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Thursday, May 5, 2016

The pursuit of Public Enemy No. 1

Saturday, July 19, 2008

In the 1920s and early 1930s, the 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. According to Indiana State Police Sgt.Noel Houze Jr. in his "History of the Indiana State Police," 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 No. 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.

Indiana State Police Superintendent Al Feeney had no law enforcement background and appointed Capt. Matt Leach to head up the Indiana State Police in their 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.

One bank Dillinger robbed was the Central National Bank (now Old National Bank) in downtown Greencastle. Though reports are conflicting, this event was said to have taken place on Oct. 23, 1933 at 2:45 p.m. according to Tony Stewart's best-selling book, "The Hidden Truth."

The robbery in Greencastle was Dillinger's largest steal, reported to be over $74,000, though Dillinger himself claimed the take at only $32,000.

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 titled, "How to be a Detective."

"Despite all the taunting, Leach continued his relentless pursuit of Dillinger and his gang," Houze said.

In January 1934, Dillinger and a couple of his gang members robbed a bank in Chicago and then headed to Tucson, Ariz. to hook up with other gang members.

Dillinger kept up his taunting of Leach by sending him postcards 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 Indiana State Police intensified their efforts in their pursuit of Dillinger.

The pursuit of Dillinger 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.

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 weren't 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 earning her the moniker "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 Indiana State Police were not responsible for the final apprehension of Dillinger, their exhaustive efforts in pursuit of Public Enemy No. 1 is but just one chapter in that of their long and distinctive 75-year history," Houze said.

For more information on this visit www.johnniedillinger.freeservers.com/cus... or to read the 12-part series of the history of the Indiana State Police go to www.trooper.org/index22.html and click on "History of the Indiana State Police."

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