On May 3, 1943, Dunkirk’s notorious “Umbrella Man” walked into Tofil’s Restaurant on East Front Street and, when the bartender wasn’t looking, stole $395 in cash and checks from a canvas bag in the drawer of a desk at the end of the bar. The suspect had paid numerous visits to the city in recent years, and city police nicknamed him the “Umbrella Man” because of the umbrella he carried to shield his face from onlookers as he made his escape. Police checked the local railroad yards and bus stations and sent a description of the suspect to authorities throughout the area, but no one had any information on the whereabouts of the Umbrella Man or the robbery on East Front Street.
Stanley Tofil married Salomea Kuznicki, the sister of Michael and Victoria (Drag) Kuznicki, on January 20, 1913 in Dunkirk. Stanley and Salomea had thirteen children, and they owned and operated Tofil’s Bar and Restaurant in the 1930s and 1940s. The two families were notorious for their back-door business deals; the Kuznicki’s had a few run-ins with the law for selling alcohol from a basement still, and the Tofil boys sat on the city council and the state senate to increase their influence in the area. I don’t know the full extent of their business transactions in Dunkirk and the surrounding area, but I do know this: you didn’t mess with the Kuznicki clan.
Searching for the Umbrella Man was the city police’s top priority, and the saga continued in the local newspaper for almost four months. A week after the robbery, the Observer reported: “A fragment of an American Locomotive company paycheck, part of the loot in the theft of a money bag from the Stanley Tofil restaurant on May 3, was found in a field east of the Alco plant on Wednesday afternoon…The number of the draft was discernible and a check-up revealed it had been cashed at the Tofil restaurant.” This torn check was the “sole clue” to the robbery for the next two months.
The headline in the July 26, 1943 edition of the Dunkirk Evening Observer reads: “Patrolman Reilly Nabs Man Sought Here for 6 Weeks: ‘Umbrella Man’ is Suspect in Stanley Tofil Theft Case.” Police were furnished with a description of the suspect and all patrolmen were instructed to be on the lookout for him. Although a three-state alarm was sent out at the time over state police teletype systems, no trace of the Umbrella Man was found–until the morning of July 26, when Patrolman Reilly saw a man walking near the Main-East Seventh street intersection. According to the article, “Like the proverbial elephant, Reilly remembered the description of the Tofil case suspect and the officer took the Umbrella Man into custody.” The Umbrella Man turned out to be Albert Beyers, and he had seventeen theft convictions in other parts of the country. Beyers pled not guilty, but the local judge sentenced him to one year in jail, the latter six months of which could be suspended (provided that Beyers left the city for good).