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Merchants National Bank and the Biograph Theater

Updated on March 30, 2013
Scotland Yard Q Car
Scotland Yard Q Car | Source

Where Did He Go?

Dillinger dropped out of sight, and the police thought that he had gone to England again. Scotland Yard mobilized its flying squad, and “Q” cars were requisitioned. On June 19, an innkeeper at Stratford-on-Avon called the police to say that Dillinger was there, along with the entire gang. It was four American Rhodes scholars.

Three days later, Johnnie’s sister, Audrey, put a birthday greeting in the classifieds of an Indianapolis newspaper. This was the day that the FBI designated John Dillinger Public Enemy Number One. A day later, the Department of Justice raised the reward for his capture to $10,000. $5,000 was tacked on for information leading to his arrest.

1933-1934 World's Fair, Century of Progress
1933-1934 World's Fair, Century of Progress | Source

The Wheels are Turning

Dillinger was ready to make a last haul before his Mexican dream, then head south. van Meter found the Merchants National Bank of South Bend, Indiana, the perfect bank. The post office made large deposits, and they should get at least $100,000. They needed more men to help.

Nelson came to mind for a moment, but that was quickly dismissed. Nelson sulked when Dillinger’s reward was $10,000 and his was only $5,000. Dillinger couldn’t deal with him any more, but that was all he had. Baby Face said that he even had a wheelman and a torpedo. June 30, 1934, was the big day.

With the arrangements already made, Dillinger was like his old self. He went to the Century of Progress, a few ball games and wrestling matches, and even had a new girl. Life was good again.

Merchants National Bank of South Bend
Merchants National Bank of South Bend | Source

South Bend, Indiana

June 30 in South Bend was a gorgeous Saturday and the assistant postmaster came out of the post office with $7,900 for his deposit. In a police car were Detective Edward McCormick and his partner. They had been doing this for a while, since there was a tip that the post office would be robbed. As soon as the postal employee went into the bank, they went to lunch.

A man in a Ford parked near Michigan and Wayne by the bank. A brown Hudson double-parked right beside him, and four men got out. Alex Slaby realized that they were robbers, as they had guns under handkerchiefs. Dillinger stuck a gun through Slaby’s window, and told him that he’d better leave, then followed the first two men toward Michigan St.

He got out of his car, and noticed that the engine of the Hudson was running. He was going to remove the keys, but Baby Face asked him what he was doing, He nonchalantly crossed the street to call the police.

South Bend Business District
South Bend Business District | Source

Pretty Boy Floyd?

Baby Face walked to the intersection with a machine gun under his jacket. His job was to guard the car. van Meter stopped in front of a shoe store, as he was going to guard the front of the bank with a .351 rifle. Dillinger entered the bank with a friend of Nelson’s and a fat man.

Dillinger called out that it was a holdup, and he and the fat man went behind the cages. The fat man fired a burst of rounds at the ceiling. A couple of bank employees thought that they recognized Pretty Boy Floyd.

Lester Gillis AKA Baby Face Nelson
Lester Gillis AKA Baby Face Nelson | Source

Robbery of the Merchants National Bank

People thought that the firing was a pre-Fourth of July celebration and that van Meter, dressed in overalls and a straw hat, was a clown. The mood of the crowd soon changed when Officer Wagner was shot by van Meter. Jewelry store owner, Harry Berg, exited his store with a revolver, shooting at Baby Face Nelson. Baby Face shot like a wild man. A bullet hit a man in the leg, and he shattered the windshield of an occupied car across the street, showering the driver with glass.

Officer Sylvester Zell and a co-worker were directing traffic a block away, observing people running south. When they crossed the street a burst of fire went directly over their heads. A man in an office over the State Theater told him that it was a holdup. He ducked behind some cars, then approached the area with caution.

