Dillinger's Ohio Crime Spree Left Out Of New Movie - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Dillinger's Ohio Crime Spree Left Out Of New Movie

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TOLEDO, Ohio - Before becoming Public Enemy No. 1, gangster John Dillinger pulled off his first bank robbery in a sleepy Ohio town.

Police captured him months later when they swarmed his girlfriend's apartment, but within weeks he brazenly strolled out of jail after his gang killed a rural sheriff.

His Ohio escapades aren't part of the new movie "Public Enemies," which tells of his life on the run after an escape from an Indiana prison and of his death in Chicago. But his rise from small-town bank robber to America's most wanted man can be traced to a string of holdups during the summer of 1933 and the daring escape that left the Ohio lawman dead.

Even though Dillinger didn't kill the sheriff, it was the first murder in which he was involved, said John Carnes, curator of collections at the Allen County Museum in Lima.

"After the sheriff was killed," Carnes said, "everybody knew about him."

Dillinger, born in Indianapolis, is better remembered for his gang's crime spree through Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana and for his death outside Chicago's Biograph Theater, where FBI agents shot him.

The Universal Pictures movie, starring Johnny Depp as Dillinger, focuses on those final months. Dillinger's time in Ohio often is overlooked because it wasn't until months later that he became the FBI's top priority, Carnes said.

"I wasn't really surprised the movie left it out," Carnes said. "But it is an important part of the story."

Universal spokeswoman Jennifer Chamberlain said the film takes place during a specific time in Dillinger's life and was not intended to be a biopic.

Dillinger had served nearly nine years in a Michigan City, Ind., prison for robbing a grocery when he and his prison buddies, including a few with Ohio roots, hatched a plan that would set in motion his infamy.

They decided that Dillinger, who was to be released first, would begin knocking off banks so he could buy guns and break his friends out of prison. They targeted banks in small towns where Dillinger could easily get away, and his first bank robbery was in New Carlisle, near Dayton, in June 1933.

In the next few months, he robbed banks in Indiana and then in Bluffton, Ohio. The money helped him smuggle guns to his Indiana prison buddies, who overpowered guards and broke out in September 1933.

But just days before the prison break, Dillinger was captured while visiting his girlfriend in Dayton. He was moved 100 miles north to Lima, where he faced a bank robbery charge in the Bluffton holdup.

Dillinger was playing cards with a few other inmates in Lima on Oct. 12, 1933, when three men claiming to be officers from Indiana walked into the jail.

They were Dillinger's old prison buddies from Indiana.

The three men told Allen County Sheriff Jess Sarber that they wanted to speak to Dillinger. When Sarber asked for their credentials, one of them shot him and then began beating him.

Dillinger heard the gunfire, got up from the card game and grabbed his coat. He knew he was free again.

Sarber died in the escape, and the three men who killed him later were captured and convicted.

Dillinger and the rest of his gang continued robbing banks in the Midwest before they were caught in Tucson, Ariz. Dillinger was taken back to Indiana, where he escaped while awaiting trial on charges that he killed a police officer during a Chicago bank robbery.

By that time, he was the FBI's Public Enemy No. 1.

The movie, which opened July 1 and features Christian Bale as FBI man Melvin Purvis, renews the debate about whether Dillinger was a Robin Hood-type hero for those who were angry with banks and had lost their savings during the Great Depression.

"He was, as far as I'm concerned, a criminal and a murderer," said Sgt. Tim Garlock, of the Allen County sheriff's office, who began studying Dillinger's escape in Lima after he started working in the former sheriff's residence.

Visitors still stop by about once a month asking to see the old jail, which still looks the same on the outside, Garlock said.

"People," he said, "still have the fascination for it."

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