How a Dayton landlady helped nab infamous bank robber John Dillinger

  • Dayton History has Public Enemy No. One's guns
  • Romance brought Dillinger to Dayton
  • His crimes got so much bloodier from here

By Amelia Robinson, Staff Writer

A Colt .38 Super semiautomatic gun stored among Dayton History's 100,000 artifacts is a reminder that a Dayton landlady helped capture the man J. Edgar Hoover would later dub "Public Enemy No. One."

Sept. 22, 1933 Dayton arrest photo of John Dillinger. (Source: Dayton Daily News archive)


"His girlfriend's landlady snitched (him out) to police," Mary OliverDayton History's director of collection, said of the local arrest of infamous bank robber John Dillinger on Sept. 22, 1933.

Dillinger's gun became a  bit of a trophy and was engraved  with the words "Taken from the Fugitive John Dillinger upon arrest by Dayton Police."


Mary Oliver of Dayton History, holds Public Enemy #1, John Dillinger's .38 automatic that the Dayton Police took when they arrested him in 1933 in a rooming house on W. First Street. (Archive staff photo by Bill Reinke)

But the story of Dillinger in Dayton started long before a tip from Lucille Stricker, the landlady we told you about in the beginning of this tale, landed John Herbert Dillinger in the old Ford Street jail as prisoner No. 10587.

Like so many stories, this one started with infatuation.

Already a seasoned crook, Dillinger learned all about Mary Jenkins Longnaker, an unhappily married 23-year-old Dayton resident, while in the Indiana State Penitentiary with her brother, convicted murder James Jenkins.

The handsome Indianapolis native also learned how to carry out bank robberies while in the Michigan City Prison in Indiana, according to Oliver's research.

How Dayton landlady held capture infamous bank robber John Dillinger, , item 1
The faces of John Dillinger. (Source: FBI)
There was simply just something about Mary, and Dillinger evidently could not wait to hook up with the pretty brunette. He drove a battered Model A Ford here shortly after being released from the pen on May 22, 1933, according to the Dayton Daily News article "Dayton’s connection to Dillinger: Bank robber came here for love."

As the car traveled on West First Street, Dillinger  yelled at passers-by in attempt to find Longnaker. The 23-year-old was out-of-town at the time, so Dillinger passed himself off as her brother and rented  a room.

That was the first of many trips Dillinger made to Dayton that summer to see Mary.

The then-30-year-old gangster and Longnaker even went on a 10-day trip to the 1933 Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago, according to

During an August trip to Dayton, Dillinger told Mary that "business" was getting better and Dillinger was willing to share, according to the Dayton Daily News article.

Take Pinkerton's National Detective Agency's letter to Dayton police inspector C.E. Yendes sent with Dillinger's fingerprints and description as evidence.

It read:

"John Dillinger has a female friend at Dayton, Ohio, whose given name is unknown, but her maiden name is Jenkins…this woman is suing for divorce from her husband, at Dayton, Ohio, and Dillinger is paying the expense of the divorce action. Dillinger calls upon this woman regularly and, no doubt, can be apprehended at Dayton, Ohio."

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Early Dillinger wanted poster. (Source: FBI)

Dillinger wasn't the only one bragging -- Longnaker was a bit of  a chatty Cathy herself, and Lucille Stricker, her landlady at an upscale boardinghouse at 324 West First Street, was listening.

Mary told Lucille how she was dating the then-wanted bank robber and how he visited her frequently. Stricker turned out to be talkative and helpful.

With Lucille helping and going on tips from Pinkerton's National Detective Agency, which had been hired by Citizen's National Bank in Bluffton, Ohio (Dillinger robbed that institution of $6,000 Aug. 14, 1933), Dayton detectives began to set a trap for Dillinger.

They used a room at Stricker's boarding home where Dayton police detectives Russell Pfauhl and Charlie Gross watched Longnaker for weeks, according to Oliver. Stricker even steamed open Longnaker's mail for police and let them search her apartment.

Police had given up the round-the-clock surveillance on Sept. 22, 1933, not knowing things were about to get real.

Dillinger slipped into Longnaker's room around midnight, but he wasn't as slick as he may have thought.

Front page of the Sept. 22, 1933 Herald. (Photo by Amelia Robinson, Staff)

Stricker heard Dillinger and spotted his fancy, according to Matera's book. She called police as the Dillinger and his lady friend looked at pictures from the World's Fair trips.

The landlady led them up the stairs to Longnaker's room and even knocked on the door, according to Oliver.

Police burst into the room after Longnaker opened the door.

"Get 'em up, John. We are police!" Pfauhl screamed, according to Matera.

Pfauhl and Gross jammed the muzzle of a sawed-off shotgun and a Tommy gun into his frozen face. The suspect didn't attempt to use the .45 automatic in his pocket or the smaller pistol hidden up his sleeve.

The newspaper reported that Dillinger later told police "I would have been a…fool to have pulled that gun."

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Sept. 22, 1933 Dayton Daily News front page.

The Herald's story from that day says that Dillinger was said "to have in his possession five revolvers, a large quantity of ammunition and $2,604 in money."

He had "detailed notes explaining the speediest way to escape from various cities, and sacks full of carpet tacks," according to a Dayton Daily News article. The tacks could be scattered on highways to puncture the tires of pursuing police cars.

Longnaker and 26-year-old Claude Constable, a man staying in the boarding house, were held for questioning. Dillinger was arrested.

"Calm and smiling, the prisoner answered questions with a shrug and the comment, 'See my lawyer,'" the Dayton Daily News reported.

Dillinger's Dayton arrest, and the fight that followed between officials in three states hoping to extradite him, produced big headlines for the Dayton Daily News and The Herald.

Dillinger had barely gotten started, but was already making a name for himself in the worst way. He was also making money.

"Approximately $50,000 is said to have been taken in daring holdups," one Dayton Daily News sub-headline reads.

The headlines in newspapers around the nation would get progressively darker.

Between September 1933 and July 1934, the FBI says Dillinger and his gang killed 10 men, wounded seven others, robbed police arsenals and about a dozen banks (his first bank heist was of $10,600 from National Bank in New Carlisle on June 10, 1933). They staged three jail breaks and struck terror in the Midwest.

Chicago's Biograph Theatre. (Source: FBI)


The gangster died in a hail of bullets on July 22, 1934. It was a month after his 31st birthday.

A PBS "American Experience" page says he had just left Chicago's Biograph Theatre with his girlfriend Polly Hamilton, a waitress and prostitute, and her friend and former boss Anna Sage. The trio had watched Clark Gable in "Manhattan Melodrama."

Before all that, the local fight for who would try Dillinger ended when then-Common Pleas Court Judge Robert C. Patterson turned him over to Allen County officials so he could answer charges related to a Lima bank robbery. Tragedy followed two weeks later when a member of Dillinger's gang killed Allen County Sheriff Jeff Saber during a successful jail break.

But a little piece of Dillinger never left the Gem City.

The notorious bank robber's semiautomatic gun remained in Dayton Police Chief Rudolph Wurstner's possession until after his death. He had carried the gun until 1949.

Mary Oliver said it was given to the museum in 2004 and only occasionally included in appropriate exhibitions.

Mary Oliver of Dayton History holds Public Enemy #1 John Dillinger's .38 automatic that the Dayton Police took when they arrested him in 1933 in a rooming house on W. First Street. (Archive staff photo by Bill Reinke)

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