At that time, Dillinger and his boys were exiting the bank with hostages. A block away, the detectives at lunch heard on the restaurant’s radio that all police cars were needed to respond to Merchants Bank. They ran to their car, but traffic was so congested, Detective McCormick told his partner to drive there and he would run. McCormick took a sawed-off shotgun, instead of the rifle that he asked for. When he observed Dillinger exiting with the hostages, he couldn’t use the shotgun, for fear of hitting one of the innocents.

A Small Take for the Risk

Another officer fired, which struck two of Dillinger’s human shields. The person believed to be Pretty Boy Floyd, ordered them to keep moving. One of the hostages was ordered into the getaway car, and he was finally shot at. Detective McCormick had a clear shot, but a pedestrian got in the way, right when Dillinger and the others were running for the car.

Police and the gang shared shots. van Meter was hit in the head, and Dillinger grabbed him and helped him in the car, which was full of bullet holes. Police gave chase, but they had no sirens and their cars weren’t fast enough.

Dillinger abandoned the Hudson near the Indiana-Illinois line, got into another car and headed for Chicago. van Meter was badly hurt, almost carried into the Probasco residence. Probasco called Dr. Cassidy to respond right away.

Nelson divided the money, but the piles were smaller than expected. Dillinger’s $4,800 would only get him to Mexico, without any spending money. They had to do another job, which was getting more risky every time. Officer Wagner died after his arrival at the hospital.

Anna Sage, also known as The Lady in Red
Anna Sage, also known as The Lady in Red | Source
Polly Hamilton and Anna Sage
Polly Hamilton and Anna Sage | Source

Polly Hamilton and Anna Sage

Dillinger met a new girlfriend a couple of weeks prior to the South Bend heist. Her name was Polly Hamilton, in her mid-20’s, recently divorced from a police officer. He had given her a fictitious name, and her friends ribbed her about how he looked just like Dillinger. He treated her nicely, and was very generous.

She rented an apartment from Anna Sage, who had been convicted a couple of times for operating a disorderly house. McNutt recently became governor, and he wasn’t going to pardon her a third time, so the Immigration Bureau was about to send her back to her native Romania.

By mid-July, Dillinger was in the neighborhood regularly, living like a normal citizen. He’d have strawberry sundaes at the local ice cream parlor, eat at the Seminary Restaurant, occasionally go to the Biograph Barber Shop, and sometimes see the bookie over the Biograph Theater. The underworld thought that he was dead, and Pat Reilly told a St. Paul reporter that he died after Little Bohemia. The manhunt continued for him, as the stakes were high, not only for the citizens, but the underworld wanted the money, too. He was living in the reality that his life could end at any time, and perhaps, he was afraid of that stark notion.

Mrs. Sage recently learned that this was John Dillinger, and he was back to his impudent ways. Piquett was at Wrigley Field standing next to a police officer when Johnnie walked up to him to say hello.

Dillinger even made tentative plans to leave for Mexico with his escorts on July 23, even though he barely had enough money to get there.

Special Agent Sam Cowley
Special Agent Sam Cowley | Source

Anna Sage Rats on Dillinger

Agent Sam Cowley was sent to head the Special Squad in Chicago, but Purvis remained head of the local field office. Cowley drove his men hard, but he drove himself even harder. His men saw him still at his desk pouring over paperwork when they were leaving.

Dillinger’s identity was only known by Anna Sage, and she seemed sympathetic to him. She was tempted by the hefty reward, but felt that Dillinger was her key to remaining in this country. She decided to go see an old acquaintance, Sgt. Martin Zarkovich of the East Chicago, Indiana Police. Naturally she said that she’d co-operate with police if her deportation proceedings were dropped. He passed this on to his superior officer, Captain Timothy O’Neill, Chief of Detectives assigned to the Dillinger case. O’Neill had to seek help from Chicago. He went to his chief and told him that he’d be out of town on the Big Case. On July 20, a detail was assigned to respond with O’Neill and Zarkovich.

The next afternoon, they contacted Purvis about the case, who set up a meeting with Cowley at 6 p.m. in the Great Northern Hotel. The East Chicago men told Cowley about Dillinger’s visits to the Sage apartment to see Polly Hamilton.

