Saturday, July 25, 2009

John Dillinger Gang's Fort Wayne, IN Connection

Homer Van Meter was born December 3, 1906 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Homer died in a storm of police gunshots in a St. Paul, MN alley, August 23, 1934. The newspaper reported that the parallels between John Dillinger and Homer Van Meters deaths were betrayal by women, and death by gun fire in alleys. “His straw hat rolled in the dust that blackened his white shoes, and blood flowed from more than two score wounds.” Homer Van Meter came back to Fort Wayne, Indiana to be buried in Lindenwood Cemetery, Saturday, August 25, 1934.
The newspaper headlines in Fort Wayne Saturday, August 25, 1934, read “Minimizing the Glamour.” With human consideration for the wishes of the innocent survivors of the late Homer Van Meter, slain when he resisted arrest by police officers in St. Paul, MN, and with the purpose of minimizing the glamour which excessive publicity so easily confers upon enemies of society, the News-Sentinel will not “play up” or sensationalize accounts of the dead bandit’s funeral services and burial nor will we make any attempt to procure photos of the same.
Carey and Mary (Miller) Van Meter had three children: Harry, Homer, and baby sister Helen. They lived in the middle class Bloomingdale neighborhood, where the children went to school. Carey worked for the railroad, and Mary stayed home to care for their three children. Both Cary and Mary were dead when Homer started getting in trouble with the “law.”
Homer’s first crime was for “disorderly conduct,” in Aurora, IL in 1923. Later that same year he was convicted of vehicle theft in IL, and sentenced to 1 to 10 years in the Southern IL State Penitentiary. In 1925 he and Con Livingston held up passengers for several hundred dollars and jewelry. Con Livingston was killed by the police in South Bend, IN, and Homer Van Meter fled to Chicago, IL where the police caught up with Homer and he was arrested. Homer served time at the Lake County Reformatory, but was transferred to the IN State Prison. May 18, 1933 the parole board recommendation was to free Van Meter, because they “believed that he would make good in the future.”
There were times and occasions when Homer Van Meter tried to “make good in the future.” Homer would disappear, and the police wouldn’t “hear” from Homer for months at a time. One time he was believed to be living in New Orleans, LA. After Homer was on parole from the Indiana State Prison, he refused to take part in Indiana bank robberies. He did however participate in the IL, OH, and MI Dillinger gang bank robberies.
John Dillinger was released from prison June 1933, and then he was back in jail in Lima, OH. September 1933 there was a raid on the Lima, OH jail, and Dillinger was freed, and Homer Van Meter rejoined the Dillinger gang.
Relatives said that Homer was handsome. He had a strange twitch in his leg that caused his friends to call him “Shake Leg.” He could be quite charming when he wanted to be, which is why John Dillinger used Homer as the advance man. Homer was often sent into the banks ahead of the gang to scope things out. His good looks and personality made it easy for him to enter the bank and put on the charm to find out inside information.
The Peru Indiana police remembered how Homer Van Meter posed as a detective magazine reporter. Homer told the Peru police that he was working on a story about an old Miami County robbery. The Peru police thought that Homer was like a “friend,” until he showed up a few days later with the Dillinger gang. The Dillinger gang along with Van Meter, seized $2,000 of the police arsenal.
The Dillinger gang often drove in stolen cars, and one time they were in a car with Michigan plates when a police car came upon them. John Dillinger was reported to have been ready for a shootout, when Homer stopped him, left the car, and went up to the police car. He told them that they were from Michigan, and they needed to know how to get back on the right road to Michigan. He then showed an interest in the squad car and their machine guns. Homer said, “It’s a wicked weapon and would end John Dillinger if you found him.” Homer cheerfully shouted, “Good Night.” As he went back to the stolen car and John Dillinger.
Homer didn’t write letters home, and his relatives said that they had nothing to do with him. One winter day his brother Harry went to his garage where his beat up old car was parked. When he entered the garage he saw a beautiful shiny new car with the keys and the title on the front seat. Harry had to go to court and prove that the car was a repayment for money that Homer owed Harry.
Information from The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, IN newspaper microfilm August 24 & 25, 1934, ACPL, Fort Wayne, IN.