LIMA — The 1920s and ‘30s were a different time in America. The rise of gangster John Dillinger had an impact on both Allen County and Dayton.
Steve Lucht, the curator of Dayton History, was the keynote speaker at the Allen County Museum on Sunday and recounted this link.
That museum has an exhibit called “Bootleggers, Bandits and Badges: From Dry Times to Hard Times in Dayton, Ohio” and includes items from the Allen County Museum that help tell the tale of Dillinger and his gang.
“They lent us some documents and photographs that we’re using in our exhibit downtown,” Lucht said.
As for Dayton’s connection to Lima, it’s a story that involves a Dayton woman.
Lucht recalled that Dillinger tried and failed to rob a bank in 1924 and was sent to the Indiana State Prison. His cellmate was Jim Jenkins. While behind bars, Dillinger struck up a relationship with Jenkins’ sister, Mary Longnecker.
“She’s living in Dayton, but then she would come quite often to visit her brother and, of course, she got to know John Dillinger. They became friends and started to correspond and things like that,” Lucht said.
After Dillinger was released from prison, he would visit Longnecker in Dayton.
“They struck up a romance,” Lucht said.
They attended the World’s Fair in Chicago.
Dillinger assembled a gang that started robbing banks.
“The first official bank robbery they made was in New Carlisle, Ohio,” Lucht said.
That ultimately led to the robbery of the Citizens National Bank in Bluffton.
News of the relationship between Dillinger and Longnecker spread to Dayton police, who set up a stakeout. When Dillinger arrived, he was arrested.
“Police went up the stairs and busted through the door, and there was Dillinger hanging out with Mary and another gentleman, and they arrested them,” Lucht recalled.
Dillinger was transferred to Allen County’s Jail to await charges of robbing the bank in Bluffton.
While at the Allen County Jail, Dillinger’s gang busted him out, shooting Allen County Sheriff Jess Sarber, who later died of his wounds.
The Bootleggers, Bandits and Badges exhibit will remain on display until the end of 2021. Dayton’s museum is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to five on Sunday.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.