Criminals, Indy 500, Pop Culture

Daytona Beach, Henry Ford, John Dillinger and Bonnie & Clyde. PART I.

Dillinger-Ford-Bonnie-Cltde part 1

Original publish date:  May 14, 2020

Like all Americans, Covid-19 is affecting my life and adjusting my normal routine. For more than a quarter century, the Hunter family has ventured down to Daytona Beach, Florida every spring for an annual getaway. Well, that vacay was cancelled this year. The seriousness of this pandemic far outweigh a lost vacation and, when viewed alongside the sufferings of many of my fellow Hoosiers, is a minor issue indeed. So, since we are all confined to quarters together, I decided to write about a few things I have always loved about Daytona Beach.
z 4c204cccdb56508fb665c0a2c1a5ec5bThere is a lot of history on the world’s most famous beach: cars, gangsters, auto racing, motorcycles, bootleggers and Henry Ford, for starters. When you think of auto racing, two American cities come to mind: Indianapolis and Daytona. However, before Indianapolis and Daytona, Ormond Beach was the mecca of auto racing. Ormond Beach just north of Daytona, held races on the beach from 1902 until after World War II. At that time, Ormond Beach was a playground for America’s rich and famous: The Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, Roosevelts, Henry Flagler, John Jacob Astor; all spent their winters at the old Ormond Hotel.
z 08_DMNz_125From 1902 to 1935, auto industry giants such as Henry Ford, Louis Chevrolet, and Ransom E. Olds brought their cars to race on the beach. Cigar-chomping Barney Oldfield, the most famous race-car driver in the world at the time, set a new world speed record on the Ormond-Daytona course in 1907. Racing faded somewhat in Ormond and Daytona after World War I as the racing world turned its attention to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.z france card unnamed
In 1936 the American Automobile Association sponsored the first national stock-car race on Daytona Beach. One of the drivers was Bill France, who later founded NASCAR. The first stock-car race after World War II was held in the spring of 1946. During that race, Bill France flipped has race his car and spectators rushed onto the beach to turn the car back on its wheels. Bill France finished the race. The next year, France began planning the construction of Daytona International Speedway 5 miles east of the beach.

z france
Bill France, Sr.

In 1937 Bill France, now a promoter and no longer a driver, arranged for the Savannah 200 Motorcycle race to be moved to the 3.2-mile Daytona Beach Road Course. World War II cancelled the races held between 1942 and 1946. By 1948, the old beach course had become so developed commercially that a new beach course was designed further south, towards Ponce Inlet (where our family time-share condo is located). The new course length was increased from the previous 3.2 miles to 4.1-miles. By the mid-1950s, the new beach course was lost to the rapid commercial growth of the Daytona Beach area.

z Bill-France-Sr-main-625x340
Bill France Sr. at Daytona International Speedway.

