There are innumerable records in the rivalry annals of DePauw and Wabash. Theft and vandalism became part of the annual tradition between the two schools. Once the Monon Bell joined the fold in 1932, it gave birth to inventiveness in students looking to formulate the perfect heist. One of these heists was the 1965 “Operation Frijoles,” and the mastermind behind this legendary heist was Jim Shanks ‘67.
Jim Shanks ‘67 scheduled a meeting with DePauw president William Kerstetter claiming to be a representative of the US Information Service in Mexico City. During the meeting, Shanks convinced Kerstetter to offer two full scholarships for international students. To “seal the deal,” Shanks asked to take photos of various subjects of interest on campus to show the “prospective” Mexican students more about DePauw University.
One item that Shanks asked to photograph in specific was the Monon Bell that had been in DePauw’s possession after the 22-21 victory in 1965. At first the administration was skeptical of showing him the Bell, as one of the DePauw faculty present in the meeting said, “the last time we told someone where the Bell was, it got stolen.” But after having a quick look at Shanks’ credentials, the University’s Athletic Director led Shanks to the location of the Bell, and also invited a few female DePauw students to spruce up the photo.
Later that evening, Shanks and three friends drove the same car he used in the afternoon onto the DePauw campus. Authorities noticed and told the group to leave town. With police diverted by Shanks, another group of Wabash men broke into the maintenance building and seized the bell.
Scott Simpson ‘95 first heard about the 1965 heist during his freshman year at Wabash in 1991. After hearing the story, Simpson thought that “it was strange that aside from the heist story, there wasn’t any other mention of Jim Shanks during his time on campus or about his life after Wabash. But what I found most interesting was that the person who was most associated with the Monon Bell, the trophy for a football game, was a guy who never played a down of football in his life.”
“The story of the 1965 heist is woven into the fab ric of this college. It is a rich, multi-layered story that goes way b eyond the handful of recycled facts that most people are familiar with.Scott Simpson ‘95
Simpson got the inspiration to write about the 1965 heist in 1993, during the 100th anniversary of the Monon Bell game.
“Sports Illustrated was coming to campus to write a feature story on the game, and everyone was really excited,” Simpson said. “As a student at the time I wanted to contribute somehow, so I thought I’d try to find Shanks and write a story about the heist for The Bachelor, but when I looked him up in the alumni directory, I saw he was deceased, so I gave up on the idea.”When the pandemic began, Simpson started to look for productive ways to spend his time, and found it by writing short stories.
“I started researching and writing little stories I found interesting. A lot of these stories had a Wabash or military connection, and sometimes both,” said Simpson. “I just shared these stories with friends on Facebook, and they helped me pass the time. Then I remembered my long-forgotten attempt to write a story about Jim Shanks, and I thought I’d give it another try.”
Simpson looked for the old article in The Bachelor that described the 1965 heist and listed Shanks’ accomplices. Simpson found out that one accomplice, Karl Fritch, was still alive and found an email address for him in the alumni directory. That, according to Simpson, was what started everything.
Initially, Simpson just wanted to write a little story about the heist for fun to share with his Facebook friends. But with the power of the internet, he “discovered an abundance of fantastic information. I recognized that this story was bigger than me, so I contacted Gregg Doyle at the Indianapolis Star and shared all of my research with him, hoping he would write something for the paper and the story would get the audience it deserved. He thought it was a great story, but ultimately he didn’t really know what to do with it and never wrote anything about it for the Star.”
Simpson didn’t have professional experience in filmmaking, but during the pandemic he took an online course, taught by Ken Burns on documentary filmmaking. This course inspired him to take all of his Shanks research and make a short film.
Simpson made his first draft of the Shanks film last December, and shared it with Wabash Alumni who were on campus in 1965. He said that after doing that he got a lot of positive feedback and “a few of them even gave me some new information, so I recently made some revisions.”
“I am not a professional filmmaker— this is just a hobby,” Simpson explains. “The film is still a work in progress. For me, it’s like an old classic car in the garage that I tinker with from time to time. I don’t know what will come of it. I hope a professional filmmaker sees my humble effort, recognizes what a great story it is, takes over the project and makes a film that’s beyond my limited abilities.”
During the process of putting the film together, Simpson said he had the privilege of connecting with a lot of alumni from the 1960s and he had learned about their experiences at Wabash, which turned out to be an unexpected treat.
“The story of the 1965 heist is woven into the fabric of this college,” said Simpson. “It is a rich, multilayered story that goes way beyond the handful of recycled facts that most people are familiar with.”