Journal-News, Wednesday, July 6, 1994
John Dillinger gang organized in Hamilton in October 1933 (Part 1 of 3 parts)
By Jim Blount
Six men and their female companions quietly settled into a house in Hamilton Sunday, Oct. 1, 1933, while in Northern Indiana local and state police and 200 national guardsmen continued searching for 10 prison escapees.
Harry Copeland, a parolee from Michigan City State Prison in Indiana, arranged the rendezvous in the 1000 block of South Second Street in Hamilton.
The others were Harry Pierpont, Charles Makley, Ed Shouse, John (Red) Hamilton and Russell Clark. They were half of the "10 desperate convicts," who, according to the Associated Press, "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 for three days.
The dramatic Michigan City flight allegedly had been financed and planned by John H. Dillinger, who had been released from the Indiana state prison six months earlier.
During the next 14 months the press depicted Dillinger 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 earned him status as a folk hero, not a feared criminal.
He was branded "Public Enemy No. 1" through the public relations efforts of a young J. Edgar Hoover, who established the reputation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on 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, to greet the six men who would become the legendary Dillinger Gang. The Hoosier native was back in jail.
Dillinger -- born June 22, 1903, on a farm near Indianapolis -- was released from Michigan City Prison May 22, 1933, after serving eight years and eight months. His original 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 was involved in five bank robberies, 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 had been captured while visiting a girl friend 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 plotted to free Dillinger. 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 gang members 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 men involved in the robbery.
Makley's presence attracted the attention of Captain Matt Leach, head of the Indiana State Police, who was directing the search for the Michigan City escapees. Leach extended his investigation into Ohio, and eventually to Hamilton.
As they counted their take in Hamilton that night, Pierpont and cohorts realized that the crisp new bills would attract attention as they tried to spend them. That risk was avoided when a thoughtful female accomplice, using her domestic skills, aged the currency by a combination of baking and ironing the bills.
Another complication postponed their plan to spring Dillinger. The gang, to its surprise, erroneously was credited with trying to rob three banks in Butler County in one day.
Friday, Oct. 6, 1933, two men robbed a bank in Trenton, tried to holdup another in Seven Mile and were involved in a traffic accident on their way to rob a third one in Oxford.
Circumstantial evidence -- reported in newspapers throughout the area -- linked Dillinger with Lee Masters and Neil Schaneil, two men involved in the local spree. Police told reporters that Masters and Schaneil had left Dayton hurriedly after Dillinger's arrest there, implying the three bank robbers had been connected.
The next two weekly columns will continue the story of Hamilton's links with John Dillinger, whose brief criminal career ended 60 years ago this month.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, July 13, 1994
After Lima jail escape, the search for Dillinger centered in Hamilton
By Jim Blount
Thursday morning, Oct. 12, 1933, Harry Pierpont directed a well-rehearsed six-man group on a 110-mile trip from Hamilton to Lima. Its risky mission had been planned in a house on South Second Street in Hamilton.
Pierpont's entourage included Harry Copeland, Charles Makley, Ed Shouse, John (Red) Hamilton and Russell Clark. Copeland -- who had arranged their meeting in Hamilton 12 days earlier -- was a parolee from Michigan City Prison in Indiana. The others had escaped from the same prison Sept. 26.
Their purpose was to release John Dillinger from the Allen County jail in Lima. He had been held there since shortly after his Sept. 23 arrest in Dayton. In the four months after his release from Michigan City, the 30-year-old Dillinger robbed four banks in Indiana and Ohio. One was a bank in Bluffton in Allen County.
Pierpont and associates planned to pose as Indiana agents assigned to bring Dillinger back to that state as a parole violator. but the scheme went awry. Sheriff Jess L. Sarber of Allen County died from a bullet, believed to have been fired from Pierpont's gun.
Dillinger and his liberators -- instantly objects of a massive Midwest manhunt -- returned to their Hamilton hideout, thinking their presence a secret.
But a tip, believed from a Lima source, reportedly 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.
Starting at 7 a.m., they searched houses, garages and other buildings in the 1000 block of South Second Street. They found nothing found except a stolen car which the desperadoes may have used.
"Hundreds of persons residing in the (Second Ward) neighborhood witnessed searching of the houses," the Journal-News explained. "They were awed by the score of automobiles loaded down with police and enough artillery to supply a small troop of soldiers."