Before giving other details, Sage wanted to speak to the head of the Chicago office, and a meeting was arranged by Cowley. Purvis met with her at a secluded spot on Lake Michigan. She said that she didn’t know who Dillinger was at first, but showed him a newspaper picture of himself, and he admitted his identity. She then wanted assurance from Purvis that she’d be assisted by the FBI in her deportation fight. He agreed to do what he could, but his authority was limited. She also wanted the reward, but he wouldn’t commit to that, other than a substantial fee. That was enough for her.

She thought a moment, and then said that Dillinger was going to take her and Polly to a movie the next day, most likely at the Marbro Theater. Purvis called Hoover, and he said that Dillinger was to be taken alive, if possible. He didn’t want any innocent people hurt.

Marbro Theater
Marbro Theater | Source

Maybe the Marbro Theater

Cowley took his assistant Virgil Peterson with him to the Marbro, to make detailed notes on entrances, egresses, and fire escapes.

All available agents in Chicago were put on alert. They were told that men would be at all fire exits, and Purvis and Zarkovich would be on either side of the entrance, so no matter which way the group turned, there would be someone able to give the signal. Surprisingly, Chicago Police would not be informed about this, not even the Dillinger Squad or the Scotland Yard Detail.

The agents met the East Chicago officers so that they would be recognized, and Zarkovich explained that Dillinger had plastic surgery, and how his face had changed. Everyone knew what they had to do for their roles.

At 5:30 p.m., Anna Sage called to say that she, Polly and Dillinger were going to a movie that night at either the Marbro or the Biograph. She would call when she knew something definite.

The Biograph Theater
The Biograph Theater | Source

The Biograph Theater Incident

Cowley sent two agents to the Biograph to map out the entrance and the exits. He only knew that it was closer to the Sage residence. She called at 7 p.m. to say that Dillinger had arrived, but didn’t know where they were going.

Since Purvis knew Sage, it was decided that he’d sit in a parked car outside the Biograph. Zarkovich and Agent Charles B. Winstead, an expert marksman, would cover the Marbro. Cowley and the remaining men would wait in the office at the Bankers’ Building.

An hour later, Anna Sage and a couple walked by Purvis at the Biograph. Sage and Polly waited while Dillinger bought tickets. Amazingly, the older Sage’s orange skirt looked blood red under the marquee lights.

Purvis bought a ticket and went inside. His partner, Agent Ralph Brown, informed Cowley. Purvis couldn’t see in the theater and waited in the foyer until his eyes were accustomed to the darkness. When he could see, he peered back inside the packed theater, but Dillinger was nowhere in sight. He returned to the ticket office, learning that the feature would run 94 minutes, the entire show was two hours and four minutes.

He returned to his car, and told Brown about all this. Cowley was informing Hoover about the latest, then decided that it would endanger innocent people if they tried to capture him inside the Biograph.

Cowley ordered his men into position, and Zakovich and Winstead were told to come in from the Marbro and report to the north side of the Biograph. It was expected that they would return to Mrs. Sage’s apartment when they exited, and as they passed, Purvis was told to light a cigar. There was a shortcut to the Sage place via the theater’s alley, as well, which would also be covered.

And What Do YOU Think?


This will end here and now without any extraneous fanfare on July 22, 1934. Dillinger was shot five times outside the Biograph Theater in the alleyway when he exited. He died shortly thereafter. It was said that he was armed and that he reached for his gun. It is also said that it wasn’t Dillinger that died, that it was a stand in named James Lawrence, an alias that Dillinger frequently used. Dillinger is still laughing, for nobody ever really knew the way that he thought or his motives, but I will tell you this: he never wanted the little man hurt for any of his actions.

And Anna Sage? She was deported, anyway. Melvin Purvis committed suicide, according to the FBI. He could have accidentally shot himself while extracting a tracer bullet. Will we every really know the truth?

