By Ellen Poulsen, a forthcoming book about Dillinger’s nemesis, Indiana State Police Captain Matt Leach
The long-awaited story of Captain Matt Leach is nearing completion. “Chasing Dillinger: Indiana’s Matt Leach Collides with the FBI,” by Ellen Poulsen with Lori Hyde.
This biography explores the myths that surround the life and death of Captain Leach. It tells the story of Leach from his immigrant boyhood in the steel towns of Gary, Indiana, to his maturity in the National Guard as a young World War I volunteer. It shows his rags to riches rise through the United States military to achieve a high rank in the Gary Police Department, culminating in his appointment as Captain of the 1933 Indiana State Police, by “New Deal” Governor Paul V. McNutt.
Leach went after the Dillinger Gang through a combination of psychology, press coverage and footwork. At the same time he protected Indiana Governor McNutt, who was blamed for the disastrous Michigan City prison escape as well as Dillinger’s parole from that institution. Leach angered those in the criminal underworld. But he also made enemies among his brother officers.
The Dillinger gang blamed Leach for the publicity that resulted in their ultimate capture. Dillinger gang member Harry Pierpont said, “If you had never heard of Matt Leach, you’d never have heard of me.” John Dillinger himself sent him postcards and placed calls to Leach’s desk. “Hey Captain,” was Dillinger’s obsessive salute to Leach.
Matt Leach was the first law enforcement official to bring the name of “Dillinger” to the American public. After he gave his files to the FBI, he was pushed out of the investigation and later fired in 1937 at the behest of the FBI when Director J. Edgar Hoover accused him of obstructionism. Leach then worked in the American Legion, the private sector and later, volunteered for military service during World War II. He was killed in 1955 while driving home from a trip to New York City with his wife, Mary Heddens, who also died tragically in the crash. In the car was a manuscript he’d prepared about the Dillinger story. An investigation into the accident reveals the likely fate of the lost manuscript.
“Chasing Dillinger” explores what Matt Leach really did – and did not do – in his quest for the capture of the Dillinger Gang. It examines his complex relationships with other police officers who figured prominently in the chase, including Pinkerton Investigator Forrest Huntington, Chicago Police Captain John Stege, and members of the police forces of Dayton and Tucson, two cities where Dillinger was captured. It explores Leach’s reactions to the events at Crown Point, the scene of the alleged Wooden Gun escape, and looks at Leach’s take on Dillinger’s shooting death at the Biograph Theater.
With continuing feedback from prominent historians in the field, as well as interviews from members of the Leach family, this book has been developed to include never-before-seen photographs, a detailed bibliography, chapter note section and index. “Chasing Dillinger” -- Publication date to be announced.