Kidnapped banker, 1932

Christian County Sheriff Charles Wieneke shortly after the arrests of kidnapping suspects Emilio Puzzuoli, center, and James Gammaitoni, right (Courtesy State Journal-Register)

Christian County Sheriff Charles Wieneke with kidnapping suspects Emilio Puzzuoli, center, and James Gammaitoni, right, shortly after their arrests (Photos courtesy State Journal-Register)

Springfield coal miner James Gammaitoni lost his life savings when Taylorville’s John B. Colegrove State Bank failed in 1929. So Gammaitoni took direct action: He kidnapped Colegrove.

John Benjamin Colegrove had been a lawyer and real estate investor before he and other investors founded his namesake bank in 1908.

“During his climb to financial success he was identified with many projects which contributed to the growth of Taylorville,” The Illlinois State Journal reported in Colegrove’s 1941 obituary. “He … helped to lay out the west section of the city. He was credited with being largely instrumental in securing paved highways leading from Taylorville to St. Louis and from Taylorville to Springfield.”

The Colegrove bank also “appeared to flourish,” the story said.

Then on Oct. 11, 1929, it closed, wiping out deposits of between one and two million dollars.

The failure of the bank, apparently at the peak of the country’s prosperity, rocked this community and the shock of its fall was felt in other communities.

Colegrove and bank cashier Harvey Gollogher were indicted on a variety of counts, including accusations that they had accepted deposits when they knew the bank was insolvent.

Gammaitoni’s life savings, somewhere between $4,000 and $6,000, according to newspaper reports, were in the Colegrove bank when it collapsed. “Colegrove had assured Gammaitoni … that the bank was in sound condition a few days before it closed,” Gammaitoni’s lawyer said later.

John B. Colegrove

John B. Colegrove

Colegrove fought the charges against him for three years and through three trials, but on June 24, 1932, was sentenced to one to three years in state prison. He was free on an appeal bond (his lawyer claimed “some of the jurors were asleep much of the time during the trial”) when the kidnapping took place.

Gammaitoni apparently had deposited his money while working in Taylorville several years earlier. By the time Colegrove was sentenced, however, Gammaitoni was unemployed and living in Devereux Heights on the north edge of Springfield.

On the evening of Aug. 5, 1932, Gammaitoni and a friend, Emilio Puzzuoli, hid behind a cabinet in the Taylorville cottage where the by-then-impoverished Colegrove was living. When Colegrove entered, the two jumped him, slugged him with a blackjack, hauled him into their waiting car, and drove off to Springfield.

Police immediately focused on Gammaitoni as a suspect. He had a history with Colegrove.

Police … reported that Gammaitoni shot at Colegrove on one occasion and that he made threats against Ralph Ricks of Bloomington, former vice president of the bank. It was also said that he went to Chester state prison and under the guise of a visitor threatened Harry Golloger (sic), former cashier now doing a prison term in connection with the $1,300,000 bank crash.

Gammaitoni was arrested a few hours after the kidnapping, as he was washing blood out of the seats of his car. Puzzuoli, who lived with Gammaitoni and had bloodstains on his shirt, was charged three hours later.

Volunteers search for Colegrove's body

Volunteers search for Colegrove’s body.

Colegrove remained missing for much of Aug. 6, and authorities feared he had been killed. The Journal Aug. 7 published a photo of people dragging Sugar Creek for the body.

However, Colegrove turned up on the lawn of a Springfield home 36 hours after the kidnapping, suffering from a head wound, exposure and, apparently, the effects of months of poverty and malnourishment. He said his abductors originally demanded $30,000 ransom, but when their car arrived in Springfield, he was beaten and dumped in a ditch. Colegrove was hospitalized for several days.

Gammaitoni and Puzzuoli at first denied any knowledge of the attack (the blood was from slaughtered rabbits, they said). Jurors were being chosen for their trial in April 1933 when both changed their pleas to guilty. They were each sentenced to a year in state prison.

There was one last episode in the Colegrove drama. In May 1933, Colegrove apparently couldn’t come up with the money to continue his appeal, so Christian County deputies picked him up to take him to state prison in Chester, the Journal reported.

Near the Sangamon-Christian county line he turned off the ignition of the car, jumped from the machine and ran through a corn field. He was recaptured, handcuffed and brought (to Taylorville), later being removed to Chester.

schs-logo-2Colegrove (1865-1941) returned to Taylorville after being released from prison in 1935. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery there. Emilio Puzzuoli, who died in 1937, is buried in Detroit’s Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

No death information apparently is available for James Gammaitoni (“James” no doubt is an anglicized version of his Italian birth name), but reports he was living in Detroit as of 1940.

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society.






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