Showing posts with label John Dillinger. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Dillinger. Show all posts

16 April 2018

F.B.I.'s Doris Lockerman -- 2nd in a Series on 1930s Women in Policing

Doris Lockerman
The blood was still wet on Chicago's sidewalks when a former F.B.I. private secretary sat down to pen her recollections late in 1935 for the Chicago Tribune.  Doris Lockerman had been a member of the team, a participant in the stakeout of Verne Miller, the interrogation of Marie Comforti, and the arrest of James Probasco, among other climatic episodes of the public enemy era.

Her series would be a retrospective on these events, with some pointed criticism for Director J. Edgar Hoover.  She was angry at the director's treatment of her ex-boss, Chicago Special Agent in Charge Melvin Purvis, who'd been shoved out the door by Hoover for the subjective crime of taking too much credit.  It was a time when F.B.I. agents were supposed to embody the American ideal of the faceless man in the grey flannel suit.  Purvis had made his reputation as the G-Man who had taken down John Dillinger and Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd.  He had a face, he had a name that the public recognized and respected.   

Doris Lockerman had left the F.B.I.'s employ before giving her story to the Tribune.  She had just married Alan E. Lockerman, who had been stationed at the Biograph Theater the night Dillinger was killed.  The dismissal of Purvis, her superior, would haunt her throughout her life.

Before she married Alan Lockerman, Doris worked under her prior surname of Rogers.  During her tenure as Purvis's private secretary, the F.B.I. was known as the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation.  The office was on the nineteenth floor of the Bankers' Building in Chicago. 1

What defined her was her role in an attempted arrest of fugitive Verne Miller, when she put him on the spot for the F.B.I.  As part of an attempt to capture the chief suspect in the Kansas City Massacre, she stood for hours in a stakeout of the hallway of the Sherone Apartment Hotel at 4423 Sheridan Road in Chicago on November 1, 1933.  It would go down as a botched arrest attempt.  Yet Lockerman did her job.  She stood upon a stool and looked through a ventilator in a hotel room while waiting for Miller to leave an adjoining room, rented by his moll, Vivian "Vi" Mathis.  As Lockerman manned the peephole with Special Agent Ed Notesteen, both hoped they would be able to accurately identify the gunman.  Both had seen and known of Miller while he was a sheriff in Huron, South Dakota. 

Lockerman's Stakeout Doorway Once Had an Opening (Above)
The stakeout died in the space of a Chicago minute.  Nobody considered the possibility that Miller, a former sheriff, would be fine-tuned to the presence of law enforcement.  When Miller left Mathis's room, Lockerman identified him.  According to her version, Notesteen agreed with her.  Some accounts grant Notesteen a moment of doubt before he agreed that the figure moving down the hall was Miller.  Something scared Miller off, because he ran for the stairway door and escaped. 2

Having worked the Verne Miller stakeout, Lockerman was a G-man at heart.  She had no empathy for the outlaws.  "I talked with the gun molls who were smoothly induced into betraying the gangsters with whom they were living," she wrote.  One such moll was Marie Comforti, who was a "42 Gang" girl and moll of Dillinger gangster Homer Van Meter.  Lockerman brushed Comforti off as "snippy," a mere target who could be shadowed.  Lockerman threw cold water at the fabled faces of the 1930s public enemies.  As she wrote it, nobody had a baby face and nobody was a handsome Harry.   "I saw man killers led in clanking in their shackles." 3
Marie "Mickey" Comforti, Moll of Homer Van Meter

This seminal series has survived in spite of, or maybe because of, its ungainly title.  "A Girl Among Manhunters, Is Told by Self."  A creaking headline that does no justice to the gravitas of its author. 

Within the some of the installments, Lockerman held to the party line.  In others, she showed surprising verve in challenging Hoover's policies. 
Melvin Purvis (L.) and J. Edgar Hoover (R.)--  Library of Congress
Her series started out critical of the director.  "I watched the machinery turn which made a public hero [of Purvis], and saw that hero forced into a partial decline and eventual resignation, because his publicity became so great that it seemed to threaten the job of his boss in Washington, J. Edgar Hoover."

