Tuesday, June 30, 2015

DEATH ON THE STREETS OF SOUTH BEND

6/30/1934 - Downtown South Bend, Indiana, is transformed into what resembles a drunken cowboy Saturday night in Dodge City when the Dillinger Gang comes to town to make a large withdrawal from the city's Merchant's National Bank ... death closing in on the members of the gang, the robbery will be the last for Public Enemy #1, thirty-one-year-old John Dillinger, his Indiana State prison pal, twenty-eight-year-old Homer Van Meter, and psychopathic outlaw runt, twenty-five-year-old Lester Joseph "Baby Face Nelson" Gillis.
John Dillinger mug shot.jpg Homer Van Meter.jpg
Dillinger & Van Meter
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Nelson

Planned for over a month with the gang meeting late at night at an abandoned schoolhouse northwest of Chicago to discuss the operation ... the escape route is driven several times, six men are chosen to participate in the heist (the other three are never officially identified and some crime historians believe Pretty Boy Floyd and his partner, Adam Richetti, participate in the robbery) with three going into the bank for the establishment's cash and bonds, two patrolling the street in front of the bank (a portent of what is to come, Van Meter and Nelson, the two most trigger happy members of the gang, are selected for the task), and a driver who will wait outside of town for the gang in a second escape vehicle, bullet-proof vests are procured for $300 a pop, the inside of the bank is cased by a disguised Nelson, assignments are rehearsed, weapons cleaned and readied, and a tan Hudson four-door sedan is stolen from Butler Motors of Chicago to provide transportation into and out of the town.  It is a warm summer morning when the gang pulls up in front of the bank at 11:32.
Site of the Robbery

Double parking the Hudson next to the parked 1928 Ford of a local teenage named Alex Slaby, the outlaws get out of the car and take up their positions, dropping the pillowcases hiding their weapons.  And things begin going wrong.

Inside, over thirty people, workers and patrons, are going about their business within the bank when Dillinger enters and shouts, "This is a stickup!  Everybody stand still!"  His problem though is that some of the people inside the bank don't hear the warning, and others, believing the announcement is a prank, ignore the outlaw ... ignore the outlaw until he unleashes a burst of fire from his sub-machine gun into the plaster ceiling of the building ... which causes an immediate response of arms being raised in surrender, screaming, and people dropping to the floor and running to areas that might be safe from the outlaws (a number will lock themselves in the bathroom and not leave until the gang is gone and well on its way back to Illinois).  Crowd cowed (a random ricochet wounds patron Bruce Bouchard in the hip, the only casualty that takes place inside the bank), Dillinger and his two companions then begin looting the establishment's five teller cages, dumping cash and bonds into the pillowcases formerly reserved for the gang's guns ($28,000 in all, less of a score than the outlaws were expecting).
Dillinger

Outside, a curious Slaby gets out of his car to investigate the vehicle now blocking him in on the street, and discovers the men have left its motor running.  Figuring a robbery is in progress, Slaby reaches inside the car and is about the remove the keys from the ignition when Nelson confronts the youth.  "What the HELL do you think you're doing?" growls the murderous bandit, pointing his machine gun at Slaby, who yells "NOTHING!" as he hears the Dillinger's gunfire from inside the bank and immediately runs away and takes shelter in the nearby Colip Brothers Appliance Store ... inside, he also begins looking for a phone to call the police.
Howard C. Wagner
Officer Howard Wagner

Walking his beat through downtown, twenty-nine-year-old South Bend patrolman Howard Wagner reacts differently to the popping sounds coming from the bank, and runs towards the noises ... an action that brings him to the attention of Homer Van Meter, positioned in front of the Nisley Shoe Store with a nasty bit of weaponry; a Model 1907 Winchester .351 rifle modified to fire on full automatic, with a sawed off barrel, and over-sized magazine, a Thompson fore grip, and a Cutts compensator to prevent the gun from kicking upward during firing.  In the process of unsnapping the flap of his holster as he approaches the bank, Wagner is hit by lead from Van Meter's weapon, with one fatal round tearing into the policeman's abdomen, destroying his right kidney, and then punching out his back. Collapsing in a pool of blood between two parked cars, Wagner bleeds out and is dead within 30 minutes of being hit by Van Meter, leaving a widow to mourn his passing.
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Modified Winchester

