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January 22, 1981

Pix #1 - Dillinger as a teenager with his father in Mooresville, IN

Pix #2 - John Dillinger

John Herbert Dillinger was born June 22, 1903, in Indianapolis to John Wilson and Mollie Dillinger. Born at his parents home, he was delivered by a mid- wife. His mother died in 1907, and the father remarried in 1912. An older sister helped rear John. His grades in elementary school was above average. He was well liked and was said to be an extraordinary athlete, excelling in baseball.

His father sold his grocery store and other property before John's graduation from high school, and bought a modest farm outside Mooresville, IN., believing it was a better enviroment to raise John. But John didn't like the farm life and refused to help his father on the farm. He took a job in Indianapolis as apprentice machinist, going back and forth every day by motorcycle.

John stole a car in Mooresville, but abandoned it in Indianapolis. The car owner did not press charges.

IN U.S. NAVY 1923

He enlisted in the U.S. Army and after training at Greak Lakes was assigned to the USS Utah. he went AWOL several times, and became a deserter in 1923. He was utlimately discharged dishonorably.

Back in Indiana, he met and married Beryl Ethel Hovius in 1934. His marriage didn't seem successful and he spent much time playing baseball and shooting pool.

With Edgar Singleton, a former convict and umpire for the baseball team on which he played, they formulated a plan to rob a grocer in Mooresville as he carried his day's receipts home. During the robbery a gun which one of the assailants carried was discharged and it prompted the two to run from the scene.

Dillinger was suspected as taking part in the attempted robbery and was questioned. In the presence of his father he admitted his part in the attempted robbery. His father convinced John to confess, hoping for a lenient sentence, which the prosecutor thought would be forthcoming. The judge hearing the case was severe and gave a sentence of two to 14 years and 10 to 20 years on the two charges of conspiring to cimmit a felony and assault with intent to rob. He also fined John $100 on each charge and disenfranchised him for 12 years. The older accomplice who had actually perpetrated the crime got off with a lighter sentence and was paroled in two years.

When Dillinger was imprisoned, that was really his start on the path to crime. He told the warden he wouldn't cause any trouble except to escape. He tried many times but was captured and finally landed in Michigan City, Indiana State Prison. There he met Harry Pierpont, a young criminal, who with John Hamilton Homer Van Meter and other, hos career in crime was shaped.


Dillinger was never a vicious killer, as opposed to some of his gang members. Many times he averted killings by members of the gang. Whenever his associated did kill during holdups, Dillinger was reported to have said, "Why did you do that?"

Dillinger often bragged that he could rob a bank without harming anyone. He was always pleasant to the teller and cashiers when asking them to hand over all the money.

Dillinger was paroled from Michigan City May 22, 1933. One report said that the following Sunday he attended the Friend's Church back in Mooresville. The pastor Gertrude W. Reiner saw John sitting with his father and preached a sermon on The Prodigal Son. Throughout the service he sat and cried, later telling the preacher how much good the sermon had done him.


Two weeks later, it was reported that Dillinger was active in recruiting ex-cons for his gang. And the next year or so he gained the reputation of being the most spectacular bank robber in the U.S. and was on the FBI's list of the most wanted men.

Dillinger was supposedly killed by FBI agents as he and his two girl friends left the Biograph Theatre in Chicago July 22, 1934. The story of his capture and death was splashed on the front pages of newspapers all over the country. FBI Agent Melvin Purvis had been informed by Anna Sage, "The lady in red" as she became known, of Dillinger's whereabouts and the intended visit to the theatre.


Years later, after Dillinger was supposedly killed, an investigative writer said the man killed was James Lawrence, not Dillinger, as disclosed by an autopsy, which had become lost. The report said that the dead man had brown eyes, Dillinger's were blue. The dead man had a rheumatic heart, Dillinger did not. The dead man was shorter, and also lacked Dillinger's scars, wounds and birth marks.

Was the FBI duped into believing the dead man was Dillinger?

Who was James Lawrence?

The investigative writer said Lawrence was a small time hoodlum, and that he was involved in an underworld scheme to provide Dillinger with a permanent escape. Whether or not he was willingly duped to the shootout, outside the theatre us unknown. The writer reasoned that because of a heart condition, Lawrence may have volunteered for the role, but it is actually unknown.

