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The Police Battle for Dillinger and the Gang

Updated on March 26, 2013
Arraignment in Arizona
Arraignment in Arizona

The Quandry

Fights were going for the reward money. Fireman Benedict got a telegram from True Detective Magazine promising $100- if reports of his ID on Clark and Makley were correct. The Sheriff’s Office ignored him about the police reward, claiming that two travelling salesmen had the tip leading to the arrests. Ohio offered to let Indiana take Dillinger, if it could have the other three men for Sarber’s murder, and Indiana accepted that offer. Wisconsin also got in on the battle for jurisdiction. They said that they could try, sentence, and lock up a prisoner all in the same day, and they had no corruption or escapes in their system.

By January 27, 1934, Matt Leach and the Wisconsin authorities were on the way to Tucson to bring the prisoners back. The Lake County Prosecutor and Attorney General were also responding from Indiana, whether Leach liked that or not.

Dillinger's Double Derringer Taken From Him During Tucson Arrest
Dillinger's Double Derringer Taken From Him During Tucson Arrest | Source

The Lead Players

Arizona wanted the reward money before allowing extradition. One of the local candidates for the money said to give them to the state that would pay the most for them. Sgts. Eyman and Sherman even came to visit at the jail. Pierpont told them that they were smart, and was grateful that Eyman didn’t shoot him. Dillinger said that they were lucky, as they didn’t try to get them both at the same time.

By Sunday, the next day, the battle for extradition kicked into high gear. The Prosecutor from Indiana, Robert Estill, wanted Dillinger in the electric chair for the murder of the East Chicago police officer. He was on an early air mail plane with Leach. He was soft spoken, but about as deadly as one could get in the courtroom. He had already torn Public Utilities to shreds, costing a billion dollars in rate reductions.

Officer Hobart Wilgus
Officer Hobart Wilgus | Source

There Were Self-Motivated Interests

Estill was looking to become Governor for what his intentions were for Dillinger. McNutt, the then current Governor, was already being discussed for the Presidency, and he supported Estill. A Dillinger conviction would advance both their political careers.

Estill brought Hobart Wilgus, who saw Dillinger shoot down Officer Pat O’Malley, a solid clincher.

Leach and his group arrived later that morning from Indianapolis. He was so eager to see the gang, he didn’t even bother to wash up after his two day train trip. Pursuer was just as obsessed with his quarry, as one could tell by Dillinger’s calls to Leach. When he got to the jail, he put a hand through the bars, and Dillinger reluctantly shook it.

Does Wisconsin Have a Sweet Deal?

Pierpont brought back the day of his mother’s arrest and threatened to kill Leach, shaking the bars in his cell. Leach quietly left, and Sheriff John Belton quieted Pierpont. Leach told a reporter that he really loved his mother, and commended the local police for the capture.

That afternoon, Dillinger didn’t want to talk to reporters, except Tubby Toms of the Indianapolis News. He gave the newsman a rabbit’s foot, for being considerate with his family. He said that his luck was running out.

Wisconsin’s representatives were there later, headed by DA John Brown, who began a conference with van Buskirk, the gangs’ attorney. They said that there was no death penalty in Wisconsin, and that was an advantage. The gang refused to accept, until they were assured that Mary Kinder wouldn’t be involved. The DA knew that since they stuck fast in Lima, things wouldn’t change a bit in Tucson. Was he ever right. Now, the only question was whether or not Arizona would accept that. Dillinger told reporters that he’d boost the Wisconsin reward to top whatever Indiana and Ohio were offering.

Estill and Arizona Have Their Own Rules

When Estill heard that, he wanted all four of them to go to Indiana immediately. He feared that if they didn’t act fast, they’d end up in Wisconsin. It was up to the Governor to sign extradition paperwork for Dillinger, since the other three escaped from the Indiana State Prison. Dillinger would have to remain in Indiana and be tried for the O’Malley killing, while the other three would be transferred to Lima, as previously agreed.

The Arizona Governor, B.B. Moeur, agreed, but Estill still had his fears. He knew that van Buskirk was going for a writ of habeas corpus, which meant that everyone would appear before a local judge to see if they had been lawfully arrested. This could give Wisconsin the time element that it needed to win.

