9 crimes, trials in South Bend’s historical past | Historical past
South Bend has had its share of gruesome crimes and sensational trials over its 150-year history.
Unsolved murders, a mysterious bombing, an embezzlement linked to Notre Dame football and a Depression-era heist perhaps committed by the nation’s most famous bank robber are among some of the more memorable cases.
The day Dillinger (maybe) came to South Bend
Newspaper clippings from The Tribune and the former South Bend News-Times were used as evidence during the trials of a suspect in the 1934 robbery of the Merchants National Bank where a police officer was killed. The clippings were in a file of trial exhibits found in storage at the St. Joseph County Courthouse. The pictures at left are people pointing out bullet holes in their cars after the holdup and shoot-out that were attributed to John Dillinger, large photo on the right, and his gang.
7/1/09: Witness recounts ’34 bank robbery. He was just 6 when Dillinger was here, but it’s a vivid memory. 7/21/08: Dillinger 7/23/2007: Dillinger 10/26/2005: John Dillinger 10/19/99
Merchants National Bank is the site of the Dillinger gang robbery in South Bend in the 1930’s
“Four injured as bandit mob raids Merchants Bank,” screamed the headline in the June 30, 1934, South Bend Tribune.
“Leaving a trail of one dead and at least four wounded, a gang of bank bandits said to have been led by the desperado, John W. Dillinger, fled shortly before noon today after raiding the Merchants National Bank,” The Tribune reported. The amount stolen was $28,439.
South Bend police patrolman Howard Wagner, 29, was shot dead outside the bank. Three other men and a woman were shot and injured.
Riding in a brown Hudson sedan, the gang pulled up near the bank, 229 S. Michigan St. (one storefront north of present day Dainty Maid Bakery). One of the bandits remained outside on guard while another, who some witnesses identified as Dillinger, led the others into the bank.
Inside, one bandit sprayed the ceiling with a Thompson machine gun.
It was a crowded scene that Saturday morning. More than 25 people were inside the bank when the robbers arrived.
The getaway car was parked around the corner on Wayne Street. Some witnesses said they thought they saw Lester Gillis — better known as “Baby Face Nelson” — standing at the intersection with a machine gun. As shoppers cowered on the sidewalk, the gang made a quick escape.
South Bend police officer Harry Henderson fired at the fleeing car. The blood-stained and bullet-riddled auto was found abandoned the next day in Goodland, Ind., nearly 100 miles southwest of South Bend.
Although authorities strongly suspected it was the Dillinger gang that day, and that Dillinger himself was present, it was never definitely proven.
Bruce Bouchard, a local man who was grazed by two bullets during the robbery, insisted that Dillinger was not among the gang that robbed the bank. “I saw no one that looked anything like Dillinger while I was with the bandits,” Bouchard said in a 1934 Tribune interview. “And I have seen and studied enough pictures of him to know how he looks.”
Bouchard and several others were seized by the bandits and used as human shields as the gang fled the bank.
Other witnesses said they thought they recognized one gunman who wore dark glasses as Dillinger.
If it was Dillinger who led the robbery that day, it would be his last bank heist.
By the next month, the famous bank robber was dead — shot dead by federal agents outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago.
Bombings shake downtown, destroy buildings
Palace Café owner found innocent in trial
Palace cafe bombings
Palace Cafe bombings
Early on the morning of Jan. 10, 1935, three huge explosions shook downtown South Bend.
Police investigating discovered that three bombs had gone off in the Palace Café, a restaurant that had recently been converted into a nightclub, at the northwest corner of Michigan Street and Colfax Avenue, in the Palais Royale building.
The bombings left the café a shell and destroyed the neighboring Krauss Jewelry Store and the Dixie Frock Shop and damaged another dozen other nearby stores, the South Bend Tribune reported at the time.
Miraculously, no one was injured or killed — perhaps because the bombs detonated at 3:48 a.m., when businesses were closed and most of downtown was deserted. The losses were estimated at $150,000.
James Stasinos, proprietor of the café, returned to the city after a six-day absence in Chicago. He could offer no reason for the bombing of his business.
Police questioned Stasinos’ former business partner, who was forced out six months earlier and had declared bankruptcy. Insurance on the business totaling $30,000 had been taken out a year earlier.
The night before the bombing, a group of union musicians had picketed the café because one of the band’s members was playing in a non-union band. Police investigated a union connection, but turned up nothing.
