This is an excerpt from the writings of Bill Berry, New Carlisle, OH Historian
It was here that he would meet a man that would strongly influence the rest of his life-Harry “Pete” Pierpont who was from Leipsic, Ohio, along with “Fat Charley” Makley, a forty-four year old bank robber from Ohio, John “Red” Hamilton, a tough, intelligent thirty-four year old bank robber, Russell Clark, a young man who was in jail for a single bank robbery, and later Martin Dietrich who taught Pierpont and his colleagues the “correct” procedures for robbing a bank.
John’s period of infamy began on May 10, 1933, when he was paroled from prison after having served 8 ‘/2 years of his sentence. A couple of weeks after being paroled Dillinger had lined up two of the men Pierpont had recommended, William Shaw and Paul “Lefty” Parker, telling them his name was “Desperate Dan” Dillinger, one of the many alias he would use during his crime spree. Other aliases used included Frank Sullivan, Joseph Harris, John Hall, John Donovan, and Carl Hellman. Shaw and his ex-con friend, Noble Claycomb were a part of a group that called themselves the White Cap Gang, which specialized in small local robberies.
Late in the evening of Tuesday June 20, 1933, Dillinger, Shaw, Parker, and Claycomb drove from Indianapolis to New Carlisle, Ohio. Shaw, the last surviving member of Dillinger’s bank robbery gang, and one of the few to die from natural cause, revealed in an interview with Bob Greene, syndicated Chicago newspaper columnist, just prior to his death in 1977 the circumstances surrounding the New Carlisle National Bank heist. At the time of the interview Shaw was living with an old friend but wanted to go back to Indianapolis, if he could find the bus fare.
Here’s the way Greene says Shaw tells the story. Shaw was living in the penitentiary hospital at Springfield, Missouri. His prison term ran out and now, for one of the few times since his childhood, he was a free man. Emphysema made it difficult for Shaw to breathe, and Greene said “he had the shakes so bad that his hands will not hold still even for a minute. When he talked though, it is of the days when he was a swaggering punk stickup man, sure that he was tougher than the whole world, and proud of the nickname Dillinger gave him the first time they met, “the Kid.”
Shaw, who was 19 when he first met Dillinger in Indianapolis, reported that Dillinger had heard about a small bank in Ohio at which a rear window to a rest-room was usually left open a crack, even at night. “We got to New Carlisle while it was still dark,” Shaw said. “It was a little bank. Dillinger had gotten a good tip someplace-it went just like he said. We went through the window next to the toilet, and that let us in the bank.” “We crawled in and we lay behind the counter till the place started opening up. I remember us lying on the floor there, and John carrying a big gun. We tied the people up as they came in. We got about $13,000 out of that one,” Shaw said
Shaw’s story seems plausible when connected with some of the true facts and or alleged stories passed down through the years from those who were actually present (bank employees) during the holdup and a host of other who provided second hand information. Some of the truth has meshed with some poetic license or myth if you will.
A little before 8:30 a.m., as he unlocked the front door and stepped inside he was immediately confronted by the armed men and threatened with death if he mad an outcry. In an attempt to retrieve the combination to the safe from a drawer, he was asked, “What are you Doing?” Grisso replied, “I have to get the combination in order to open the safe. Dillinger told him to go ahead.”
Failing to open the safe quickly enough one of the gangsters grew impatient. He looked at Dillinger and said, “let me drill him, let me plug him. . .he’s stallin.” But Dillinger waved him off and said, “take your time buddy-but open it.” Dillinger was the only one who directed things according to Mr. Grisso. “He was very calm and it appeared that the other guys were doped up or something-their eyes were poppin’ and wild looking.”
Dillinger remained unflustered even after Grisso told him he didn’t have a key to the cash drawer once the doors to the vault were open and they would have to wait for the arrival of Carl Enoch, cashier, to open the drawer where the money and other valuable could be found.
Miss Mata Taylor, assistant cashier, and her twin sister Maude were next to arrive and they too were bound with cord and forced to lie on the floor behind the cashier’s cage where they could not be seen by persons passing in front of the building. Mata and Maude reported that Dillinger was polite and not threatening to his victims and that he had suggested that they lay their bank smock’s on the floor to lie on so as not to get their clothes dirty.
