American gangsters John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd are depicted in the movie, Public Enemies, being released in July 2009. The gangsters dominated the attention of the country in the early 1930’s in what has been named the “public enemy” era.
Dillinger was believed to have been associated with gangs who allegedly robbed dozens of banks in Indiana, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin accumulating a total of more than $300,000.
Dillinger’s life of crime began in Indianapolis in 1924 at the ripe
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Dillinger was paroled from prison in 1933 after serving 8 ½ years of his sentence. Four months later, he was arrested in Ohio for allegedly robbing a bank in Bluffton, Ohio. He was booked into the county jail in Lima, Ohio to await trial. While awaiting trial his gang sprung him, killing the jailer, Sheriff Jessie Sarber, in the process.
On January 15, 1934 while robbing a bank in Indiana, Dillinger was confronted by Officer William O’Malley, who shot him several times. Dillinger, who was wearing a bullet proof
vest, was unharmed but in turn he allegedly shot and killed Officer O’Malley.
Dillinger and his gang (Russell Clark, “Fat Charles” Makley, and “Handsome Harry” Pierpont) eventually made their way to Tucson, Arizona in January 1934. Dillinger rented a house located at 927 North Second Avenue. Gang members Clark and Makley checked into the Hotel Congress under aliases. On the night of January 22, 1934 a fire started in the basement of the hotel and spread up to the third floor. The desk clerk notified them of the fire and the two escaped by aerial ladders. As the story goes, Clark and Makley asked two firemen to retrieve their luggage.
The luggage revealed their true identities and the fireman notified the Tucson Police Department. Dillinger and his gang were arrested at his house on January 25, 1934.
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The police seized three Thompson submachine guns, two Winchester rifles mounted as machine guns, five bulletproof vests, and more than $25,000 in cash (allegedly part of a robbery in East Chicago). Some of Dillinger’s weapons are on display at the Tucson Police Department.
Dillinger and his gang were arraigned at 9:30 the next morning by Pima County Justice of the Peace Charles Budlong. Clark, Makley, and Pierpont were extradicted to Ohio to face charges for allegedly killing Sheriff Sarber.
Dillinger was sent to the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Indiana to face trial for allegedly killing Officer William O’Malley. The jail was supposedly “escape-proof” and was guarded by police and National Guardsmen. Nevertheless, Dillinger escaped. Stealing the Sheriff’s brand new Ford V-8, he drove across the Indiana-Illinois state line violating federal laws and capturing the attention of the FBI. He continued to rob banks and eventually the U.S. Department of Justice offered a $20,000 reward for his capture.
Dillinger was gunned down in front of Chicago’s Biograph Movie Theatre by three FBI agents on July 22, 1934. He never faced trial for any of his alleged crimes.
The courtroom where Dillinger and his gang appeared in January 1934 has been preserved to its original condition and the courthouse is on the historic registry. The historic courtroom may be toured by the public when court is not in session.
For tour information, please call 724-3510.
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