Midway through the series, a plateau flattened things out considerably.  It is possible that Lockerman or her editor got the message to cool it.  Hoover was wary of the Tribune, which had published two investigative articles exposing the controversies which lingered over Dillinger's recent death.  It must have occurred to Hoover that co-author Joseph Ator was going to rehash the conspiracy theories, which had already been dished by the Tribune in the months surrounding Dillinger's death.

The Tribune was the investigative press of the Chicago region and the Dillinger era.  Its reporters tackled the mysteries of Dillinger's connections while alive and the unsung assassins at his death at the Biograph Theater in Chicago on the night of July 22, 1934.  The texture of the Tribune's investigative articles was deep with names, places and motivations.  These facts were to be hushed up in later years -- from the guns of the actual agents who fired the fatal shots to the names of the East Chicago, Indiana police officers on the scene that night -- but during 1934 to 1938, the Tribune did not shirk from reporting on all aspects of Dillinger.  The fact that the outlaw was connected to both crime associates and police officials in East Chicago -- an area rife with vice and gambling along with the neighboring towns of Gary and Hammond -- would be hushed in official F.B.I. versions published decades later in the fifties. 4

"A Girl Among Manhunters" held one of the final references to East Chicago before the F.B.I. began its course to rewrite history.  "Melvin Purvis, working at his desk late one Saturday night, had some callers.  They were Sergent Martin Zarkovich and Capt. Timothy O'Neill, his superior on the East Chicago police force.  Bright and early on Sunday morning every available agent was summoned to duty . . . they were going after Dillinger." 

In a disappointing plot twist, Lockerman's concluding articles came off as officially-sanctioned F.B.I. stories.  The final installments transformed Kate "Ma" Barker from her true nature of tribal Ozark enabler to a hellion mastermind.  "She planned their crimes.  Hers was the iron hand that ruled that evil brood."  Brood -- a word reminiscent of Hoover's personal glossary. 5

Lockerman seized the opportunity to quash some damaging rhetoric.  There was that old rumor that two F.B.I. suspects had been hung out the nineteenth floor of the Bankers' Building by agents.  "Boss McLaughlin was not dangled out a window" -- nor, apparently,  was James "Jim" Probasco, Dillinger's plastic surgery host.  There had been a lingering belief that Probasco was dangled and accidentally dropped in an aborted attempt to get him to talk.  Lockerman never said they didn't, and treated the issue with an interrogatory:

"Is it likely that the agents, even had they been in the habit of hanging prisoners out windows, which they were not, would have hung a kicking, yelling, 250 pound man out in broad daylight, in full sight of the office workers across the way?" 6

Whether or not she was censored while writing "A Girl Among Manhunters," Lockerman would have her day on the world's stage.  She went on to participate in the late-century renaissance of Dillinger writings.  In her accessible manner, she added to the body of work formed in the post-FOIA years of revisionism.  William "Bill" Helmer, author of Dillinger: The Untold Story, interviewed her.  When Purvis' son, Alston Purvis, released his book on his father, Lockerman voiced her defense of the special agent in her own, independent voice. 7

The elder Doris Lockerman was confident, vocal and articulate.  It was like in 1935, only better, with no censors reading her dailies.  Her quotes and writings called for judgment and reason in looking at the public enemies. 
Indiana State Policeman Eugene Teague, Killed During Arrest of Dillinger Associate Ed Shouse
She was there to remind crime writers just how bad these outlaws were.  The wounds were fresh in 1935.  Time has warped the tragic elements of the public enemy era, with little advocacy remaining for its victims.  Doris Lockerman told it like it was, from the perspective of the F.B.I. agents.  She was, after all, the girl among them.

Sherone Hallway, photo by Tom Smusyn

Ellen Poulsen, seen here in the hallway of Chicago's Sherone Apartments where Verne Miller escaped from the F.B.I.  She is author of Don't Call Us Molls: Women of the John Dillinger Gang, and The Case Against Lucky Luciano:  New York's Most Sensational Vice Trial

Her new book, Chasing Dillinger:  Police Captain Matt Leach, J. Edgar Hoover and the Rivalry to Capture Public Enemy No. 1, will be released in 2018 by McFarland Publishing.