If Dillinger was not killed on July 22, 1934, what happened to him? When he visited his father's farm in May 1934, sometime after his gang visited Fostoria, he was reported as saying that hw was going on a long trip and he (his father) wouldn't have to worry about him anymore.


What would have happened to John Herbert Dillinger if his mother hadn't died when he was young, and could have been around to help rear him...or if his father had shown more love, mixed with his reported stringent discipline... or if he hadn't gotteen in with bad friends...or if the judge had not meted out such a stringent prison sentence...or of he had not been schooled in crime by hardened criminals during his prison years...or if he could have had the benefit of counseling while in prison, and compassionate Christian Friends to call on and write to him?

Dillinger was intelligent...had had talents...he could have made a contribution to society.


I knew before I presented the Dillinger Story that it would be appreciated and draw reader repsonse, since there had been so may requests for it.

Shortly after the RT reached readers on January 15, responses started. Everyone reported they enjoyed the article, and many comments were "it brought back many memories".

Since last week, interviews with readers has definitely confirmed that John Dillinger took part in the robbery in Fostoria. That information is contained in today's "Feedback".

Here are some of the comments which were more lengthy:

Leroy Rhoad, 1715 Pelton Dr. - "My wife and I were approaching the business district that afternoon, near the White Front Market (then at Main and South) when we heard the noise of gun-fire. I told my wife what it was, not knowing from where it came, then we went into the White Front for protection.

Rhoad also recalled that prior to the bank robbery, for several weeks, there was a well dressed man spending time around the Firestone parking lot back of Fruth Hardware. He claimed he was a salesman..."fast talker". As soon as the robbery was over and the bandits had fled, the man was never seen again. Rhoad said it was common belief among those who had become acquainted with the "Salesman" that he was the "setup" man, who was connected with the Dillinger gang, gathering the necessary local information to assure a "smooth job and getaway".

Last week's story mentioned the attempt to follow the getaway car. Rhoads who was working for Willis Hakes at the time, says Willis provided a new Ford and his nephew Vernon Rinehard as the driver, to take poliemen Louis Stagger and Morton Craun on "the chase", which proved unsuccessful.

Clare Whitman, 219 E. High St. - Last week's story described how Daub and Harris got back to town in a cattle truck.

Clare Whitman telephoned to say it was his father, Sage, who picked them up, in his 1934 Ford V-8 truck, loaded with hogs. At that time, Whitman ran the grocery and meat market in West Millgrove, and was on his way to Fostoria with the load.

Mr. Whitman died in 1965, but Clare recalls his father describing the incident. He said his father saw the Dillinger escape car pass him, with the hostages standing on the running boards, and he wondered why in the world two people would be riding there with the car travelling to fast.

When Whitman picked up the hostages, they were still so much in shock that they couldn't describe what had happened and it wasn't until they had gotten back intown that they were able to get control of themselves and tell the story of the holdup. Whitman dropped them off at the bank.

Royal Shoemaker, 915 Leonard St. - He reminded me that I had overlooked a serious injury, sustained by William Feasel, a 67 year old farmer residing northeast of Fostoria. (YES, I overlooked it in my notes).

Feasel shot through the shoulder by a bandit's slug, thought he felt moisture inside his shirt and discovered it was blood, according to Shoemaker.

Feasel had left his car at the Buick garage on E. Tiffin St., where Shoemaker was a mechanic and was proceeding toward Main St., when he was hit. He returned to the garage to get his car and drive to the hospital, but he finally permitted a garage attendent to take him. It was a serious wound, but he recovered.

Ernie Duffield, N. Countyline - Our telephone conversation revealed that his part in the robbery as a bystander was not originally correctly reported, consequently my "replay" needs correcting. Here's the story told to me by Ernie since last week, including another interesting part he played.

Back then, the Mason Tea Room was in the basement of The First National Bank building. Duffield, Kenny Gamertsfelder, and Bill Mason, son of the Mason who had the Tea Room, were waiters in the eating place. The night before the holdup, the three members of the Dillinger gang ate in the restaurant and Duffield served them. He said the three were very polite, and he got a 25 cent tip.

