By Nancy Jo Maples
Forty-eight years ago this month, the bicycle bandit wheeled away from the bank in State Line with $19,600. It was a bitter cold winter day. And he almost got away.
However, two men from an auto garage across the street chased him in their pickup to the outskirts of town where he ditched the bike and ran for refuge into the woods. The terrain was rough and swampy and covered nearly four-square miles. The bandit, dressed in army fatigues and a field jacket, eluded authorities for four days.
The nights were cold ones. It happened on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 1973. The bandit finally came out of the woods on Saturday, the date he was to have been married. The sheriff told him he would be late for his wedding. Actually, he didn't make it at all.
He surfaced in search of medical help as his feet were frostbitten. He was hospitalized and his feet, which are said to have been unusually large, were amputated. He slipped into a coma and died within a couple of weeks of gangrene.
He talked freely to authorities for about a day and a half before becoming unconscious. He told them he had dropped the stolen money in a pocket of water near a tussock in the marsh.
Folks converged upon those woods for days searching under every tree root and in every hole. Yet the 20-grand was never found. At least it was never reported found. Neither was a gun though the teller claimed the bandit was armed inside the bank. Perhaps he had pretended to have a gun.
Authorities did find his shiny, new, three-speed bicycle. Greene County's late sheriff Sidney Williams showed it to me once. He called it the fastest bike ever built as the bicycle had no brakes.
The bandit had bought it at a Mobile department store and put it together a few miles down the road from the bank. He left the cardboard box on the roadside and wheeled into town. Whenever he assembled it, he didn't bother hooking up the brakes. This was a man who did not plan on stopping.
He pedaled to the town's only bank and, according to Williams, he told the bank teller he was mean and ugly and to give him money. She followed his orders. Then, he rode away.
Some residents of George,
Greene and Wayne counties remember the story of the bicycle bandit. Yet few can recall his name. He was David Lee Knight, a 28-year-old long shoreman from Mobile who had once served on the Atlanta, Ga. police force. The late Lou Stringer, George County native and Nashville songwriter, wrote a ballad about the bandit and recorded it.
It remains the most famous bank robbery in State Line, whose population in 1970 was less than 600 and whose population remains less than 600. Yet, it wasn't the last hold-up in the town. A few years later another attempt was made at the same bank. This time the getaway vehicle was a pick-up truck; it didn't get away either.
Award-winning journalist Nancy Jo Maples has been writing about Mississippi people and places for more than 30 years. Contact her at email@example.com.