Merchants National Bank
During the 1930's, the downtown was a very busy place. At 11:30 am, on Saturday, June 30, 1934, one downtown South Bend business entered into the history books. The quiet of a busy Saturday was disrupted by the notorious John Dillinger gang. Their target, the Merchants National Bank, 229 South Michigan Avenue.
Wayne and Michigan Streets, 2002. Looking north. Merchants National Bank was in the third building north on the east side. (Where the minivan is parked) Officer Wagner would have been standing close to the manhole cover when he was gunned down.
Across the street from the bank, was the State Theater. The featured film was "Stolen Sweets" starring Sally Blane and Charles Starrett. A huge banner with red lettering proudly advertised the theater's new cooling system "designed for the comfort of our customers." While the citizens went about their business, a brown sedan rolled to a stop at Wayne and Michigan Streets and five men got out. While one of the men stood watch on at the corner, another stood watch two doors north of the bank, on the west side of Michigan. Three men, including Dillinger, entered the bank and surprised the 25 customers inside. Dillinger fired a burst from his machine gun into the ceiling. South Bend Police Officer Howard Wagner , 29, was directing traffic at Wayne and Michigan when he noticed a group of people in front of the bank. When the shots rang out, he went to investigate, and was gunned down, by the lookouts, before he was able to draw his own weapon.
229 South Michigan. Cambodian Egg Roll Restaurant now occupies the building where the Merchants National Bank once called home. Remodeling over the years have changed the front of the building. It doesn't even look like there was once a bank in there at all.
Dillinger came out in his customary manner, with a bank officer, Delos Coen, as a human shield. The gang fired several bursts of bullets throughout the crowd during their escape and several people were wounded, including Coen. Later that day a blood-spattered vehicle, identified as the one used in the robbery, was found 100 miles away in Goodland, Indiana. The Merchants National Bank robbery netted the gang $28,439.00 and was the last robbery Dillinger would be involved in.
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