MONTICELLO — One of history’s most notorious gangsters with — albeit slim — ties to Monticello will be the focus of a presentation next week at the Monticello-Union Township Public Library.
The talk will be about John Dillinger, a man who once dominated headlines during the Great Depression for his law-breaking exploits during the “Gangster Era.”
He quickly gained notoriety as one of America’s leading celebrity criminals, becoming a legendary media character who commanded the entire country’s attention.
He also helped reshape federal law enforcement and changed the way interstate crimes are investigated for nearly a century afterward.
Dillinger, a native Hoosier born in Indianapolis, terrorized the Midwest between May 1933 to July 1934 as he and his gang robbed banks and police arsenals, killed 10 men and wounded seven others, and staged three jail breaks — one of which killed a sheriff and wounded two guards.
One of his robbery attempts occurred in Monticello, which will be the topic of the library program set for 6 p.m. Aug. 27 as part of the library’s Genealogy 101 series.
According Kean MacOwan, president of the White County Historical Society Board, Dillinger paid a visit to Monticello on June 24, 1933, with the intent of robbing Chicago Thread Mill — now known as Bryan’s Manufacturing — at the base of Marion Street.
“Three unsavory, but well-dressed men, slithered into Monticello in a stolen Essex automobile with Ohio plates and parked on the hill along Marion Street,” he said. “This would have been directly in front of today’s Council on Aging Senior Center.”
He said the three men — one of them Dillinger — got out of the car to smoke a cigarette and strolled through the neighborhood along Marion Street toward their target. Two of the men ducked into a local resident’s garage.
Their activities were being watched by Ethel Fisher, who lived at the northeast corner of North Bluff and Marion streets. She became suspicious of the men and told her husband, Fred, who was assistant superintendent of the mill and was in charge of the payroll, to drive to work that day.
“At the time, Mr. Fisher thought little of his wife’s concerns,” MacOwan said. “Fred walked to work that morning.”
Every Thursday at 9:30 a.m., Fred Fisher walked to a local downtown bank to pick up the weekly payroll.
“As Fred left the thread mill that morning, he thought about his wife’s warning and decided to cut across his backyard and headed toward his garage to get his car and drive to the bank to pick up the payroll,” MacOwan said.
The three suspicious-acting men watched Fisher head up the hill from the mill, but the next thing they knew, Fisher had disappeared.
“The gang had to be wondering what had gone wrong,” MacOwan said.
While they waited for Fisher to reappear, they didn’t notice a car driven by Fisher drive past them on its way to the bank. Several minutes transpired and the men decided to get in the Essex and head downtown to the bank.
MacOwan said the men spotted Fisher getting into his car with a canvas bag containing the weekly payroll — about several thousand dollars — for the thread mill. The men followed Fisher at a distance and saw him park his car and enter the offices of the thread mill.
“What would unfold during that morning included shots fired, Fred Fisher being wounded, along with the entertaining tale of the early Dillinger Gang’s escape from Monticello.”
The incident occurred about one month after Dillinger had been paroled from the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. He had been imprisoned in 1924 for assault and battery with intent to rob a Mooresville grocery store, and conspiracy to commit a felony.
According to FBI.gov, Dillinger was “stunned by the harsh sentence” and “became a tortured, bitter man in prison.” According to history.com, he allegedly told a prison guard, “”I will be the meanest (expletive) you ever saw when I get out of here.”
According to FBI.gov, the attempted Monticello robbery was toward the start of “his period of infamy” as he went on to rob banks, plunder police weapons caches in Auburn and Peru, and kill police officers.
Two days shy of 13 months after the Monticello incident, Dilliniger was shot and killed by federal agents while leaving a movie theater in Chicago.
For more information about this event, contact the Adult Services Manager at 574-583-2665 ext. 3307 or email email@example.com.