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WHEN THE DILLINGER GANG VISITED FOSTORIA
January 15, 1981

Pix #1 - Ruth Harris, bank bookkeeper, a hostage. Pix #2 - Reading from left and top to bottom: Andrew Emerine, Bank President;

R.S. Powley, Cashier; Police Chief Frank Culp; Bill Daub, Asst. Cashier; Ralph Barbour, Bank Teller; George Cameron, Mayor; Robert Shields, bystander, shot; Ernie Duffield; Ed Walters, ex-policeman, shot.

May 3, 1934, was the important day in Fostoria when the notorius John Dillinger gang came to towm and left with $17,299 after robbing the First National Bank. The gang left vivid memories for some many, just citizens and bystanders...the police who were unable to injure, capture or deter the robbers...but most importantly, bank employees Bill Daub and Ruth Harris, who were used as hostages to make their getaway.

The event is being rewritten because so many readers have asked me to write about Dillinger's visit to Fostoria. I must say that there is no sound evidence that Dillinger himself came to towm on that day with his gang. Later, Bill Daub said that the man who ordered him into the escape car looked like Dillinger.

RAILROADS DIDN'T HELP

Fostoria had been considered practically 100 percent safe from bank robbery with more than 140 trains passing through town, which would serve as a deterriant against a hasty escape. But, the Dillinger gang had planned their robbery carefully. They had probably studied the town's physical layout and the railroad situation, and knew that they had to escape in a northwesterly direction, the only area of town where there were no railroad tracks to deter them.

The robbery took place at about 2:30 p.m. Two men, both in their early 30's or 40's entered the Orwig Drug Store, where Ralph Orwig and Bert Miller were talking, and then went into the lobby of the bank. The two men had overcoats over their arms, concealing their submachine guns and muslin sasks to hold their loot.

"Stick 'em up" were the only words spoken by the pair as they entered the bank. Frances Billyard had just left her teller's window when the bandits entered. She slipped through the door behind them and notified Police Chief Frank Culp that the robbery was in progress.

CHIEF CULP SHOT

Culp, with patrolman Louis Stagger ran into the O.C. Harding Jewelry Store on the north side of the bank lobby and attempted to enter the lobby, but the robbers say them and opened fire as they tried to get into the elevator. Culp had always said the elevator was a perfect place to be in case of a robbery. The elevator had been moved to the second floor by the attendent Evelyn Anderson, so Culp and Stagger were in the open. They returned fire, but Culp was hit. Thw two dashed into the jewelry store where Culp collapsed in a chair, but ordered Stagger "to go to the station for a riot gun". The chief told firefighters Charles Wise and Art Shuck, also present, to "get some help". The two tried to shoot back at the bandits but were unable to get a bead on them.

While the bandits inside were scooping up the money in their sacks, the rest of the gang on the outside were making it unpleasant and dangerous for anyone to thwart their escape by keeping up a steady fire in all directions.

Floyd Kelly, owner of Kelly's Hot Dog Stand, heard the bullet fire and opened his door in time to see Mayor George Cameron run into the Ohio Hotel to telephone the State Patrol office in Findlay.

BYSTANDERS LUCKY

William Sendelbach, who resided at 623 Cherry St., escaped injury by a narrow margin when a bullet passed through his pant leg.

Harold Peters (now deceased) was standing at the window of a store when a bullet plowed into a wall near him.

Miss. Peg Ingram, who thought she was safe in the R.C. Guernsey's law office, just missed being hit by a sub-machine gun bullet.

Florence Altweis, who was a secretary in Mayor Cameron's office, stepped away from the door just a moment before two bullets whizzed through.

Roscoe Carle, publisher of The Fostoria Times, who had been standing across the street in front of The Ohio Savings & Loan, moved just before two bullets shattered the window glass where he had been.

Dr. Pelton, in his dental office above Commercial Bank, had stray bullets come through his office windows where he was working on a patient..."too close for comfort," the report in The Fostoria Review said.

SLUGS SPRAYED AREA

Many bullets hit the Elks building, seven making holes in the metal ballistrade, three went through second and third story windows. The north side of that building was pitted with bullet blasts.

Two armed citizens firing from behind pillars which held up the Elks balcony and another man on top of the building drew fire from the bandits.

Cars parked in that area had tires and bodies puntured by flying bullets. Even a block to the north the bullets wer making their mark. The old First National Bank building was hit, also the Ahenius Store, where The Franklin Store is now.

