The Early Bird Gets the Worm
The next morning, which was March 6, 1934, the new Dillinger Gang drove into Sioux Falls in a new Packard. Just before 10 a.m., they parked in front of the Security National Bank and Trust Company. Hamilton stayed near the car, and Tommy Carroll positioned himself in front of the bank, with a machine gun under his coat. Dillinger and the other three went inside. Suddenly, Baby Face Nelson pulled out his machine gun, told people that it was a holdup, and to lie on the floor.
A clerk hit the alarm button, which activated the apparatus on the side of the building. Dillinger walked into the head teller’s cage, Robert Dargen. He laid his automatic on the counter, and began scooping up cash. The head teller actually considered grabbing the gun, but thought better of it. Dillinger then escorted Dargen to the vaults, and he had trouble with the combination. All van Meter did, was threaten the clerk, and the door was finally opened. Van Meter grabbed about $14,000, then told Dargen to open the next vault. Dargen didn’t have the combination, so van Meter called for the bank’s president.
The Locals Didn't Believe the Tip
The desk sergeant got a phone call at the police department that something was going on at the bank, but neglected to mention the alarm. One officer was sent, his gun was taken, and he was told to lie on the floor with everyone else. Baby Face Nelson was threatening all the employees about the alarm, so Dillinger told him to just get money, and forget about the rest of it. Nelson noticed a man in khakis get out of a car. It happened to be off-duty Officer Hale Keith, who, by habit, hitched up his belt. Nelson thought he was going for a gun, and vaulted over a railing and onto a desk. He fired through the plate glass window, and saw Keith fall.
Carroll was in the middle of the street, and captured two carloads of police, including the chief, without firing a shot. A large crowd was around the bank, and in the streets.
Minnehaha County Sheriffs Get Involved
An informant called the Sheriff’s Office of Minnehaha County, and spoke to Sheriff Melvin Sells. He was told to bring his guns to 9th and Main. He gave the reporter that he was speaking with a machine gun, and Sells took a rifle. Sells thought that it was a joke from the start, but a few blocks from the bank, Sells saw a mob and Carroll in the middle of the streetcar tracks with a machine gun at a line of officers. The sheriff and reporter headed for the second floor of a hotel, hoping to get a clear shot at the robbers.
The Dillinger Gang had more than $49,000, and were getting employees together for hostages. They were ordered to surround the gang, and as they neared the front door, Nelson exited by shooting the glass out of the front door. Nelson chose five female hostages and ordered them onto the running boards of the car. One said that she couldn’t hold on, and was permitted to leave.
Just Like in a Comedy Movie
Officer Harley Crisman, found a rifle in a hardware store, and shot a hole in the getaway car’s radiator. After a block, the motor sputtered, and the Packard stopped, so the hostages got off. A shot was fired in the air, and they were told to get back on. The car was started again, and Sheriff Sells and three other officers were in pursuit, but quite a distance behind.
A teller, Leo Olson, one hostage, marveled at the fact that the car was operating at less than 25 mph, instead of at top speed. They stopped on Route 77, at Dillinger’s request, so large roofing nails could be scattered on the road for the police vehicles, which he knew would be coming soon. The four shivering women were told to get inside the car. There was no place for Olson, so he stepped off the running board.
After about four miles, the Packard began steaming from the radiator damage. They flagged down a Dodge, and told the farmer driving to get in a field and wait until they were gone. The four females waiting on the roadside, while the gas cans were transferred from the Packard to the Dodge.
Safe Again in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Sheriff Sells finally came into view, even after his tires were punctured by the nails. They stopped about a hundred yards away, for fear of hitting the girls, if they shot. They just watched the gang get in the Dodge. Nelson tried to grab a hostage, but Dillinger pulled him into the farmer’s car.
Now the chase started, along with an exchange of weapon’s fire. The police lost the trail in a couple of hours. When they arrived at Green’s apartment in Minneapolis, they counted the money. Nelson complained constantly about who contributed the most to the operation, and the fact that Dillinger didn’t let him get a good shot in. Nelson finally silenced when green put the money on a table in six equal piles. Nelson was allowed to count it, and made six piles, while everyone watched.
Once Dillinger had his share of about $7,600, he called Attorney Louis Piquett so that Mary Kinder could pick up the money to help Pierpont and the others pay their attorney fees. Mary had been released from the Indianapolis jail on suspicion of aiding the Michigan City break.
Next Comes The First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa
Dillinger finally had led a major robbery, but nobody believed it, or even that he’d been in Sioux Falls. Witnesses were not believed and the chief of the Burns Detective Agency thought the possibility preposterous.
However, Bancorporation, a holding company for more than 100 banks in the northwest, did not agree. Their underworld contact felt that not only was Dillinger responsible, but that he would surely hot another bank soon. Warnings were sent to banks in Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota.
Green and van Meter were going to leave that very night for Mason City, Iowa. They would stay at the local YMCA and wander around the First National Bank’s neighborhood.
