f/8 and Be There
Fred Lynch

Thunderbird Club: raided, robbed

Posted Monday, February 28, 2011, at 7:30 AM

G.D. Fronabarger took this undated picture of the Thunderbird Club at East Cape Girardeau, Ill. An advertisement dated Aug. 6, 1954 announces:

The Thunderbird, Hiway 146, East Cape, Ill. Southern Illinois' Newest Night Club

featuring Eve Thomas, Glamorous Piano and Organ Stylist

Come Over and Enjoy Delicious Steaks, Seafood, Chicken

These two stories from the 1950s provide a different glimpse into the night club:

Jan. 29, 1955 Southeast Missourian

Gambling Raid on Illinois Night Club

Sheriff, 6 Deputies Seize Chips, $235

CAIRO--The Thunderbird night club in East Cape Girardeau was raided Friday night by Sheriff Leslie V. Chrestman and six deputies. The Alexander County officials seized a pool table used for a dice game, a "lay-out" cloth on which bets are made, racks of chips and $235 in currency.

John Wilson, manager of the Thunderbird, was arrested and then released on his own recognizance. He will be charged today with operating a gaming establishment, Sheriff Chrestman said. Mr. Wilson was asleep at his home in East Cape and could not be contacted this morning.

Sheriff Chrestman said about 12 persons were playing dice in the upstairs gambling room of the place. About five of the gamblers were women, he added. Names of all persons were taken by authorities in case they should be needed as witnesses in a trial.

Two deputy sheriffs, young men who have not been known as law enforcement officers, were planted in the gambling room before the raid, Sheriff Chrestman said. Both had participated in rolling dice, it was related.

The arrival of the sheriff and three other deputies was signaled by a buzzer. When the alarm sounded, the two "plants" whipped out revolvers and ordered all the patrons to stand against a wall. One of the undercover agents then unlocked the door for the sheriff's party.

Hints More Raids Planned

Sheriff Chrestman said both men have been on the staff for some time, but had not been active in law enforcement work. They will be used in more raids of the same nature, the sheriff said.

Sheriff Chrestman, who took office Jan. 1, told The Missourian the Thunderbird raid was one of four in the county Friday night. One other place in the McClure area and two in the south end of the county were investigated, but no gambling was found, he said.

The raid was part of the sheriff's "continuous law enforcement" policy. "It's not a clean-up campaign. I don't believe in campaigns," Sheriff Chrestman said. "But there is not going to be any open gambling in Alexander County. If they operate, we'll raid them."

Feb. 27, 1958 Southeast Missourian

Night Club Near Cape is Held Up

Gangland Type Assault

Robbers toting sub-machine guns, shotguns and pistols terrorized patrons of the Thunderbird, southern Illinois night club across the Mississippi from Cape Girardeau, early today and escaped with a quantity of loot, including contents of the establishment's safe.

Cape Girardeau police received a call from John Wilson, operator of the plush night club, at 3:57 a.m. today. They said the robbers were in the Thunderbird for 50 minutes and estimated that the armed hold-up occurred around 3 o'clock.

The report to officers said there were from three to five thugs involved, but the exact number could not be determined. Police explained this was because all were never together and the robbers worked in different rooms of the place.

There was no report of the exact number of patrons in the Thunderbird. But police said they were told 19 cars were parked outside, so it was presumed that the number of patrons was possibly double that figure or more.

One guest reported to Mr. Wilson that $1800 was taken from him, police here said. All of the patrons in the establishment were robbed as the thugs took their time and worked the place over thoroughly.

When they left, officers here were told they damaged each of the 19 cars so they could not be driven. One officer said he understood the tires were slashed so they could not be moved.

As far as could be determined, no shots were fired in the robbery.

Telephones were ripped from the walls, making it difficult for immediate contact to be made with peace officers and giving the robbers time to flee the area.

Officers here had no report of the amount of money taken from the safe, or the method of entry. It was believed that the yeggs forced an employe to open the safe.

There was no estimate of the total sum taken in the methodical and evidently carefully planned robbery. Authorities considered that the sum taken from all patrons, plus any money removed from the safe and elsewhere in the night club, was substantial.

Investigation Started

The fact that the robbers carried sub-machine guns, and that there were several of them, led authorities to consider that the holdup was conducted strictly on a professional basis.

Illinois State Police at DuQuoin said they received their first report of the robbery shortly after 4 a.m. today from one of their officers stationed in the area. They said state police from the southern section were making an investigation.

Sheriff Carl Klutz of Alexander County also was reported conducting an investigation into the crime.


A story in the March 3, 1958 Southeast Missourian reported that the robbers got away with $14,000 of which about $11,000 was from the club safe and another $3000 from Thunderbird customers.


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  • How long was the Thunderbird Club open? I remember the old building, up the road from the Crackle, but do not ever remember the business being open.

    -- Posted by travellin man on Mon, Feb 28, 2011, at 9:17 AM
  • Didn't the Colony Club move here after the original Colony Club burned?

    -- Posted by Mister_D on Mon, Feb 28, 2011, at 9:25 AM
  • Yes, that location housed the Colony club for some time afterward.

    -- Posted by TW1227 on Mon, Feb 28, 2011, at 10:33 AM
  • I found it interesting that the operator of the business were the gambling was taking place was charged, but those gambling were not. I guess the new sheriff counted potential votes and decided he lost Wilson's vote, but gained 12 votes from the gamblers!

    -- Posted by Just_Wondering1 on Mon, Feb 28, 2011, at 11:05 AM
  • One of my earliest memories is dining with my parents at the Purple Crackle in August 1954 when a raid occurred there. As I recall Dr. And Mrs. Campbell and their eldest daughter who was in my kindergarten class were seated nearby.

    The East side gave Cape a panache during the 50's and early 60's that somehow was allowed to trickle away. Perhaps the Pink Pony represents the current lifestyle, and perhaps the new casino can help move the pendulum back towards a more refined time.

    There won't be raids in 2013, and hopefully there will be plans to avoid a repeat of the robbery. No mention above as to whether the crime was ever solved.

    -- Posted by semowasp on Mon, Feb 28, 2011, at 11:42 AM
  • It was believed that the yeggs forced an employe to open the safe.

    What's a yegg?

    -- Posted by Maynard on Mon, Feb 28, 2011, at 1:06 PM
  • -- Posted by darkstar on Mon, Feb 28, 2011, at 1:57 PM
  • I found that right after I posted the question. I guess I haven't been traveling in circles where the word is used!

    -- Posted by Maynard on Mon, Feb 28, 2011, at 3:38 PM