LIMA — Gangster Alfred Brady reportedly once boasted he would “make (John) Dillinger look like a piker.” During a crime spree in the mid-1930s, he tried.
The Lima News writer Ray Casey, for one, saw many similarities between Dillinger and Brady and the gangs they led. Writing in the May 1, 1936, edition of the News, Casey noted both were natives of Indiana, recruited their gangs mostly from Indiana prisons and often sought refuge, as well as “fences” for stolen goods, in Chicago.
And, Casey wrote, “Lima seemed to hold a fatal attraction for both bands of gunmen.”
Dillinger, who was being held in the Allen County Jail for a Bluffton bank robbery, was freed Oct. 12, 1933, by members of his gang who had escaped from the Indiana state prison, killing Allen County Sheriff Jess Sarber in the process.
As for Brady, he had been arrested in late April 1936 following a spectacular robbery at a Lima jewelry store. The robbery marked the second time in a little over a month the trigger-happy Brady gang had robbed the store.
Casey completed the comparison of the two gangsters by noting that both men ended up broke in Chicago. Brady had just $3 on him when he was arrested in Chicago shortly after the second Kay’s robbery, Casey noted, adding, “Dillinger, too, was broke, when G-men shot him down in Chicago” in July 1934.
By late in 1936, most of the gangsters who had dominated the headlines in the first half of the decade — Dillinger, “Baby Face” Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde and George “Machine Gun” Kelly — were either in prison or in the ground.
The 26-year-old Brady was just getting started.
Beginning with the robbery of a movie theater in Crothersville, Indiana, in October 1935, which netted them $18, Brady and his core gang, comprised of James Dalhover, Clarence Lee Shaffer Jr. and Charles Gieseking, went on a spree. By some accounts, the gang had committed about 150 robberies by April 1936, mostly in small towns and cities in Ohio and Indiana.
They arrived in Lima on March 19, 1936, when Brady, Dalhover and a third man robbed the Kay Jewelry Store at 129 N. Main St. “At least eight persons were in the store during the hold-up, which was marked by a tussle between Bernard Brender, manager, and one of the bandits and the firing of six shots by the other bandit, who stood guard near the door. No one was wounded,” the News reported the following day.
According to the FBI website, as Brender and Brady scuffled behind the counter, another member of the gang, acting like a kid at a carnival shooting gallery, fired at whoever’s head popped up from behind the counter, usually Brady’s. The commotion drew a crowd, but the gang still made off with about $6,800, though it was forced to leave a bag of jewels behind.
The gang, which had been growing increasingly brazen and violent, added murder to its resume several days later. “Their victim was Ed Lindsay, 21, clerk in a Piqua store, who was shot to death in a vain effort to prevent the bandits from looting the cash register,” the News reported March 22, 1936.
On April 27, 1936, the Brady gang returned to Kay’s. Around 11:30 a.m., Lima police officer Ed Swaney was at the lunch counter in the Newberry Department store next door to Kay’s while his partner, officer Jess Ford, who had dropped him off, circled the block looking for a parking spot. Brady, Shaffer, Gieseking and Dalhover found one first. Ford arrived moments later and, without realizing it, parked the cruiser right behind the gang’s car.
“Two bandits who stayed outside immediately covered Officer Ford, who had stepped from the cruiser” the News recounted. “When Swaney’s attention was attracted to the sidewalk, one of the bandits had a gun against Ford’s back, and another armed stranger was on the sidewalk nearby. Swaney opened fire on the bandits from inside the door of the Newberry store, and a blast of leaden slugs was turned in his direction. Glass in the doors and windows was broken and bullets peppered the metal frame.”
Lunchtime patrons of the Newberry lunch counter dove for cover as Swaney and the bandits exchanged gunfire. Gieseking was wounded by Swaney but the bandits managed to reach their getaway car and flee south on Main Street and then west on Spring Street with Ford and Swaney in pursuit, the News wrote. The pursuit ended when the cruiser collided with a car exiting a driveway in the 800 block of Spring Street. Swaney suffered a broken vertebra in the crash. The gang’s haul from the second Kay’s robbery was later estimated at more than $15,000.
That evening, as the gang sought medical attention for Gieseking at an Indianapolis doctor’s office, they ambushed and killed Indianapolis police Sgt. Richard Rivers, who was responding to a call from the doctor’s wife.
Brady and Shaffer were arrested on May 11, 1936, while Dalhover was captured on May 15, 1936. Gieseking was located Sept. 12, 1936, in Henderson, Kentucky, the day before Lima officer Swaney was finally able to discard a neck brace he had worn since the April crash. Brady, Dalhover and Shaffer were transferred to the Hancock County Jail in Greenfield, Indiana, while Gieseking was returned to Lima. On June 3, 1937, Gieseking was sentenced to from 10 to 25 years in the Ohio Penitentiary for his part in the April Kay’s robbery.
Meanwhile, on Oct. 12, 1936, the other three members of the Brady gang escaped. “Taking another leaf from the crime book of John Dillinger, whose spectacular career they have admitted supplied the inspiration for their banditry, Alfred Brady, Clarence Lee Shaffer Jr., and James Dalhover overpowered and slugged the sheriff, escaped from the Hancock County jail at Greenfield, Indiana, fired revolver shots at a citizen, stole his automobile and fled,” the News wrote.
For the next year, reports of gang sightings filled the newspapers. “Hunt for the Alfred Brady gang was being pushed in this area Tuesday following a report the desperadoes had been sighted in an automobile near Fort Wayne,” the News reported June 1, 1937. “Sheriff William V. Daley had four deputies out and two officers of the Lima sub-station of the state highway patrol were working in conjunction with other peace officers in blanketing the highways.”
In fact, the trio were hiding out far from the area, mostly in Baltimore, Maryland, returning to commit robberies in Indiana, Ohio and other Midwest states before returning to Baltimore. On May 25, 1937, following a robbery in Farmland, Indiana, they killed Indiana State Trooper Paul V. Minneman.
On Oct. 12, 1937, a year after breaking out of the Indiana jail, their luck ran out when they were tracked to Bangor, Maine, where they had gone to buy guns. Agents of the Indiana and Maine state police as well as FBI agents killed Brady and Shaffer, who died just feet apart on a Bangor street.
“I’d like to have been a G-man and been right along when they caught up with that gang,” Swaney told a News reporter “as he emerged from Newberry’s lunch counter after learning” of the deaths of Brady and Shaffer.” Swaney, the News added, then pointed to the parking place in front of Kays jewelry store “where that outfit grabbed Jess Ford’s gun and started unloading machine gun bullets at me.”
The surviving gang member, Dalhover, was tried for the death of Minneman and executed in the electric chair at the Indiana State Penitentiary in Michigan City on Nov. 18, 1938.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.