Just a few minutes before nine o’clock, Carl Enoch, cashier, and Grant Widener, a local farmer and patron of the bank entered. They too were confronted by guns. Widener had sold “a big load of hogs” the day before and was itching to deposit the $500 check stuffed in his bib overhauls. With a revolver stuck in his back, He was told by one of the robbers, “Fanner, you came to the bank too early this morning.” He was bound and forced to lie on the floor along with Grisso and Taylor while Enoch was ordered to open the cashier’s drawer. He complied with their demand and then he too was tied up and forced to lie on the floor with the others.
Placing the money in bags and not seeming to be in any great hurry, the robbers walked to the rear of the building and crawled out the window they had entered by and ran through the rear yard at the home of Mrs. Martha Weeks (Martha Nichols). Today this is the home of Sally and Al Raiteri. They continued around the rear of the building to Jefferson Street where Noble Claycomb was waiting in a new Ford vehicle. They made their escape traveling east on Route 71(571 today) strewing nails for nearly a mile on the highway to thwart any pursuit.
Mrs. Weeks having seen the men run through her yard went to the home of Mrs. Erb (Olive) Luse, next door, to inform her about the strangers. They went to the rear of the bank and noticed the window of the bank building was raised.
They called and cashier Carl Enoch asked them to come in and untie them, which they did. The alarm was given and Sheriff George Benham and his deputies along with Springfield Chief of Police George Abele and Sgt. John W. Law quickly responded.
The headlines of the Springfield Daily News, Home Edition that evening read: “New Carlisle Bank Robbed of $10,000 By Bandit Gang” “Employees Bound and Tied While Trio Loot Vault!” The Springfield Sun called the robbery “one of the most cleverly executed crimes in the county’s history,” in a front page story that ran in the Morning edition on June 22.
The following day, Bank officials reported that a check of the money taken had been completed. The check disclosed that the robbers obtained $10,500 in currency and $600 in Liberty bonds. The robbers had virtually “cleaned out” the bank according to the Thursday Springfield paper. The New Carlisle National Bank was reopened for business sometime on Thursday after receipt of a shipment of currency from the Federal Reserve Bank at Cleveland.
Photographs of suspected and known bank robbers were shown to employees but they failed to recognize any of these. It was believed that two of the robbers were connected with two recent holdups in Lodiville and Zanesville but that proved to be false.
But this was just the beginning of what was to become a major crime spree throughout the Midwest.
Dillinger and his colleagues hit a drug store and another supermarket, coming away with $3600 the next day, June 22, which happened to be John Dillinger’s birthday.
In these two robberies it became clear to John that his accomplices were incompetent. He started to contact other men on Pierpont’s list. Claycomb and Shaw were soon arrested and sent to jail.
Further investigation by local and county law enforcement officials revealed
that the automobile in which the bandits fled had been parked on Jefferson Street about two blocks west of the bank.
It was noticed by a pedestrian at about 7:30 a.m. with a stranger behind the wheel. No thought was given to the car or its passenger at the time, since it was parked in front of the home of New Carlisle physician, Dr. Arthur W. Detrick whose office was located in the basement of his home (second house from corner of Jefferson and Church —south side).
Those who had noticed the vehicle assumed it was an individual waiting for the Doctor to open his office for business.
Martha Weeks Nichol, who ran a beauty shop out of her home, had a customer in for a perm, and already under the dryer. Olive Luse (who lived where Edward Jones Investments are located today at 212 E. Main St.) was hanging laundry on the line. Doe Brush, (who lived at 110 E. Jefferson where Gracy/Smith offices are located today) the local vet, sat on his porch reading the newspaper.
Others went about their business unaware of what was about to go down at the New Carlisle National Bank.
After it was all over, they put the pieces together, hindsight yielding understandings that foresight had denied. Martha remembered that her dog had started barking in the middle of the night, something he never did before.
She had risen early and peeked out her bathroom window to see the black four-door Ford with the red wire wheels the bandits ultimately used for the getaway sitting in front of her house, but she thought it was her supplier from Columbus bringing bottles of permanent wave solution.
She gave no further thought to it, in spite of the fact that the bank had been robbed twice before in the last year or two.
In both cases, the robbers were caught and one was killed in a shootout with police.
Tidy Mrs. Baker, who swept the sidewalk and gutter every morning, was said to have tapped on the window of the unfamiliar car and asked the fellow to kindly move to which he complied.
The bank robbery spawned a lot of rumors according to Grisso. Supposedly, one rumor going around was that Dillinger had gone into Joe Wilcox’s Hardware Store the day before and purchased a keg of roofing nails, another that he had purchased the nails just that morning.