The writer of this column was an employee of The Fostoria Review at that time, and as soon as word reached the office of the robbery in progress, I ran to the corner. The sound of bullets hitting the buildings or richoecheting off, prompted me to beat a hasty retreat back to the office.

Inside the bank building, 45 to 50 shots were fired. Cashier R.W. Powley was hit in the back by a bullet which struck a suspender buckle and was partially deflected, however, his wound was about one inch deep.

BANDITS ESCAPE EASILY

As the Dillinger gang finished scooping up the bank's money and were ready to exit, one of the bandits was reported to have said "It's too hot out there; lets go through the store's side door" on Tiffin Street where their escape car was parked.

The man who was reported to resemble Dillinger ordered Bill Daub in the back seat, then changed his mind and told him to stand on the running board. Likewise, Van Meter (definitely identified) ordered Ruth Harris to stand on the other running board and held her wrist tightly from his position in the back seat.

Eddie "Baby Face" Nelson was a member of the gang for a time, but it is not known if he took part in the Fostoria robbery. He was known as a vicious killer.

Bud Boyher, a local sign painter, was positioned so that he had good coverage of the front entrance of the bank, with a sawedoff shotgun. He had a bead on the bandits, but couldn't shoot because of the human shields used by them.

The escape car roared west on Tiffin Street to Wood, turning north to Perry, then to Union, making its way out Perrysburg Road, at speeds of 70 miles per hour. They dumped roofing nails out of the back window to deter pursuers.

HOSTAGE RELEASED

Later, it was reported by Harris, that she felt faint from the ordeal and wondered if she would ever get back home. Finally Daub said, "We're not of any further use to you, why don't you let us go?" "All right", one of the bandits said, "we'll slow down and you two jump off". As the car slowed to almost a stop, "jump" commanded the bandits, and then they roared off.

The two hostages picked themselves up from the dusty road and started walking. A cattle truck finally picked them up and brought them to town. On the way a pursuit car passed them. The escape car was trailed to Stearns Corner, where it turned west and went across a field, then back on the road where the trail was lost.

Culp sustained the most serious wound of any of those who were hit. The bullet that struck him entered one lung and crushed a rib.

Robert Sheilds, another bystander, was hit in the foot. All were taken to Fostoria City Hospital.

Harris and Daub were not physically injured, but probably suffered equally as much by shock. Daub's death later was attributed at least in part to the shock of the experience.

HUMOROUS NOTES

The bank holdup had some humorous anecdotes too:

Charlie Gribble, one of Fostoria's well known citizens back then, was well over 70 at that time, but he proved he could still move fast when necessary. He was in attorney John Gutknecht's office. They heard the shooting and went down to the mezzanine floor to see what was happening. They saw the holdup in progress and one of the bandits at that moment swung his machine gun up toward them, sending bullets through the window. Gribble and Gutknecht made a hasty retreat up the stairs, but John didn't pass Charlie until they nearly reached the top.

A.E. Mergenthaler, vice president of the bank, was at work at his desk on the mezzanine floor. He looked down to see what the commotion was all about. One of the bandits with a machine gun ordered him to come down. He replied, "No Thanks" and returned to his desk.

A number of Fostorians miraculously received only scratches from flying bullets. S.J. Henerson an employee at the Weimerskirch Restaurant on East Tiffin Street, stepped out on the sidewalk just in time to be in the path of a bullet.

The slug struck the bottom of his shirt collar tearing the shirt and giving him a bullet burn across the side of his neck.

Ernie Duffield was near the Preis Store when the holdup was in progress, a bullet just seared his arm, then hit the brick building wall and caused dislodged chips of brick to scratch his side. Kenneth Gamertsfelder, with Duffield, also received a bullet scratch.

AREA BANKS ROBBED

The Dillinger gang robbed other banks in western Ohio...The First National Bank at St. Marys on Oct. 3, 1933, and the Citizens National Bank, Bluffton on Aug. 14, 1933. And, Dillinger was in the Lima jail for a time, waiting trial for robbing the Bluffton bank. His partners rescued him from there.

As stated earlier, it was never actually decided if he was with his gang when they came into town. From the latter part April 1934 for a period of two months, half a dozen men who looked liked Dillinger were arrested or nearly shot. However, in all cases none could be definitely identified as him.

Next week's column will provide a resume of John Dillinger's life, including the explanation of one investigative writer that Dillinger was not killed in Chicago as reported by the FBI and the press.

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