One of the most persistent Hamilton urban legends regards the infamous bank robber John Dillinger.
While it is true that he spent some time in Hamilton on October 12, 1933, it was really for only a few hours on the day that Harry Pierpont, Harry Copeland, and the rest of the gang liberated Dillinger from the Lima jail and brought him back to a house on South 2nd Street where some friends of Copeland lived, a former bootlegger Leroy Hooten and his wife Naomi. Somewhere along the way, apparently, Hooten and Copeland had spent prison time together.
The heat was on because they killed the Sheriff in Lima, so they didn't stay long. They quickly left the Hooten home and spent the night in a fishing cabin along the Great Miami River near Venice. They left the area the next day, and as far as is known, never returned to Hamilton or Butler County.
Four days later, over 100 state and federal officials swept through Hamilton looking for the desperadoes. You can hear about that sweep as the last act in Chapter One: Dillinger's Bloody Escape.
The Hootens remained under FBI surveillance after that, and intercepted letters to them and information provided by an informant in Hamilton may have helped track the gang to Tucson, Arizona, where they were arrested.
Dillinger spent most of Prohibition in jail, starting in 1924. He was paroled in May 1933, arrested in Dayton in September. It’s possible he may have been in Hamilton sometime between May and September. He did rob a bank in New Carlisle, Ohio and other small towns nearbym but there is no mention in any books or research done on his whereabouts in that time that he was in Hamilton. He also wasn't yet famous, so his picture had not yet graced front pages across the country.
After Copeland, et al, brought Dillinger to Hamilton in October after the jailbreak, they decided it was too hot in Hamilton and they went to Venice (Ross) where they spent the night in a fishing shack with some women. Two days later they were in Peru, Indiana robbing a police armory.
Dillinger was killed in Chicago in July 1934. So his entire “reign of terror” lasted a total of 15 months. There are many books and websites that detail Dillinger’s movements and activities. I have yet to find one that mentions Hamilton again except for the surveillance on the house on South 2nd Street.
Yet people will still today insist that their grandpa/uncle/barber brought Dillinger lunch/sold him a car/was Dillinger’s bootlegger. None of that can possibly be true.
This is not to say that there weren’t gangsters in Hamilton. There was plenty of bootlegging, moonshining, gambling, prostitution, gun running, safe blowing, safe cracking, armed robbery, counterfeiting, etc. etc. in Hamilton all through Prohibition and even the decade after. I've written a couple of hundred thousand words about it.
It just wasn’t John Herbert Dillinger.
If you want to email me the story you’ve heard and know to be absolute fact, I’d love to hear it. But please include
1) How your grandpa/uncle/barber knew that he was interacting with Dillinger. Did he introduce himself as Dillinger? Did someone else tell him it was Dillinger? Did he recognize him from the newspaper pictures?
2) What possible date could that interaction have taken place? Compare that to one of the many books written about Dillinger. Fit that date into this timeline: American Experience Official Dillinger Timeline.
I'm not saying your grandpa lied to you. Maybe he did. Or maybe he was misinformed.