A year later, Stasinos and his wife, Orrie, were charged with two counts of conspiracy to cause the explosion and to defraud insurance companies of $57,500. They were alleged to have conspired with Chicago bombers to cause the explosion in order to collect insurance money.
The jury deliberated for 2 hours and 40 minutes before returning a verdict: not guilty. Stasinos thanked the jurors individually.
“The American people are good,” he said, according to The Tribune article. “Your hearts are in the right place. I have received justice.”
The bombing remains unsolved to this day.
Muessel Brewing Co. site of 1915 murders
It was a few days after Christmas 1915 that Henry Muessel, 33, and Frank Chrobot, 37, were gunned down during a robbery at the Muessel Brewing Co. office on Elwood Avenue in South Bend.
William Muessel, a company bookkeeper and Henry’s brother, was wounded in the incident.
Henry Muessel was the office manager and Chrobot was a beer wagon driver. Drivers had been out delivering kegs and were returning to deliver the cash to the brewery office on that evening of Jan. 30, 1915.
Robert Muessel, 17, a cousin, had stopped by the office and was just leaving when two men approached him. They pointed guns at him and ordered him back inside, according to Tribune news accounts.
Robert was told to lie face down on the floor and was tied up. Then he heard gunfire. Henry Muessel and Chrobot both died from their injuries, but William recovered. Robert was not injured.
The case was unsolved for years until March 1920 when, according to Tribune reports, Estella Schultz informed on her philandering mate.
She said her husband, Gus Schultz, and two other men — Jack Wright and Charlie Danruther — committed the crime. Gus Schultz confessed and named his two partners in the crime.
Schultz was convicted in 1921 of second-degree murder. He served 22 years in prison and was paroled in 1943. Wright also was convicted of second-degree murder and sent to prison.
The third man, Danruther — believed to be the one who fired the gun — was never found. He reportedly died in South America.
Case of Korpal family murders takes strange turn
Ernest Korpal and possible murder weapon, clips from South Bend Tribune Archives.
South Bend Tribune clippings of Korpal murders
Three members of the Korpal family were beaten to death in their South Bend home on Sept. 22, 1942.
Someone entered the Korpal house at 1138 W. Jefferson Blvd. at night and, using a pipe, attacked John Korpal, 65, his wife, Stella Korpal, 62, and their son, Ernest, 18, as they slept. At the time, Ernest was a popular senior and a football star at South Bend Central Catholic High School.
The bodies were found the next day by a woman who lived in an upstairs apartment with her husband and child.
A broken pipe with blood stains on it was found in the basement. Friends and relatives were questioned, and a nephew briefly was detained as a possible suspect. Detailed investigation was hampered by the fact that a large number of police officers and others were permitted to walk through the house in the aftermath of the crime, The Tribune reported.
The case took a strange turn several years later when Jake Bird, a prison inmate in Washington state, mentioned the Korpal murders. Bird was convicted and hanged in July 1949 for the ax murders of two women in 1947 in Tacoma, Wash.
Before his execution, Bird told authorities that he had committed 44 murders across the country, including being involved in the Korpal murders.
Bird claimed he had killed the Korpal son during a burglary attempt, but that a Benton Harbor man had killed the parents. In early 1949, acting South Bend Police Chief James Trevey said Bird disclosed enough unpublished details about the Korpal murders to convince him and the case was closed.
As a bizarre footnote, Bird gained national attention after he claimed to put a hex on the people associated with his trial. At least five people — including the judge, an undersheriff, a detective, a court clerk and one of Bird’s attorneys — died within a year.
Dunbar case rocked ND football program
A fly over ad during Saturday’s Notre Dame home opener featured a banner for Dominiak Mechanical, the contractor who was bilked out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by Irish booster Kimberly Dunbar. photo by Barbara Allison Mac 2 Metro file 9-2-00/digital
Jerry and Connie Dominiack arrive at the courthouse shortly before former employee Kimberly Dunbar was sentenced for embezzling from their business.
Kimberly Ann Dunbar leaves St. Joseph’s County Jail following bonding out Tuesday March 31, 1998 in South Bend, Ind. Dunbar was charged with two felonies today in St. Joseph Superior Court. Mac 1 Photo by Joe Raymond Metro Folder
Scandal rocked the University of Notre Dame football program in the 1990s in the form of a young female booster named Kim Dunbar.
