The recent apprehension at a Lewisburg motel of an escaped convict and his wife is reminiscent of another manhunt nearly 100 years ago. John “Red” Hamilton (pictured), first lieutenant of mobster John Dillinger’s gang of bank robbers was thought to be on the lam in 1934 when a Lewisburg garage mechanic said he may had worked on Hamilton’s dark Buick sedan. Hamilton was accompanied by a woman companion who the mechanic described as a “young girl, tall and slender, pointed features, gold work on her front teeth and she did all the talking.” The tip was plausible since Hamilton’s moll (girlfriend) and chorus girl, Patricia Cherrington, was incarcerated at the Federal Prison Camp in Alderson for harboring Hamilton and Dillinger. Also, someone else claimed to have spotted Hamilton in Beckley, and there had been mysterious explosions near the prison.
However, it was probably a case of mistaken identity. In 1933, Dillinger smuggled guns into a prison and helped ten men, including Hamilton, escape. These men formed Dillinger’s gang that robbed banks throughout the country and left a string of murders. On April 23, 1934, Hamilton was mortally wounded in a shootout with authorities in Minnesota. His death was not known to law enforcement, and the hunt for Hamilton continued. Dillinger, who was America’s first Public Enemy Number 1, was double-crossed by a brothel owner and fatally shot coming out of a movie theatre on July 4, 1934.
It was not until August 28, 1935, that Hamilton’s body was found in a shallow grave near Oswego, Illinois. His immediate identity was thwarted because Dillinger or other gang members had disfigured Hamilton’s face and hands with lye. According to the Department of Justice, dental records confirmed his death. Rumors, nevertheless, persisted that it really wasn’t Hamilton’s body, and he was still alive. Perhaps, he was seen in Lewisburg.
Patricia Cherrington wasn’t the only gang member’s moll to have been sent to the Alderson prison. Helen Gillis, widow of George “Baby Face” Nelson was sentenced to one year and a day for harboring the gang.
Photo from Wikipedia.
Sources: The West Virginia News, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, New Yorker, PBS.