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Index of State Archives Dillinger Collections
John Dillinger's life and crimes made him Indiana's most notorious criminal. Interest in him and, consequently, in records of him at the Indiana State Archives is high. This text describes what is currently available on Dillinger and his gang in the Archives' collections.
No doubt because of their notoriety, Dillinger's and the Dillinger gang's prison records received extra attention which inadvertently caused their virtual disappearance. In general, efforts to care for the packets of the gang members led to their removal from their specific record series and their location and relocation in "safer" places, which effectively made them less and less accessible.
Dillinger's Indiana State Reformatory and Indiana State Prison records are available at the State Archives. As a service to our patrons, we have provided a webpage devoted to the inventory of the records from the Reformatory. Visitors will note that some of the materials remain confidential.
Prison packets contain a varying amount of documents and information. Essentially, they were designed to contain any loose papers that were generated in the course of serving a term. Walter Detrich's packet, for example, contains 39 items, from the receipt for his personal property surrendered upon arrival at the Prison to the commutation of his sentence.
While most of these documents are forms with meager informational value, there are some more interesting records included. One such is a letter written by Detrich requesting the return of $20.13 which he claimed had been taken from him: "That is enough money to make me independent of my relatives for a year and that in itself means a whole lot to me."
Because the state correctional institutes sampled and retained only 5% of their prisoner packets before transfer to the State Archives, many Dillinger related records were destroyed. Packets exist for these men only : Joseph Burns, James Clark, Russell Clark, Walter Detrich, John Dillinger, Joseph Fox, John Hamilton, James Jenkins, Charles Makley, Harry Pierpont and Edward Shouse.
Copies of mug shots are available through the Indiana State Archives. It is highly recommended that one does not purchase illegal copies through other sources. Prisoners' images from the State Prison and the State Reformatory are the sole property of the state of Indiana, and should not be posted on any website or in any publication without permission from the Indiana State Archives, even if the copies were purchased from mug shots or reward posters issued by other law enforcement agencies. If the mug shot was originally taken at the State Prison or the State Reformatory it belongs to the State of Indiana.
Mug shots follow a standard format. On one side of a roughly 4x5 inch card are two photos, one frontal and one profile view of the prisoner. On the reverse is the basic information on the individual: identification number, name, age, crime, sentence, criminal history and so on.
Mug shots exist for these men: Joseph Burns, James Clark, Russell Clark, Walter Detrich, John Dillinger, Joseph Fox, Eugene Garnett, John Hamilton, Charles Makley, Harry Pierpont, Edward Shouse, Homer Van Meter.
Identification books are very large, standardized volumes recording data on each prisoner's stay at the institution. Walter Detrich's State Prison entry reads as follows:
Register number: 14351
Name: Walter E. Detrich
Alias: Walter E. Dedrich
Crime: Bank robbery
Occupation: Plumber, steamfitter
Previous record and identifications: Wanted by Police Dept. Los Angeles, Calif. Escaped from prison enclosure 9-26-33 Ret escape 1-10-34 In re #288 3-3-44 Return from court 3-13-44 No longer wanted by Los Angeles Calif. Police. In re #5896 7-19-45 Remanded USD Ct. Ret sme day Paroled 1-8-53 12-21-56 Disch. by Exec. Order 21890.
As the identification books were considered the permanent record for a prisoner, no sampling process was followed; consequently, an entry for each gang member who served time in an Indiana state institution should exist. But Dillinger is an exception. His record from the Reformatory is available, at the Archives' location A6145, No. 14395. His State Prison entry, though, has been torn out of identification book #3.
On 3 March 1934, John Dillinger is alleged to have used a wooden pistol to escape from the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Indiana. The escape provoked a public response of nearly universal outrage, as well as an official investigation from the Governor's office. The principal focus of the anger was the apparent friendliness and laxity of the Lake County sheriff and prosecutor; they treated Dillinger as a celebrity, even posing for photos with him.
Gov. McNutt answered the numerous letters of complaint about the incident with the unvarying refrain: "The Indiana law does not give me any authority to remove from office a County Sheriff or a Prosecuting Attorney."
Two folders of correspondence, newspaper clippings and reports on the escape and subsequent manhunt are in the McNutt papers for 1934, at A7135.
These men are listed in Cromie and Pinkston's Dillinger: A short and violent life as being members of Dillinger's gang: Burns, Joseph; Clark, James; Clark, Russell; Copeland, Harry; Detrich, Walter; Fox, Joseph; Goldstine, Sam; Gray, Jack; Hamilton, John; Jenkins, James; Makley, Charles; McGeoghagen, Daniel; Murphy, Edward; Northern, Earl (left behind in Michigan City jailbreak); Pierpont, Harry; Shaw, William; Shouse, Edward; and Van Meter, Homer.