End Notes:

1.  Doris Lockerman and Joseph Ator, "A Girl Among Manhunters," Chicago Tribune, Oct. 7-19,            1935.

2.  Lockerman, Oct. 9, 1935; Brad Smith, Lawman to Outlaw:  Verne Miller and the Kansas
          City Massacre, Bedford, Indiana, JoNa Books,  2002, 155-157.

3.  Lockerman, Oct. 7, 1935.

4.  William Shinnick, "A Record of Murder, Robbery, and Indiana Politics," Sunday Tribune, Oct. 9,            1938; "Indiana Police Launch Quiz on Dillinger's Death," Tribune,
            July 30, 1934.

5.  Lockerman, Oct. 18, 1935.

6.  Lockerman, Oct. 16, 1935.

7.  Alston Purvis and Alex Tresniowski, The Vendetta:  FBI Hero Melvin Purvis's 
         War Against Crime, and J. Edgar Hoover's War Against Him, N.Y.:  Public Affairs,
          Perseus Books Group, 2005.



07 January 2018

Indiana's Policewomen in the Dillinger Saga

Stories about cops and robbers usually feature -- you guessed it, the robber!  In the Great Depression era of the desperado, two women of  state law enforcement made their own imprint.  They each had problems with their public image.  One survived the era with her career intact.  The other was forced into early retirement.

In the days predating large-scale enrollment of women in policing, there was little upon which to base an opinion.  Female police officers generated reactions ranging from the good, the bad, to the ugly -- mostly the bad and the ugly.  Take for example these two women of Indiana.  Both served their official duties during the zenith of the Midwest Crime Wave, facing the boldest desperadoes of the time.  Both of these women stepped into positions that required bravery and a revolutionary, trail-blazing attitude.

Fingerprint expert Marie Grott of the Indiana State Police and Sheriff Lillian Holley of Lake County, stood out among the state police of the John Dillinger man-hunting brigade.   

At the height of the Midwest Crime Wave of 1933-1935, these two women police officers were at ground zero, the matrix of the hunt for Dillinger.   It was an interstate, embattled officialdom, a backstabbing place where officials turned on each other, talked behind each other's back, and sold each other out.  And those were the men -- Captain Matt Leach of Indiana, Inspector Yendes of Dayton, Chief Michael Morrissey of Indianapolis, to name but a few.

 Indiana State Police fingerprint expert Marie Grott worked out of Indianapolis under Captain Matt Leach.  The press flirted with "Miss Grott."  The papers described her as "comely" (dictionary, anyone?)

During the Depression-challenged job market, a police woman in Indiana could bring home the bacon to fry before her eight-to-four shift.  Indiana women who were candidates for jobs, and who happened to know the right politician, were hired.  They got state jobs with responsibility and titles.  This was the result of political patronage; most of the civil service employees in the 1930s Midwest were there because they were connected to people under Governor Paul V. McNutt. 1

Both Marie Grott and Lillian Holly were maligned in the sexist press in the days before "sexist" was even a thing.  Both were hammered and elevated at the same time.  The result of this character assassination was more deadly for Holley than for Grott.

Marie Grott is best known to Dillinger aficionados as having accompanied Terror Gang moll Mary Kinder out of Tucson, Arizona, where she had been arrested with the gang.   Grott was overqualified for the job of impromptu prison matron.  Brought to Tucson with Indiana State Police (ISP) Captain Matt Leach, Grott took charge of Mary Kinder as she was extradited from Tucson to Indianapolis to undergo a grand jury investigation stemming from her alleged role in the notorious multi-prisoner escape from the Indiana State Penitentiary at Michigan City. 2

Leach included Grott in his entourage for several reasons.  As an inner-circle member of the ISP team close to Matt Leach, Grott was trusted.  Taking custody of Mary Kinder was anticipated as an act that would be wrought with hysteria.  Kinder was to be separated from her lover, Dillinger associate Harry "Pete" Pierpont.  Mary Kinder and Pierpont nursed hatred for Matt Leach, whom they blamed for not letting them get married while in custody. 3

