That big 1926 bank heist in LaPorte? It wasn’t Dillinger, doggone it

This vintage 1934 AP photo shows desperado John Dillinger (wearing vest) looking quite chummy with prosecutor Robert Estill at the Crown Point jailhouse.

By Fern Eddy Schultz, La Porte County Historian

Before it was Dick’s Bar (currently) and Governor’s Palace gift shop (shown here), this handsome building was the Peoples Savings and Trust Bank. (Photo provided)

Most will not know much if anything about the crime in La Porte County in 1926. However, with all of the recent publicity about the exhumation of the body of noted bank robber John Dillinger, it brings back memories of a crime in La Porte that was attributed by many to this noted individual.
This event occurred at the Peoples Savings and Trust Bank at 912 Lincoln Way (later housing the Governor’s Palace and since 1995, the home of Dick’s Bar). Some of the local people who were employed by that bank at the time of the event were Donald L. Collins, then a teller and later retired as president of First National Bank and Trust Co., cashier Harry Keller, teller George Petering and bookkeepers Winifred Hastings and Alice Fick.

The day to remember is Nov. 26, 1926. It was a Friday. It was announced in the local newspaper that the 1920s were the “first of two postwar binges that brought money to the average worker as production increased and the banks had a store of cash.” This was also a time when John Dillinger had risen to be one of history’s “classic” hoodlums.

It was about 11 a.m. when the individual assumed to be Dillinger and four cohorts entered Peoples Savings and Trust Bank in the heart of downtown La Porte. They waved their guns and ordered employees to lie down on the floor and cashier Harry Keller to unlock the safe. One of the robbers blew out a glass window.

The information reported that it didn’t require the bandits more than five minutes to clean the cash off the counter, pick and choose out of the vault, and head for the getaway car parked on Lincoln Way. Everything happened so suddenly that no one tailed the escaping bandits. At the time, bank employees figured the loss was about $30,000 in cash and another $60,000 in negotiable bonds, old liberty bonds.

La Porte County Historian Fern Eddy Schultz

For years, the Peoples Bank robbery was ranked as a record cash “haul” for an Indiana bank robbery, “but the big money era erased that record.” Just a day before the anniversary date of La Porte’s bank robbery, in 1973, one of American Fletcher National’s branches in Indianapolis was hit by several well-armed gunmen and the loss exceeded $230,000.

For years after the La Porte robbery, rumor tried to tie the famed or infamous John Dillinger to the Peoples robbery. But the unsolved robbery was partially solved in 1975 when an 88-year old Joplin, Missouri, man, who claimed he figured in the La Porte robbery, gave an “interview confession” with WLS-TV in Chicago. Ted Hartzell, who was a Herald-Argus reporter at that time, followed up with an interview of John Harvey Bailey, who told about his days as a “professional” bank robber and the successful heist of cash in La Porte. Bailey served three decades in prison for his way of life. He was quoted as saying, “This wasn’t my bunch. It was Charley Fitzgerald’s bunch, but we got away with it.”

According to records, Dillinger was serving time in the Indiana Reformatory on Nov. 12, 1926, and authorities insisted he was in the Reformatory on the day of the La Porte robbery. He was sentenced to the Reformatory on Sept. 15, 1924, and remained there until transferred to the Michigan City Indiana State Prison on July 16, 1928. He was released from prison on parole May 23, 1933, and according to published information, went on a “rip-roaring crime spree” at that time.
It was reported that the La Porte bank closed as a result of the robbery and the Depression.

As for Dillinger, he was shot and killed by FBI agents on July 22, 1934, in front of the Biograph Theater in Chicago. The feds were reportedly tipped off by an informant, “the lady in red,” who was accompanying Dillinger.

FERN EDDY SCHULTZ is official Historian of La Porte County.

3 Responses to “That big 1926 bank heist in LaPorte? It wasn’t Dillinger, doggone it”

  1. chrissy

    Aug 14. 2019

    Thank you Fern Eddy Schultz for this historical information on LaPorte. I hadn’t heard of it before so it was interesting. Thank you for being our LaPorte history teacher!

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  2. Michael W Grace

    Aug 14. 2019

    My Uncle Henry Luchsinger Was Also Employed At That Bank And Was Out For Lunch When It Got Robbed,He Also Retired As Vice Pres Of LaPorte Bank And Trust In 1973 And Worked Part Time As A Teller..As Did My Grandma Grace For Many Years …

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  3. Lynn Lisarelli

    Aug 16. 2019

    Michael–I knew your uncle, Henry Luchsinger, quite well. He lived with his sister Margaret in a lovely old house on I Street. He was a music buddy of my father’s and frequently came over to my house when my uncle and my father had musicales here (I lived upstairs then). Henry was a very sweet, gentle, unobtrusive, charming man.

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