In 1957, France purchased a site near the Daytona airport and construction began on the Daytona International Speedway, a 2.5-mile paved, oval-shaped circuit with steep banked curves to facilitate higher speeds. The track opened in 1958. The first Daytona 500, run in 1959, was won by Lee Petty, father of Richard Petty. France convinced AMA officials to move the beach race to the Speedway in 1961. Today, the motorcycle racers are honored in a memorial garden, not unlike monument park in Yankee Stadium, located near the bandshell and Ferris Wheel off the Daytona Beach Boardwalk. Bill France is as much a legend in Daytona as Tony Hulman is in the Circle City and Henry Ford in the Motor City.
Although Henry Ford raced cars as a young man (he was the first American to claim a land speed record with his “flying mile” in 39.4 seconds, averaging 91.370 miles per hour in his “999” car on January 12, 1904) and attended many of the early Indianapolis 500 races as an honorary official, he did not allow his cars to take part in the races. In 1935 Edsel Ford brought his Ford V8 Miller to the IMS and after the elder Ford’s death in April 1947, the company had considerable success at Indianapolis (Mario Andretti won in a Ford powered turbocharged dohc “Indy” V-8 known as the “Hawk” in 1969). Bottom line, in the early years of automobiles, Henry Ford’s cars were fast.
z 5148ab5255e50.imageSo it comes as no surprise that the gangsters of the 1930s drove Fords. In particular, outlaws John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde and Baby Face Nelson all preferred the Ford Model V8. Introduced in 1932, it was touted as America’s first affordable big-engine car. Dillinger also is said to have owned a Model A and what’s more, in mid-December of 1933, he drove his Ford to Daytona Beach for a vacation. After secretly visiting the Dillinger family farm in Mooresville, America’s first Public Enemy # 1 brought along girlfriend Evelyn “Billie” Frechette, Hoosier “Handsome Harry” Pierpont and his “molls” Mary Kinder, her sister Margaret and Opal Long and gang members Russell Clark and Fat Charlie Makley. The gang rented a spacious 3-story, seventeen room beach house for $ 100 a month at 901 South Atlantic Avenue until Mid-January, 1934. The house, long ago demolished, was located across the street from Seabreeze high school on the spot where “Riptides Raw Bar & Grill” and the Aliki Atrium are located today. Vacationers will recognize the “Riptides” name from the banner pulled by the tail of an airplane that constantly trails up and down Daytona beach.

z riptides
Riptides Bar Today.

Billie later called the house a mansion with four fireplaces. The gang swam, played cards, fished, went horseback riding and reportedly took a side-trip to Miami. Billie also stated that Dillinger spent his days chuckling as he listened to radio reports and read newspaper stories about the robberies he and the gang were committing back in Illinois and Indiana. On New Years Eve a drunken Dillinger (who normally drank very little) exited the house and fired a full drum of bullets from his tommy gun at the moon. Three young boys, the Warnock brothers, lived next door and ran out to see what was going on. When they saw Dillinger with flames spitting out of the muzzle of his tommy gun, they quickly ran back into the house. Sobering up the next morning and sure that his rash act would bring on the law, Dillinger and the gang packed up the Ford V8 and head out two weeks before the rental contract ended.
By January 1, 1934, John Dillinger had just two hundred days to live. He would spend that time praising Henry Ford and damning Bonnie and Clyde, who, ironically had less than 150 days to live and were also praising Henry Ford.
Next week:

Part II of Daytona Beach, Henry Ford, John Dillinger and Bonnie & Clyde.

 

Creepy history, Criminals

The life (and death) of John Dillinger’s Red Hamilton. Part I

Red Hamilton 1
John “Red” Hamilton

Original publish date:  May 16, 2019

The Dillinger Gang: Baby Face Nelson, Handsome Harry Pierpont, Red Hamilton and of course, public enemy number one, John Dillinger himself. All wickedly infamous names from the annals of crime. But, only one of them was memorialized by the master of American horror Stephen King. That distinction goes to John “Red” Hamilton, the gang member more remembered for the way he died than the way he lived. And of course, he has Indiana ties that stretch all the way to Irvington.

z The Notorious John Dillinger (18)
From top left, are Harry Pierpont (11014), Charles Makley (12636), John Dillinger (13225), and Russell Clark (12261).

Like most gangsters, little is known about the early life of Red Hamilton. He was born on January 27, 1899 to an Irish-Canadian father from Ontario and a German-American mother from New York. He earned the nickname “Three-Finger Jack” after the loss of two fingers on his right hand in a sledding accident after the budding outlaw came too close to a passing train as a youngster. He really doesn’t appear on the radar screen until, at the age of 28, he lucked into meeting John Dillinger while serving time at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. On March 16, 1927, he had been convicted of robbing a gas station in St. Joseph, Indiana, and sentenced to 25 years. While incarcerated, Hamilton became friends with a bevy of bank robbers, including John Dillinger, Russell Clark, Charles Makley, Harry Pierpont, and Homer Van Meter – the men who would go on to comprise the original Dillinger gang.

z mc
Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.

