CLEVELAND - “Fast Eddie” Watkins was a Cleveland bank-robbing legend.
In a jailhouse interview with an Associated Press reporter in 1980, Watkins claimed to have robbed 60 banks from coast to coast. He was on the FBI’s list of ten most wanted in the mid-60s.
Viewers of WEWS may remember two of his more sensational run-ins with local law enforcement; the 21-hour hostage ordeal at the Society National Bank on Cleveland’s west side and his post-jailbreak money-throwing standoff in Lodi.
Our video player has those two incidents, plus an interview of Watkins with WEWS reporter Lee Bailey.
The video of the Society Bank robbery is very poor quality. You’ll see an exterior of the bank and a hostage or two being released. There is a shot of the bomb squad’s explosives truck as Watkins claimed to have a bomb.
You can hear WEWS reporter Jenny Crimm’s voice under the video. Crimm did a phone interview with Watkins from prison for a two-part story. Most of her stories break up badly so I’ve just included the exteriors of the society robbery/hostage situation from the second of her two stories.
Next up is the Watkins interview from December 1976.
Watkins tells Bailey he’s been charged with 18 robberies, but has done somewhere in the 30s. He gives advice to young wannabe bank robbers and talks about his upcoming 10-year sentence.
Watch closely after his interview for the "money" shot.
Watkins broke out of an Atlanta prison in April 1980, but law enforcement tracked him down to Lodi on June 6, 1980. Trapped, he threw money as a diversion – it didn’t work. There are shots of an ambulance taking Watkins to a hospital and interviews with Medina County Sheriff’s officials.
I've included a second clip in the video player. That is most of part one of Jenny Crimm's phone interview with Watkins. He tells Crimm he's amassed $1.6 million in his bank robberies and he's attracted to banks the way men are attracted to pretty women. He adds there is no way he can spend all the money he has stolen.
In this July 1980 interview, Watkins claims banks deserve to be robbed because of the high interest rates they charge customers.
It's fun to look at the video used to cover his interview as we see the names of Cleveland banks long gone: Ameritrust, Union Commerce, Central National Bank and more.
Watkins died in 2002 at the age of 82.
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