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    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Purushottam, this sounds like a wonderful endeavor. My thoughts are with you for your successes. There will be failures due to bad timing on the part of the people seeking help, but your good stories will outweigh the bad.

    • profile image

      Purushottam 2 years ago

      . “I did cocaine and a vaitery of other drugs, always drinking alcohol at the same time. Then they told me I had hepatitis C and needed Chemo Therapy treatments. The treatment was almost as bad as the disease, but they got rid of it. When that disease slapped me down, I knew I wanted more out of life.”Larry says he has a son and a sister. He said things have changed since he has been with “The Father’s House” and Pastor Gary Jennings. Since he found Jesus Christ and sobriety, Larry has regained family trust. Now, both the son and the sister let Larry have a key to their homes…Larry has been with Brother Gary since the start of “The Father’s House,” when instead of two bunk house trailers and a redone tool shed for offices, a kitchen and a meeting hall, all they had was one trailer up on the hill.The help center is on seven acres that the preacher and his wife donated to the cause. That preacher and his wife are Gary and Danette Jennings, married now 27 years. Gary has a non-denominational Christian Church in Hot Springs (508 Butterfield) called The Ark of Praise with a congregation of nearly 225 and a house on the rural Donaldson acreage where the center exists.The facility was started in April of 2005 and has helped approximately 400 men get “clean and sober” by way of working an eight-hour-day, five days a week, attending a one hour Bible study and or church service nightly and studying a curriculum another hour before bed that teaches how to regain self-respect, integrity and trust.Jennings has expanded in Hot Springs and the organization now has a women’s rehabilitation center set up on the same pattern as “The Father’s House.” It started in November of 2011 and is currently helping 18 women get clean and sober, using the same philosophies of six months of separation from society, with unsupervised family visits after 30 days on Saturdays, and learning self-respect, integrity and trust through five days of manual labor and seven days a week of learning about the Christian walk of love.“We kept 10 acres and our home,” Pastor Jennings said. “My wife works in Arkadelphia at Dawsom Co-op and Larry and I work 10 to 14-hour days with the men. When we first started, it was one trailer for the residents and I was bringing food up the hill from my home.”Director Larry said he has worked at “The Father’s House” since day one. Like most there, he wanted away from his old life because the crude fun of his world “just wasn’t fun anymore.”Tim Spann, 37, of Little Rock, is one of Gary and Larry’s five staff members at the facility. Tim has been clean and sober for 13 months, although his addiction to hard liquor has been under control at various other points in his life.“This time I am following what Jesus Christ told me to do and where He told me to be,” Tim said. “I am 37 and single. I had a wife but she ran off with someone else and it ended in divorce. Someday the Lord may bring me a wife and a family but for right now He has told me to stay here and help the other men so that is what I plan to do.“I have found out the hard way that if you ‘know that you know’ that God has told you what to do, it is the best thing for you and other people to do the Lord’s will instead of flying off on some tangent to once again cut your own path.”Tim said he just bought a truck from “The Father’s House,” and although it is an old fixer-upper, he is proud to have some transportation. After interviewing Tim, he offered to pray for this reporter and his family, which we did. At the rehabilitation center, Christianity is practiced openly.FINANCING THE DREAMBrother Gary Jennings said he and Larry Shireman realized early on that the rehabilitation center was something “God will probably have us keep open until we die.” There is no alcohol, or any other form of addictive substances, allowed at the facility. It is a refuge, as Tim stated, where those temptations just do not exist.But what does exist is the bills for living expenses of 30 men and five staff members, plus a pastor and his wife and a director. Gary and Larry used to work outside the facility and donate money to keep the center going, when the place was small enough to do so. As it grew, it became obvious this was not going to be enough.Brother Gary said, “We have never asked for government assistance by way of grants or any of that. This facility is independent and its Christian. We want our centers to stay that way so we found an old fashioned way of paying the bills. We put the men to work.”Gary and Larry agreed that having the men work eight-hour shifts of manual labor, five days a week, has gone a long way to restoring their self-respect, integrity and trust.