Recalling the 1948 Bank of Kremmling robbery

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photo courtesy Grand County Historical Association | Law officer Chance Chance Va Pelt (R) poses for a photo with then-president Dwight Eisenhower.
photo courtesy Grand County Historical Association | Law officer Chance Chance Va Pelt (R) poses for a photo with then-president Dwight Eisenhower.

by Mister V
In the wake of the Dollar General armed robbery which occurred in Kremmling on the evening of Saturday, December 19, many a Kremmlingite has viewed this despicable event as evidence of society’s irreversible moral decay. The following true parable from Kremmling’s yesteryear is offered to alleviate those forlorn perspectives that would damper this holiday season and as a reminder that the hand of justice is swift to deliver just punishment upon those who would flaunt the law of the land.

It was during an early morning patrol on Sunday, January 18, 1948, when legendary Kremmling lawman Chauncey “Chance” Van Pelt, then an undersheriff, noticed footprints in the fresh snow leading to the front entrance of the Bank of Kremmling. Discovering that the doors had been forced open, Van Pelt immediately realized the bank was in the process of being robbed. The Undersheriff dashed quickly to the rear entrance, where shortly thereafter two robbers emerged carrying over $20,000 in cash. Van Pelt landed a mighty punch to the first robber who exited the building. With this blow the criminal crumpled to the ground unconscious, his body contorting so wildly that his fall resulted in a sprained ankle. The felled man’s accomplice fled from the scene in blind panic, and though Van Pelt was able to fire three shots as the cowardly criminal retreated, none found their mark.

With much haste the Undersheriff gathered the limp body of the captured criminal, one Ervin W. Margerum, and speedily delivered him to jail in Hot Sulphur Springs. With equal haste Van Pelt returned to the scene of the crime in Kremmling, where he chanced upon the at-large robber fleeing westwardly in a Ford sedan. Van Pelt gave chase, firing the remaining three shots from his revolver at the retreating vehicle to no effect. Out of bullets, the Undersheriff improvised a conclusion to the pursuit by using his own vehicle to ram
the sedan into a ditch. Thoroughly thwarted, the second would-be bank robber, one Harold Payne, sheepishly exited his demolished automobile, hands raised above his head, and was apprehended without further conflict.

An investigation quickly revealed that the pair of criminals, both of Omaha, Nebraska, were expert bank robbers. Among their possessions was a kit of top-grade burglar tools and a .32-caliber automatic. The pair was suspected in a string of robberies committed in Nevada and, more recently. throughout Denver. Never once did they suspect their crime spree would meet its unceremonious end in the sleepy mountain community of Kremmling.

It is hoped that this tale of crime and punishment from the illustrious career of Kremmling’s most celebrated lawman serves as a comfort this holiday to those shaken by the crime that recently transpired. May the community take some solace (and the criminal element take heed) in knowing that the law enforcement of today is very much like Chance Van Pelt: ever-vigilant, poised behind every corner, ready at a moment’s notice to deliver swift, thorough justice.