But unless William Shaw was incorrect as to when they arrived in New Carlisle, these rumors are not really plausible.
There was even a rumor about an “inside man”, according to Grisso. . . “A local person.” This too was never confirmed.
Grisso himself says that he remembers Dillinger or someone that looked an awful lot like him coming in the bank the day before to get some change.
Others though including Mr. Widener, Mrs. Weeks and Mrs. Luse questioned whether or not it really was John Dillinger and his gang.
Widener was later asked if he thought he might be able to recall the robber’s appearance to which he responded, “no, because I was concentrating on that revolver.”
Indiana was clamoring for his return to that State to stand trial for a series of robberies including the $24,000 holdup of the Massachusetts Avenue State Bank in Indianapolis on Sept. 6, 1933, a bank in Muncie and another in Montpelier, Indiana. Pennsylvania wanted him for alleged robberies in Bedford and Farrell, PA. Allen County, Ohio also wanted him along with Harry Copeland and Hilton Couch for the robbery of the Citizens National bank in Bluffton, Ohio on August 14.
The fight among law enforcement officials was ended when Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Robert C. Patterson, ruled the gangster would be turned over to Allen County. On September 28, 1933 a heavily armed escort from Montgomery County transferred John Dillinger to Lima to stand trial for the Bluffton robbery.
The day before his extradition, the group known as “The First Dillinger Gang” escaped from the Indiana Prison in Michigan City, Indiana using the weapons that Dillinger had smuggled into the prison. They took the warden and two guard’s hostage (later released) and walked out the front gate. They commandeered two cars, split up, and headed in different directions. Pierpont, Makley and others went to the home of Pierpont’s girlfriend Mary Kinder to change out of their prison uniforms and then hid out at a farm owned by Pierpont’s parents near Leipsic.
Among the escapees were Harry Pierpont, John Hamilton, Charles Makley, and Edward Shouse, Jr., Walter Dietrich, Jimmy Jenkins (Mary Longnacker’s brother), James “Oklahoma Jack” Clark, Joseph Fox, John Burns and Russell Clark. Jenkins was killed a short time after the breakout by a local posse.
On October 3, 1933 they robbed the First National Bank of St. Mary’s, Ohio in hopes of getting enough money so as to return the favor of springing John Dillinger out of the Lima jail.
On October 12, 1933, at 6:30 p.m., Pierpont, Charles Makley, Harry Copeland and Russell Clark entered the office of Sheriff Jesse Sarber at the Allen County jail in Lima, Ohio where he was seated at his desk reading. Sheriff Sarber, a former used car salesman, was elected sheriff in November 1931. During his nearly two years in office, he had become known as one of Allen counties most liked sheriff’s and had earned a reputation for the good treatment of his prisoners.
His wife had just finished serving the evening meal and now sat near her husband working a crossword puzzle. Deputy Wilbur Sharp, not in uniform, sat on a nearby couch. Dillinger was playing cards with a fellow-inmate. Sarber’s son Don was outside playing.
The three told Sarber they were from the prison in Michigan City, Indiana and wanted to question Dillinger. When Sarber requested identification, Pierpont is said to have replied, “Here is our credentials,” and pulled out his revolver. When Jesse Sarber reached for his gun in the desk, Pierpont fired one round into the sheriff’s stomach severing a major artery. When Sarber attempted to stand up, Makley pistol-whipped him about the head.
The three demanded the keys to the cell striking the dying sheriff again and again, stopping only when Mrs. Sarber cried, “Let Dad alone! I’ll get the keys!” Mrs. Sarber and Sharp were pushed into the cell as Dillinger picked up his jacket and before leaving knelt down to examine Sheriff Sarber who had been considerate of him. Avoiding Mrs. Sarber’s eyes he ran off with the other three who carried the jail keys with them.
Mrs. Sarber and Deputy Sharp broke out a window in the cell and began yelling for help, which soon arrived. Young Don Sarber heard the commotion and rushed into find his father lying in a pool of blood moaning. He called for an ambulance and then helped remove his mother and Sharp from the cell using an acetylene torch. As Sheriff Sarber was being carried away he said to his wife, “Mother, I believe I am going to have to leave you.” He was taken to Lima Memorial Hospital where for a time he regained consciousness and tried to describe what had happened. He died at 8:05 p.m. He was 45 years old.
