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 Post subject: Dillinger Tidbit #2 ~ Meet the Gang
PostPosted: Wed Jul 01, 2009 12:03 pm 
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Today and tomorrow you can meet the real people behind the Dillinger gang in the movie Public Enemies.

Homer Van Meter

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Stephen Dorff - Homer Van Meter

Homer Van Meter was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the son of an alcoholic railroad conductor. During the sixth grade, Van Meter ran away from home, eventually ending up in Chicago, Illinois, where he worked as a bellhop and a waiter.

He was arrested for the first time at age 17, for drunk and disorderly conduct. In Aurora, Illinois, on June 23, 1923, Van Meter was sentenced to 41 days in jail for larceny. On January 11, 1924, he was sentenced for auto-theft and incarcerated in Menard Correctional Center. At the time of his admission, he had a tattoo reading "HOPE" on one forearm, and a case of syphilis.

Van Meter was paroled in December 1924. Three months later, he teamed up with an old cellmate to rob the passengers of a train in Crown Point, Indiana. He was caught and convicted of the crime, receiving a sentence of 10 to 21 years, to be served in the Pendleton Reformatory.

While in Pendleton, Van Meter met John Dillinger and Harry Pierpont. He and Dillinger became friends, while he and Pierpont openly despised each other, largely because of Van Meter's clowning antics and demeanor. On July 28, 1925, Van Meter's repeated joking and violation of Pendleton rules earned him a transfer to the state prison at Michigan City.

After his parole in 1933, Van Meter aligned himself with Baby Face Nelson and Tommy Carroll to rob a bank in Grand Haven, Michigan. They got away with $30,000. On October 23, the trio along with John Paul Chase and Charles Fisher robbed a bank in Brainerd, Minnesota, escaping with $32,000. When Illinois published its list of "public enemies" at the end of 1933, Van Meter ranked 18th. In 1934 he joined up Dillinger and was killed a month after Dillinger’s death.

Van Meter was known for his comedic side as the incident below shows. A few days after the Crown Point escape, the new Dillinger Gang hit the Security National Bank and Trust in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.While the robbery went off without a hitch, there was one event that bore the signature of the inveterate comic, Homer Van Meter. Jay Robert Nash tells the story of how Tommy Carroll stood in the street outside the bank with a machine gun in his hands. "By the time Dillinger and the others came out of the bank, Carroll had lined up Sioux Falls' entire police force, including the chief.

Thousands of spectators milled around the bank, bemused. The good citizens thought the robbery was part of a film being made. A Hollywood producer had been in town a day previous telling everyone that he intended to make a gangster film there. The "film producer" had been Homer Van Meter.

Harry Pierpont

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David Wenham – Harry “Pete” Pierpont

Born in Muncie, Indiana, to J. Gilbert and Lena Orcutt Pierpont; Harry Pierpont was the middle child with an older sister Fern, who died of tuberculosis when he was a teenager, and a younger brother Fred. According to his intake papers at the Pendleton Correctional Facility formerly known as the Indiana Reformatory, Pierpont attended parochial school completing the 8th grade.

His troubles with the law began after an accident where he received a severe head injury. Unconscious for more than five hours, his demeanor was altered when he recovered. In the Record of Inquest held on September 19, 1921, his mother states that he became sullen, suspicious, and prone to outbursts after his injury and, two days later, he was committed to the state hospital for the mentally ill, Central Indiana Hospital, on September 21, where he stayed for two months. Concurrently with his commitment to the state hospital, Harry's first arrest is recorded. During the same month he is charged with carrying a concealed weapon and held for ten days in an Indianapolis jail. The charges were dropped. On March 12, 1922, Harry entered the Indiana reformatory for a two to fourteen years sentence for assault and battery with intent to murder. The parole board granted him parole on March 6, 1924.

