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The Great Escape at Dayton Prison
Cool as a Cucumber
At the Dayton Prison, Chief of Detectives Seymour Yendes, was surprised at how calm and collected Dillinger was under constant interrogation. He had even been ID’d by several witnesses at the scene of the robbery.
Matt Leach was there the next morning to see him personally. Dayton authorities had even found what might be an escape plan from Michigan City, which Leach doubted and didn’t hesitate to say so. Yendes even showed him the escape route from an Indiana bank, including tenths of a mile, which Leach claimed that he had to have. This caused a heated argument between the two, so drastic, Yendes ordered Leach out of his office. Leach faired no better questioning Dillinger on the Monticello job, as well as other bank robberies.
The day after Dillinger’s arrest, the Gordon Shirt Company received a large box of thread, which was at the prison. When Walter Dietrich, Lamm’s former student, saw the “X” in the corner, he signed for it, and was soon trying to hide ammo and four guns in a shoe box.
There were nine now on the escape roster. Mary Kinder’s brother, Earl, was in the hospital with tuberculosis, not expected to live. A former race car driver had been added, a murderer, and a kindred robber. One had been removed from the list, as he had a weak character.
Pierpont, Makley, Clark, and Hamilton discussed plans in the exercise yard on September 25. The break was going to be the next day, and everyone swore to die over being captured.
The new warden, Louis Kunkel, a former attorney, was concerned about prison conditions, and what they could lead to. The antiquated main gate needed to be replaced, most of the guards were inexperienced due to the new administration, and there was quarter-inch plywood between many of the rooms.
“I, God” Claudy had heard that there was an escape going down in two days, but didn’t want to alarm the warden, until he had proof. Since he was a Republican, he felt that he could easily lose his job for something foolhardy.
Former Governor, Harry Leslie, was concerned about prison morale, since veteran guards had been dismissed. He expected a prison break, due to the fact that so many new and inexperienced men had taken their places.
September 26 was cold and rainy, seemingly uneventful. At 2 o’clock, nine inmates from two shops asked for hospital passes, then they all met in the foyer of the main factory, filing downstairs to the sub-basement. Then Dietrich joined them. Jim “Oklahoma Jack” Clark was also a new addition, the other survivor of Lamm’s Gang. Dietrich opened the shoe box and handed out .45 autos to Pierpont, Makley, and Hamilton. The others were given fake guns. Then Dietrich located the company superintendent, G. H. Steven, and told him that some men were downstairs waiting to buy shirts.
Stevens was soon taken hostage by Hamilton. Meanwhile, Dietrich was in the yard looking for Captain Albert “Big Bertha” Evans. He received the nickname due to his height and width, and his temperament wasn’t any better. Dietrich told him that the foreman wanted him. He followed Dietrich, and as he stepped into the storeroom, Pierpont took him as a hostage.
Stevens was given a number of shirts and told to lead the way. He was followed by Hamilton, Pierpont, and Dietrich, whose guns were hidden by shirts. The others picked by a heavy steel shaft to be used as a battering ram to use if needed. Big Bertha was in the back. They were heading for the Guard’s Hall, the last building before the gate. The group was seen by guards on top of the stone walls, but paid no attention, as Big Bertha was there. A tower guard was sleeping. Elderly guard Frank Swanson came to the door with a key. He was a kind man to the prisoners, and was just shoved into a chair.
Almost Out of the Jail
They were approaching the cage, or the main gate, with shirts in their arms, which was a common sight. The turnkey unlocked the door, and Hamilton kicked it open. Everyone rushed in, and Ed Shouse, the race car driver, hit the other guard in the head, grabbing his keys. They crowded into the reception lobby. By then, it was too late. Warden Kunkel and his secretary could hear everything. The secretary heard the commotion and just said that there was trouble. A clerk said that it was a break and told Kunkel to hide in a closet. He had said that he’d rather be caught in the open than in a closet.
