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The Great Escape at Dayton Prison

Updated on March 10, 2013
John Dillinger Behind Bars
John Dillinger Behind Bars | Source

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.

John Dillinger with Colt Thompson submachine gun and the wooden gun that got him out of prison
John Dillinger with Colt Thompson submachine gun and the wooden gun that got him out of prison | Source

The Plans

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.

Harry Pierpont
Harry Pierpont | Source

Administrative Men

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.

Dillinger's wooden gun used to escape Crown Point
Dillinger's wooden gun used to escape Crown Point | Source

Part One

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.

Ed Shouse
Ed Shouse | Source

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.

Captain Matt Leach
Captain Matt Leach | Source

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.

Pearl Elliott
Pearl Elliott | Source
Mary Kinder
Mary Kinder | Source

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
Harry Copeland | Source

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.


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    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Pamya. I will definitely keep that in mind, but right now, things are still manageable, even with working for a degree, and a full-time job.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Please let me know if you're looking for a ahutor for your weblog. You have some really good articles and I feel I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I'd absolutely love to write some material for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please send me an e-mail if interested. Thank you!

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thank you, Rebecca. I do have an interest in Both CLyde and Bonnie, as well as Dillinger, and even the Daltons, for that matter. Many of those folks saw Oklahoma, where I am currently living now. Thanks for your support.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      That was a extraordinarily rebrlkamae study for a change I am pleased to say. I do not typically create remarks on blogs hence I don’t in actuality understand off-topic so publish or you jot down.In my honest, some websites I have seen are boring drivel as well as don’t have something set off, but this article was of much better quality than recently.Thank you for writing concerning topic as I in reality similar to learn further about it. I have study a mass of useful stuff about this on the net. A fair amount of that information here on your web page.I was quite surprised by it in truth – I make an effort to keep a few blogs reasonably live, but battle sometimes. You have done a big job with this individual. How do you do manage to cope with it? I will have to bookmark this web site in my favorites so I be able return when I become the time.

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Colin, are you going to be able to publish your dad's material? Glad that you're enjoying the series. I'm just taking a bit of a breather now, reading some close encounters of the animal kind from last century...

    • epigramman profile image


      5 years ago

      Well Deb , my world class historian and criminologist, it can never really get better than this Dillinger series. I'm even sure if 'ole John came back from the grave himself he would approve.

      My dad who passed away back in 1992 from cancer would have loved your writing as he was quite a historian himself and he wrote 69 unpublished novels and 1 memoir of the war he was in as a Canadian soldier after he landed at the Juno beach on d-day.

      Sending you warm wishes from Colin and his cats at lake erie time ontario canada 2:49pm

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Cris! I'm glad that you like the messages from the, I have not seen the Philip Morris movie, but will check on it per your advisement. Thanks for the gtreat words of encouragement, and you will be seeing the next part fairly soon.

    • CrisSp profile image


      5 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Wow, this is full of action and mind boggling scenes. Riveting at the same time and reminds me of the movie, "I love you Philip Morris" though with a twist and with only a sole culprit, himself "Philip Morris". Have you seen that film? Good one too and true story.

      I salute you for a job well done. You certainly did a great deal of research on this hub and we (readers) had a great thrilling time. Looking forward to reading the rest...waiting for Johnie's message. :)


    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Jim, I am so glad that you have been enjoying this drama. At least you had something to do while it was raining so much! Hope some of your rain will come this way.

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 

      5 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      I got out of order, but that is nothing new. Sitting here with rain pouring down for two days now, this stuff is riveting!

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Eddy! You'll definitely be seeing a few more things about some of the people that have interesting me during the Depression era.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      5 years ago from Wales

      Wow another great hub Deb and I was totally gripped .

      Here's to looking forward to so many more my gifted friend.

      Enjoy your day.


    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Lela, having been in law enforcement is half the battle, but the '30's was not my time, just an interest. Ye, it was and still is a great deal of research. I'm glad that you came by to read this. There will certainly be more.

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      That's the thing about changes in administration on the state level. It is even WORSE on the federal level back in the days. The left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing. Luckily, these types of changes really have little to do with things nowadays. Thanks for coming by again, Peg!

    • CreatePerfection profile image


      5 years ago from Beautiful Colorado


      You write the most amazing articles. This is a great hub about a relatively unknown period for most of us. It is hard to imagine the criminal mind and the outright disregard for the law that these men promoted. I know that you had to put a lot of research into this one. Thanks for a job very well done.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      There are a lot of interesting developments in this release. Quite a few characters involved in the break. The prison staff being replacements and newbies added a lot to the drama and confusion. Enjoyable read.

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Bumpsysmum. SOmetimes, I don't think that we'l ever know all the details on the gangsters of the '30's, but I'm suere going to try my best!

    • Bumpsysmum profile image


      5 years ago from Cambridgeshire

      I grew up with stories of Dillinger and the like. This was very interesting and well written. Enjoyed having some of the information holes filled in as it were.

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Martin! It sure has been slow going. There is so much to cover.

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Billy. That was my hope, for it to be play-by-play. Thanks for your continued support.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      5 years ago from San Francisco

      Well told. It seems to me your writing style is getting even better. Thank you for researching this.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Love it, Deb! I grew up with stories about all of this from my parents, but you have covered it all in great detail and made it come alive. I'm ready for the next installment.


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