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March 06, 2013 05:59 PM

Dillinger Bank Robbery Preserved In SF Law Firm

Sioux Falls, SD

The building on the corner of West 9th Street and South Main Avenue in downtown Sioux Falls has been home to Johnson, Heidepriem & Abdallah Law Firm since 2011. But on March 6, 1934, this was where a group of outlaws led by John Dillinger made off with nearly $50,000. 

The original theatre was torn down years ago and the current building was built in 1884.  In 1934, it was Securities National Bank And Trust.  When our KELOLAND cameras went inside, it was a quiet day at the office, but 79 years ago to the day Lester Joseph Gillis aka Baby Face Nelson stood on a bank counter with a machine gun. This scene was depicted in the Universal Pictures movie Public Enemies.  Nelson fired several rounds through a window. 

Today, the glass is gone, but the frame still exists and brings light into a quiet conference room.

"I'm told this is the window Baby Face Nelson would've shot the machine gun through as the officer ran down the street.  In the movie you see a scene where Baby Face says 'I got one,'" Scott Abdallah said

Nelson severely wounded motorcycle policeman Hale Keith.

The keys to unlocking what happened here are everywhere. The biggest wonder is the bank vault, which has been preserved and was moved to the basement 50 years ago.   

"If you ever got locked in the vault, of course there'd be no air, so you slide this over and now there's at least air," Abdallah said.

Abdallah's interest in the subject helped him find the original newspaper clippings that outline the caper. The clippings are framed and hang in the lobby, where the vault was located. 

At the time, the daily newspaper's headline estimated the outlaws stole $46,000. Later on, it has been determined to be about $49,500. It is not like Dillinger and Nelson snuck in. Because the robbery happened during the day, it stopped traffic and got everyone's attention.

"I've been told by people associated with the building that this square was made to cover damage from machine gun fire during this robbery," Abdallah said, pointing to a small square in one of the outside pillars.

The crime was serious and violent, but here is a more whimsical detail.  Over the years several mediums have visited this site and some have said they feel spirits. Whether they are Dillinger and Nelson or anyone else, linger in the building. 

"You do feel like you are part of history knowing a police officer was shot during this robbery, It had to be an unbelievable scene," Abdallah said.

Federal agents tracked down Dillinger a few months later.

On July 22, 1934, Dillinger was shot and killed in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago. 

Though Dillinger's crime spree happened a generation ago, the people who now work in the quiet law firm in Downtown Sioux Falls help keep a little piece of the city's history alive and well years after the case was closed.

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  • Sioux Falls, SD
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