Michigan City might as well have been called “Bank Robber’s University” as these young outlaws studied at the feet of fellow inmates like Herman “Baron” Lamm, the bank robber who came up with the idea of meticulously casing a bank before robbing it. a method that became known as the “Lamm Technique” and inspiration for the term “on the Lamm.” Dillinger was paroled in May 1933 and, using a list that had been compiled by Hamilton and Pierpont, he began robbing banks to finance the escape. In September of that same year, fulfilling a promise to his “cellies”, he managed to get a barrel filled with guns smuggled into the penitentiary and a total of 10 armed men, including z lammHamilton, escaped out the main gate of Indiana State Prison.
Soon afterwards, Dillinger was arrested for bank robbery and was being held at the Allen County jail in Lima, Ohio. Determined to free Dillinger, on October 3, 1933, the gang robbed the First National Bank of St. Mary’s, Ohio, escaping with $14,000 to fund the escape. Nine days later, Hamilton, Makley, Pierpont, Clark, and Ed Shouse walked into the Lima jail to “spring” their pal John Dillinger. Red Hamilton remained outside as lookout and did not enter the building and did not participate in Makley and Pierpont’s murder of Sheriff Jess Sarber.
z The Notorious John Dillinger (2)On December 13, 1933, the Dillinger gang robbed a Chicago bank, netting a reported $50,000. Afterwards, the gang went down to Daytona Beach, Florida for a time and then went west to Tucson. Hamilton, however, decided to go to Chicago instead, where, on December 13, 1933, he took part in the robbery of a local bank. The next day, Hamilton left his car at a Chicago garage for some body work, the garage’s mechanic called police reporting it as a “gangster car”. Hamilton returned to pick up the car and found police detective, William Shanley and two other officers waiting for him. He opened fire, killing Shanley, and escaped from the other two officers. Red’s incident led to the Chicago Police Department forming a special forty man “Dillinger Squad”. A month later, on January 15, 1934, Hamilton and Dillinger robbed the First National Bank in East Chicago, Indiana, for $20,376. During the heist, police officer William O’Malley was shot dead. Dillinger was officially charged with the murder, but several witnesses ID’d Hamilton as the shooter. By the end of the year, Hamilton found himself ranked third on Indiana’s list of “public enemies”, behind circle-city natives Dillinger and Pierpont.
john-hamilton-2During the robbery, Hamilton was shot twice and left in the care of his girlfriend Pat Cherrington and underworld physician Joseph Moran, while Dillinger and the others headed to Tucson where they were apprehended by the authorities. Afterwards, for a short time, the fugitive Hamilton shot to the top of the public enemies list. There he remained until Dillinger, using a wooden gun, escaped from the Crown Point jail. Afterwards, Dillinger formed a new gang consisting of Hamilton, Homer Van Meter, Tommy Carroll, Eddie Green, and Baby Face Nelson.
On March 6, three days after Dillinger’s Crown Point escape, the gang robbed the Security National Bank & Trust Company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In the chaotic robbery, motorcycle cop Hale Keith was severely wounded after Nelson maniacally shot him down through a plate glass window.
A week later, on March 13, 1934. the gang robbed the First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa, which allegedly had over $240,000 in its vault. During the robbery, Baby Face Nelson stayed with the getaway car while the rest of the gang ran into one problem after another inside the bank. When the bank president saw Van Meter walk in carrying a machine gun, he thought that a “crazy man was on the loose.” He ran into his office and bolted the door. Van Meter fired a number of shots through the door to no avail. He soon turned his attention to helping his cohorts clean out the teller drawers.

z 1stnatlbankinter
First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa in 1934.