Clerks were ordered about, and since the new administration replaced most everybody there, the new chief clerk had to be found to get Pierpont the money and guns that he was demanding before they left. They found Howard Crosby, still hiding under his desk. He had managed to call for the police.
Lawrence Mutch, Superintendent of Industries, claimed that he didn’t have the ordnance key, and was hit over the head.
By then, everyone was in the lobby, many of them dazed by their new freedom. They didn’t know what to do, it was like they were in a dream. It was pouring rain by the time the ten went through the front door in two groups. Three of the gang captured Deputy Charles Neal, who had just brought in a prisoner. Neal had a gun to his back and directed them to his car, and off they went, toward Chicago. Dietrich was in this car.
Standard Oil and Sheriff Neal
The other six, which included Pierpont and his gang, ran across the street to the Standard Oil gas station. They commandeered a car, and at around 2:30 in the afternoon, they took over a farm, which included the family and a hired hand. Sheriff Neal’s group was now walking in the hard rain. They drove the car into a lake, got another one, let the driver escape into the woods, then proceeded to wreck that car. By then, local police were converging from all sides.
By 9 o’clock that night, Matt Leach joined the chase. He heard a woman on the radio telling about being questioned by a couple of the escapees looking for a garage There were sirens and shots in the background. An announcer was describing a gun battle play-by-play, and many listeners thought that it was real, including Leach. By the time that Leach got to the “gun fight,” he found a director and actors. By the time they all admitted what had happened, Leach gave the order for the director to be arrested.
Mary Kinder was supposed to rent an apartment for a hideout for Dillinger’s future gang. She didn’t suspect that the break was going to be a day early, so she was at home with her family reading. At midnight, she found Pierpont in his prison garb at her front door. When she recovered, she asked about her brother, and was told that he couldn’t make it because he was in the hospital. If it wasn’t for him, she never would have become involved.
The Kinders and Ralph Saffell
Mary’s sister, Margaret, who was every bit as small, told her to get them away from there. Mary’s even tinier mother, told her that she wasn’t going anywhere with them, and even went so far as to slap her. She was so surprised, she just went down the steps and got in the car.
Mary took them to her date’s place, Ralph Saffell, whom she saw earlier. Ralph invited Mary in, but was taken aback when he saw six convicts dressed in their prison attire. They quickly hid the stolen car in the garage and pulled down the blinds. For the first time in years, they felt relaxed, and told jokes and stories of their escapades. Mary liked Pierpont, whom she had known since she was a girl. Jenkins sang songs, Russell Clark told jokes, and Red Hamilton seemed good natured. The other two didn’t impress her at all.
Everyone enjoyed themselves, and the night passed fast, except poor Saffell, who appeared terrified. In the morning, she’d go to town and buy them new clothes with the money that Dillinger had given her. Pierpont told Saffell to drive, warning him not to try anything funny.
While Mary was busy buying clothing in all different stores, Pearl Elliott called the house. The code that she used on Margaret, who answered the phone, was if she knew George Washington. Margaret told her what happened, and Pearl said that she had visited Dillinger in Dayton. He had a secret compartment in his belt, and gave her money for the boys. He wanted the gang to find Evelyn “Billie” Frechette, and have her waiting for him when he was freed. Evidently Mary Longnaker fled town after he was arrested.
Harry Copeland's Job
After dark, Harry Copeland, a parolee from Michigan City, said that he had found a place in Hamilton, Ohio for the gang, much more permanent. They had already been discussing breaking Dillinger out of Dayton, as he had helped them before he was caught, which they had just learned from Pearl Elliott. Copeland said that he wasn’t prepared, either, due to the early escape, and the house in Hamilton, Ohio, wouldn’t be ready for a few more days. This worked out well, as for a base of operations, it would be much closer to Dillinger. Copeland had found them a temporary place for the immediate future.
What Are You Waiting For?
Okay, who's with me and the gang? You can join up if you know how to keep your trap shut, and we'll show you what you have to do. Sit tight, wait for a message from Johnnie, and you'll be all right.