After the Lima jail break, they headed south to Hamilton for a few days and then on to Chicago. Here they put together the most organized and professional bank robbing scheme ever devised. To implement the plan though, they were going to need an arsenal of weapons. On the evening of Oct. 20, 1933 Pierpont and Dillinger entered the Peru, Indiana Police Arsenal, subdued three lawmen, and made off with several loads of sawed-off shotguns, machine guns, and ammunition and bullet proof vests.
When this loot was added to the guns and ammunition they had taken from the Auburn, Indiana Arsenal robbery they were prepared to do business.
Three days later they robbed the Greencastle, Indiana National Bank. Without firing a shot and in precision like manner, Dillinger, Pierpont, Makley and Copeland walked out the door with $74,000. They continued their crime spree across the Midwest hitting a bank in Racine, Wisconsin where things didn’t go as well as in Greencastle. A bank teller and a police officer were wounded in Racine.
On Dec. 14, John Hamilton, a Dillinger gang member, shot and killed a police detective in Chicago. A month later in January, John Dillinger and John Hamilton were alleged to have robbed the First National Bank in East Chicago, Indiana. Police officer Patrick O’Malley was killed during this robbery and both Dillinger and Hamilton were wanted for his murder. O’Malley had seriously wounded Hamilton in the stomach during the robbery, but was killed when the outlaw returned fire.
Dillinger claimed he had nothing to do with this robbery as he was on his way to Wisconsin from Florida to pick up his girlfriend Billie Frechette. Hamilton would mend from this wound but was shot again just four months later and died.
Realizing that law enforcement was closing in on them they made their way to Florida and subsequently to Tucson, Arizona. There on Jan. 23, 1934 a fire broke out in the Hotel Congress where Clark and Makley were hiding under assumed names. Firemen recognized the men from photographs, and local police arrested them, as well as Dillinger and Pierpont. They also seized 3 Thompson submachine guns, two Winchester rifles mounted as machine guns, five bullet proof vests, and more than $25,000 in cash, a part of the East Chicago robbery.
Dillinger was sent back to Crown Point, Indiana to await trial for the murder of the East Chicago, Indiana police officer. Authorities boasted the jail was “escape proof.”
But on March 3, Dillinger cowed the guards with what he claimed to be a wooden gun he had whittled. He forced them to open the door to his cell, grabbed two machine guns, locked up the guards and several trustees, and fled. Dillinger made the mistake of taking the sheriffs car and driving across the Indiana-Illinois state line heading for Chicago.
By doing so he was in violation of the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act, which made it a Federal offense to transport a stolen motor vehicle across a state line.
The Bureau (later to be named FBI) became interested in Dillinger at this point. The heat he was feeling from law enforcement was about to get a lot hotter. For the next four months he eluded capture through disguise. He grew a mustache and a physician gave him a facelift. He poured acid on his fingertips to eradicate fingerprints.
On April 20, 1934, Dillinger and his gang of Homer Van Meter, Pat Reilly, John Hamilton, Lester Gillis, better known as “Baby Face” Nelson, who had only recently joined up with Dillinger, traveled to northern Wisconsin to spend some time relaxing and reorganizing at the Little Bohemia Lodge.
The proprietor soon learned who they were and got word to the Bureau special agent Melvin Purvis in Chicago who had been assigned to the Dillinger case by Bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover. Purvis and several agents chartered a plane to fly to Wisconsin.
They, along with local police, arrived three days later and set a trap near the lodge, but instead of capturing any of the outlaws, the G’men killed one innocent man and wounded two others who were leaving the resort. “Baby Face” Nelson killed one federal agent and wounded another before making good his escape. Dillinger and all the others made good their escape.
The embarrassing turn of events at Little Bohemia made J. Edgar Hoover and the Bureau more determined than ever to get Dillinger.
The opportunity presented itself on July 22. 1934, when Anna Miller Sage tipped off Purvis that she, Dillinger and girlfriend Potty Hamilton, would be attending a movie at either the Marbro or Biograph Theater in Chicago on the evening of July 22.
Later to be known as the “women in red” because of the outfit she would be wearing that night, Sage was an illegal immigrant from Rumania who was facing deportation charges.
She was in this country illegally and attempted to make a deal with Melvin Purvis that if she helped the Bureau to capture John Dillinger the government might be lenient an in fact allow her to remain here in the United States.
Purvis always claimed he gave her no assurance that he could do any thing for her as to her immigration dilemma.
The outfit she actually wore that evening, by the way, was an orange skirt that had turned scarlet under the bright lights of the theater’s marquee causing it to appear red.
