The Great Smoky Mountain Bank Job

and other Sam Jenkins Mysteries

by Wayne Zurl

When your high school classmate shows up on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, can your police career get any more interesting? Prospect, Tennessee’s police chief Sam Jenkins handles a cold case robbery-homicide as a favor to a beautiful treasury agent and clears the forty-three year old mystery of THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAIN BANK JOB.

In MURDER IN A WISH-BOOK HOUSE, Sam investigates the most grisly killing of his career. Then, in V IS FOR…VITAMIN?, he works with an eighty-four year old partner to solve a suspicious death in a nursing home where all the suspects are well beyond their prime.

Hollywood meets the Smokies in FATE OF A FLOOZY when an academy award winner is murdered during her love affair with a much younger man. And HURRICANE BLOW UP and THE BUTLERS DID IT pits Jenkins against some very lethal characters when he tackles eastern European hoods who intend on causing mayhem in Prospect, and bank robbers who flee to the far corners of southern Appalachia to escape capture.



The Great Smoky Mountain Bank Job


Things happened in 1968. Assassins killed Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. I was a young soldier waiting for my twelve-month vacation to the Republic of South Vietnam. And Prospect, Tennessee, a small town in the foothills of the Smokies, gained prominence. Thanks to the national media, an armed robbery that took place in Prospect became known as The Great Smoky Mountain Bank Job.

Forty-three years later, Sergeant Bettye Lambert buzzed my intercom.

“Chief, there’s a Miss Lucy Frobisher here to see you.”

“About what?” I asked.

“Something you’ll want to hear.”

I get suspicious when a good-looking woman walks into my office carrying a briefcase. I expect her to hand me a document and say the magic words, “You’ve been served.”

That didn’t happen.

Instead, she offered me a hand. “Hi, I’m Lucy Frobisher. I’ve got a problem, and Special Agent Ralph Oliveri thinks you can help me.”

I grimaced at the mention of Oliveri. “Obviously you already know I’m Sam Jenkins.”

She nodded. “I do.”

I shook her hand.

“Sit down,” I said, pointing to one of the tan leather-covered guest chairs in front of my desk. “Tell me about your problem.”

Lucy took a seat and looked at me with expressive light brown eyes. Her two-piece navy blue suit appeared expensive; the skirt landed only an inch above her knees, which she held together very properly.

“My father was murdered,” she said. “I’d like you to help me find the killers.”

That’s not the kind of request you hear every day in a small Tennessee police department. I’d ask how Ralph Oliveri, my pal from the FBI’s Knoxville field office, got involved, but I started with a few more basic questions.

“Did this happen in Prospect?”

“It did.”

“When?” I sounded surprised. No one had mentioned it to me.

“April 15th, 1968.”

After that, I was surprised. I did some quick math and came up with a figure. I would have placed Lucy Frobisher in her late thirties, but with her father getting killed forty-three years ago, she had to be at least forty-two.

“I assume your father’s death was reported back then?”

“Of course. My father was the guard at the Prospect Citizen’s Bank and Trust when it was robbed. Are you familiar with what the papers called The Great Smoky Mountain Bank Job?”

“No. I’m sorry. In 1968, I was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and not reading too many newspapers.”

“The robbers were anarchists—anti-war types. They killed my father when he tried to stop the robbery.”

“And you spoke to Oliveri because the FBI assumed responsibility for the case?”


I noticed her looking around the room—at the flintlock Tennessee rifle hanging on the wall behind my desk, at the shadow box with the medals and badges from my time in the Army and at the counter where the mini-refrigerator, coffee maker and a vase of artificial flowers sat.

“And no one was arrested for the robbery or your father’s murder?”


“Why do you think I can solve this mystery after forty-three years?”

“Because I think at least two of the robbers were from New York.”

I stared at her. She pushed a few strands of shoulder-length dark brown hair behind her right ear and smiled. Lucy Frobisher was trim and quite pretty in a very professional way—like a tall Audrey Hepburn.

“And Oliveri told you I was a cop in New York for a long time.”

She nodded. “He did.”

