The Ballad Of ‘Cowboy Bob,’ The Silent Serial Bank Robber Of Eastern Texas

Silhouette of Cowboy Leaning Against Wooden Post at Corral

Photo: Getty Images

It was May 1991 and the teller of American Federal Bank watched as a man with greying hair, a 10-gallon hat, sunglasses, bushy beard, leather jacket, and black gloves sauntered up to the counter and laid down a note.

“This is a bank robbery. Give me your money. No marked bills or dye packs,” it said.

“He” was in and out in around a minute, didn’t run, didn’t shout, didn’t brandish a weapon, and didn’t speed off in a getaway car. Police and FBI agents began following this mysterious bank robber, who they nicknamed “Cowboy Bob,” from robbery to robbery, never quite able to catch up.

As Jess Perkins explained to her Do Go On co-hosts, when authorities finally tracked down the car used in the robberies, they were in for quite a shock. In a recent podcast episode, the other two hosts Matt Stewart and Dave Warnke listened as Perkins described the absolute disbelief of investigators when they cornered “Cowboy Bob” only to find a motherly middle-aged woman named Peggy Jo Tallas.

“(FBI Agent Stephen) Powell asked her, ‘Now come on. Who is with you, where is he?” Perkins reported. “(Investigators) were desperate, so they looked around her home anyway. And that’s when they found in her bedroom closet... a mannequin head with a fake beard on it, men's clothing, a cowboy hat, and a sh*t ton of cash. And again, police questioned her as to where the man was.”

It was only when Powell noticed the grey dye in Tallas’ hair and the dried glue on her upper lip that he realized that “Cowboy Bob” had been standing in front of him the whole time. The disguise was ingenious. As Warneke pointed out, a bearded man wearing a cowboy hat in Texas is really common.

Perkins said Tallas was brought to the FBI office by agent Powell who announced to his colleagues, “Gentlemen, ‘Cowboy Bob’ is actually ‘Cowboy Babette.”

“Oh god was he workshopping that in the car?” Warneke asked incredulously.

“You had the whole drive to figure something out,” said Stewart. “Cowgirl Bob?” (We think “Cowgirl Bobbi Jo” has a nice ring to it, but we aren’t the professional comedy writers here.)

Tallas was sentenced to around three years in prison and led a quiet life immediately after her release. She continued to take care of her mother, which she had been doing during her stint as a bank robber. Following her mother's death, she packed up her belongings and spent some time on the road in an RV.

In 2005, Tallas began calling around to friends and relatives, wishing them well before she set off on what she alluded to be her final adventure. She was in her 60’s when she drove into Tyler, Texas and parked in front of a Guaranty Bank which had been robbed by a man with a fake moustache about six months prior.

“She walked through the front door of the bank, approached the teller and said, 'This is a robbery. I need all of your money, don’t set any alarms.” Perkins said. “In her haste to get away however she made one simple mistake, she didn’t check for a dye pack. It exploded as soon as she walked out of the door, covering the money in red ink. A plume of red smoke also began to rise from the satchel as she headed back across the street, dodging traffic to get back to her RV.”

People passing by saw her walking away from the bank, a bag of smoking cash in hand and called the police. Authorities quickly caught up to the RV and surrounded the vehicle when Tallas finally stopped. The bank robber walked back to her bedroom and picked up a toy gun, leaving her real one behind. She exited the RV and told police that they would have to kill her, raising the fake gun. Tallas was shot dead by officers, who were unaware the gun was a fake.

“For the FBI of course, the biggest question was how many other banks had Peggy Jo robbed,” said Perkins. “After studying the evidence from the October 2004 robbery at Guaranty Bank, (FBI Senior Agent Jeff) Millslagle did conclude that Peggy Jo was the robber.”

It is speculated that Tallas’ final confrontation with police was planned from the beginning. For instance, for her final robbery she not only went back to the same bank she had just robbed, but she dressed as herself. She also did not check for dye packs as she had so carefully done in the past and used the toy gun to force a shootout.

Check out “Cowboy Bob” to hear the full story of Peggy Jo Tallas. Every week, Do Go On releases new episodes of their fact-based comedy podcast. For each episode, one of the hosts presents a report about a listener suggested topic to the others. Find Matt, Jess, and Dave on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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