Rats Commit Home Invasion Robbery

     William “Dinty” Colbeck returned to St. Louis from serving in the U.S. Army in World War I to open a plumbing shop.  The stocky Colbeck earned his nickname from the dents he put in pipes, when his knuckles slid off a wet wrench and struck the pipes.  The pipes always came out on the short end of the collision.

     While a competent plumber, Colbeck supplemented his income by leading a robbery crew for St. Louis’ organized crime gang, “Egan’s Rats”.  When Tom Egan died of natural causes and his younger brother William “Willie” Egan took over the gang, Colbeck became Egan’s most trusted lieutenant.

William “Dinty” Colbeck, Leader of Egan’s Rats during the early to mid 1920s.

     Colbeck also had a right hand man, David “Chippy” Robinson.  Robinson was three years younger than Colbeck, who “Chippy” looked up to.  When Colbeck began committing robberies, Robinson was his frequent accomplice.

     Colbeck used his military training to execute well-planned robberies.  The team would case a target, create a plan for entry through force or guile and execute the plan.  However, Colbeck could not expect to escape capture forever.

     On July 24, 1920, about 2:00 am, Colbeck and Robinson knocked on the door of Ward S. Ireland’s house in Pine Lawn, a municipality in St. Louis County.  Ireland, the President of Bluebird Manufacturing Company, lived in the 6800 block of Natural Bridge Road.

     Colbeck and Robinson claimed to be Internal Revenue Agents looking for whiskey.  Once Ireland let them in, Colbeck pointed a pistol at him, pushed him into a chair and kept the pistol aimed at him.  Robinson and four other men looted the house.  Robinson blew open the safe as well.  The robbery netted $12,000 in cash, securities and jewelry.

     While it took them several months, St. Louis Detectives eventually focused on Colbeck and Robinson  After arresting the men at the end of October 1920, St. Louis Police found a pistol, U.S. Internal Revenue badge and silk pajamas reported taken from the home.

     Ireland identified Colbeck as the man, who held the pistol on him.  Ireland also said Colbeck directed the five other robbers.  Ireland said “Chippy” Robinson was the man who blew his safe.

     It seemed like an open and shut case but things changed over the next twelve months.  The Hogan Gang killed “Willie” Egan in front of his saloon in October 1921.  “Dinty” Colbeck would take over the “Rat’s”.  In the ensuing gang war between the Hogans and “Egan’s Rats”, many St. Louisans would lose their lives including prominent men loosely associated with both camps.

     Three years would pass before the government could convict Colbeck and his men.  Many murders and robberies would occur before these convictions.

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Sources: The St. Louis Star-Times, October 28, 1920 edition, p. 3 and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 28, 1920 edition, p. 34

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