A Hamilton woman "is believed to have engineered their escape," the newspaper related months later. "It was her cunning, authorities believe, that allowed the gang to escape the law dragnet by only a matter of minutes," the newspaper said.
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 a building to five men matching descriptions of the five escapees. But again the trail was cold.
After fleeing Hamilton, Dillinger and accomplices were credited with robbing the Peru, Ind., police station of weapons and ammunition Oct. 20.
Later, Sheriff John C. Schumacher appealed to Butler County commissioners to provide more firepower and protection to his deputies. Schumacher said until reinforcements arrived, local officers, armed only with pistols. shotguns and night sticks, would have been mismatched in a shoot-out with Dillinger's gang.
In addition to pistols, the fugitives are believed to have possessed 18 steel vests, 12 machine-guns and about 10,000 rounds of ammunition while holed up in Hamilton.
According to later disclosures by an Allen County prosecutor, not all had been harmony during the gang's Hamilton stay.
While here, Harry Pierpont accused Ed Shouse of making love to his girl friend. Ernst Botkin, the prosecutor, said some gang members also believed Shouse would "squeal" if captured and pressured by police. Pierpont had pointed a gun at Shouse's head. Russell Clark interceded, calmed Pierpont and saved Shouse's life.
Shouse and Harry Copeland were expelled from the gang in November 1933. Shouse was kicked out because he also had tried to steal a Dillinger girl friend. He was arrested a month later. Copeland was considered a liability because of his heavy drinking. He was arrested when he was involved in a drunken brawl in a Chicago tavern.
Next week's column will continue the story of Hamilton's connections with John Dillinger, whose brief criminal career ended 60 years ago on Sunday night, July 22, 1934.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, July 20, 1994
Dillinger capture linked to Hamilton; mail to local woman provided key clues
By Jim Blount
Less than 15 weeks after evading a dragnet in Hamilton, John Dillinger and three accomplices were captured in Tucson, Arizona. Local reports said the cooperation of Hamilton police and postal officials led to the Jan. 25, 1934, arrest of Dillinger, Harry Pierpont, Charles Makley and Russell Clark.
Federal authorities -- with the aid of Police Chief John C. Calhoun and Postmaster Walter Brunning -- intercepted Dillinger's letters to a Hamilton woman. She had been credited with guiding their local escape Oct. 16, 1933. That morning, about 100 lawmen from Ohio and Indiana had searched houses on South Second Street, where Dillinger hid after his Oct. 12 breakout from a Lima jail.
His correspondence to the Hamilton woman had been cautiously mailed in Phoenix, 110 miles from his Tucson hideout. Finally, a letter mentioned Dillinger's location in Tucson.
Ohio and Indiana competed for extradition rights to the legendary bank robber. In a compromise, Ohio got members of the gang while Indiana returned its native son to the Lake County jail in Crown Point, Ind.
He was scheduled to be tried there for the shooting death of a policeman during a Jan. 15, 1934, bank robbery in East Chicago, Ind., a crime which may not have involved Dillinger. Some criminal historians believe he wasn't in the area that day. They assert that Dillinger could have been indicted by his prominence and popularity.
During his 1933-34 bank criminal career, he had been credited by witnesses, police and the press with numerous bank robberies from Pennsylvania to the Dakotas, the majority of which had been copy-cat jobs.
Evidence indicates that in 14 months (May 1933-July 1934), Dillinger could have robbed 10 banks at most, although only eight are confirmed. The total loot was about $245,000.
Dillinger's popularity is explained by the nature of his crime and the tenor of the times - the Great Depression. During that era, people forfeited savings as banks failed. Others lost property when surviving banks foreclosed. Dillinger was considered a folk hero, taking money from the hated banks, not from common people.
Despite extra security at Crown Point, Dillinger used a fake gun carved from wood to escape March 3, 1934.
The search logically extended to Hamilton and Butler County, where six members of his gang had organized the previous Oct. 1 before springing him from the Allen County jail in Lima.There is no evidence that Dillinger -- or members of his new gang -- came here after his breakout at Crown Point in Northwest Indiana.
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. Popular legend -- doubted by some crime experts -- is that Dillinger was betrayed by Anna Sage, better known as "the woman in red."
His death shifted the spotlight from this area. "Hamilton and Butler County authorities had kept an attentive ear for tips after Dillinger's escape from Crown Point," the Journal-News explained.
During more than four months of freedom, "hardly a week passed that authorities did not hear of some rumor of the presence of Dillinger or a member of his gang in this vicinity," the newspaper recalled..