Grott was a rising star in the department, a fingerprint expert who would soon head the Bureau of Criminal Identification.  In Tucson, Grott kept a poker face for photographers.  No doubt, the officer was aware that one false move, in this case a smile, would ruin the credibility she was trying to establish in her career.  As a result of her intuitive knowledge of the shark tank she inhabited, she survived the era with a strong reputation.  Grott managed her high-profile moments carefully, and stayed out of the limelight whenever possible.

Grott was injured in 1933 near Michigan City while enroute with Leach to question incarcerated Dillinger gang member Ed Shouse.  While driving alone in a car with the married Matt Leach, Grott's status as a single women was somehow overlooked by the press.  The other subject of this blog, Sheriff Lillian Holley, was not as fortunate. 4

While Marie Grott was patronized, Lillian Holley was vilified.

Holly is remembered as the "lady sheriff" who had charge of the Crown Point facility when Dillinger blazed out with a wooden gun.   A year before the escape, Holley had been assigned the job of sheriff after her husband, Roy, died in the line of duty.  She would eventually be skewered as holding a job that was "too tough for a woman."

Holley was caught in the crossfire of the sensational "wooden gun" Crown Point, Indiana, escape.  The press coverage that destroyed her reputation was the result of ignorance on the part of reporters as to the true machinations behind the escape.  Add to this a desire to tap into Depression-era America's inability to accept females in policing.  While the pundits blamed Holley, the true culprits -- the politicians, prison employees and judicial officials who were involved in the bribery conspiracy -- walked away from the grand jury investigation like a  walk in the park.  It did not help Holley that she, as the sheriff, was featured next to prosecutor Robert Estill as he posed with his arm around Dillinger. She smiled and appeared to be having a good time.  It was a moment that would prove to be her undoing. 5  Shortly after the escape, the press editorialized that Dillinger flew the coop because a women was in charge. 

Lillian Holley's nephew, Carroll Holley, floated around like Estill's ghost during the period that his aunt was pilloried.   Young Holley is photographed numerous times with Estill (in photo above, behind Estill to the left).  Young Holley as the deputy sheriff, took over for his aunt shortly after the escape.  Somehow, young Holley escaped the tag of holding a job that was too tough for the nephew of the lady sheriff.   It seems in hindsight that Lillian Holley took a fall in order to allow the job to remain in her family, that young Holley would be a placeholder to allow the minions of Robert Estill to maintain control in Crown Point/Lake County.

Lillian Holley got no support from news reporters who could have added a positive voice.  Dillinger-scoop staff writers for the Indianapolis Times, in particular Basil Gallagher and William "Tubby" Toms, did not step up and use the power of their pens to vindicate Holley.  While Toms took his material from ISP Captain Matt Leach, Gallagher often wrote independent, expository features.  It was Gallagher who first labeled Dillinger gang moll Mary Kinder as the "Queen of the Gun Molls."  Had he done research into the background and experience of Lillian Holley, Gallahger would have learned some impressive facts.

Holly had been in charge of  James "Fur" Sammons for a time prior to the Dillinger debacle.  Lake County Prosecutor Robert Estill was accused by East Chicago, Indiana reporters as needing to get the powerful Sammons out of the vice and gambling districts of Gary, where he posed a threat to the existing mob structure.  Estill rushed the Chicago gangster's commitment to prison. 6

Sammons was an expert machine gunner with a rap sheet that included rape of a young girl, murder during a robbery and sentencing to life imprisonment which was commuted to a parole in 1923. 7

The fall of 1933 conviction of Sammons had been a victory for both Holley and Estill.  In the frantic efforts to protect her good name after Dillinger's escape, Holley reminded the public that she had presided over custody of Sammons, who was a far greater threat to society than Dillinger. 8

"Mrs. Lillian Holley" retired from Lake County politics shortly after the escape, and her nephew, Carroll Holley took her place.