Dunbar worked as a bookkeeper for Dominiack Mechanical Inc., a heating and cooling company based in South Bend. Between 1991 and 1998, she embezzled more than $1.4 million from the firm, spending it on gifts and travel for a dozen Notre Dame football players.
She was considered an official booster of Fighting Irish football because she had paid a $25 fee to join the Notre Dame Quarterback Club, a boosters group.
Dunbar was charged with two felony theft counts, and she pleaded guilty to embezzling. She was sentenced to four years in prison, but served just one, with credit for good behavior and for earning a college degree while behind bars.
The NCAA ruled Notre Dame was guilty of a major violation in terms of extra benefits from a booster. Sanctions were imposed: two years on probation and the loss of one scholarship for each of the next two recruiting classes.
Jerry Dominiack, the business owner whom Dunbar victimized, kept a sense of humor despite the financial devastation. At the first home game of the 2000 Fighting Irish football season, he had an advertising sign towed by an airplane flying over Notre Dame Stadium.
The sign’s message? “A Million Reason$ to Call Dominiack Mech.”
Future NRA attorney’s 1964 murder conviction here reversed
Robert John Dowlut, 22, right, was taken to Lagrange where he faces retrial on a chare of first degree Murder. Dowlut had been in the St. joseph County Jail the past several months while court action on other charges was pending here.
The National Rifle Association’s future top attorney was convicted in 1964 of the shooting death of a single mother in South Bend and the shooting of a business owner.
That was a little-known fact until a Mother Jones magazine article in July 2014.
On April 17, 1963, Robert J. Dowlut, age 17, went looking for a gun in City Cemetery in South Bend. He stopped in front of the abandoned Studebaker family mausoleum and lifted a stone from the ground. He removed a revolver and ammunition.
He later told a judge that city police detectives took the gun, “jammed it in my hand,” and took his photo.
Two days before, Anna Marie Yocum, 36, a waitress, had been shot to death in her home. Police went to Dowlut’s home and asked him to help find Yocum’s 16-year-old daughter, whom he’d been dating. Soon Dowlut, a U.S. Army private, was a suspect in the killing.
Dowlut allegedly confessed to the murder, as well as to a botched robbery attempt the same night in which a South Bend merchant was shot and wounded.
Dowlut reportedly told officers he shot Yocum because she objected to him dating her daughter. He was charged with first-degree murder. In 1964, a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder, and he received a life sentence.
Six years later, Dowlut was free. His murder conviction was reversed by the Indiana Supreme Court, citing a flawed police investigation.
Dowlut asserted his innocence, returned to the U.S. Army Reserves, earned a bachelor’s degree at Indiana University South Bend, then a law degree at Howard University School of Law.
For more than 30 years, Dowlut has been general counsel to the NRA and is the longtime secretary of the organization’s Civil Rights Defense Fund.
South Bend police still consider the 1963 murder of Anna Marie Yocum an open case.
A local paternity case that drew national attention
It was a South Bend scandal that drew national attention in the Jazz Age.
“Professor Denies Child’s Paternity: Dr. Tiernan of Notre Dame University Causes Harry Poulin’s Arrest,” cried the headline in the Sept. 4, 1922, New York Times.
University of Notre Dame law professor John Tiernan had filed a lawsuit seeking to force Poulin, a South Bend clothing merchant, to acknowledge and support a child born to Tiernan’s wife in November 1921, according to news accounts from the time.
Was the baby boy the professor’s son or Poulin’s son? Tiernan claimed Poulin had admitted to fathering the child, and the professor intended to prove it in court.
At the time of the lawsuit, Tiernan and his wife, Augusta, still were living as husband and wife. Poulin insisted he was innocent and accused Tiernan of attempted blackmail.
Tiernan lost the lawsuit and left his job at Notre Dame. He sued his wife for a divorce, which was granted later that fall.
Two days later, Tiernan married a young woman from Iowa in a civil ceremony in Crown Point, Ind. That unexpected turn of events suggested collusion, prompting the judge in St. Joseph County to nullify the divorce.
Augusta Tiernan told the court she had been tricked into agreeing to the split. A few days later, Tiernan was back in South Bend to reconcile with his wife and rejoin his family, which included two daughters and “Baby Billy” of the court case.
