They were a gang of four: bank robbers who set their sights on the Deep River Savings Bank a year before they arrived that cold December night. Once the shooting was over, the number was down to three.
The lead man, caught trying to pry open one of the bank’s tall windows, was shot and killed. With a body unclaimed by family or friend, the town buried him in Fountain Hill Cemetery where his small block of a headstone sits in a remote corner. It’s marked only with the initials “XYZ.”
It was the winter of 1899, and the bank had been tipped off a year before to a possible robbery. They were ready with a hired guard, a local man named Harry Tyler who was vigilant and good with a gun. How the bank knew so far in advance isn’t quite clear, but they put Tyler on the case, and every night he sat, waiting for something to happen.
On December 13th the four showed up, including one “deep-dyed criminal” (that’s what the paper called him) with a long black mustache. After Tyler’s one shot, the other three scattered, never to be caught. The unidentified man was buried in a donated plot near the railroad tracks.
Shortly after the burial Tyler received a letter, anonymous, but in a woman’s handwriting. She asked that the grave be marked only with the letters XYZ, and the cemetery complied: first with a simple engraved cross, and eventually with a small stone.
The mystery of XYZ grew over time, kept alive by the yearly sighting of a woman in black who arrived at Deep River Landing every December. Without a word spoken, it’s said she would walk the tracks from the tiny station to the cemetery, only a mile or so away, visit the grave, and leave a small flower. For 40 years people claimed to see her.
The legend of XYZ is well known in this small Connecticut town, and most claim that the bank robber’s name has always been a mystery. But a look back at newspaper coverage did finally identify him: a professional criminal named Frank Howard, who went by several other names over the course of his career. But the one name that stuck has only three letters.
Know Before You Go
Deep River is on the Connecticut River, in the south central part of the state. Fountain Hill Cemetery is just east of downtown, and the XYZ grave is located on the eastern back edge, towards the railroad tracks. Ask any groundskeeper or local, and they can surely point you in the right direction. The headstone is of the smallest on the grounds and is about the size of a shoebox.
Citizens Bank, at 141 Main Street, is not the original Deep River Savings Bank building, but here you can see the small display case with the gun, shell casing, and some photos and accounts of the story.