Police Protected Robbers, Says Book -- Ex-Patrol Chief Alleges Canadian Corruption

A former chief of the Washington State Patrol contends that three bank robbers who killed a Seattle police officer 40 years ago were protected, if not directed, by corrupt Canadian cops, including members of the vaunted Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

In a self-published book, Neil Moloney says the unsolved case, considered the most spectacular bank robbery in Seattle history, also shows that Seattle police officers were poorly trained.

Seattle lawmen arrived at the Seattle First National Bank branch in Greenwood on March 12, 1954, while the armed bandits, wearing false rubber noses and fake horn-rimmed glasses, were still inside.

One robber drew an easy bead on patrol Sgt. Howard Slessman as he passed through a glass door. Another shot a rookie named Vernon Chase, who had peered into the bank through a tinted window that the gunmen could see out of better than the officer could see in. Both were wounded.

Frank Hardy, a two-year police veteran, was the only one who followed good procedures, but when he knelt in the parking lot to order a fleeing robber to halt, the crook fired a bullet that ricocheted off a car and struck the officer in the head, killing him instantly.

"I was one of those guys who couldn't even find the damn bank," Moloney, a rookie Seattle cop at the time, said. "I'd been on the Police Department 70 days and had no training."

Other officers could see the dust clouds raised by the getaway car on North Seattle roads, still gravel at the time, but the police cruisers were too slow and the effort too poorly coordinated to catch the killers. The bandits slipped out of town and crossed the Canadian border.

Moloney recounts how Seattle police mishandled the crime-scene evidence and says the state's police-training program is still flawed. But the veteran police administrator, who was born in Saskatchewan, saves his harshest criticism for the Canadians.

A trail of tips, witnesses and circumstantial evidence soon led FBI agents and Seattle police detectives to a dangerous pair of convicted British Columbia bank robbers, John Wasylenchuk and Clifford Dawley. The investigators believed a third, Maurice "Bobby" Talbot, might also have been involved.

But when the U.S. investigators assigned to the case were introduced to their Canadian liaison, Corp. Ernest Nuttall of the Canadian Mounties, they were puzzled by his lack of enthusiasm.

"Outwardly he was friendly," Moloney writes, "(but) as the officers began to zero in on specific information about Dawley's associates and movements, the Mountie appeared to be evasive in his responses."

Undaunted, Seattle police homicide Capt. Charles Rouse spent much of his budget keeping the case alive. FBI agents Dean Rolston and Chester Crisman stayed on the case, as well. They were targeting two of Canada's most notorious criminals, including one who may have killed a Canadian policeman. Some Canadian officers were helpful, but others besides Nuttall, and at least one judge, deliberately stymied their efforts.

Moloney believes there was a good reason. Informers told the U.S. investigators that several Canadian officers had assisted criminals in setting up bank robberies in western Canada and, for a price, provided them with false alibis.

When Wasylenchuk was brought to trial in Seattle in 1964, Nuttall, the Mountie, gave the holdup man an alibi, saying he'd seen Wasylenchuk at his home the day of the robbery.

Nuttall had done a similar "favor" for Wasylenchuk in a previous British Columbia robbery case. The Canadian officer refused to testify in person at the Seattle trial, but his deposition swayed the jury enough that Wasylenchuk was acquitted, despite eyewitness identification of the robber. The case died there.

That, in a nutshell, is the story that has stuck like a burr in Moloney's memory. In the decades that followed - as he rose in rank to chief of detectives, assistant police chief, chief of the Port of Seattle Police Department, chief of the Washington State Patrol and finally director of the Colorado Bureau of Investigations - Moloney watched a series of police-corruption cases unfold.

The Canadian Mounties and Vancouver police were accused of taking payoffs in 1955. In 1970 a grand jury identified more than a hundred Seattle police officers as co-conspirators in a payoff scheme (it became Moloney's job to tell the wrongdoers to resign or be fired).

At the time of the Seattle grand jury, Moloney began collecting interviews and documents on the Greenwood robbery, spurred by an apparent connection between corruption and the death of patrolman Hardy. Although the local newspapers had reported parts of the Greenwood story, Moloney found missing links in internal police documents and statements from investigators.

Moloney, 66, is not a professional writer - in fact, he can't even type. But with help from his daughter, who entered his notes into a computer, and an editor, who organized the material, he produced a comprehensive 330-page book, "Cops, Crooks and Politicians: A Bank Heist Exposes a Major Political Scandal."

Although not a literary masterpiece, Moloney's manuscript, 23 years in the making, is a careful and damning chronology.

John Ward, a spokesman for the Canadian Mounties in Vancouver, said he hadn't read the book yet so he could not comment.

But the FBI's Rolston, who worked on the case for 10 years, said if anything the book underplays the extent of the Canadian police corruption that protected the killers.

The 74-year-old Redmond resident, who retired in 1971, said the Canadians wanted him off the case, but FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover kept him on. Rolston recalled that George Archer, then-chief constable for the Mounties in Vancouver, was afraid of the U.S. probe. "We will not allow our dirty linen to be washed in the streets of the city of Seattle," he told Rolston at the time.

Rolston had never spoken publicly about this most frustrating episode in his 29-year career, but he said in an interview last week that, after working on it for so long, "I tried to forget it because we got beat."

Even so, he said, the lessons are relevant today.

"This same thing is going on somewhere. It is as old as mankind," Rolston said.

The Greenwood case was full of surprises. The Americans were shocked to find, for example, that Dawley, the son of a former chief constable in Esquimalt, B.C., had arranged to change his appearance with two face lifts while he was serving time in prison. Dawley also had escaped twice.

Although murder charges can be brought even decades after a killing, this one is moot because the suspects, and Nuttall, are dead.

Law enforcement was a grim profession in the days when Moloney first pinned on a badge. Day laborers were paid more than cops, and some were better trained.

"The training consisted of firing six rounds of ammunition through the department service revolver at the police range, a lecture on uniform requirements and a short dissertation on writing traffic citations," Moloney said.

He also recalled in an interview how low-salaried beat officers in Seattle would collect $5 a table from illegal gambling joints in the South End - a payoff he declined to accept. Moloney didn't report the corruption because the ethic was that you didn't rat on a fellow officer.

The former lawman doesn't confine his criticism to the days when some city streets were unpaved and some cops were dirty, however.

Today's method of training Seattle police officers, in a statewide academy attended by officers from other cities and counties, is inadequate for the special problems an officer faces on urban streets, he said.

Seattle recruits are taught for the most part by officers from smaller cities. Afterward, they take supplemental classes on big-city problems. Moloney contends the city has abdicated its responsibility to ensure adequate training and that the citizenry will pay.

--------------- EX-CHIEF'S BOOK --------------- "Cops, Crooks and Politicians, A Bank Heist Exposes a Major Political Scandal;" by Neil W. Moloney. Foreword by former Gov. John Spellman; Peanut Butter Publishing, Seattle. $17.95.