And Wagner is just the first victim of the gang's visit to South Bend ... in the next ten minutes bullets fly and up and down the streets of the Indiana town famous for being the location of Notre Dame college. Caught by the gunfire sent Wagner's way, local meat market owner Samuel Toth has the windshield of his car blown out and is grazed in the head by a wild round, jewelry store owner Harry Berg pops out of his place and shoots Nelson in the back, a hit that just pisses off the outlaw (his body armor saves him) and has him target the shop with bursts from his Thompson (all of which miss Berg, but non-fatally hit a patron, Jacob Solomon, in the leg and stomach), Superior Court Bailiff Charles Fisher has his car shot up driving through the intersection in front of the bank, leaving the bank, one of the unknown outlaws is hit by fire from Officer Neils Hanson in the shoulder and jaw, used as a shield, banker Delos Cohen takes a slug in his left leg, just above his ankle, hostage Perry Stahey is wounded three times by police fired bullets, and Detective Edward McCormick seriously wounds Van Meter with shotgun blasts as the outlaw gets into the gang's escape car (while his partner, Detective Harry Henderson fires his service revolver at the bandit.
South Bend Business District
Wild West For A Day!

And there are fisticuffs too.  Temporary losing his mind, sitting in his family's car in front of the Strand Theater as slugs fly about, sixteen-year-old Joseph Pawlowski suddenly decides to take out Baby Face Nelson!  Timed perfectly as Nelson is firing at the police. the youth approaches the outlaw from his blind side, jumps on Nelson's back, and cuffs the badman about the head while screaming to anyone who might be listening, "Shot him!  Grab Him!"  Already perturbed by being shot by the jeweler, Nelson grabs Pawlowski off his back, throws the tough teenager through a plate-glass window, and then unleashes a burst of automatic fire at the youth.  Saving his life, one bullet passes through Pawlowski's palm and the shock and pain causes him to faint ... and down and not moving, Nelson turns away and begins firing at the police again (the hand wound will not hinder Pawlowski in the slightest and he grows up to become a concert violinist and symphony conductor), believing he has killed his assailant.
Nelson

Vacating town with a squeal of tires, the police attempt to chase the gang down, but are thwarted by the outlaws possessing a much more powerful and faster ride ... Officer Sylvester Zell gives up when the truck he commandeers in downtown South Bend can't keep up with the Hudson, riding his motorcycle at its top speed of 80 mph, traffic officer Bert Olmstead gives up when his 1929 Harley fries its engine, Detectives Lucius LaFortune and Fred Miller make it forty-five miles southwest to the town of Knox where roofing nails thrown in the road by the bandits blow out two of the pursuing car's tires, and Patrolman Peter Rudynski and Arden Kline don't even make it out of the downtown area ... their 1930 Studebaker police cruiser has a gas line go bad and dies in the middle of the street!  Safe after changing to their other escape vehicle and making it back to Chicago, but not for long, the bandits will soon get a dose of what they gave to Officer Wagner ... Dillinger is assassinated by the FBI and members of the East Chicago police as he leaves the Biograph Theater on 7/22/1934, Van Meter's turn comes on 8/23/1934 when he is betrayed by the corrupt police he has been paying to keep him safe in the city of St. Paul, Minnesota (wanting to keep the $10,000 the outlaw has given the men to bank, they hole the killer with 50 bullet wounds), and Baby Face Nelson is mortally wounded on 11/27/1934 during a gruesome shootout with FBI agents on State Highway 12 near the town of Barrington, Illinois (but not before he kills thirty-one-year old Special Agent Herman E. Hollis and thirty-five-year-old Inspector Samuel P. Crowley despite being hit 17 times by the two Federals).
Dillinger in Death
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Van Meter in Death
Herman Hollis profile.jpg 
Hollis & Crowley
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Baby Face Nelson in Death

Almost over, the beginning of the end of the Dillinger Era starts on 6/30/1934, with the public enemy's last bank job!

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