Mary Kinder Arrives
Just before they were due to leave, Mary Kinder arrived from Indianapolis and called the number that Piquett gave her. Van Meter was to meet her a few hours later on a deserted road. She said that she was not going to leave until she saw Johnnie, and van Meter finally admitted that Dillinger hadn’t been identified at Sioux Falls and wanted to stay under cover. He gave her an envelope containing $2,000.
The Trial in Lima
In Lima, Pierpont’s trial was in a courtroom near the scene of Sheriff Sarber’s murder. Pierpont was shackled, guarded with machine guns, and the target of movie cameras. Miss Jessie Levy was his attorney, and Shouse, who had been removed from the gang in Chicago, said that he was not at his mother’s farm at the time of the murder. The courthouse was heavily guarded and fortified with sandbags. Everyone feared that Dillinger and his gang were going to show up and break everyone out of the same jail that he had been broken out.
On March 11, Pierpont was put on the stand by his attorney to testify that he was not in Lima on the night of the murder. Prosecutor Ernest Botkin claimed that Pierpont had been brought from Michigan City to Tucson, only to get out of prison. Botkin played his cards right, and got an angry response from his taunt. Pierpont finished with the fact that he wished he had engineered large bank robberies, but he didn’t get elected president of a bank. The crowd burst into laughter, and the last response was stricken from the record.
Closing arguments were heated, and Botkin argued for the death penalty. The jury deliberated for 45 minutes, for a verdict of guilty. Judge Everett said that he would pronounce sentence at a later date. Both Mr. and Mrs. Pierpont were in attendance.
Preparing for the Dillinger Gang and the Next Robbery
The next day, General Harold “Whispering Willie” Bush was warned that Dillinger was on his way to Lima. Chicago Police transferred Pierpont to the state penitentiary. In Columbus, Governor White and his daughter were put under heavy guard, as it was felt that Dillinger might use them as bargaining ransom for Pierpont’s release.
Instead, at 7 p.m. that evening, Eddie Green went to the door of Harry Fisher, assistant cashier of the First National Bank of Mason City, Iowa. He asked Fisher for a neighbor’s address, but his objective was to get a good look at the man that opened the main vault every morning.
First National Bank Job in Iowa
On March 13, the bank had nearly $240,000 in the vault. Eddie Green picked this bank well, which would give them all enough money for anything that they could possibly need, if the robbery was successful.
Dillinger wanted his dream of Mexico or South America to come to fruition with his share of the take, about $40,000.
Fifteen feet over the bank’s lobby was a seven foot high steel cage, on a balcony attached to the front wall. Tom Walters, the bank guard, sat in here. He could see everything through the bulletproof window. At any sign of problems, all he had to do was fire his gas gun a dozen times, and the robbers would be overcome.
At 2:20, Harry Fisher, who had been visited by Eddie Green the night before, was at his cage waiting on someone. He heard yelling, and saw three well-dressed men waving guns. It was Green, Hamilton, and van Meter. Van Meter was looking for the president, Willis Bagley. When van Meter saw him seated at his desk, he walked over, machine gun at the ready. Bagley saw a wild and crazy man coming toward him, and ran into his private office, a short distance away. Van Meter thrust his gun into the door, preventing Bagley from shutting it. Van Meter yanked the gun free, and Bagley shut the door. Van Meter fired through the door, and a bullet grazed Bagley’s chest. Van Meter now started gathering hostages for later use.
Another Crazy Mess You've Gotten Me Into
Hamilton went behind the cages, sending the employees to the lobby, where Green was located. The guard fired his tear gas gun when he saw Green with a machine gun. The eight-inch pellet hit Green in the back, and began released a 25,000 cubic foot gas stream. Hamilton was behind the cages putting money in a sack. Green grabbed a bank director, and fired a burst at the steel cage were the tear gas came from. Walters was nicked in the ear and chin, trying to pry the shell from the gas gun out of the chamber, which was not successful. There were also no gas candles. That was the end of his assistance.
The auditor’s assistant found a gas candle in a mezzanine floor office, pulled the fuse, and threw it on the floor below. Two elderly men kicked it, as it was spewing fumes. Another employee was looking down at the coughing customers. Green yelled, and shot a burst upstairs. She and another employee crawled back to a storeroom. She yelled to a man wearing a cap and brown coat to call somebody, because the bank was being robbed. Baby Face Nelson looked up, pointing his machine gun at her. “You’re telling me?” he said.
Van Meter had a dozen hostages that he was directing to the sidewalk in front of the bank. Dillinger lined up the living shield, and left van Meter in charge of them. He returned to the bank, and got more people in the investment department that were hiding on the floor. They were ordered outside, too, surrounding Dillinger, at his orders. Someone swung his car around, not knowing why traffic was stalled, and went past the bank. Dillinger fired into the radiator, and no other cars came forward again.
Kunkelman video film during the bank robbery
- Dillinger bank robbery in Mason City, filmed before and after - YouTube
Freelance photographer H.C. Kunkleman just happened to be filming the First National Bank on March 13, 1934, when John Dillinger and his coworkers showed up ...
This is No Movie, Sherlock!
A freelance photographer was doing a movie of the business section that morning, so people thought a robbery film was being made. They shoved forward to find the movie stars.
