Frenzied Finance

Perhaps you read our story a couple of weeks ago about Asheville Mayor Gallatin Roberts, who committed suicide in February 1931 rather than face trial for banking law violations. You may have wondered about the fate of the other defendants in the case.

When a Buncombe County grand jury indicted Roberts, along with other public and bank officials, on charges of conspiring to misuse public funds for the benefit of Asheville’s Central Bank and Trust Company, Roberts initial reaction was to vehemently declare his innocence. Our collection includes a typed letter found among Roberts’ papers after his suicide. Below is the last paragraph of that letter. If only Roberts could have maintained that attitude of defiance!


In an emotional letter to his son shortly before the indictment, Roberts wrote, “You need not be surprised if the grand jury should indict the City Commissioners, the County Commissioners, all the bank officials and bank directors, but it will not amount to anything.” As it turned out, Roberts was right. Eventually only four men came to trial, three from a company in Tennessee which had dealings with the failed bank. The men were accused of “frenzied finance,” employing illegal methods such as check kiting to make the assets of the bank appear greater than they actually were. Three men were convicted and immediately launched appeals.

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The only Asheville man was Wallace B. Davis, former chair of the defunct Central Bank and Trust Company. After serving two and a half years of a five to seven year sentence, Davis was paroled by NC Governor Ehringhaus in April 1935. According to the Asheville Citizen-Times of 4/21/1935, Davis spent his time in prison reading the books he never had time to read before. He was greeted by many friends on his return to Asheville.

Less than a month later the paper reported that Davis had formed a company to manufacture and market “several articles for household use including a paste cleaner, a fly and insect killer, and a window cleaner.”


The 5/08/1935 article was accompanied by this photo with the caption: “The photograph made today at the little plant on Burton street where the Wallace B. Davis company is manufacturing a paste cleaner, shows a corner of the room where the cans filled with the product are being labeled. In the picture left to right, are: Wallace Davis Jr., John Nichols “Nick” Davis, Miss Sallie Case, Woodrow Crook; Jonathan Case, inventor of the product, and Wallace B. Davis.”

An Asheville Times article of 10/05/1937 reported that Wallace Davis had been granted a full pardon. I will leave it to others to draw parallels between those frenzied financial times and events of recent years.

Posted by Betsy Murray

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