Estill suggested that the gang be flown out before van Buskirk could obtain the writ. Houston said they couldn’t sneak more than one out of there, so he’d hire a local pilot to fly Dillinger and Estill out the next afternoon. Leach could bring the others by train.

"No, I Won't Go, and You Can't Make Me!"

Sheriff Belton suddenly declared an open house at the Pima County Jail, so the crowds hanging around the building could see Dillinger and the gang. 415 people saw the gangsters in just a few hours. The next morning, the first of 1,100 people were observing the prisoners. Estill and Houston were tidying up details on Dillinger’s relocation at 4 p.m.

An hour before Dillinger’s trip, Attorney General of Indiana, Philip Lutz, Jr., was approached by Star reporter, Fred Finney. Lutz revealed Estill’s plan, and began looking for photographer, J. Robert Burns. Right about then, eighteen Navy bombers went over the courthouse and a guard jokingly said that it was the rest of the gangsters coming.

The local police finally learned of Dillinger’s impending trip to Indiana. They went to Houston at the jail, and said that he should go to Wisconsin, who was offering the biggest reward.

As the agreement was raging, Sheriff Belton was telling Dillinger that he was going back home, and not to an apartment in Indiana. He fought bitterly in his cell, to no avail. He was put into a waiting car, and the crowd at the jail was never the wiser. Every time the car hit a bump, Estill saw that the handcuffs cut Dillinger’s wrists, but he did nothing about it. He only wished that people could see the tough guy now.

Dillinger at Airport
Dillinger at Airport | Source

The Film Keeps Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

J. Robert Burns was getting shot after shot at the airfield. People that were there for the Navy planes landing, saw a shackled man being led to a Bellanca monoplane, protesting loudly. Finney was getting a play-by-play article for his paper, and Dillinger was trying so hard to gain freedom.

The newsmen were racing back to Tucson with their big scoop. Burns hurried into the engraver’s darkroom, and saw what happens when one is in a hurry: he forgot to pull the protective plate from the film when it was put in the camera. There were no pictures.

Less than an hour later, the plane landed at International Airport, which was just a pasture in Douglas, Arizona. Dillinger went to the local jail where he was stripped. At 10:30 p.m., he was given new clothes and returned to the airport. He was boarded on an American Airways plane with Estill, bound for El Paso, Texas. One of the two passengers that saw Dillinger hurriedly left the plane. During the flight, Dillinger confessed to robbing the Chicago and Greencastle banks, as well as killing O’Malley, but that was self defense, as he intended to stop him.

 The police officers who aided in the capture of the Dillinger gang in Tucson Arizona shown above with five sub-machine guns, bullet proof vests, revolvers and ammunition taken from members of the gang of Bank Robbers and escaped convicts. From left
The police officers who aided in the capture of the Dillinger gang in Tucson Arizona shown above with five sub-machine guns, bullet proof vests, revolvers and ammunition taken from members of the gang of Bank Robbers and escaped convicts. From left | Source

Meanwhile, Back in Tucson

Meanwhile, back in Tucson, van Buskirk just convinced a judge to sign a writ for habeas corpus for his four clients, unaware that Dillinger was gone. The hearing was set for the next morning. The Tucson Police felt that it was unreasonable that since they were the ones that did all the work, they had no say in the disposition of their criminals. Matt Leach said that he was only giving them $300 instead of the $325 that he brought with him, as Dillinger was being returned to the County, not the State Prison. Chet Sherman, who had posed as the messenger, grabbed Leach by the shoulders and told him that he was a double crosser, just like Pierpont had said.

Before ten the next morning, the remaining three prisoners were taken to Superior Court, which was packed. The judge denied the writ. Opal Long and Billie Frechette were released, but Mary Kinder and the three men were sent back to Indiana’s clutches.

Matt Leach took Pierpont, Makley, Clark, and Mary on a chartered Pullman an hour later. Attorney General Lutz told reporters right at the train station that he suspected collusion between Wisconsin officials and the gangsters. He even sent a telegram to AG Homer Cummings in Washington to investigate this.