Headstrong, handsome, and tough, Harry soon graduated to bank robbery after his parole. Partnering with Earl Northern, Thaddeus Skeer and Everet Bridgewater, he became wanted in connection with a number of bank robberies in Indiana. In 1925, police arrested Pierpont and Skeer in Detroit, Michigan. Peirpont refused to give any information about his associates; however, Skeer talked. Both men were returned to Indiana for trial. Found guilty, he was sent back to Pendleton and entered the reformatory for the second time on May 6, 1925. It was here that he first met John Dillinger. Harry caused the Pendleton Warden, A.F. Miles, so much trouble that he was transferred to the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City within two months. Entering Michigan City on July 30, 1930, he became one of the most respected convicts (by other convicts) in the prison. Forever trying to escape, Pierpont constantly fought with the guards and was frequently confined to solitary confinement. He was known for his ability to withstand hunger and beatings. Pierpont headed a prison clique that included Russell Clark, Charles Makley, John "Red" Hamilton and Dillinger after his July 1929 transfer. It was from these men that Dillinger learned the crime of bank robbery, and by 1933, with a parole for Dillinger, an escape plan was concocted. With Dillinger on the outside, he would rob several banks on a list comprised by Pierpont and Makley, and with that money, help finance the escape.Some believe he was the true leader of the first Dillinger Gang. Harry never received much publicity as the gang leader and as a family member phrased it,” That’s the way he wanted it."

Harry died in the Columbus, Ohio electric chair on October 17, 1934, and is the only member of the gang to die in the electric chair. He is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Indianapolis. "Handsome" Harry had made this remark during his murder trial. "I'm not the kind of man you are--robbing from widows and orphans. You'd probably be like me if you had the nerve."


John “Red” Hamilton

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Jason Clarke – John Hamilton

Born in Canada, little is known of John Hamilton's life previous to his criminal career. On March 16, 1927, he was convicted of the robbery of a gas station in St. Joseph, Indiana, and sentenced to 25 years. While incarcerated in Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, Hamilton befriended John Dillinger, Russell Clark, Charles Makley, Harry Pierpont and Homer Van Meter. He was the only member, besides John himself, who was in the “first” and “second” Dillinger gangs.

There were at the time several persistent rumors that Hamilton was actually still alive. The FBI received numerous tips from people claiming to have seen or heard from Hamilton. Even Hamilton's nephew maintained that he had personally visited his uncle in Canada since his supposed death.

Nevertheless, no hard evidence for Hamilton's survival has ever been discovered save for the amalgam restorations done on his teeth. These were compared with his dental records from Indiana state penitentiary. Hamilton's last day is the subject of the Stephen King short story The Death of Jack Hamilton. The story is written in the first person as told by Homer Van Meter.


Charles Makley

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Christian Stolte – Charles Makley

Before meeting up with John Dillinger, Makley had been the leader of his own gang, stealing from banks in Indiana, Ohio, and Missouri. In fact his string of bank robberies was the longest of any member of the Dillinger gang, covering close to ten years.

Makley was born in St. Marys, Ohio, to Edward Makley and Martha Sunderland Makley. Charles was the oldest of five, with two brothers, George and Fred, and two sisters, Florence and Mildred. Makley dropped out of school in the eighth grade and turned to crime in his teens, first with petty theft, then bootlegging and bank robbery in at least three Midwestern states.Makley scheduled petty thievery around working odd jobs. Within several years, his criminal activities had taken over much of his life. When he became the prime suspect in the 1919 holdup of the Peoples Savings Bank in New Knoxville, Ohio, he decided to go straight.

Makley changed his name in attempt to make a new start. When Prohibition started in 1920, he was in Chicago with a new wife and new occupation. Now he was known as Charles W. McGray, working as a trainman with an elevated railway company. Years later, Makley reminisced to reporters about this period in his life, asserting that he had “decided to quit crime but the bulls wouldn’t let him.”

Charles Makley soon left his wife and Chicago behind and worked in the Midwest as a traveling salesman, adding various scams to his bag of tricks. Finally, Makley decided that things had cooled down enough for a return visit to his hometown of St. Marys where he moved in with his brother’s family.

Makley put together a new gang, keeping some of his trusted buddies from St. Marys and recruiting others. By the fall of 1925, the outlaws began hitting banks in Missouri. By the following year, they had branched out to Indiana and Ohio. As things began to heat up in Kansas City, the gang relocated to Hammond, Indiana, hometown of one of the members. Charles Makley once more changed his alias, this time becoming Albert Owens.