Purvis, federal agents and a variety of police agencies were waiting outside in key locations that night when the two females and John Herbert
Dillinger exited the theater. In a prearranged signal to the lawmen, Purvis was to light a cigar to indicate that the man was in deed Dillinger. Agents and policemen closed in on their prey from all directions.
Dillinger spotted them and began running in a semi-crouching position, shifting his body in a zigzag motion like a football player running toward the goal line for a touchdown, all the time reaching toward his trouser pocket for his gun.
It was to no avail. Federal agents and policemen opened fire and cut him down in a nearby alley.
Of five shots fired by three Bureau agents, three found there mark and he fell face down on the pavement. Dillinger was struck twice in the chest, one actually nicking his heart.
The third shot, and no doubt the fatal shot, entered the back of his neck and exited just under his right eye.
The hunt for Public Enemy #1 was over. At 10:50 p.m. on 22 July, 1934, John Herbert Dillinger was pronounced dead in a Chicago hospital. He was 31 years of age. He was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Dillinger’s death was described in banner headlines in newspapers all across the country the following day. Jack Lait of the International News Service filed his story from Chicago that began:
“John Dillinger, ace bad man of the world got his last night-two slugs through his heart and one through his head... It took 27 men under the head of the Chicago Bureau to close Dillinger’s case and their strength came out of his weakness-a woman.”
Mrs. Horace Grisso happened to be attending the Chicago World’s fair when Dillinger was shot. She visited the Biograph Theater the next day while Dillinger’s body lay in a Chicago Morgue.
She reported that a large crowd had descended upon the theater. It was a carnival atmosphere.
A little old man who had witnessed the shooting the night before was yelling out a description of the shooting and subsequent death of Dillinger to all those who would listen.
She further exclaimed, “It was the kind of Sidewalk Theater you might expect to see in a big city like Chicago. But that’s not the sort of scene you’d be likely to witness in New Carlisle.”
The agents who brought Dillinger down were Charles Winstead, Clarence Hurt, and Herman Hollis. Each man was commended by J. Edgar Hoover for fearlessness and courageous action. It was never said as to who actually killed John Dillinger.
“The Terror Gang” was the name often ascribed to all those men and women who at one time or another made up John Dillinger’s three different gangs during his 13 1/2 month crime spree and most suffered violent deaths.
Tommy Carroll was killed by the police in Waterloo, Iowa. John Hamilton was gravely wounded in a shootout with authorities in St. Paul, Minnesota on April 23. He was taken to Aurora, Illinois where he lingered for eight days.
He died on April 30, 1934. Homer Van Meter was also killed by St. Paul, Minnesota police when resisting arrest on August 23, 1934.
Eddie Green died from wounds received by agents iin St. Paul on April 3, 1934. Charles Makley was shot to death during a failed attempted escape with his pal Harry Pierpont on Sept. 22, 1934 from the Ohio Penitentiary. Pierpont, after recovering from his wounds in the failed escape attempt, was put to death in the electric chair at the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus on Oct.17, 1934.
Baby Face Nelson went down in a blaze of glory after a deadly shootout with two federal agents. Nelson killed both agents, but 17 of the agent’s bullets made there mark on the outlaw.
He escaped in the agent’s car, after the shootout and died shortly after.
His wife and another companion later dumped his nude body on the side of the road by a graveyard.
Anna Miller Sage, the women in red, was deported back to Rumania a year after Dillinger was killed. She died there in 1947.
John Dillinger, while behind bars in the Allen County jail, Lima, Ohio, attempted to justify in a letter written to his father why he gave up and became a criminal.
“I know I have been a big disappointment to you but I guess I did too much time, for where I went in a carefree boy I came out bitter toward everything in general.”
He believed that nine years of his life were stolen from him for the attempted robbery of the grocery store clerk which he claimed occurred while he was intoxicated on moonshine.
Through the years few criminals have captured the imagination of the American public more than John Dillinger.
Even today the legend continues to grow as can be attested to by the recent new movie release “Public Enemies.”
And even we here in New Carlisle don’t wish to be left out of our claim to fame by acknowledging that the New Carlisle Bank was the first major robbery committed by Dillinger.
The successful conclusion to the Dillinger manhunt and his death, along with the death or capture of many others can be considered as the beginning of the end of the gangster era and the evolution of the Bureau.
With new powers, new skills, and within a year, a new name-Federal Bureau of Investigation-it was well on its way to becoming a premier law enforcement agency respected around the world.