RENSSELAER — Local woman Mary Chesak’s now-deceased uncle, Michael Obermeyer, of Lafayette, was a game warden who had at least one major encounter with notorious gangster John Dillinger.
Chesak, who has been working to document unique facets of her family’s history, recently shared this Dillinger story with the Rensselaer Republican. Sources for it included an article from Valparaiso’s Vidette-Messenger, published in July 1934, as well as Chesak’s memories of what she’d been told about her uncle.
Chesak stumbled upon more archived articles this week, which provide further details about her uncle’s actions on Jan. 15 of that year, when Dillinger attempted a bank robbery in Chicago. Chesak said she is not positive exactly which paper these more recent articles were taken from, since the surviving clippings she found do not include its name anywhere.
“I just found that,” she said. “I was cleaning out, trying to get rid of some stuff for a rummage sale at church. I came across a book and that was in it.”
Obermeyer, who was then a game warden stationed in Valparaiso, was with a fellow warden named Pete Bartook, of East Chicago, on that day when the former drove the two into East Chicago.
Around that time, a police officer with the last name of “O’Malley” had been following some of the gang members to a bank, which was located near a Newberry store and a Walgreen’s drug store, along or near Chicago Avenue.
As the robbery was occurring, O’Malley took up a post by the side of the bank door. When Dillinger and his men emerged from the bank, several people waiting on a street corner ran to the scene to see what was going on.
At that time, Obermeyer and Bartook were turning onto Chicago Avenue and witnessing the scene themselves. They stopped their car and drew their weapons.
O’Malley, who was “only a few feet from the bandits,” stepped behind them and fired four shots at Dillinger.
At around the same time this was happening, two men, identified by the names of “Wilgus” and “Spencer,” were being pushed out of the bank by Dillinger’s men. At one point, they ran back toward the bank, and Dillinger’s friend John Hamilton fired at Wilgus.
However, O’Malley managed to shoot Hamilton in the hand, causing him to drop his gun.
Dillinger then swung around with a machine gun in hand and shouted, “I’ll get that (expletive),” and shot O’Malley.
As the gangster and his companions were attempting to escape in their vehicle, Obermeyer, who was parked nearby, “slipped up to within a few feet of Dillinger and he (Obermeyer) rounded his car and shot twice at him.”
Chesak recalled how she had been told her uncle had once fired at Dillinger’s car, but the gangster’s bullet-proof windows had protected him.
Around this time, other police officers arrived at the scene and fired several shots at the car as it sped down Chicago Avenue and turned onto Olcott Avenue. Obermeyer and Bartook then jumped back into their car to continue the pursuit.
Unfortunately, Dillinger’s vehicle managed to outpace his pursuers, heading to 151st Street and then eventually to Michigan Avenue, until he arrived in Hammond. He and his gang picked up an old Nash Sedan and “threatened a local man who crowded them on the turn.”
After Dillinger had fled the scene on Chicago Avenue, a doctor rushed to aid O’Malley, who “was lying in front of the shattered window of the Newberry store.” The officer died a few moments later.
Newspapers reported that the robbery was well-planned, with “every detail timed by the bandits.” An article noted that members of Dillinger’s gang nearly tore off the left rear door of their Sedan during their escape. The robbery occurred “just before the normal closing time of the bank,” and there was not a traffic policeman on duty at that exact time.
The Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland paid over the amount Dillinger’s gang had stolen from the bank, ensuring it for the next day’s business.