The Party Starts in Chicago

At 6:10 the next evening, the American Airways plane carrying Dillinger landed at Chicago’s Municipal Airport. Estill gave Dillinger $10 to have something in his pocket. His fans included the entire Dillinger Squad and 85 other police officers from two states. Dillinger was shoved into the back of Sgt. Frank Reynolds’ car, shackled to two Indiana officers. Reynolds, who Dillinger had threatened so often over the phone, was silent when he was told to just start something.

There were thirteen cars and a dozen motorcycles in this procession heading for Indiana, whose sirens were going almost constantly. People in every community that they passed through lined the streets to watch this parade. Just prior to 8 p.m., they got to Crown Point, the county seat of Lake County.

Dillinger was taken to the Sheriff’s office, which was filled with reporters that all wanted to talk to him. He was a celebrity now, in more ways than one, so he played his part.

Judge William Murray joked about his reception at the airport, which was the judge that would arraign him. A reporter asked if he had really sent the book, “How to Be a Detective,” to Matt Leach, and he said that he had been there when it was sent. Everyone laughed at that.

Dillinger and Estill
Dillinger and Estill | Source
Dillinger(right), Holley(left), and Estill(center)
Dillinger(right), Holley(left), and Estill(center) | Source

Pictures were being taken left and right, and G. Reed Thomson told Estill to put his arm around Dillinger. Estill didn’t hear that, but Dillinger did. He rested his elbow on Estill’s shoulder. On Estill’s right was Lillian Holley, the Lake County Sheriff. She was finishing the term that her murdered husband had begun. Naturally this photo went to press, which cost one man the Governorship, and another’s dream to be President, for it sent Indiana’s political scene right down the pipe.


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    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Peg! These people were antiestablishment all the way. Little did they realize that our own government would be fighting for big money and oil over us...

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      3 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Fascinating stories of the criminals of bygone days. Those black and white photos really bring back the days. So many of the early movies I watched were glorified versions of true life stories like these. Great reading here.

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, Riska, there is a lot that we should be doing. Some will, and many won't.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I am a firmly iovlned in working to reduce toxic chemicals in the environment. I have to say your site upsets me. It put a lot of the responsibility on the consumer. I don't like the idea of blaming people for their own cancer. I firmly believe it is the responsibility of government to protect the consumers. It would be a full time job to research product to the extent needed. We should be focusing on striengthing the EPA and Clean air and water acts.

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Intan, it is always a necessity to be health conscious. Here, we must fight to have GMOs labelled in our food. It has become quite a fight, as well as regulating the use of other unhealthy things.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Hi,Thank you for your comment I wntead to address your concerns:We put a lot of responsibility with the consumer because the government and its agencies don't put a whole lot of emphasis or concern on the health of its citizens as a whole. Surely there are safeguard processes and a handful of banned toxins and regulated chemicals but by-and-large they are failing us, our health, and our future. Which leaves the responsibility up to the individual t0 be educated, to be aware, and to prevent and revolt against cancer and the toxins that cause it.I hope you can use our site and the various other outlets to further your own knowledge and stay healthy.Best,-NTR / Casey

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks so much, KoffeeKlatch Gal. It was an interesting era after the Depression, and as a result, some people like Dillinger and the gang tried to get back at the government for the Depression. It was their way to fight back, and many people admired them for it. The more that I delved into it, most of the gangsters really did their best to keep from harming the average citizen. They wanted to take it out on the profiteers.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      5 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Funny the attitude some people had towards Dillinger. How much more interesting people of that time were than the ordinary man. Looking forward to reading more. Very interesting.

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Alicia, in the times of financial ruin, everyone needed a hero, and all the gangs were that for many people. The government couldn't tell them what to do, they did what they wanted. Anarchy? In a sense, but it was more on a power trip than anything.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very interesting story. Some people did seem to have a strange attitude towards Dillinger. He seemed to be thought of as almost a hero. I'm looking forward to the next installment in this series, Deb.

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      They were glorified because they were getting back at Big Business. It was the banks that shut their doors during the Depression, and that's why people lost their money, because they panicked and took it out. Diliinger and other gangsters epitomized the truth against corrutpion, for they did everything out in the open.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      What an interesting time it was back then. The hoodlums were almost revered by people back then. It was like they were glorified and larger than life. Thanks for a great series.


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