MINSTER — A recent Sidney Daily News story triggered memories for Victor Baumer, of Minster.
And it was another Sidney Daily News story and photo published some 82 years ago that had cemented those memories for the then 8-year-old boy.
The 2017 article discussed the items owned by Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart having to do with gangster John Dillinger. Baumer, now 91, saw the article and called this writer.
“John Dillinger was my neighbor for eight days,” he said.
The gangster had been incarcerated in the Shelby County jail for seven hours in 1933.
Dillinger and his gang had robbed a bank in Bluffton in August of that year. In September, he was apprehended at his girlfriend’s house in Dayton. The Montgomery County sheriff moved Dillinger to Sidney where the Allen County sheriff picked him up and took him to Lima to await trial.
In early October, three members of the gang killed the sheriff in Lima and broke Dillinger out of jail. On the lam, the gang hid for a week in an empty farmhouse along Luthman Road. The house was on property about a half-mile away from — but next door to — the farm where Baumer lived with his parents and six brothers and sisters.
“(Dillinger and his gang) came to the door and asked if they could buy some food,” Baumer recalled. “It was a Saturday. My mom had about a quarter of a ham. She gave them that and a loaf of bread and butter. They wanted a chicken. The lady in red said she would make chicken soup. I had a coat on. I got a live chicken out of the chicken house and put it in a bag and some eggs. They paid (mom) for it. Then they left.”
In the middle of the Depression, on a farm in Shelby County, the Baumers had no electricity and therefore, no radio. They did not know that Dillinger was out of jail. They didn’t know who the people were who wanted the food.
“We always had gypsies around. It was during the Depression. Nobody had anything. My dad wasn’t suspicious at all about it,” Baumer said.
And it did not seem unusual to see the men in pinstripe suits and the woman in a nice red dress.
“You always wore a suit if you went anywhere,” Baumer said.
The family didn’t see the near-by residents again. But on the next Saturday, Baumer’s father said at breakfast, “Our neighbors left us last night.”
He had seen lanterns hanging on the farmhouse porch and the headlights of three cars and had watched the people move past the lights as they packed up the cars before driving away.
At 9 a.m. that second Saturday, “the Feds came,” Baumer said, “four of them in big, long, black topcoats. They went behind (our) barn. They had big, long rifles.”
What Baumer remembers most is their telescope. It was something the 8-year-old boy had never seen before.
“And I never saw one that pretty afterwards, either,” he laughed. “One guy came out with a leather bag about 2 feet long. He pulled a brass telescope out and I was so impressed. It was so shiny. He pulled it out to 3 feet long and leaned it on the gatepost. They said they could see smoke coming out of the chimney. It was half a mile away!”
Baumer’s father told them that the neighbors had left, but “the Feds didn’t believe him,” Baumer said. “They sat there — this guy had his telescope. I can still see the big black cars they parked behind the barn. At 3 p.m., they decided to go in over there.”
All they found in the abandoned house were guns, which they took with them when they returned to the Baumer farm.
“They asked my dad if he wanted one. My dad said, ‘No. I have a rifle and a shotgun. I don’t need them,’” his son recounted 83 years later.
As far as Baumer remembers, the federal agents didn’t tell the Baumers whom they were looking for. So, it was the Sidney Daily News edition of July 23, 1934, that finalized the story for the family.
That was the day after Dillinger, having run a step ahead of police and the FBI through Indiana, Chicago, Florida, Michgan and back to Chicago, had been ambushed, shot and killed by agents as he left a movie theater. This newspaper published the gangster’s photo on the front page.
“I looked at that. I said, ‘Dad, that’s the guy we sold the chickens and eggs and stuff to.’ Dad said, ‘Yes,’” Baumer said. “I read the article. We found out he was a bank robber.”
Years later, the Minster resident visited the John Dillinger Museum in Crown Point, Indiana, and came face-to-face with a life-sized wax figure of Public Enemy No. 1.
“There he stood — same gray pinstripe suit, same Derby hat,” Baumer said. “I really knew I was 100 percent right when I went to that museum and saw him in Indiana.”