“Many of them have been used to finding ways to manipulate money out of others for their beer, whiskey, drug habits and more,” Gary said. “Our formula is simple. We contract labor the 30 men to different construction or factory-type facilities in the Malvern area for $8 an hour per person working and they agree before coming here to donate that wage to ‘The Father’s House’ so they can eat, have a place to sleep and study, and so when they leave here in six months clean and sober the facility can still exist for the next guy to find his sobriety and salvation.“This is all perfectly legal and every bit of their labor wages goes to the facility, I work 10 to 14 hours a day and draw a salary from the company, which I use to make my own house mortgage payment and other living expenses. Larry and I are not getting rich off of this endeavor, but ‘The Father’s House’ is solvent and the work can financially go on.”The new women’s facility in Hot Springs is set up to be financed in an identical way. Brother Gary said he may have to raise the $8 an hour labor charge to the companies because the government’s taxes have gone up so much, but the pattern will remain the same.“When we started this, having the men work was seen as our means of always having a facility,” he said. “We never realized how important it would be to a man’s recovery from addiction. Many of them simply never knew how to work an honest day, or if they did it had been so long ago they could barely remember the feeling of self-respect connected with earning an honest paycheck. This obviously prepares the men to re-enter the workforce for themselves and their families when they get clean and sober, finish their six months here and get on with their lives.”VISITATIONWhen the men complete 30 days at “The Father’s House,” they are allowed to have off the premises Saturdays with their wives and children. Before then, they simply visit in the kitchen on Saturdays. But family contact is encouraged so the positive changes can be an encouragement for loved ones as well as those under treatment.Tim said, “We get people in here that don’t want to be here, from court orders, as alternatives to jail etc. They are generally among those who make it through the six months to get clean and sober. The number one success factor still remains that you have to want a different life. Nobody can force you to change. Nobody can force you to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. Those things must come from your own heart if they are to come.”Tim recalled one man who was court-ordered to come to “The Father’s House” and ran away to the woods the very night he was brought in.”“He was out there all night,” Tim said. “Finally he came upon this house near the property and knocked on a door for help to get back to mainstream society. The door he knocked on was our preacher and owner of the facility, Brother Gary. The man did accept our help and we laugh about this now.”Director Larry said, “Not all of them will be helped. That 400 success stories figure is just a guess. But if a man wants to change, this program is an effective way to do so.”Larry gave this reporter a tour of the kitchen facility, a new chapel under construction by way of labor from those living at the facility, and lastly a tour of the new brick facility soon to be called home for 32 residents.“When we move into the new house, we will only be increasing our client list by two,” he said. “The older trailers will be used for office, storage and whatever

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Billy, I have no clue why, but this comment ended up under the spam heading. Actually, it is a rumor that Purvis committed suicide. Many swear to the shooting as accidental, that he didn't have his safety on...

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I want to include a few more gangsters, I think, then try to do an e-book. Is it expensive to do? I don't know a thing about it.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Well done for writing this, it must have taken a while to get all the information, still think you should turn it into an ebook! voted up and shared, nell

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I appreciate that, Eddy! It's going to be a while, since I need to recuperate, but you can look forward to even more stories along the same line.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      Wow loved it Deb and I agree with Martin thank you for all the work you have put into this one.

      Voted up as always and have a great weekend.

      Eddy.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      It was fun in a lot of ways, Alicia. Now I can catch up on everyone else's hubs that I have fallen behind on over the past few days. I do have plans for another series.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for all the hard work in creating this very interesting series, Deb.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      You're welcome, Martin. There are still a few questions on propriety and other matters of truth, but for the most part, everything is here, save for the gory details at the end.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      What an ending!Thank you for the time and effort you put in.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great climax...Purvis committed suicide??? Weird ending to a weird tale....good job, Deb. Now, who's next?