His band of outlaws had expanded to eight men and two women. Frustrated authorities in Ohio and Indiana were unable to discover the true identities of the thieves. Some officials gave up on ever catching them. Many led double lives. Charles, himself, would still work the occasional odd job just to keep up appearances. And if the robbers’ true identities were deceiving then the most surprising of all had to be that of his sister-in-law. When Charles Makley set down roots in Hammond, Edith decided to join him, taking her small daughter along with her. She adopted the alias, Edith Owens and became a full-fledged member of Charles’ crew.

A break finally came when a distraught Fred Makley told one of the detectives that his wife and daughter had moved out. He explained how Edith still stayed in touch but he thought that she had joined Charles in Indiana. Her next letter to Fred was intercepted. Edith’s return address was used to round up the entire gang, including the elusive Charles Makley.
Some members stood trial in Ohio while Charles and Edith remained jailed in Indiana. Evidently Makley felt responsible for his sister-in-law’s predicament because he agreed to plead guilty to the Linn Grove, Indiana bank robbery in order to get her charges reduced. The robbery was a serious one. The court dealt severely with Makley, sending him to the State Penitentiary in Michigan City, Indiana for ten to twenty years.

At the time, the outdated prison at Columbus was one of the worst in the country. Conditions were poor because over 4,500 men were packed into the old building, more than twice the number it was intended to hold. On April 21, 1930, prisoners set the infamous Easter Monday fire as part of an escape attempt.

The candle they left in a pile of oily rags failed to ignite at dinnertime, which was when they had planned to escape. Instead the flame smoldered too long, finally erupting just after the iron gates clanged shut, caging the convicts into a six-story cellblock. Most of the 322 inmates who died that night, succumbed from poisonous smoke given off from green lumber being used in construction scaffolding on one part of the cellblock. Their recovered bodies were buried under anonymous tombstones. To this day, it remains America's worst prison fire. Makley’s plea-bargaining on behalf of Edith had probably saved his own life by keeping him in Indiana. Chances were good that he might not have beaten the Ohio raps and ended up in Columbus along with the other gang members.

Back in Indiana, Charles Makley, decided that his only hope was escape. In the penitentiary, Makley kept up the same façade that had worked so well on the outside. On paper, he looked like a model inmate, with a record of a few minor infractions. But looks could be deceiving since Makley was one of a group of prisoners, including John Dillinger, who were planning to break out…

Tommy Carroll

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Spencer Garrett – Tommy Carroll

Tommy Carroll was originally from the south and had worked as a boxer. Before he joined up with Dillinger he had a lengthy rap sheet listing auto theft, robbery and murder. In 1925 he married his girlfriend, Viola.

Notorious for juggling women, he left Viola in 1932 for a woman named Sally Bennet. He left Sally in 1933 when he met Jean Delaney who remained with him until his death. In 1932 Baby Face Nelson was putting together a gang specializing in bank robbery and Carroll was recruited for his ability to handle a machine gun eventually leading to his association with Dillinger.

Baby Face Nelson

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Stephen Graham – Baby Face Nelson

Lester Joseph Gillis was born on December 6th, 1908, on the outskirts of Chicago in an area known as "the Patch". His parents were Belgian immigrants, and Lester was their 7th child. Ironically, among the many rules his father had while Lester was growing up was that of no guns allowed in the house (not even toy guns) and another was that the children were supposed to stay away from the family car. Ironic because Lester first started his life of crime stealing cars.

The nickname Baby Face was given to him because he looked a lot younger than he actually was, almost like a baby. His life on the streets began early on, as he got mixed up with the wrong people and started skipping school on a regular basis. He would go out with his friends and shoplift whatever they needed, and Baby Face, being the youngest in the group, was always responsible for the diversion. But they soon upped the odds and moved on to cars. By the time he was 13 he was caught stealing a car and sent to juvenile detention for a year in 1921.

