Why John Dillinger, public enemy No. 1, visited Dayton so many times.

By Leo Deluca

“Dillinger was slippery,” says Stephen C. Grismer, a 25-year veteran of the Dayton Police Academy who serves as secretary of the Dayton Police History Foundation Inc. and volunteers at Carillon Historical Park. “You’d put him behind bars, but he always seemed to escape. That’s part of what made him so fascinating.”

Paroled from the Indiana State Prison on May 10, 1933, Dillinger immediately began his historic crime spree, robbing a bank in Bluffton, Ohio. “Dillinger was 29 years old when he was released from prison,” says Grismer. “He had been in prison eight and a half years—roughly one-third of his life—for a grocery store robbery. During that time he associated with another prisoner, Jim Jenkins, from the Dayton area. Jenkins had a sister that lived in Dayton, Mary Jenkins Longnaker.”

Longnaker lured Dillinger to Dayton. The 22-year-old brunette was unhappily married to Howard Longnacker of Pleasant Hill, Ohio. Not only did Dillinger visit Mary throughout the summer of 1933 he also paid for her divorce.

“He was in Dayton at least seven times,” says Grismer. “In June he robbed a bank in New Carlisle. In between visits he took Mary to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.”

“Dillinger calls upon this woman regularly and, no doubt, can be apprehended at Dayton, Ohio,” wrote the renowned Pinkerton National Detective Agency to Detective Seymour Yendes in the summer of 1933.

Lucille Stricker was the landlady at the 324 W. First St. boarding house where Mary lived and she allowed Dayton police to intercept letters the young woman was receiving from Dillinger. One of these letters detailed the gangster’s imminent return, so Dayton Police Detective Russell Pfauhl and Sgt. Charlie Gross staked out the boarding house.

After weeks of surveillance they headed home on Sept. 21,1933. But in a bizarre twist of events, Dillinger decided to visit Mary the very night Pfauhl and Gross decamped. Stricker saw his car arrive and quickly alerted Dayton Police Sgt. William Aldredge.

“This was one year after one-way radios were installed in police cruisers so they were able to alert officers,” says Grismer. 

Pfauhl, Gross, Aldridge and Yendes surrounded the boarding house. At around 1 a.m. Stricker was instructed to knock on Mary’s door; when she answered Dillinger stood there holding photos from the couple’s Chicago World’s Fair trip. Dillinger quickly reached for his Colt .38 (which is now part of Carillon Historical Park’s collections department), but soon realized it was too late. He was arrested, held in the Ford Street Station and moved to the Montgomery County Jail. There he was identified as Dayton prisoner No. 10587.

Dillinger had robbed at least six banks in roughly four months when he was arrested on Sept. 22, 1933. Escorted out of Dayton on Sept. 28 he was sent to jail in Lima for the Bluffton bank robbery, but soon escaped on Oct. 12, 1933.

By the summer of 1934, after numerous robberies, another jailbreak and a federal crime, Dillinger had thousands of dollars in rewards on his head. He was nationally famous. That summer, Anna Sage, a brothel madam, set a trap for Dillinger alongside FBI agent Melvin Purvis and the Indiana State Police. On July 22, 1934, Dillinger was shot dead outside Chicago’s Biograph Theatre.

While the time between his prison parole and death was just over a year, Dillinger managed to hold the nation spellbound like few others. And in doing so he put Dayton on the map.

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