According to Arthur O'Leary, investigator for John Dillinger's lawyer, Hymie Cohen of East Chicago was "considered a right hand man of (Sonny) Sheetz," Al Capone's alleged chief lieutenant in the Calumet Region.
Hyman M. Cohen was a former assistant Lake County prosecuting attorney (1913) and East Chicago city judge (1917 - 21). A close business and political friend of Lake County Criminal Judge William Murray of Indiana Harbor, who was to preside over the Dillinger trial, Cohen had joined with Murray in various real estate speculations. In fact, the Indiana Harbor lot in the tony Washington Park Addition upon which sat the home of Lake County Prosecutor Robert G. Estill was one of the Murray-Cohen investments.
As a further indications of how incestuous relationships were in Indiana Harbor, neighbors Murray (the judge) and Estill (the prosecutor) had once been law partners. Cohen and Murray regularly counseled with each other and, at the time of Murray's election campaign, Cohen, whenever possible, was appointed to act as Special Judge of Lake Criminal Court in place of Murray.
But Cohen's distinguished career was hardly seamless. He was one of the East Chicagoans indicted in 1929 for violation of the Federal Prohibition Act, a legal action that resulted in the convictions of, among other Twin Citians, Mayor Hale and Police Chief James "Red" Regan, who was presently Estill's chief investigator, another passing strange relationship. It also included Det. Martin Zarkovich, who would be in on the Dillinger kill at Chicago's Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934.
Cohen had a reputation of someone who could make things happen. During Estill's prosecution of the notorious Fur Sammons under the Habitual Criminal Act, Cohen approached Eastill on two different occasions and offered him up to $10,000 to look the other way on a motion for a new trial. And during the spring of 1934, FBI. wire taps revealed that Cohen was operating a house of prostitution in East Chicago. When Meyer Bogues, the informant, told Chicago attorney Louis Piquett that he could get to the Indiana Harbor syndicate to arrange Dillinger as a Piquett client, the clincher was that he had an "in" with Cohen.
"That would be wonderful if you boys can get me the case," Louis Piquett had told informant Meyer Bogues, but alluding to Hymio Cohen. "It would make me the most talked of lawyer in the United States."
By then, the colorful Louis P. Piquett (rhymes with wicket) had already made his mark. Born Sept. 24, 1884, in Benton, Wis., he rode the rods to California in 1900, where he became a famous athlete in Sonora, attended Stanford University for a year; toured Australia with the track team, fought as a professional boxer for two years, opened a wholesale cigar store in San Francisco, and was wiped out by the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906.
Back in Wisconsin, he married 16-year-old Nell Draper, who was still in braids, moved to Chicago, and became a dishwasher, bar tender and waiter in various saloons. But after backing future mayor William Hale Thompson and delivering an incredible number of votes for Thompson in an opponent's precinct, Piquett became chief clerk in the office of Chicago City Prosecutor Harry B. Miller. This well-deserved share of the spoils enabled Piquett to study law and, after receiving his license in 1918, to replace Miller in 1920.
When administrations changed in 1923, however, Piquett resigned as City Prosecutor and entered private practice, where his knowledge of courtroom procedures, his skills as an orator, his great mane of white hair, his flamboyance and his irresistible charisma made him one of the top criminal lawyers in the Midwest. He hypnotized juries.
After meeting with Piquett, O'Leary and Bogue drove to Indiana Harbor, where they cut the deal with Sheetz and Cohen. During the interview, O'Leary produced one of Piquett's cards and wrote a message on the back of it: Call no attorney but this one. Gang raising necessary funds for defense.
The Indiana Harbor fraternity then arranged for Sam Cahoon, a Crown Point Jail trusty, to pass the card to Dillinger. In writer G. Russell Girardin's emended text, he notes that his 1936 version of "Dillinger Speaks" was purposely inaccurate on this matter because, at O'Leary's behest, he had invented a story about the card's being passed by Jim Dexter, jailhouse cook. O'Leary, whom Girardin had interviewed in great depth over a two-year period, insisted there be no mention of the Indiana Harbor mob. "They're dangerous people," O'Leary said. "They won't hesitate a minute to blow your head off."
* Archibald McKinlay is an expert on local history. His column appears every Sunday in The Times.