But the July 22, 1934, shooting outside the Chicago theater didn't end the Dillinger saga. Some crime buffs and writers insist it was a stand-in, James Lawrence, not Dillinger, who was killed that night. Skeptics later noted that FBI wanted posters said Dillinger had gray eyes, but they were listed as brown in the autopsy, which disappeared for about 50 years.
Dillinger's leadership of the gang also has been doubted. Some believe Pierpont directed it, and the Dillinger legend was created by lawmen, especially Captain Matt Leach of the Indiana State Police. It was an attempt to promote jealousy and dissension, which could have caused a gang member to bolt and talk to police.
Most of the gang which hid in Hamilton met violent deaths. Hamilton is believed to have been mortally wounded in a 1934 shoot-out at the Little Bohemia Resort in Wisconsin. Makley was killed while trying to escape from the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus. Harry Pierpont died in the Ohio electric chair. Clark, also imprisoned in Columbus, died of cancer a few months after his parole in 1970.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, July 27, 1994
Grave awaits millionaire '49er; Daniel Beaver lost in sea disaster
By Jim Blount
A grave site in Greenwood Cemetery awaits Daniel Beaver, a pioneer tavern owner, carpenter and civic leader in Rossville. But it's not likely his remains will ever be placed there beside those of his wife, Catherine.
"Daniel Beaver, lost at sea on the Central America Sept. 12, 1857, aged 56 years, 4 months and 5 days," reads a tombstone in the Hamilton cemetery.
Beaver was a prominent person in Rossville, the town founded in 1804 on the west bank of the Great Miami River, opposite 10-year-old Hamilton. The two communities merged in 1855.
In 1828 Beaver purchased a quarter block at the northeast corner of what is now Park Avenue and North D Street. Later, he bought another quarter block to the north of the first tract, reported Mrs. Alta Harvey Heiser in her book, Hamilton in the Making (1941).
He built a brick tavern on the corner with stables to the north on what is now Wayne Avenue. A courtyard -- where coaches and wagons parked overnight -- was east of the tavern.
An outside stairway on the Park Avenue side led to the first floor, which doubled as a sitting room and office. A bar was in the basement and a dining room in an adjoining building. Sleeping rooms were on upper floors.
"It was no uncommon site to see a hundred wagons in the Beaver House yard for the night, for they would travel until later in order to reach this popular place," said Dr. Henry Mallory in his book, Gems of Thought and Character Sketches (1895).
"The Beaver Tavern was a great stopping place for the teamsters who used to haul all the farm products from the west to the Cincinnati markets, and on their return, were loaded with dry goods and groceries for the merchants of the country towns," Mallory explained.
The Beaver Tavern also was a gathering place for Rossville residents. Its top floor served at various times as a ballroom, the town hall and a school.
Mrs. Heiser said Beaver also bought land in 1833 at the southeast corner of Park and North D Street, where he built a brick house for his wife and children.
Beaver also was sexton of the Rossville Burying Ground (now Sutherland Park), which was across the street from his tavern and residence. Mrs. Heiser said "the sextons were required to turn into the public treasury 50 cents from every $2 charged for digging a grave, keeping the remainder for his work."
In 1841, Beaver, as a carpenter, won a contract for making wood mileposts for use along the 20-mile Hamilton, Rossville, Darrtown, Oxford and Fairhaven Turnpike. He was paid $8 for fashioning 10 mileposts.
Gold was discovered in 1848 at John Sutter's mill on the American River in California. Beaver -- one of the thousands lured by the prospect of finding a fortune -- left Rossville and became a successful '49er.
Beaver -- presumably returning to Rossville with his gold -- was aboard the SS Central America when it sank during an Atlantic hurricane Sept. 12, 1857, about 160 miles east of Charleston, S. C. Beaver was among more than 400 people who died. There were 153 survivors.
The Central America was carrying other miners and about two tons of their California gold - whose worth is estimated to have increased from $1.2 million in 1857 to about $1 billion by the 1990s.
"His brave wife, left alone, battled with life's trials until she had raised her young children to a life of honest industry and respectability," noted Dr. Mallory. Catherine Beaver, then 77 years old, died Aug. 15, 1885, nearly 28 years after her husband and his gold disappeared in the disaster.
About 132 years after its sinking, discovery of the wreckage of the Central America was announced in 1989 by treasure hunters who, despite legal challenges, plan to recover its cargo, which lies at a depth of about 8,000 feet.
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