Broadwater Grocery
A Neighborhood Market West of Helena
Scene of a Robbery and Killing in 1939


Above is a 2008 photo of what remains of the Broadwater Grocery. From 1935 to 1967, it was a handy stop at the Highway 12 & Williams St. intersection west of Helena, supplying groceries, beer and, for a time in its earlier years, gasoline. Only the rear residence part of the building remains, the rustic front retail section having been removed when the highway was widened in the 1960s. Thanks to Scott Nelson for this photo!

The intersection has long been a lively one. It was across the road from the Broadwater Hotel and Natatorium, and a mile from Fort Harrison -- which made it a handy R&R stop for military men. Two raucus roadhouses, several service stations and two restaurants operated near the crossroads over the decades. Like almost everywhere in Montana before the 1940s, gambling was a staple in these establishments.

1955 aerial photo superimposed on a recent satellite image.

Broadwater Grocery Ad, 1953

Your editor admits to a nostalgic fondness for the Broadwater Grocery, having grown up in the neighborhood from 1950 to 1969. When I was first aware of the store, around 1954, it was owned by Tom and Lucille Root; it was always a treat when my dad would say, "Let's go see Tom", because I knew that cold pop, candy or maybe even fireworks were in the offing. The store was the favorite destination of every neighborhood boy I knew, and we spent a lot of silver there during our growing-up years.

The Roots sold out in 1955 to Tony and Jane Schultz, who operated it until 1967, when the widening of the highway forced them to close. The front of the store was removed, but I believe the Schultzs continued to live in the residence for some time.

The builder of the enterprise, Fred "Scotty" Palmer, retired in 1943, selling to Alberto and Gladys Whitney. They sold to Herman and Vi Rupp in 1950, who in turn sold to Tom Root in 1952. At least that's as close as I can track it.

If anyone has photos of the Broadwater Grocery, please contact me.

Now for the exciting part...


On Saturday, March 11 1939, three experienced slot-machine hijackers from Butte, Montana drove to Helena in a Dodge coupe, looking for places to rob. William Foster (1910-1939), Elwood Burton Crawford (1910-1966), and Edward "Babe" Netterberg (1906-1973) cruised the area for hours, until about 10:00 pm, when they stopped at the Broadwater store.

Foster went inside, bought a pack of cigarettes from owner Fred "Scotty" Palmer (1876-1969) and loitered for a few minutes, casing the place. Foster decided that the Broadwater Grocery and filling station looked like an easy target.

The trio decided to wait until the following morning to hit the store, intending to surprise Palmer when he opened up. To kill time, the boys spent the night driving to East Helena, then to Townsend and back, looking for future holdup opportunities.

They returned to Broadwater around 6:00 am on Sunday morning, and parked on "an upper road and about a quarter mile east of the gas station" (presumably Hauser Blvd., which at that time went through to the highway) and waited for the owner Fred "Scotty" Palmer to open up. When they saw the store lights come on, they drove down...


Netterberg remained in the car as the getaway driver, while Foster led the way into the store with Crawford close behind him. Foster thrust his hand into the pocket of his dark blue overcoat, in which was a loaded .38 revolver, and told Palmer, ""This is a stickup! These slot machines have to go, Dad." To which Palmer replied, "O. K.".

While Foster kept his revolver trained on Palmer, Crawford took the nickel machine and loaded it into the Dodge. He came back, picked up the dime machine, and took it outside.

Foster then turned away from Palmer momentarily to grab the cash drawer. Palmer backed away from Foster, toward a bedroom at the rear of the store (the part of the structure existing today). Palmer reached around a door sill and grabbed a 12-gauge Remington automatic shotgun which was leaning against the wall. When Foster turned around holding the cash drawer, Palmer fired. He was less than 12 feet away from Foster when he pulled the trigger. The blast of shot ripped away part of Foster's left sleeve, blew a four-inch-wide hole in the front of his overcoat, and entered his body just under the heart.

"Oh!" Foster cried, dropping the cash drawer to the floor, scattering the $10 in change that it held. He fell to the floor, got up, staggered out the door, and fell again. Crawford, outside with the dime slot machine, dropped it and ran north toward Ten Mile Creek. Netterberg exited the car and hid, crouching next to the building.

Palmer went outside with his shotgun and confronted Netterberg, who pleaded with Palmer not to shoot him. Palmer marched Netterberg across the highway to the Pepperbox (now the Corner Bar), where bartender Leonard Floydell called the Sheriff and ambulance, and held Netterberg until the Sheriff arrived.

Foster was taken by ambulance to St. John's Hospital, where he died less than four hours later of shock and hemorrhage.

Crawford hid in an outhouse near Ten Mile Creek, but was found a short time later by Sheriff Brian O'Connell.

In the Dodge were found several homemade blackjacks, and wiring which authorities said was similar to that used in blowing open safes.

A coroner's jury found that Palmer's shooting of Foster was justifiable. Crawford and Netterberg were each sentenced to three years in the state penitentiary. Foster was buried in Butte's Holy Cross Cemetery.

"I'm sorry this thing had to happen," Palmer said in The Helena Independent. "But when this fellow pointed a gun at me and was trying to steal my money there was only one thing I could do—and that was protect my property. I knew he meant business. The way he told me it was a stuck-up was without any sign of nervousness. And when he took my cash drawer, with money I worked hard to earn, I Just bad to do something about protecting myself."


Edward Netterberg


Elwood Benton Crawford