I've decided to pass this information along because I am not seeing it
included in the Times' stories on Dillinger even though they are the original
printers of the story you are about to read. My uncle, Hobart Wilgus, was a key
player in all that went on back in the 1930's and now is somehow being forgotten.
Dillinger affected their lives so deeply at that time, I
let Hobart and Mary be forgotten.
Questions to be answered here: How did Dillinger get out of the bank without getting a string of gunfire from police? Who was the key witness used to identify Dillinger for Lake County trial? Who went to Arizona and brought Dillinger back for trial?
This is how Dillinger touched the lives of my family. Told by my Aunt Mary (Huish) Wilgus to the Times back in 1984.
"By Lu Ann Franklin
Dyer -Mary Wilgus and her family think it's time John Dillinger's
popularity and "Robin Hood" image were laid to rest.
With the 50th anniversary of Dillinger's death today, Mary wants to talk about Dillinger.
For 50 years, this petite 80-year old East Chicago native and current Dyer resident has kept silent. She has kept her memories of Dillinger's final six months locked away with her collection of yellowed newspaper clippings and old photos.
Those six months were a nightmare for Mary Wilgus and her husband Hobart.
The nightmare began Jan. 15, 1934 about 2 p.m.
Hobart, an East Chicago policeman, responded to an alarm at the First National Bank at the corner of Chicago Avenue and Indianapolis Boulevard. Mary said the police never knew whether the alarm signaled a real emergency or a test of the alarm system.
"Hobart went into the bank first," Mary said. "Dillinger was in the lobby with a machine-gun."
"At that time police didn't go in with guns drawn. It might 'frighten the patrons'. That tickles me," she added ironically.
Hobart's .38 service revolver was quickly "appropriated" by Dillinger, Mary said, and the policeman became the killer's hostage.
After robbing the bank Dillinger used Hobart Wilgus as a shield to make his escape. According to Mary, Dillinger told her husband, "You go first, they (the police) might as well shoot you as me. We love you guys anyway."
"Pat O'Malley, a fellow off-duty police officer, was standing just outside the bank that day. Mary said O'Malley carried a photo of Dillinger in his wallet and recognized the gangster.
A member of Dillinger's gang, John Hamilton, warned him of the policeman's presence. O'Malley shot Dillinger three times, Mary said, before he was himself cut down by Dillinger's machine-gun fire.
But O'Malley's shots never touched the killer - he had on a bullet proof vest.
"In books and movies, they have made Dillinger into a Robin Hood," Mary commented. "Why, he shot him (O'Malley) in cold blood."
(Continued on Page A-8)
The arrival of the gang's getaway car at that moment probably saved her husband's
life, Mary said.
She remembered she knew something was wrong when Hobart didn't come home on time after his shift.
"A friend was with me at the house. Someone in City Hall called her. As soon as she finished I said, 'What's wrong?' I got on the phone and called the station."
Hobart was being questioned by his colleagues. Mary recalled that when her husband told police officials the gang wore bullet-proof vests, "they called him a liar." Later the police learned the gang had stolen their vests, machine-guns and pistols in the robbery of a sheriff's office in Ohio. They killed the sheriff.
Because Hobart Wilgus was the only official witness to both the robbery and the killing of O'Malley, he became a target for Dillinger.
The couple was sent out of town for their own protection. While traveling through Springfield Ill. they stopped for gas. "Hobart took one look around and said, 'Let's get out of here,' Mary recalled.
Hobart had spotted members of Dillinger's gang in a car heading north -probably to find him.
About a month later Dillinger was arrested in Tuscon, Ariz. and Hobart Wilgus was sent to bring him back to Indiana for trial. Hobart was brought out of hiding and sent to Arizona because he was the only one who could positively identify Dillinger. They came back to Indiana handcuffed together.
Even in those days the Dillinger legend was growing. Officials in Tuscon were photographed with their arms draped around Dillinger's shoulders. But, Mary's daughter, Eleanor Hinton of Dyer, noted her father never wanted to be photographed with the killer.
Hobart brought Dillinger back to the county jail in Crown Point, but the gangster didn't remain there long. He escaped and began looking for Hobart, Mary said.
"They (the East Chicago police officials) put him (Hobart) out in uniform. Nobody wanted to work with him," Mary recalled with a touch of bitterness in her voice.
In May two other East Chicago policemen - Officers Mulvihill and O'Brien - were shot to death in a car by Dillinger's gang, according to Mary. She theorized the two were killed because the police "were just getting too close" to Dillinger. The connection has never been proven however.
Hobart escaped death again while he was walking his beat with the brother of one of the slain policemen. A car carrying Dillinger's gang drove along 151st Street, looking for Hobart. However, he was standing near a large tree and escaped their notice, Mary said.
The man with Hobart told the officer he'd never walk with him again. "And he never did," Mary remembered with a chuckle.
Dillinger did not give up. Off and on for the next few months, Mary recalled, Dillinger and his gang sat in a car outside the Wilgus home on Grand Boulevard in East Chicago.
But Hobart didn't often come home after his shift. "He would go someplace else to stay," Mary said. Hobart didn't want her to remain in the area, Mary noted "but I told him 'no way would I leave.'"
The Wilgus nightmare finally ended on July 22, 1934 when Dillinger was shot to death outside the Biograph Theater on Chicago's North Side.
Although rumors have circulated for 50 years that Dillinger was not the man shot that day, Mary is certain he was. "If he wasn't killed, my husband wouldn't have lasted as long as he did, that's for sure," she said.
Hobart Wilgus died in 1959 at the age of 61. He had retired from the police force in 1949 after 21 years service.
After Dillinger's death, "neither one of us thought much more about it. He (Hobart) figured that was his job and he did it and for the salary they got then, your life wasn't worth much."
One detail about Dillinger has stayed with mary for 50 years. There has been much controversy over the color of Dillinger's eyes. They have been variously described in official documents as gray, brown or blue.
But Hobart Wilgus told his wife Dillinger had a "killer's eyes. My husband said he had a yellowish cast to his eyes.""
Dillinger ---still a hero here in NWI I suppose.
You are number to read this part of the story about Dillinger.
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