Playing the System: The Martin Appel Case
On June 6, 1986, the 42nd anniversary of the historic D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II, people across America still remembered the significance of the day. In fact, one person strongly sought to identify himself with the courageous feats of Allied soldiers that day, but in a way that would defile rather than honor the date.
Bath, a village in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, north of Bethlehem, was so small a driver who blinked might miss it. The area was considered both quiet and safe, which might explain why few were prepared for what was about to take place. Late that summer morning, just after 11:00 a.m., two men drove through town in a brown Monte Carlo.
Martin Daniel Appel, a thin, slightly shorter than average man, was the mastermind of an impending bank heist. His partner, Stanley Hertzog, was going along for the promise of easy money. But Appel had more than robbery in mind. In fact, no one would have guessed at the long-range magnitude of his scheme.
He viewed himself as a genius, powerful and nigh invincible, the general of an army. A World War II buff, one source says he referred to his car as the USS Lexington and dubbed what he was about to do as a "mission." He lived in a trailer five miles from the bank, a nobody who aspiring to significance. He was also deep in debt.
It was a Friday, pay day, so Appel knew there would be plenty of money at his target, the isolated First National Bank in Bath. Branch manager Marcia Hauser, 31, had just a bit earlier opened for the day, and two bank tellers and a customer service representative were set up and ready. All three of the employees were mothers, and two were grandmothers.
Appel and Hertzog drove around the bank to examine it from all sides. At first, there were too many customers for their liking, but eventually only a few cars remained in the parking lot, and Appel knew which belonged to employees. The time was at hand to execute the plan. He went to a local restaurant to call a radio station and the Allentown police to report that a bomb would soon go off at the local airport. He hoped to draw all area state troopers there, too far away to respond easily to a bank alarm. Once that was done, he parked his car carefully in the bank's lot to facilitate their getaway.
The two men entered the building, one with a 9-mm automatic and the other a Colt .38 revolver, and, keeping the weapons concealed, each went to a teller to make a transaction. Then Appel opened fire, wounding one woman and killing the other. He turned and shot across the room at the customer service rep, Jane Hartman, and at her customer, Thomas Marchetto, a former marine, but failed to kill either. Then he shot at the bank manager, and she, too, escaped harm. Fearing he'd left witnesses, Appel crossed to the customer service area and shot Ms. Hartman, hiding under the desk, killing her. He shot Marchetto again, but only further wounded him. Hertzog then went after the manager, shooting her repeatedly, while Appel returned to the first wounded teller and, as he would later say, "put her out of her misery."
Then the gunmen grabbed some money and fled. Appel and Hertzog got away with a mere $2,280. They were unaware that they'd left two witnesses wounded but alive, as well as two other employees completely unharmed who'd been in a back room. They'd fled when they heard the shooting, running into a nearby field where they were able to see Appel drive away on Route 329. They urged the bank custodian, Walter Struss, who had just driven in, to follow the car. He did so, catching up when Appel and Hertzog were delayed by a slow tractor trailer. Struss got most of the license plate number.
A call went out immediately to all area police departments, who set up roadblocks around the county, while emergency personnel responded to the situation inside the bank. Marchetto and Hauser were taken to hospitals, but the other three were dead.
Within hours of the robbery, the outlaws were captured. They had hidden their guns and changed their clothes, but the car was easy to identify, and other witnesses had seen them. Despite their short-lived celebration of their "D-Day Invasion," they hadn't really managed any great feat. They soon heard reports about how much information the police had, so they went out to dump some incriminating items. They came up to a roadblock, and officers followed them until they pulled over and surrendered. So much for genius.
This story was fully covered in the Lehigh Valley's local papers, the Morning Call and Easton Express Times. The district attorney who inherited the case, John Morganelli, also wrote The D-Day Bank Massacre from his perspective. He relied on statements given by Appel, as well as court records. For him, it was a frustrating case, both politically and because his shrewd opponent knew how to play the system against itself.