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Harry Pierpont (October 13, 1902 - October 17, 1934) was a Prohibition era gangster. He is perhaps most noted for being a friend and mentor of John Dillinger.

Early life

Born in Muncie, Indianamarker, to J. Gilbert and Lena Orcutt Pierpont; Harry Pierpont was the middle child with an older sister Fern, who died of tuberculosis when he was a teenager, and a younger brother Fred. According to his intake papers at the Pendleton Correctional Facilitymarker formerly known as the Indiana Reformatorymarker, Pierpont attended parochial school completing the 8th grade.

His troubles with the law began after an accident where he received a severe head injury. Unconscious for more than five hours, his demeanor was altered when he recovered. In the Record of Inquest held on September 19, 1921, his mother states that he became sullen, suspicious, and prone to outbursts after his injury and, two days later, he was committed to the state hospital for the mentally ill, Central Indiana Hospital, on September 21, where he stayed for two months. Concurrently with his commitment to the state hospital, Harry's first arrest is recorded. During the same month he is charged with carrying a concealed weapon and held for ten days in an Indianapolis jail. The charges were dropped. On March 12, 1922, Harry entered the Indiana reformatory for a two to fourteen years sentence for assault and battery with intent to murder. The parole board granted him parole on March 6, 1924.

Criminal career

Headstrong, handsome, and tough, Harry soon graduated to bank robbery after his parole. Partnering with Earl Northern, Thaddeus Skeer and Everet Bridgewater, he became wanted in connection with a number of bank robberies in Indiana. In 1925, police arrested Pierpont and Skeer in Detroit, Michiganmarker. Pierpont refused to give any information about his associates; however, Skeer talked. Both men were returned to Indiana for trial. Found guilty, he was sent back to Pendleton and entered the reformatory for the second time on May 6, 1925. It was here that he first met John Dillinger. Harry caused the Pendleton Warden, A.F. Miles, so much trouble that he was transferred to the Indiana State Prisonmarker at Michigan City within two months. Entering Michigan City on July 30, 1930, he became one of the most respected convicts (by other convicts) in the prison. Forever trying to escape, Pierpont constantly fought with the guards and was frequently confined to solitary confinement. He was known for his ability to withstand hunger and beatings. Pierpont headed a prison clique that included Russell Clark, Charles Makley, John "Red" Hamilton and Dillinger after his July 1929 transfer. It was from these men that Dillinger learned the crime of bank robbery, and by 1933, with a parole for Dillinger, an escape plan was concocted. With Dillinger on the outside, he would rob several banks on a list comprised by Pierpont and Makley, and with that money, help finance the escape.

Escape from Michigan City

During the summer of 1933, Dillinger began his criminal career, accumulating enough funds to finance the break. On September 26, 1933, Pierpont, Makley, Hamilton, Clark, along with Walter Dietrich, James "Oklahoma Jack" Clark, Edward Shouse, Joseph Fox, John Burns, and Jim Jenkins escaped from Michigan City, using pistols that Dillinger had smuggled into the prison. The convicts took the warden and several guards hostage as they walked carefully out the front gate. The men then split up and took off in two commandeered cars. Waiting for Pierpont was Mary Kinder, a woman he had met in prison when she came to visit her imprisoned brother. She had arranged a place for the escapees to stay and remained with Pierpont as his girlfriend. The convicts were ready to begin taking banks on their own, only to discover that John Dillinger had been arrested in Dayton, Ohio four days before the escape. Dillinger was than extradited to the Allen County jail in Lima, Ohiomarker to stand trial for robbing the Citizens National Bank in Bluffton, Ohiomarker. After robbing the bank at St. Mary's, Ohiomarker, Pierpont, Makley, Clark, and Hamilton went to the Lima jail to break out their friend. Sheriff Jesse Sarber was fatally shot by Pierpont during the struggle.

Days with the "Terror Gang"

After robbing two Indiana police stations of weapons and bulletproof vests, the "Terror Gang", robbed the bank at Greencastle, Indiana of over $74,000 dollars on October 23, 1933. Witnesses clearly identified Harry Pierpont as the leader of the robbers. With the Indiana State Police after them, the gang hid out in Chicago, soon robbing another bank in Racine, Wisconsin on November 20, 1933. One of their pursuers, Captain Matt Leach, attempted to inspire friction in the ranks of the gang. During news interviews, he made a point of calling them the "Dillinger Gang", instead of the "Pierpont Gang". The ruse backfired, as Pierpont couldn't have cared less what people called the gang. Due to the unwelcome attention generated by their crimes and the killing of a Chicago detective by Red Hamilton, the gang and their women took a long vacation at a beach house in Daytona Beach, Florida, highlighted by a New Year's Eve barbecue which climaxed by Dillinger emptying his Tommy Gun at the moon at the stroke of midnight.

Downfall

The fun was soon over on January 15, 1934, when John Dillinger, Red Hamilton, and Harry Pierpont robbed a bank in East Chicago, Indianamarker. Pierpont waited in the car while the other two emerged with the money and hostages. Responding to the alarm, Patrolman William O'Malley rushed up shooting. The bullets were stopped by Dillinger's vest, and he gunned the officer down with a machine gun burst. Heading out west to lie low, Pierpont, Dillinger, Makley, and Clark ended up in Tucson, Arizona. Flush with cash and careless, the gang made several minor mistakes which led to their being recognized and captured, one by one, on January 25, 1934. All four men and their girlfriends were extradited back to the Midwest; Dillinger to Indiana, the other three to Ohio to stand trial for the murder of Sheriff Sarber. Testimony by Shouse, one of the first members of Dillinger gang, helped convict the others. In early March 1934, Harry Pierpont, Charles Makley, and Russell Clark were convicted of Sheriff Sarber's murder. Pierpont and Makley got the death penalty, while Clark got a life sentence.

After Dillinger stunned the country by breaking out of the jail at Crown Point, Indianamarker with a wooden gun on March 3, 1934, it was suspected that he would try to break his pals out of the death house in Columbus, Ohio. Elaborate precautions were taken to keep Pierpont and Makley locked up.With Dillinger's death at the hands of the FBI on July 22, 1934, and time running out for them, Harry Pierpont and Charles Makley resorted to other means to get off death row. They would try to duplicate their old friend's feat.

The two men carved phony pistols out of cakes of soap and made their move on September 22, 1934, brandishing the toys, they managed to get out of their cells and to the main door of the death house before rifle-wielding guards opened fire. Makley was killed outright and Pierpont was riddled with bullets. Although he survived, he was seriously injured. Still suffering from injuries incurred during his attempted escape, he was carried to the electric chair and executed on October 17, 1934.

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See also



Notes

  1. Edward Shouse at www.geocities.com


Further reading

  • Blake, James Carlos. Handsome Harry: Or the Gangster's True Confessions. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2004.


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