ST.LOUIS -- To reach the elegant teller cages of Southside Bank, customers must scale a long flight of stairs. The bank's founders planned it that way for a simple reason: to discourage robbers.

It may not be quite so easy to head off James F. Dierberg, an aggressive acquirer of small banks and thrifts in the Midwest. Mr. Dierberg already controls 20% of the stock in Southside Bancshares Corp.--and his next move is anyone's guess.

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