Dillinger Gang Hideout. While local and state police and 200 national guardsmen continued searching Northern Indiana for 10 prison escapees Sunday, Oct. 1, 1933, six men and their female companions quietly settled into a house in Hamilton. Harry Copeland, a parolee from Michigan City State Prison in Indiana, arranged the rendezvous at 1054 South Second Street, south of St. Joseph Church. The others were Harry Pierpont, Charles Makley, Ed Shouse, John (Red) Hamilton and Russell Clark. They had been half of the "10 desperate convicts," who, the Associated Press said, "obtained arms, marched diagonally across the whole prison grounds and out the front door without meeting opposition from guards." A prison clerk was shot during the breakout, and a sheriff was held as a hostage three days. The dramatic Michigan City flight allegedly had been financed and planned by John Herbert Dillinger, who had been released from the state prison six months earlier. During the next 14 months he would be depicted as a combination of Robin Hood and Jesse James, victimizing banks and police stations. His bold robberies during the Depression years of 1933 and 1934 would earn him status as a folk hero, not a criminal to be feared.
He would be branded "Public Enemy No. 1" through the public relations efforts of a young J. Edgar Hoover, who would establish the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on the basis of its ability to capture or kill Dillinger and other desperadoes of the era. The 30-year-old Dillinger wasn't in Hamilton Oct. 1, 1933, as the legendary Dillinger Gang formed. The Hoosier native was back in jail. Dillinger -- born June 22, 1903, on a farm near Indianapolis -- had been released from Michigan City Prison May 22, 1933, after serving eight years and eight months. That sentence had been for the attempted robbery Sept. 6, 1924, of a grocer in Mooresville, Ind., where he had gown up. His prison time was extended for escape attempts and other violations. In four months of freedom, Dillinger robbed five banks, netting more than $54,000. They included banks in New Carlisle, northeast of Dayton, Ohio; Indianapolis, Daleville and Montpelier in Indiana; and Bluffton, Ohio. Monday, Sept. 23 -- three days before the 10-man Michigan City escape -- Dillinger was captured while visiting a woman in Dayton. He was carrying $2,604 in new currency when apprehended.
Allen County deputies transported Dillinger to the county jail in Lima to face charges in the Aug. 14 Bluffton robbery, which netted less than $3,000.
Meanwhile, on South Second Street in Hamilton, members of the newly-formed gang contrived a plot to free Dillinger. But securing some money took priority for the group, headed by Harry Pierpont, who had interested and tutored Dillinger in bank robbery while both were Indiana inmates. Tuesday, Oct. 3, five or six of the gang drove about 80 miles north to rob the First National Bank at St. Marys, Ohio. They got more than $11,000, but within a few hours Charles Makley -- a former St. Marys resident -- was identified as one of five involved in the robbery. Thursday morning, Oct. 12, 1933, Harry Pierpont directed a well-rehearsed group on a 110-mile trip from Hamilton to Lima. Their purpose was to release Dillinger from the Allen County jail in Lima. Pierpont and associates planned to pose as Indiana agents who had been assigned to bring Dillinger back to that state as a parole violator. Their scheme went awry. Sheriff Jess L. Sarber of Allen County was killed by a bullet, believed to have been fired from Pierpont's gun. Dillinger and his liberators -- instantly the objects of a massive Midwest manhunt -- returned to their Hamilton hideout, believing their presence a secret. But a tip, believed from a Lima source, reached Captain Matt Leach, head of the Indiana State Police, that the Dillinger gang could be in Hamilton. By 5 a.m. Monday, Oct. 16, 1933, about 100 police from two states -- armed with machine-guns and tear gas -- arrived to search for Dillinger and the gang. Leach and a detachment of Indiana State Police were among those participating. At 7 a.m., they started searching houses, garages and other buildings along South Second Street. They found nothing found except a stolen car the desperadoes may have used. After the fruitless Hamilton search, the posse shifted its manhunt to camps (summer houses) along the Great Miami River near Ross. A farmer recalled renting one of the buildings to five men who matched descriptions of the five escapees. But again the trail was cold. June 22, 1934, on his 31st birthday, federal agents labeled Dillinger as "Public Enemy No. 1," the first to rate at the top of the "most wanted" list. The government also posted a $10,000 reward for Dillinger, dead or alive. The Indiana native's luck ran out Sunday night, July 22, 1934, when federal agents shot him as he left the Biograph Theater in Chicago. Most of the gang that hid in Hamilton in 1933 met violent deaths.