“And you think I can resurrect an old case and track down former SDS or Black Panther members or other anti-war, anti-government thugs when the entire FBI couldn’t?”

“They were part of the Revolutionary Youth Movement, and I have new information.”

I heard the radio crackle out in the lobby. Bettye dispatched PO Jamey Hawkins to a first aid case at a trailer park off Doc Beasley Road.

“Why won’t the Feds act on this information?” I asked.

“They say it’s not sufficient to reopen an old case.”

That sounded like rubbish to me.

“Ms. Frobisher, I’m sorry your father was killed, but I’m only one guy with a small police department to run. Even though it happened in Prospect, I doubt I can…” I let my sentence trail off.

“May I tell you the whole story?” she asked.

She sat back and crossed her legs. I think she anticipated my answer. That or she knew a big smile and a few extra inches of lovely knee would influence my decision.

“Sure.” Then thinking she may take more than a few minutes, I said, “Would you like coffee? I have a fresh pot.”

“Thank you. Dark—no sugar—please.”

I fixed two cups and watched her take a stack of newspaper clippings and official reports from her briefcase.

I sat behind my desk, took a sip of an extremely hot Indonesian blend and listened to Lucy tell me her father, Douglas “Buck” Frobisher, not only worked as a bank guard, but also served as a Blount County deputy sheriff—the security job being a part-time gig.

According to Ms. Frobisher, the robbery went off like something from a 1970s heist movie. Three males and one female entered the bank just before closing time carrying shotguns and pistols. All wore rubber Halloween masks. After an attention-getting shot went off and Buck Frobisher stepped out of the men’s room, he drew his revolver and foolishly told the four armed felons to drop their guns. One of the males fired his shotgun, and Frobisher bought the farm. The anarchists made off with $46,000 before a bank employee could trip a silent alarm connected to the police station.

Two days later, in a message sent to the Knoxville News-Sentinel, members of the RYM claimed responsibility for the robbery.

The former Prospect police chief, one Eli ‘Peanut’ Crowder, called in FBI assistance. Lucy said the investigation lasted for months, but as with many crimes perpetrated by a crop of home-grown anarchists from the late ‘60s, it remained unsolved.

“You don’t seem to have a problem talking about your father’s death,” I said.

“No, I’ve lived with the fact all my life. And I never knew him. My mother was pregnant when he died.”

“You’re certainly tenacious.”

“Unfinished business.” Lucy slowly nodded with a look of resolution crossing her pretty face. “I think these people should pay for what they did to my mother.”

She looked at me over the top of her coffee mug.

“No argument there. But the same question keeps popping up, Ms. Frobisher. Why do you think I can solve this?”

“Please,” she said, batting her eyelashes, “call me Lucy.”

“Okay, Lucy, back to my question.”

A little more eyelash action, then, “May I call you Sam?”

“Sure, everyone else does.”

“Well, Sam, I believe you know one of the killers.”

That gave me a pause that did not refresh.

I began to think I was being conned—by a real pro.

“Lucy, darling,” I said, “the average housewife doesn’t waltz into a police station and lay something like this on the chief. Who are you, besides Buck Frobisher’s daughter? And why did that Italian rat fink, Oliveri, send you here? Who do you work for?”

She smiled again—something worth at least seven figures. She was getting prettier every minute.

“That’s a lot of questions, Sam. Let’s see if I can remember. One: I’m no housewife, thanks. Two: Oliveri owes me a favor. A big one. And he says you owe him several. Also biggies. If you help me, two favors will be cancelled out among three people. And lastly: I’m an agent with IRS Intelligence. Hence, I know something about you and that you and your wife went to high school with one Wanda Potemkin—the female everyone believes participated in the Smoky Mountain Bank Job.

“You used your position with the IRS to get information on me?” I tried to sound outraged.

She made a dismissive face and waved her hand. “And you’ve never used your police resources to check into someone’s background? Perhaps for less-than-professional reasons?”

A snort was the best response I could offer.

A brief moment later, I asked, “You think Wanda Potemkin was involved?”



"The Great Smoky Mountain Bank Job" by Wayne Zurl


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