The editor of the Globe-Gazette was ordering reporters out to get one brief each. Reporter Carl Wright headed up a side street and saw Baby Face Nelson near the back of the bank. Across the street was another man with a machine gun, Tommy Carroll. The getaway car was right between them, blocking traffic. Nelson fired a few warning shots at the reporter. An innocent auto went past Wright, heading toward the getaway car. Nelson fired at this car, too. It stopped, and backed up full speed, without hitting anything, just like the Keystone Kops.
The reporter ducked into a bookstore and called his city editor, returning just in time to see the school board secretary, R.L. James, casually walking toward Nelson. Baby Face turned and fired again, hitting James in the leg, who fell to the sidewalk.
Police Chief E.J. Patton, walking to court in civilian clothing for a trial, heard the first shots. He thought that a movie was being made, as well. He heard someone say that the bank was being robbed, then he ran into the Weir Building. He went to a second floor office, but was unable to get a clear shot at Dillinger. He did see one of his officers run across the park with a sawed-off shotgun, headed toward the bank.
Dillinger fired his pistol, and the officer ducked behind a Civil War monument. He stuck out his gun, but was afraid to hit an innocent bystander.
Judge Shipley Got His Shots In
However, John C. Shipley, an elderly police judge, was looking almost straight down from his third floor office at Dillinger. He took careful aim and pulled the stiff trigger on an ancient pistol. Dillinger grabbed his right shoulder, and fired his machine gun up at the window, but the judge was no longer there.
Dillinger told van Meter to tell the others that it was time to leave the bank. Hamilton wanted three more minutes, as the big money was in the vaults, not content with the $32, 000 that came from the cages. Harry Fisher got the door to the vault open, trying to think of how to keep the most money in the bank. He grabbed a heavy bag of pennies for a doorstop, and Hamilton grabbed them, depositing them in his bag. It slammed shut and locked, so there were bars between the two of them. Fisher went to the safe where the money was, spinning the lock’s dial, locking it, instead of opening it. Fisher was doing everything that he could to stall for time. He unlocked the door, but there were still bars between them. He came out with bundles of $1 bills, and slowly shoved them through the bars, returning for more ones.
The crowd was growing and could get out of hand at any moment, so Dillinger sent van Meter in one last time, who said that they were leaving. Of almost $200,000 Fisher had only given him about $20,000. Hamilton got some hostages, and exited the bank. Judge Shipley again got another shot out of his third story window. Hamilton’s right shoulder was hit.
Chief E.J. Patton is in Pursuit
Dillinger told everyone to get on the running boards again, but this time, there were three times as many hostages as there had been at Sioux Falls. Others were put in the back seat of the Buick. Two men were even on the front mudguards. The glass had even been removed from the back window, so others could climb on the rear bumper. It looked like a circus clown car.
Chief Patton got a sawed off shotgun at his department, two officers, and an unmarked car. He was in pursuit. The cameraman, H.C. Kunkelman, was getting movies of the crowd around the bank.
An elderly hostage hollered when they began going by where she lived, and asked to be let off. The driver stopped. Instead of proceeding at 15 mph, they picked up the pace to 20.
How Do We Get in These Three Ring Circuses?
Look, this wasn't my idea. Baby Face shot everything that wasn't moving, and made us look like we were crazy. Well, some people looked like they were crazy. Then some nut up on a third floor shoots us. You just wait until we find him. It's going to be tricky, but you watch us get out of this mess, too.
Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on March 15, 2013:
Nettlemere, they are totally insane, but if Baby Face goes anywhere with anyone, that is only guaranteed. The man loved to shoot everything up.
Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on March 15, 2013:
they really upped the ante with this set of robberies, but they still sound like totally crazy affairs!
Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on March 14, 2013:
The more practice they get, the smarter they get, Alicia.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 14, 2013:
It's amazing how much the gang got away with. Each time I read about them getting into trouble I think that they're going to get caught and that the end of the story is near, yet they still escape! Thanks for the gripping story, Deb.
Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on March 14, 2013:
Martin, it is all worth it when people enjoy it. They will remember it, and that's what really matters to me. I go for the HEART.
Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on March 14, 2013:
Any time klidstone. Don't forget about the horrors of the Depression, and the fact that most people went without A LOT. Many felt that it was time to get back at the establishment, which is exactly what gangsters did.
Deb Hirt (author) from Stillwater, OK on March 14, 2013:
Billy, it became a well-oiled machine with the "right' people. Granted, some personalities didn't mix right, but they knew what to do. As the old saying goes, and some good planning, practice makes perfect. Everyone had a job, and they did it well.
Martin Kloess from San Francisco on March 13, 2013:
Boy, this was really something. Once again thank you for going through the research.
இڿڰۣ-- кιмвєяℓєу from Niagara Region, Canada on March 13, 2013:
I can't believe how laid back and unconcerned everybody seems in the old footage afterwards. You'd think they'd show a little more emotion, I know I would if I had been witness to something like that. Thank you for a wonderful read.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 13, 2013:
It really is like a movie, Deb! How did these guys continue to get away? Amazing! Can't wait for the next installment.