro, NC.

William and Temperance Betts bought fifty acres in 1825 along Hector’s Creek in Cumberland County (later Harnett County) where they built a cabin and raised six sons and one daughter. The estate records, prepared by his son, Andrew, list William (1799-1843) and Temperance (1795-1876) and declare their tombstones to be near the chimney of their cabin. The museums are currently seeking to establish the site and find these tombstones. Numerous sites have been explored, but the graves remain illusive.

William’s brother James Betts lived along the Raleigh-Lillington Road and was the grandfather of James Archibald Campbell, founder of Buie’s Creek Academy.

William’s six sons in birth order were: Andrew (1824-1898), Allen ( 1827-1897), Alvin (1828-1910), Anderson ( 1830-1912), Alexander (1832-1919), Archibald (1836-1929). All six boys names began with “A” and each adopted a middle name or initial later in life. Daughter, Sarah Catherine Betts (1840-1859) completed the family. Sara married Henry Stinson.

Andrew Betts served in the North Carolina Troops 31st Infantry and is buried at Apex Methodist Church.

Our J D. Squire Ballentine’s second wife, Cornelia was the daughter of Allen Betts. The Rev. Allen Betts was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh. Cornelia later married William Patrick Campbell, who had earlier served as minister at the Fuquay Springs Baptist Church. They are all buried in Oakwood Cemetery which is where she also buried our “Squire” Ballentine.

Archibald married Emily and raised a family in Duncan area. A descendant, Aaron Betts, has given us the tobacco slide for our barn recently.

A relative, Marie Jordan of Arden, NC has communicated with the museums seeking family information and the gravesites of Temperance and William.

A relative, Don Betts, has supplied the museums with a copy of the Betts Genealogy prepared by Wilbur C. Betts of Raleigh. Descended from William Betts on the Isle of Wright, the first known Betts in Wake County appear to be Joseph & Andrew Betts. From Andrew, came William and James of Harnett County (then Cumberland County).

Betts House

The museums have uncovered an article on the ancestral home in the 1942 Independent. The picture states that Gordon Reuschling, Jr., a fifth generation descendant, stands on the porch. SO WE ARE STILL LOOKING FOR THE SITE of the house and the graves of William and Temperance. Has anyone seen these two tombstones somewhere along Hector’s Creek?

The Norfolk Southern Caboose #375: Two Different Views

We have the caboose as it looked upon arrival in Ashworth Park on the day of the solar eclipse in August of 2017.

Then there is the caboose under interior construction in October with her new smokestack.

And the caboose sporting her NEW doors of red in December just after the Christmas Parade.

BUT how pretty she looks in the snow, thanks to some kind friends who braved the snow to showcase her wrapped in white.

Keep waiting, our workers are going to get back on the task. We are hoping for a SPECIAL DEDICATION day this spring!