"Miss Marie Grott" settled by 1935 into to an administrative post within the Indianapolis State Police.  That year, she became the first woman to head the Indiana Criminal Investigation Bureau. The surrounding publicity celebrated her appointment by referring to her as a "good-looking blonde." 9

"Because of her excellent work in the Dillinger and other important criminal cases, Miss Marie Grott, comely fingerprint expert, has been promoted to head the criminal identification bureau pf the Indiana State Police.  Miss Grott has herself taken 139,000 fingerprints, and is adding to her files at the rate of 1,500 per month through exchanges with other states and the Department of Justice." 


1.  Ellen Poulsen and Lori Hyde, Chasing Dillinger:  Indiana's Matt Leach Collides with the FBI, McFarland Publications, Exposit Imprint, to be released in 2018.

2.  Basil Gallagher, "City's Queen of the Gun Moll Call Master Strategist of Terrorists," Indianapolis Times, February 1934; "Holmes Out as Kinder Counsel," Indianapolis Times, February 3, 1934.

3.  Poulsen and Hyde, Chasing Dillinger.

4.  "Marie Grott Seriously Hurt in Auto Crackup; Leach Also is Injured," The Indianapolis News, February 3, 1934.

5.  "Indiana Desperado No. 1 Now Lodged in Jail of Mrs. Sheriff Holley," Indianapolis News, Jannuray 31, 193; "Woman Sheriff Unafraid as Killer Joins her Family," misc. news article.

6.  Poulsen and Hyde, Chasing Dillinger.

7.  John J. Binder, Al Capone's Beer Wars:  A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago During Prohibition, Prometheus Books, 2017, 96, 97.

8.  Ellen Poulsen, Don't Call Us Molls:  Women of the John Dillinger Gang, Clinton Cook Publishing Corp., 2002, 140.

9.  The Indianapolis News, September 14, 1935; "G-Woman in the U.S. Now",:Daily Mirror, September 14, 1935.

Ellen Poulsen is the author of Don't Call Us Molls:  Women of the John Dillinger Gang; The Case Against Lucky Luciano:  New York's Most Sensational Vice Trial; and co-author of the forthcoming Chasing Dillinger:  Indiana's Matt Leach Collides with the FBI.  She lectures on the 1930s gangster era and has appeared on numerous TV documentaries, including AMC's The Making of the Mob.  She has started work on a book examining the 1934 New York State conviction and execution of accused husband "murderess" Anna Antonio.

12 September 2017

Eighty Years Ago in F.B.I. History - The Firing of Indiana State Police Captain Matt Leach

He was livin' in the U.S.A., as the song title goes.  Because of his privileged status as a law enforcement officer in the democracy called the United States of America, when he was found to be guilty of wrongdoing, he was simply fired.  Across the universe, in 1937 Stalin's Soviet Russia, officials such as Leach coming up against authority would be deemed enemies of the State, would disappear into Siberia for twenty years of forced labor and/or solitary confinement, or more likely be executed.  Period.  But Leach got an American slap on the wrist, all things considered, when he was fired from his post as Captain of the Indiana State Police at the behest of the F.B.I.
The most recognized photo of Matt Leach

The Indianapolis field agents of the F.B.I. had tried for the previous four years to work with Captain Leach on cases as diverse as John Dillinger, Al Brady of "The New Dillinger Gang," and the notorious "Head and Hands" murder/amputation case that had graced the State of Indiana with tabloid realism gritty enough to rival the New York Daily News.

When the F.B.I. agents grew tired of Leach, they called him an obstructionist and demanded his dismissal. Through relationships garnered with public officials on the Indiana State Police Board, Indianapolis field agents got Leach publicly disgraced.  

