Chasing Dillinger

Police Captain Matt Leach, J. Edgar Hoover and the Rivalry to Capture Public Enemy No. 1

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About the Book

A son of Serbian immigrant parents, Indiana State Police Captain Matt Leach led the hunt for John Dillinger during the violent mid–1930s that came to be known in the Midwest as the era of the Public Enemy. Pushing a media campaign aimed at smoking out the fugitive, Leach elevated Dillinger to unprecedented notoriety. In return, Dillinger taunted him with phone calls and postcards, and vowed to kill him—a threat he never executed.

Leach’s use of publicity backfired, making him a pariah among his fellow policemen—many were suspicious of his tell-all approach to crime fighting. The FBI ordered his firing in 1937 for challenging their authority. After returning to private life and serving in Europe during World War II, Leach planned to write a book challenging the FBI’s version of Dillinger’s final months. He died in a car accident in 1955, right after a meeting with his publisher.

About the Author(s)

Dillinger researcher Ellen Poulsen is the author of a book on the women of the John Dillinger gang. She lives in Queens, New York.

Lori Hyde has researched police tactics of the 1930s for more than forty years, and created websites about Depression-era desperadoes. She lives in Corunna, Indiana.

Bibliographic Details

Ellen Poulsen and Lori Hyde
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 289
Bibliographic Info: 69 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2018
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7465-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3312-1
Imprint: Exposit Books

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface 1
Introduction: The Infinite Chase 5
Prologue 15
Part I. The Dreamer
1. Destination: Gary, Indiana 23
2. Statehouse Room 126 39
3. Clemency 49
4. Shirttails to the Wind 73
5. Big Men 92
Part II. The Gadfly
6. Denials 99
7. Double-Crossing Dirty Rat 135
8. East Chicago Rising 152
9. Unsung 168
10. Obstructionists 185
Part III. The Mutineer
11. The New Dillingers 201
12. Kangaroo Court 213
Part IV. The Landowner
13. Reveille 225
14. Milepost 107.5 235
Appendix A. Indiana Police Board Charges
Against Matt Leach, Charges Drafted by Indiana State Safety Director upon Request of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Dated September 4, 1937 243
Appendix B. Matt Leach’s Rebuttal to State Police Board Charges, Indianapolis Times, September 4, 1937 246
Appendix C. The Lost Manuscript: Matt Leach’s Ghostwriters Weigh In 249
Chapter Notes 251
Bibliography 269
Index 273

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Finally a full-length biography of Indiana State Police Captain Matt Leach has been written. In the war on crime of the early 1930s Leach and Melvin Purvis, Special-Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago FBI office, became famous in the hunt for Public Enemy No. 1, John Dillinger, and became rivals of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. After the death of Dillinger, Hoover and the FBI were able to destroy them in only a few years. In 1937 Leach was fired for lack of cooperation with the FBI.”—Jeffery S. King, author of The Rise and Fall of the Dillinger Gang, The Life and Death of Pretty Boy Floyd and Kill-crazy Gang: The Crimes of the Lewis-Jones Gang
  • “While the F.B.I. took credit for bringing down John Dillinger, the man who pursued him from the start was Matt Leach, head of the Indiana State Police—and he continued to track the famous bank robber after he became a federal fugitive. A state police captain, Leach antagonized the federal bureau, which angrily wrote him out of their script. Leach was all but lost to posterity until Ellen Poulsen and Lori Hyde resurrected his role as a dynamic force in the nation’s most famous manhunt of the 20th Century. The perceptiveness and lucidity of Ellen Poulsen’s writing make this a hard book to put down.”—William J. Helmer, author, Dillinger: The Untold Story and Baby Face Nelson, Portrait of a Public Enemy
  • “Thought you knew everything about notorious 1930s bankrobber John Dillinger and the lawmen who pursued him until his death outside the Biograph Theatre in Chicago? Think again. Chasing Dillinger reveals for the first time the behind-the-scenes turf wars between local police, state officials and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, as they competed for Dillinger’s apprehension. Author Poulsen uses her vivid, warts-and-all portrait of Dillinger hunter Matt Leach to explore the battles between law enforcement agencies that underpinned their legendary manhunt against Public Enemy #1.”—Paul Maccabee, author, John Dillinger Slept Here.