If Ralph Alsman were alive today, it would be interesting to know what he thought about last week’s news concerning notorious 1930s gangster John Dillinger.
Two men who say Dillinger was their uncle are seeking to have his remains exhumed from Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. They say FBI agents possibly killed someone else outside of the Biograph Theater in Chicago on July 22, 1934. As evidence, they point to the eye color of the man killed outside the theater. It didn’t match Dillinger’s eye color. They also point out his ears were shaped differently, his fingerprints weren’t a match, and that he had a heart condition while Dillinger did not.
They want the body exhumed and subjected to a forensic analysis and possibly DNA testing.
Where does Ralph Alsman fit into this?
Alsman was a luckless lookalike of Dillinger. He shared an incredible physical resemblance to Dillinger, including similar moles next to one eye and matching scars on their left wrists. Thanks to their mirror images, Alsman was arrested or detained 17 times. Although he was released after each arrest, he endured repeated interrogations and lived in constant fear that he would eventually be killed.
“I’m a wreck,” Alsman told the Pittsburgh Press at the time. He moved from his home in Brookville, Indiana, for fear of being shot — which ironically was 50 miles from where Dillinger grew up. However, danger always followed.
“I was standing on a corner in Detroit when I looked up to face three machine guns. At Sault Ste Marie I was taken from my hotel room in shackles,” he told the Press.
The truth was that no one in the Midwest was immune from the Dillinger gang’s violence during the 1930s, as the Lima region found out.
Their string of bank robberies included one in Bluffton on Oct. 12, 1933. Dillinger was later jailed for that robbery, only to be broken out of the Allen County jail in Lima. Gang member Harry Pierpont shot and killed Sheriff Jess L. Sarber during that jail break.
Golda M. Winegardner was among those who never forgot that day. Her obituary on June 26, 2011, told how as a young girl she was working at Newberry’s Department Store when gunfire broke out at the courthouse. She hid behind the candy counter, only to be shot in the back by a stray shotgun pellet.
Pierpont was caught and convicted for Sarber’s murder. Unlike today, the courts moved quickly in carrying out his execution. He received the electric chair on July 12, 1934, less than a year after the killing.
In a 1984 article, Gray Knisely, who was a reporter for The Lima News back then, recalled his jailhouse interview with Pierpont.
“They called him ‘the Viper,’ but not to his face,” Knisely said. “He was the absolute personification of evil. I sat and looked at him for 20 minutes, and he never blinked his eyes.”
ROSES AND THORNS: A Lima couple and a grandmother are smelling the roses this week.
Rose: To Trisha and Bill Huber, who exchanged wedding vows at Springview Manor in Lima so Trisha’s grandmother, Helen Knapp, could watch.
Rose: To Sister Carol Inkrott, 75, who retired after 58 years as a nun, the last 17 years in Bluffton.
Thorn: Individuals working on the fuel line of a car that was parked partially inside a commercial storage unit on Gannon Drive in Lima had an unexpected surprise Thursday. When they started the car it burst into flames. The blaze caused fire damage to two of the nearby storage units and smoke damage to an undetermined number of other units. Initial damage estimates were set at $4,000 for the vehicle and $2,000 to the building.
PARTING SHOT: As kids head back to school, some will drink at the fountain of knowledge, others will just gargle.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.