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Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015

Did John Dillinger spend some time in Worthington?

Posted Wednesday, May 12, 2010, at 12:37 PM

There is some lore in Greene County, at least in Worthington, about John Dillinger spending a few nights in town while laying low after a bank robbery. Whether it's true or not, the stories make for some interesting speculations about what all he did while he was in town and who hid him out.

The kids and I watched "Public Enemies" over the weekend -- we're all Johnny Depp fans -- which reminded me of a series of articles written by Sgt. Houze of the Indiana State Police about ISP history. One of the articles is about the time period when the ISP was after Dillinger.

Here it is.....

The Pursuit

of Public Enemy #1

By Sgt. Noel Houze, Jr.

In the 1920s and early 1930s our nation was struggling with the Great Depression and was divided over prohibition. Along with that, gangsters were making news headlines. Names like Machine Gun Kelly, Baby Face Nelson, Al Capone, and Bonnie and Clyde made headlines in local newspapers daily.

Indiana was not immune from these criminals and their merciless acts. In fact, a native son by the name of John Dillinger was making a name for himself. Born June 22, 1903 in Indianapolis and raised in Mooresville, John Dillinger became one of the most notorious gangsters of his day.

In 1921 he was caught stealing a car in Indianapolis. After escaping capture on foot, he later joined the U.S. Navy only to desert a few months later in December of 1923. After being arrested in 1924 for attempted robbery and assault with a deadly weapon, Dillinger was sentenced to 10-20 years in prison only to be paroled in 1933.

After getting parole, it didn't take long to hook up with some old prison mates and begin to earn his title as "gangster." Over the next 12-15 months Dillinger's exploits would eventually earn him the title of Public Enemy #1.

Most of his crimes were committed in the Midwest including his home state of Indiana. A new police department by the name of the Indiana State Police would pursue Dillinger throughout the state of Indiana and even across state lines before Dillinger would eventually be gunned down in Chicago in 1934.

ISP Superintendent Al Feeney had no law enforcement background and appointed Captain Matt Leach to head up the ISP pursuit of Dillinger. Leach, who had worked for many years as an officer with the Gary Police Department, first became aware of Dillinger in the summer of 1933 after Dillinger began robbing Indiana banks.

Over the next several months, Dillinger would taunt Leach. Dillinger made phone calls to Leach including one call saying, "You almost surprised me in Gary, gumshoe. Nice try." Dillinger even sent him a book once entitled, "How to be a Detective." Despite all the taunting, Leach continued his relentless pursuit of Dillinger and his gang.

In January of 1934, Dillinger and a couple of his gang members robbed a bank in Chicago and then headed to Tucson, Az., to hook up with other gang members. Dillinger kept up his taunting of Leach by sending him post cards saying, "Wish you were here." Eventually Tucson police managed to catch up to Dillinger and his gang members and took them into custody.

After the capture of Dillinger in Arizona, Leach flew to Tucson to escort Dillinger back to Indiana. He was to be held at the Lake County Jail in Crown Point. Despite Leach's urging to hold Dillinger in the more secure state prison in nearby Michigan City, Lake County officials declared their jail to be "escape proof."

Although there is not an exact historical confirmation, it was Dillinger's escape from the Lake County Jail that was said to have been accomplished when he carved a gun from a piece of wood and threatened the guards into letting him out.

It was after this escape the ISP intensified their efforts in their pursuit to capture Dillinger and his gang members -- it was a top priority. The pursuit had already resulted in the death of Eugene Teague, the first Indiana trooper killed in the line of duty in December 1933. Teague was killed in Paris, Ill., when Illinois and Indiana police staked out a hotel after receiving a tip Dillinger gang member Edward Shouse was meeting accomplices there to plan a bank robbery.

One of the first Indiana troopers, George Daugherty, recalled the hunt for Dillinger in a 1976 article in the Anderson Sunday Herald. According to Daugherty, the lack of manpower, a shortage of effective equipment, and no communications in vehicles made the hunt for Dillinger a nightmare. Daugherty says they (ISP) never got a day off. The Chicago Worlds Fair was going on at the time and troopers were covering six or seven counties at once. They were inundated with calls from people saying they had spotted Dillinger. Although nine out of 10 calls were false, they still had to follow up on them according to Daugherty. Daugherty even commented that his involvement in the Dillinger case didn't even end with Dillinger's death. He said he was among a contingency of troopers assigned to the security detail at Dillinger's funeral.

The pursuit of John Dillinger ended in 1934 in Chicago. Dillinger was set up by Anna Sage, a Romanian immigrant facing deportation. She struck a deal with the FBI and agreed to help them capture Dillinger. On July 22, 1934 she and Dillinger would travel to the Biograph Theater to see Clark Gable and William Powell in the movie Manhattan Melodrama. Since Dillinger had undergone plastic surgery, FBI agents were not sure they would be able to recognize him. Sage would be with Dillinger when they exited the theater so he could be identified. Sage was wearing an orange dress but in the lights outside the theater it looked red thus earning her the moniker, the "Lady in Red." When FBI agents approached Dillinger from behind he spotted them and began to run as he reached into his pocket to retrieve his gun. The agents opened fire killing Dillinger.

