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Sheriff's car John Dillinger stole recovered in Maine, to be displayed after parade through Crown Point

Sheriff's car John Dillinger stole recovered in Maine, to be displayed after parade through Crown Point

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After John Dillinger was arrested for the murder of a police officer during the robbery of the First National Bank of East Chicago, he infamously escaped from the supposedly "escape-proof" jail in Crown Point by taking guards hostage with what he later claimed was a wooden gun he whittled.

Dillinger stole Lake County Sheriff Lillian Holley’s 1933 Ford V8 police car, ultimately abandoning it in Chicago. It proved to be a fatal mistake, as crossing the state line in a stolen vehicle put the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the case, culminating in FBI agents gunning Dillinger down outside the Biograph Theater.

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Chicago police impounded the car and later sold it at auction to a man from Milwaukee, who later moved to Maine.

Arizona resident Mark Love and the Old Sheriff's House Foundation in Crown Point tracked down Sheriff Holley’s car and restored it. Now they're bringing it for a homecoming 87 years after it was stolen during Dillinger's Crown Point jailbreak.

Expect a lot of pomp and circumstance at the April 3 event.

A procession of Lake County Sheriff's Department police vehicles, including a helicopter, will accompany the car to the Old Sheriff's House and Jail at 226 S. Main St. that will roughly follow the reverse route Dillinger took while fleeing to Chicago. The parade will leave the Lake County Government Center at 11 a.m. before arriving at the historic jail, which a nonprofit foundation has been restoring since 1987, hosting tours during the summer, a haunted house during the fall, and regular events like ghost tours and gangster-themed weddings.

The vintage cop car will be on display for the public to see outside the Old Sheriff's House, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for an open house with self-guided tours. Crown Town Grill will cater the event with hot dogs, burgers and pierogi. 

The Discovery Channel will be on hand as it films Holley's car for a documentary that also will feature a dramatic reenactment of a bank being robbed in Crown Point.

"The foundation is so exciting to be highlighting women in the workforce by showcasing the first female sheriff of Lake County," Board President Sandy Boyd said. "It's awesome to have her car found and restored."

Boyd is expecting large crowds to turn out, including many people dressed in vintage 1930s outfits.

"There are Dillinger fans, history fans, and a lot of supporters of the Old Sheriff's House and Jail," she said. "It's amazing that Crown Point still has this amazing building and amazing piece of history that stretched from 1882 to 1975, when it finally closed. A lot of families in Crown Point worked here as guards and officers, and you can see the progression of law enforcement, how inmates were treated then and how inmates are treated now. It's a whole learning experience. We're preserving the history and making it available to the public."

She hopes Holley’s car, which Love owns, can be displayed for the public permanently somewhere in Crown Point.

It's been verified as Holley's car by the vehicle identification number, said Roger Pace of RE/MAX Pace Realty, who helped arrange to bring it back to Crown Point.

"We're bringing it back in grand fashion with a police motorcade," Pace said. "Sheriff (Oscar) Martinez will provide one of the two machine guns Dillinger stole when he escaped. We'll have some things the Old Sheriff's House hasn't displayed and the public hasn't seen like FBI records, a death mask, a wooden gun and possibly the gun that actually killed Dillinger ... The car has the original steering wheel he handled and the back seat he sat on."

Pace hopes the rarely seen artifacts will shine some light on history.

"A lot of history is good and a lot of history is bad," he said. "Crown Point is known for the marriage mill and astronaut Jerry Ross, who spent more time in space than anyone. Dillinger's escape is part of our community's history. This will reinforce how first responders and police kept us safe from Public Enemy No. 1."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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