Friday, October 12, 2012


10/12/1933 - Arrested in September, bank robber John Dillinger had been cooling his heels in the Lima, Ohio jail, waiting for his court date on robbery charges to arrive ... or for his recently escaped convict friends from the Michigan City Penitentiary to put in an appearance.  

                                                Lima, Ohio jailhouse

On Columbus Day, it is his armed convict pals who show up at the jail in the form of Harry Pierpont, Charles Makley, Russell Clark, John Hamilton, Harry Copeland, and Eddie Shouse.  Treating the jailbreak like a bank job, Pierpont, Makley, and Clark enter the jail, Copeland stays with the escape vehicle, a speedy Essex Terraplane, Hamilton keeps an eye on things from a spot near the theater behind the jail, and Shouse watches things out front beside a monument next to the walk that leads to the jail, a position from which he will convince a couple walking by that the gunshots they soon hear are file cabinets falling over as the jailhouse office is being cleaned.

                                          Pierpont                                           Makley
                                         Hamilton                                              Clark

Inside the jail, forty-seven-year-old Sheriff Jess Sarber and his wife Lucy had just begun to relax after finishing a dinner of pork chops and mashed potatoes, the Sheriff reading the newspaper while Mrs. Sarber worked on a crossword puzzle, also relaxing with them is thirty-two-year-old Deputy Sheriff Wilbur Sharp, off-duty in his civilian clothes, sitting on a davenport playing with Brownie, the Sarber's dog, his weapon out of reach.  Behind a barred and locked doorway, John Dillinger is playing pinochle with a pair of petty thieves and a prisoner awaiting appeal on his second-degree murder conviction.  It is 6:20 in the evening.


Entering the jail, Pierpont claims that the trio are officers from Michigan City, there to question Dillinger about the recent prison break.  When a friendly and polite Sarber asks to see their credentials chaos ensues.  "These are our credentials," Pierpont exclaims as he pulls a .38 revolver from under his coat and then fires the weapon twice when Sarber protests, "You can't do that!" and begins to get out of his chair.  The first shot creates a mortal wound, hitting the lawman in the lower abdomen and severing a femoral artery (the second misses).  Making an effort to reach the gun he has placed in his desk drawer, Sarber is then struck on the head with the barrel of Makley's gun (accidentally discharging his weapon), a blow of such force that his scalp is laid open to the bone, then Pierpont follows up with more pistol blows that insure Sarber stays down.  Caught up in the violence, warning Sharp not to move, Clark also accidentally fires his gun, almost shooting off his own finger.  Begging the outlaws not to hit her husband any further, Lucy Sarber then takes Pierpont to a cupboard where the key to the cellblock is kept and gives it to the outlaw.


Inside the cellblock, on hearing gunfire from out front, Dillinger puts down his cards, pulls on his coat, and is waiting at the door when Pierpont passes the key in to open the metal bars.  Break almost complete, Pierpont fires a final shot down the cellblock aisle to keep the other prisoners from rushing and interfering with the escape, locks Sharp and Mrs. Sarber in an empty cell (though she pleads to be left with her husband), then escorts his friend out into the cool Autumn night where the rest of the gang are waiting.  Gone, the outlaws head back to their hideout in Hamilton, Ohio, while back in Lima, Mrs. Sarber and Sharp have to be cut out of their cell with an acetylene torch, an operation that takes thirty minutes (there are no backup keys), and Sheriff Sarber is taken by an ambulance to a local hospital where he dies in less than ninety minutes from shock and blood loss.  The first lawman to perish in the crime wave associated with Dillinger and his partners, his death will not go unavenged ... Hamilton is killed in the getaway from the Little Bohemia debacle of 1934, Pierpont and Makley will eventually receive death sentences for the crime, Clark will get life, while Copeland avoids a potential death sentence by pleading guilty to an Indiana bank job that gets him 10-25 years in Michigan City ... and Shouse, soon to be kicked out of the gang for excessive drinking and making a pass at Dillinger's girlfriend, is sent back to Michigan City to finish out his sentence, escaping death by testifying against his former friends when they come to trial for the killing of Sarber in 1934.

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