Duffield said he is sure that Dillinger was one of the three because he had the opportunity to identify him by police photos, later.

The next day, Duffield, Gamertsfelder and Mason were sitting directly in front of the bank entrance in a car and saw two of the three bandits whom he had served the night before, enter the bank via the drug store. He thinks the third bandit stayed in the getaway car.

Duffield said when the word was given of the robbery by Miss Billyard, the bank employee who slipped out of the bank, Chief Culp was directly across the street. He immediately ran north on Main to the next corner, crossed over and came back to the bank, entering via the Harding Jewelry Store, so he would not be detected. Culp was shot as reported.

The Harrold ambulance, driven by Duane Harrold and an assistant (possibly John Omlor), answered the call and pulled up in front of the bank, removing Culp on a stretcher, while the robbery proceeded.

Duffield said that the robbers had lined up the bank customers on the inside of the bank while money was being scooped up in the bage they carried. Everything proceeded orderly, and without fact so slowly, that police from surrounding towns arrived on the scene before the getaway was made.

Now about their injuries to Duffield and Gamertsfelder, which were wrongly reported in the original story, 47 years ago.

Duffield said that he and his two companions sat in the car watching the holdup proceed. The bullets were whistling all around...even through the car in which they were seated, but they didn't know that they had been hit. Suddenly, Duffield said he detected blood on Gamertsfelder, who had been hit in the neck. Then they discovered that a bullet had penetrated Duffield's arm and on through his side.

Later, Duffield's father took him to a doctor, he thinks possibl Reycraft, where the slug was removed and the wound treated. The slug was given to Ernie as a souvenior, and the doctor didn't make a charge, saying he didn't think he should charge for "being shot".

Duffield, Mason and Gamertsfelder, along with Bill Daub, one of the hostages, all were part of a dance band at that time.

Harv England, 724 Oaklawn Ave. - At the post office, where I saw him said he would never forget that day, May 3, 1934. He and his sister were coming from school that afternoon and the Dillinger escape-car came roaring up Union St. with Bill Daub and Ruth harris, the two hostages, standing on the running board. That was the day that the grandfather of Harvey and his sister died.

W. Knipple, 425 W. Ridge Dr. - I often wondered, as I put together the Dillinger sotry, where all the guns came from used by the citizens uptown who returned the robber's fire. I got my answer from Knipple.

Back then, there were still several hardware stores in the business district and they sold guns and ammunition. Word of the robbery spread quickly, anyone who could use a gun was wlcomed to use one from stores, along with a box of ammunition.

Knipple also told me another sidelight of the robbery which was not recorded in the newspaper columns of years ago. The news of the robbery spread like wildfire throughout the community and the nearby surrounding villages and towns. People flocked to Fostoria to see what had happened. "It was almost like a holiday", Knipple said. Restaurants had an overflow of business the rest of that day and the next. He said he recalled that Isaly's Dairy Store and Restaurant had to have their supplies hurriedly replenished from the Marion headquarters by truck. Isaly's store was located where Hanson's Emporium is today.

Cliff Barto, 332 N. Main St. - I telephoned Barto, who was manager of Isaly's back then, and learned something else which had never been published. Just about the time the robbery was getting under way, Barto had gone to the front of the store to lower the awning and keep the sun from shining in the window. Policeman Stagger was standing there, and as he lowered the awning it cut off his view because Stagger was a very tall man.

Jokingly, Barto said to Stagger, "You won't be able to see Dillinger if he robs the bank". His statement stemmed from the fact that Dillinger's crowd had already been active in Ohio, and it was common talk. At that moment he (Barto) didn't know the robbery was already being enacted, locally.

Soon, the bullet-fire was heard, and Stagger was on his way to the robbery scene.

Stayed at Ohio Hotel - One reader who does not want to be indentified, was a night clerk at The Ohio Hotel, and said the bandits stayed there the night before...he identified the two that entered the bank on the day of the robbery. That reader stood opposite the bank's entrance the day of the robbery and with Park Brutscher, watched the robbery. Burtscher, he said, ran to his residence in the Burtscher Building on W. Center St. and got his rifle, but like most others with guns was unable to make use of it.

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