During his second term in jail, his father committed suicide. Baby Face felt responsible and began sending his mom some of the money in the takes. In 1928, he fell in love with a girl from Chicago, Helen Wawzynak, and within a year they were married even though both their families protested to the union. Lester's first child, Robert, was born on April 4th 1930, only six months after their marriage, and their second, Darlene, in 1932. Just like his father, Lester was a devoted family man and took them everywhere with him, even when being hunted by police.

He was convicted in 1931 for a bank robbery and sentenced to 1 to 10 years in Illinois. While in jail, he was charged with another robbery in Du Page County and also got convicted. Slowly, the years in prison began adding and Lester, who was now calling himself George, was looking for a way out. He found one while he was being transported back to jail from a court appearance in 1932. His train was late and the officer decided to take him back by cab. Lester pulled a gun on him (which is believed to have been planted by his wife) and got away.

After a little while in Reno, Baby Face associated with John Paul Chase, a smuggler and bootlegger. This partnership was going to last for the rest of their lives. They began smuggling in trucks and doing armed robberies, and became so close that they introduced themselves as half brothers. Lester moved to a good neighborhood with his family, as was his custom, where he lived until May 1933. While in Indiana, he would meet with a bunch of bank robbers, among them being John Dillinger, though at the time he was hardly famous.

After Dillinger's death in 1934, he was Public Enemy no 1 and had the police and FBI running after him all over the country. It is said that in order to outdo Dillinger, he pulled a bank robbery every day for a month, although that is very unlikely. Still, he remains one of the most violent and dangerous men from the "gangster days" of America. Nelson's rumored career with the notorious gang leader Al Capone is said to have ended almost as quickly as it began due to Nelson's violent disposition and defensive temperament.

Tomorrow the rest of the gang…



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Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
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 Post subject: Re: Dillinger Tidbit #2 ~ Meet the Gang
PostPosted: Wed Jul 01, 2009 9:25 pm 
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Thanks for the refresher, DITHOT. I just got home from the movie and now I wish I'd looked at this earlier today.
(And yes, I wore the PE charm bracelet that I won in the ONBC contest last fall. ;-) )


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 Post subject: Re: Dillinger Tidbit #2 ~ Meet the Gang
PostPosted: Thu Jul 02, 2009 1:19 pm 
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You're a good gang member, fansmom! :gangster:



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Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!
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 Post subject: Re: Dillinger Tidbit #2 ~ Meet the Gang
PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 3:25 pm 
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Catching up here again. Looking at the real photos and the actors really shows that Mann did some good casting. Between Public Enemies, the Internet. and Dillinger, the untold story, it seem I have really begun to know some of these characters, but DITHOT you still managed to find a few things that were new to me. Great tidbit.



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"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went." Will Rogers

Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.
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 Post subject: Re: Dillinger Tidbit #2 ~ Meet the Gang
PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 11:41 pm 
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Thanks, gemini. We knew a lot about Dillinger but I enjoyed learning about the rest of the players in the gang.



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Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!
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 Post subject: Re: Dillinger Tidbit #2 ~ Meet the Gang
PostPosted: Sun Jul 12, 2009 10:32 pm 
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I have been doing a lot of reading about the gang members since we got so into Dillinger. I just thought I would add that I got Stephen Kings "Everything's Eventual" from the library so I could read the short story "The Death of Jack Hamilton". It really is a good story and although King says at the end that it is fiction he uses a lot of real facts in it. It is a real tearjerker and it goes out of its way to show how much Dillinger cared for Hamilton. It is told by Homer Van Meter who is able to lasso flies on strings. I don't know if that part is true but it makes the story. There are a lot of terrible stories of Van Meters prison life but it's hard to tell if its true or Stephen King.
I also ordered the book Handsome Harry about Pierpont.


Last edited by gemini on Mon Jul 13, 2009 4:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went." Will Rogers

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 Post subject: Re: Dillinger Tidbit #2 ~ Meet the Gang
PostPosted: Mon Jul 13, 2009 9:35 am 
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I wondered about that story when I did the tidbit, both actually. Thanks for the recommendation! :cool:



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