The first ever getaway car was French

The notorious Bonnot gang robbed a bank and fled from les flics

27 September 2017
By Jane Hanks

The first ever criminal use of a getaway car was by the notorious Bonnot gang in Paris on December 21, 1911. The gang robbed the Société Générale Bank in broad daylight and then fled in a limousine, which they had stolen a week earlier. They were dubbed les bandits en auto by the police and the ongoing story of their murders and robberies made the front covers of newspapers for weeks.

The gang were part of an anarchist movement known as the Illegalists, which believed that any criminal activity was justified in the fight against a capitalist society. In 1911-1912 they were at the height of their activities and sent shockwaves of fear through Paris. They used cars, not yet available to the police, in a new way.

On one occasion, it was reported, they stole a car by shooting the driver in the head. They drove to Chantilly where they robbed a bank and escaped in their car as two policeman tried to catch them, one on horseback and the other on a bicycle.

The gang was named after Jules Bonnot, who started out as a petty criminal. He learnt his automobile skills when he was conscripted to the army for three years and served as a truck mechanic. When he left, he worked in Geneva but was fired after hitting his boss with an iron bar.

He fled to Paris, where he joined the Illegalists. He was not the gang leader but it was named after him after he stormed the offices of Le Petit Parisien, armed with a Browning automatic, to complain about the newspaper’s coverage of the gang.

The police were desperate to catch the gang and there were rewards for information leading to their arrest.

Bonnot was now one of France’s most wanted criminals. On April 28, 1912 he was tracked to a house. 500 armed policemen, soldiers, firemen, military engineers and private gun-owners surrounded the building. Gun shots were exchanged. Eventually the Paris Police Chief, Louis Lépine ordered the front of the house to be dynamited. Bonnot was found lying, barely conscious, under a mattress. Police then shot him repeatedly before the Paris Police Chief shot him in the head. He was taken to the police station, where he died.

The gang’s survivors were caught and received varying sentences, including life imprisonment, hard labour and, in some cases, execution by guillotine.

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