As for the aborted robbery, Morgan is quoted as saying, "Those pistol shots took my nerve. The last shot came near to getting me. I felt the sting of the bullet on my ear, and I wish to God now it had killed me." The Sun's story claimed "The boy's eyes filled up with a haze as he said this."
At this point, the story went out over the Associated Press wires, and newspapers across the country soon reported on the attempted robbery.
The Indianapolis Star ran the headline: "Posse Captures Youth Who Attempted to Hold Up Bank." The story quoted Morgan as saying, "I decided to rob the bank or kill every man in it." That quote was never in the Sun's extensive coverage, and it's unknown where it came from.
The Sandusky (Ohio) Register's headline read, "Curly Haired Youth Tries Bank Robbery." The Logansport (Indiana) Daily Tribune had a simple headline of "Bandit" followed by "Is Found To Be Only A Boy When His False Face Is Removed After A Near Bank Robbery."
Dozens of newspapers ran the story, calling Morgan "Boy Bandit" or "Young Desperado," and they all contained the imaginary quote.
After hours of interrogation by Vahle and Stanley, Morgan came clean with the true story.
"His eyes were swimming with tears" as he told the officials that his name was John R. Morgan. He was 17, but he was from a town in Virginia near Roanoke. He ran away from his father and ended up in Laurel. He was desperate for money.
When Stanley asked Morgan if he had any other relatives that could help him, "the now stricken youth bowed his head on the table with deep emotion and his frame shook. When he raised up, his eyes were moist and his lips trembling." Morgan confessed he had a sister in Baltimore.
The Sun dramatically concluded its description of the interrogation: "Again the head dropped and the body twitched. Morgan said no more."
McCeney remanded Morgan to Upper Marlboro to face a grand jury. At his trial, according to the Sun, "much sympathy was expressed for Morgan, on the ground that it was his first offense, that he was at the time out of work and in desperate straits, and because his cause was espoused by his two sisters, both of whom are nurses in hospitals."
Stanley testified and appealed to the court for clemency for Morgan, asking that he be sent to reform school instead of prison. The court received numerous letters on Morgan's behalf in response to his hard-luck story. Morgan was found guilty and
sentenced to five years in the state penitentiary. According to the Sun, Chief Judge Bristow "gave Morgan to understand emphatically that the court was letting him off very easily."
The attempted robbery was the talk of the town for months. At Citizens National Bank, work went on and bank employees became instant celebrities. The bank's executive board, meeting a month after the attempted robbery, voted to confiscate Waters' pistol for shooting a hole in the ceiling.
Waters did just fine, however. He succeeded Stanley as the next president of the bank in 1913.
Jim McCeney, former Citizens National Bank President Don Henyon and PNC Bank Manager Bernie Robinson assisted in researching this article.
History Matters is a monthly column rediscovering Laurel's past. Information for this story was found at the Laurel Historical Society's John Brennan Research Library. Do you have old pictures or stories to share about a historic event in Laurel? Email Kevin Leonard at firstname.lastname@example.org.