Before Captain Matt Leach became a statistic as having had his state policing career terminated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he had tried to cooperate with the special agents working in Indianapolis  and Chicago.  Leach was riding high on the crest of the Dillinger campaign when, in 1934, the agents of Justice Department (as the F.B.I. was called before 1935), walked into his Indianapolis office and leafed through his files.  They then took Leach's files, compiled through extensive use of informants and material garnered from a private investigator named Forrest Huntington, into their own widely distributed memos which were written under their own names.  After the F.B.I. entered the Dillinger case, Leach was pushed on the sidelines and hushed by his own people -- notably Governor Paul V. McNutt and Safety Director Al Feeney, both of whom had sponsored Leach up from his humble beginnings as a Serbian immigrant and volunteer National Guardsman.
Indiana Governor Paul V. McNutt, 1933-1936

An immigrant, Leach rose from his origins as the child who spoke English to the grocer for his Serbian mother, a boy beaten by his drunken father until he one day fought back, a young restless man who joined the National Guard while still underage and who fought in the Mexican Conflict and the First World War.  Later, his name was linked with outlaw JohhDillinger.

John Dillinger
Leach was "Dillinger's Nemesis," the lawman most hated by Dillinger.  Leach was equally hated by Dillinger's friend and gang member, Harry "Pete" Pierpont.  The Dillinger "Trigger Man" once tried to shoot Leach, before he was talked out of this would-be capital crime.
Dillinger Trigger Man Harry Pierpont
On the day that he was fired on September 4, 1937, Leach demanded a hearing even though this would have meant negative publicity in his darkest hour.  The charges that the F.B.I. filed against him were lengthy and repetitive.  Most notably, he'd given information to the newspapers that amounted to police secrets in the Brady Gang case.  His patron, Governor McNutt, was no longer in office by 1937 and he had no backers.

It was clear he'd lost his balance, obvious that he was on a downward spiral that had started back in 1933 with his unpopular reputation among the hardened, streetwise investigators and back alley cops in East Chicago and Indiana Harbor and Chief Michael Morrissey in Indianapolis.  Yet he was liked and respected in Chicago by Captain John Stege -- and both Stege and Leach were kept in the dark by the F.B.I. on the night Dillinger was killed at the Biograph Theater in Chicago's North Side.

The federal agents said he was unprofessional, guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer.  How that
Foreground, The Indiana Statehouse
must have hurt Captain Matt Leach!  His hearing, held in the Indiana Statehouse in the presence of bored office workers on a break, amounted to nothing more than a kangaroo court.  He was given a day to defend himself for his conduct going back over four years.

Indiana field agents testified against Leach and the conclusion was that his firing was upheld.

From there he went into an abyss, depressed and unemployed until finding work as a salesman. He signed up for more military service and served in World War II.  Not
Mat Leach was featured almost daily in news reporting in 1934.
to make a hero of the man.  He was controversial and particularly disliked by factions around Indiana for going after publicity in a world where a real cop always laid low.

Yet he revolutionized the way the public viewed police officers.  He dressed neatly, with perfectly folded handkerchief, collar and tie, his every detail flawless.  He was a self-educated student of the criminal mind and used interrogation techniques which relied heavily on his playing the good cop verses the heavy-handed, third degree methods in place at the time.

Matt Leach lived until June of 1955, when he was killed on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in a horrendous accident which claimed the lives of himself, his wife Mary, and two other people, one of whom was pregnant.  He and his wife were on the way home from New York on a search for a ghost writer and/or publisher for the book he planned to write on Dillinger.    
Make and Model of the other car involved in the accident, which sent Leach and his wife thirty feet down a roadside ravine.  

There are many myths and rumors associated with Matt Leach.  Here is a sample:

True or False:  Outlaw John Dillinger once sent Leach abook entitled, "How to be a Detective."
Ans.:  False.  The book, actually a pamphlet, was sent to Leach by an Indiana news reporter who admitted to sending it to Leach in January of 1934.

Ellen Poulsen, Author, Don't Call Us Molls:  Women of the John Dillinger Gang, and The Case Against Lucky Luciano:  New York's Most Sensational Vice Trial.  

Co-author, with Lori Hyde, of a soon to be released biography of Captain Matt Leach:  Chasing Dillinger:  Indiana's Matt Leach Collides with the F.B.I.

Lecturer, avid researcher and television commentator on the crime wave of the 1930s.

@Ellen Poulsen on FaceBook