Quiet, courteous and efficient, Edna Arndt went about her work unnoticed.
She was a trusted employee with an exemplary record and nearly perfect attendance at the Cuyahoga Falls branch of First National Bank.
She was easy to ignore, overlook and underestimate.
Arndt didn’t date, rarely socialized and never traveled far from home. Co-workers regarded the 42-year-old bank teller as a spinster and a wallflower, and described her as mousy and plain. They didn’t suspect she was a criminal genius.
The truth wasn’t revealed until a routine audit March 12, 1959, at the Front Street office. Arnold Bauer found suspicious receipts in Arndt’s files, and called his supervisor, Kenneth W. Tucker, who telephoned FBI agent Dwight Ellis to report: “I think we have an embezzlement.”
After 12 years of work, Arndt got a blemish on her record. Auditors confronted her with a $47,000 shortage (about $414,000 today).
Arndt denied any wrongdoing until auditors showed her a Lawson's withholding tax receipt for $43,254 and an O'Neil's purchase order for $4,188 for sales tax stamps. The companies had confirmed the receipts were forged.
“I took all that money,” Arndt confessed. “Nobody else in the bank had anything to do with it.”
Arndt earned $280 per month, but admitted that she had padded her pay for three years. She started stealing small bills and covering it up with personal checks.
“She told us that at first she would take one to five dollars daily, putting them in her purse, but later would take up large packs of $20 bills,” Ellis later testified.
Arndt swiped as much as $5,000, and it got harder to conceal. “I had to devise another means to cover up,” she said.
Since she was in charge of sales tax stamps and withholding taxes, Arndt came up with a complicated method to hide the thefts.
“As withholding taxes were paid, she was supposed to credit them to the account of the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank and send that bank a ‘letter of transmittal’ for the funds,” the Beacon Journal reported in March 1959.
“Instead, she took out some of the money and used later tax payments to cover the missing money. This way, her transmittals to Cleveland were always slightly delayed, but incoming funds always provided a means of keeping the books straight.”
Arndt dictated a confession and assured agents that no other cash was taken. After she was allowed to go home, she reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown and spent a month under psychiatric care.
A forensic audit determined the shortage was bigger than Arndt had admitted — $107,402 (over $946,000 today) — and a review of her finances uncovered unusual spending.
In 1956, she bought a 1950 Pontiac sedan for $367. In 1957, she bought a 1957 Pontiac Catalina for $4,191. In 1958, she bought a 1957 Rambler for $1,758, a 1958 Rambler for $3,643 and another 1958 Rambler for $3,204. In 1959, she bought a 1958 Edsel for $2,700 and a Pontiac Safari for $4,553. Some cars she gave to relatives and friends, but others she traded in for new models.
In 1958, she made a $6,000 down payment to buy a $21,900 ranch house on Homesite Drive in Stow. Among other expenses, Arndt had paid for a relative's medical bills and an elderly neighbor's funeral.
Investigators accounted for $28,000 in stolen cash, but $80,000 was missing.
“What could she have done with this much money?" Arndt's lawyer John Shepherd said. "Her mind gets fuzzy every time I try to pin down dates.”
And he told reporters: “Our evidence will seriously challenge whether Miss Arndt had the mental capacity to commit the crime.”
She pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, saying that she had followed the orders of voices inside her head when she took the money.
“It was my father and Jesus, I thought,” Arndt later testified. “They would tell me things … dictate to me … they were gentle and kind.
“They told me things I should do. For instance, driving. I’d be on my way to work or going from work, and for no reason at all, I’d take another route.”
When FBI agent Dwight Ellis questioned the teller, she explained: “The voices told me I was going to die Jan. 30, 1959, and to get rid of the money. So I burned it in the fireplace.”
Burned it? She said she had soaked $80,000 in lighter fluid and set it ablaze, but investigators found no evidence of charred bills in the fireplace or ash pit on Homesite Drive.
Arndt sat passively as her five-day trial opened Feb. 17, 1960, before U.S. District Judge Paul Jones in Cleveland. Experts disagreed on her mental fitness. One psychiatrist said Arndt was confused, frightened and possibly “psychoneurotic and pre-schizophrenic.” Another said Arndt was sane and knew the difference between right and wrong as shown by the clever way she hid her crimes.
After deliberating 45 minutes, a jury found her guilty of stealing $102,402.
On March 8, Judge Jones sentenced Arndt to three years in a federal prison in Alderson, West Virginia.
“I’m not convinced the truth came out here as to why you took the money and what you did with it,” Jones said. “The shortages which were found and your defense seem incomprehensible and fantastic."
Attorney Howard Walker Jr., representing the Federal Insurance Co. of New York, scoured Arndt’s former home one final time. The fruitless search for lost cash amused the new residents.
“I don’t think it’s here anywhere, but if it is, I’ll split with you,” Raymond C. Mullaly joked.
“I don’t think it’s here,” Walker admitted. “But I’d sure like to know where it went.”
Arndt served more than two years before being paroled in May 1962. She had worked as a prison librarian and was a model inmate.
“If your work is up to par, they give you days off your sentence,” she said.
When asked about the lost funds, she told a reporter: “I don’t have any money — not a cent.”
Edna Arndt avoided trouble for the rest of her years. She lived at the former Falls-Akron Motel on State Road and died April 28, 1986, at age 70.
There was no funeral. She was buried at Chestnut Hill Memorial Park in Cuyahoga Falls.
When it comes to money, you can’t take it with you, but Edna Arndt took an $80,000 secret to the grave.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or email@example.com.