While the ISP were not responsible for the final apprehension of Dillinger, their exhaustive efforts in pursuit of Public Enemy #1 is but just one chapter in that of their long and distinctive over-75 year history.

Thanks to the ISP for providing this article.

Anna is a staff writer at the Greene County Daily World and can be reached by calling 847-4487 or by sending an e-mail to indianarose@fastmail.us .

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If you readers have time, many Dillinger articles make interesting reading, as well as entertainment from viewing the Michael Mann's "Public Enemies" film, and legends of Dillinger in Greene and Daviess Counties; however, we should all be wary of historical inaccuracies and embellishments in many exploitation tales of outlaw John Dillinger!

Sgt. Houze's article quotes an often logical fallacy about Dillinger sending the "How to Be a Detective" to Captain Leach. In reality, two Indianapolis journalists did this as a prank.

This is documented in several crime research books regarding Dillinger facts.

Mann of "Miami Vice" fame did a great job in recreating bank job sites in the Midwest, period cars, weapons, and wardrobe for many sets. We were fortunate to be in Crown Point during the filming at the Lake County jail. There are many critical reviews of Mann's film online that point out several chronological errors in the history; e.g. Pretty Boy Charley Floyd gets gunned down by Melvin Purvis at the beginning of the film. Actually, Floyd outlives Dillinger by a few months as a public enemy, while it is hotly contested that Purvis never actually shot Floyd, but is often given the distinction due to FBI scripting by Hoover in Washington. Hoover seems to have been an eager bureaucrat who commanded the press and would pitch yarns to advance his own purposes and sometimes against some of his own men. Research the bitterness that Hoover launched toward Melvin Purvis when the press gives him the limelight as a national hero after the death of Dillinger. Purvis and his own son's account show many years of dislike by Hoover after Purvis finally left as a G-man which ironically ends in the top agent's suicide.

Here is another Hoover example: In eager pursuit of members of the Barker-Karpis Gang, Hoover elevated the criminal stature of the gang members' traveling mother, "Ma Barker", as the brains behind the operations. Several testimonies of those involved on both sides of the law stated that her son had to take care of the mother's simple needs on the lamb, so she had to travel across state lines with them between bank jobs and hiding out. Mainly, she sat and listened to the radio daily. Hoover knew that to get these elusive guys, the Bureau may have a shootout with the mother killed as well. So, he apparently embellished her character so as not to lose favor with the media and the era's readership over having to shoot the mother, too. Later, she died as predicted, held up in a home amidst a fiery shootout near Ocala, FL.

I can guarantee if you research several documented accounts of what happened outside the Biograph in Chicago in 1934, and immediately thereafter, you'll be scratching your head as to what actually occurred with agents firing, East Chicago police's involvement, whether Dillinger ever pulled a gun, and whatever occurred with the cash he was carrying at the time.

Look online into two retired FBI agents' very recent efforts at trying to locate Dillinger's original gun which got apparently misplaced after being removed from a display in Washington. There was another rumor that Hoover gave another Dillinger trophy gun to comedian Red Skelton as a gift!

Be sure to find out what Agent Winstead recalled about Dillinger's last, gasping moments. This is very unlike how "Public Enemies" ended.

Also, if you read published family accounts of Dillinger's life or are lucky to speak with a Dillinger relative in Mooresville today, you will get completely different glimpses of Dillinger's life, as opposed to what films and criminal records show.

I own approx. twenty authoritative books on the Dillinger era, and I can safely say that I believe less about Dillinger today than what I thought I knew twenty years ago.

Having talked with retired Indiana State Police officers who knew elderly officers around in the Dillinger days who were retiring when these guys I talked with were just joining the force, I highly respect all Indiana law enforcement officers having to deal with these robbers in a time when there were limited budgets to fight crime, no police radios in Indiana, the outlaws had superior firepower, stolen bullet proof vests and often better stolen vehicles, such as the choice Hudson Esssex Terraplane 8, and the Ford V8, etc.

-- Posted by LITERATI on Wed, May 12, 2010, at 8:07 PM

There was an old bullet hole ridden car in the woods by my Grandfather's house in Smith Township back in the 60's that he "claimed" was John's car. It was an old Coupe type car. It was cool to think when out hunting it may have been a car Dillinger stole somewhere.

Could have just been a rumor, could have been target practice from the hunters. (Prob the later)

-- Posted by gary g on Wed, May 12, 2010, at 9:07 PM

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Anna Rochelle is editor of the Greene County Daily World and can be reached on Facebook or by sending an email to indianarose@fastmail.us.