A guard in a special steel cage above the lobby fired a tear gas shell at the bandits which was answered by a machine gun blast of several bullets, a few of which clipped the retreating guard. Meantime, a female customer ran out of the bank and down the alley outside, where she ran directly into lookout Baby Face Nelson, who promptly sent her back into the bank. Red Hamilton was dealing with problems of his own. The bank’s cashier had locked himself in the vault. Hamilton ordered the cashier to start passing money through a slot in the door and the cashier began passing out stacks of one-dollar bills.
An elderly judge spotted the bandits on the street below from his third-floor office and took a shot at John Dillinger, winging him on the arm, Dillinger whirled around and fired a burst from his Tommy gun. The bullets bounced off the front of the building and the old judge ducked away unhurt. Dillinger decided it was time to skedaddle and he sent Van Meter inside to get the others. Hamilton was still dealing with the cashier. Red could see the stacks of larger bills on the shelves inside the vault but the cashier continued to load stacks of one-dollar bills into the bandit’s bag. When Van Meter told him to scram, the enraged Hamilton complained that the take was only about $20,000 and that there was over $200,000 still sitting on the shelves! Later, Hamilton said he should have shot the man just for spite.

z mason
First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa

As Hamilton ran out of the bank, the officer in the gun cage started shooting again, wounding Hamilton in the shoulder. The gang forced 20 hostages to stand on the running boards, fenders and hood of the getaway car, serving as human shields and drove slowly away. The police were unable to shoot, so they followed at a distance. Once out of town, Baby Face Nelson jumped out of the car and fired his Tommy gun towards the cop car, finally forcing them to turn back. Eventually, Dillinger dropped off the hostages unharmed. What should have been a prosperous raid had netted the outlaws a disappointing $52,000.

 

After first stopping in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Dillinger gang fled to the Little Bohemia resort near Rhinelander, Wisconsin to nurse their wounds and lay low. It was a remote fishing camp that was not due to open until May and would make the perfect place to hide out for a time. On April 22, Melvin Purvis’ FBI, tipped off by a friend of Little Bohemia’s owner, raided the place. Purvis moved dozens of agents from Chicago and St. Paul to the forests of Wisconsin. Unfortunately, all did not go as planned: the agents mistakenly opened fire on a car containing three innocent CCC workers, thinking they were outlaws. The gang escaped by jumping from a second floor window in the back of the lodge onto a mound of frozen snow, before Dillinger, Hamilton and Van Meter eventually stole a car and drove away.

z l_ca3e94882ca5bc465bf13b1324d69af5
Little Bohemia Lodge Manitowish Wisconsin.

Van Meter was driving, Dillinger in the center and Red Hamilton in the passenger seat. The rumble seat was empty and, using a crafty outlaw tactic, the gang left the seat back open to block the aim of any pursuing lawmen. The car raced down Wisconsin Route 46, across the Mississippi River, and into Minnesota back towards St. Paul. Minnesota law enforcement spotted their Wisconsin license plates on a bridge at Hastings, 15 miles out of St. Paul. One of the deputies leaned out the window with a .30-30 rifle and fired at one of the car’s rear tires. The slug tore through the rear seat, narrowly missed Dillinger, and plowed into Hamilton’s back. Red screamed in agony and slammed against the car’s dashboard.
z carDillinger smashed out the window and returned fire with his .45, shattering the windshield of the police car and nearly killing the pursuing officer. A running gun battle ensued as the two cars traded 40 or 50 rounds for the next 50 miles or so, before the outlaws finally losing the pursuing patrolmen. With Hamilton losing blood from the massive hole in his back, Dillinger told Van Meter to head to Chicago and find a doctor for his friend. But first, they needed a faster, less bullet-riddled car. Van Meter cut off a 1934 Ford V8 Deluxe containing power company manager Roy Francis, his wife, Sybil, and their 19-month-old son, Robert.
The family was ordered out of the car to watch as the bandits tossed their arsenal into the Francis family vehicle. While the bloodied Hamilton limped painfully inside, Dillinger ordered the Francis family to pile in as well. Sybil Francis recognized Public Enemy Number One right away, but Dillinger flashed that famous smile and said, “Don’t worry about the kid. We like kids.” The outlaws even treat the couple to a soda pop when a stop is made to fill up the Ford. The family was dropped off safely a few miles outside of Mendota, Minnesota with one whale of a story to tell. The outlaws continued on toward Chicago in search of a “friendly” doctor to fix Red Hamilton. And here is where the story gets interesting.