By December 1922, the Tiernan family had moved to New York, where John Tiernan planned to practice law and never travel west again. The family settled in Long Island and the Tiernans remained married until the former professor’s death in 1935.
‘Manhole murders’ drew national attention
Tribune Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES The St. Joseph County Metro Homicide unit conducts an investigation in a building next to the railroad tracks off of S. Taylor Street in South Bend on Wednesday afternoon. manhole
South Bend police and firefighters secure the scene where two bodies were found in a manhole Friday in the 600 block of South Scott Street in South Bend. Police say their deaths appear to be homicides. Two other bodies were found Tuesday in a nearby manhole. Those deaths have been ruled homicides.
Tribune Photo/Jim Rider South Bend police and fire officials work to recover the bodies of two men found dead Friday in a manhole near the Taylor Street viaduct. Two men were found dead a few days earlier in a manhole nearby. 1-16-07 cq
9/19/2012: Marnocha finds evidence in manhole killings “overwhelming.” 5/19/2012: Reeder: “I never killed anybody.” 9/8/2007: Reeder 8/10/2007: Randy Reeder guilty in “manhole murders” 8/9/2007: Reeder 8/1/2007: Reeder 8/4/2007: Reeder 8/3/2007: Reeder 8/10/2007l: Reeder 2/4/2007: Randy Lee Reeder (Arrested) 2/6/2007: Reeder (Brother says suspect ‘not right’) 2/8/2007: Reeder (Second suspect in court) 6/7/2007: Manhole slayings suspect’s DNA sought
Daniel J. Sharp, who is being held by authorities Saturday, Feb. 3, 2007, in St. Joseph County, Ind., after being arrested in the murders of four homeless men whose bodies were found in manholes.
No one noticed at first, in late 2006, when homeless men started disappearing in South Bend.
Four men, who had lived with others in a 27,000-square-foot abandoned building near downtown they called The Fort, were later discovered to be murder victims.
The men were beaten to death, then their bodies were dumped down two manholes into an old industrial electrical vault along the nearby railroad tracks. The bodies were discovered by two South Bend police officers.
The case was immediately dubbed the “Manhole Murders.”
Police determined the men likely had been killed a few days before Christmas 2006, but the bodies weren’t discovered until January 2007.
The dead were Michael “Shan” Nolen Jr., 40; Michael Lawson, 53; Jason Coates, 29; and Brian G. Talboom, 51.
Police questioned Randy Reeder and Daniel Sharp, two other homeless men who had been known to stay in The Fort.
Reeder was arrested, charged with bludgeoning the men to death.
Three of the four victims had been living in the building, and the murders reportedly stemmed from an argument over a space heater.
Sharp eventually confessed to his role in the crime and served as a prosecution witness at the trial.
The killings focused national attention on South Bend and spurred discussion locally about the plight of the homeless.
Sharp was sentenced to 65 years in prison. Reeder was convicted and and sentenced to 260 years in prison — 65 years for each of the four murders.
Still, in a 2012 Tribune interview, Reeder insisted he did not kill the men, and that he wasn’t even living in the building where the men were killed. “I never killed anybody in my life,” he said.
3 horrifying killings at drugstore
Detective Martin Gersey listens to a radio dispatch after a triple homicide Saturday Morning at the Osco Drug store, 4401 Western Ave. Tribune Photo/David Durochik
Terry Moloy, left, district manager of the Osco Drug store on the westside of South Bend, comforts a young man after the discovery of three homicide victims inside the store.
Early on the morning of Saturday, Aug. 25, 1990, police were called to the Osco Drug store on Western Avenue.
Inside, they found a horrifying scene. Three employees had been shot and were lying dead in pools of their own blood: Assistant Manager Scott Dick, 29; pharmacist Tracy Holvoet, 25; and clerk Connie Zalewski, 43.
For years, local residents wondered and worried. Who had committed the terrible crime, and would the murderer ever be caught?
Then, in 1999, County Prosecutor Chris Toth filed murder charges against Christopher Allen, a former manager at the store who had been fired for stealing about five months before the shootings.
Allen was tried three times in connection with the 1990 slayings.
The first trial ended in a hung jury. Allen was found guilty in the second trial but the verdict was overturned by the Indiana Court of Appeals. The third trial, in 2006, also ended in a hung jury.
Forensic experts testified palm prints found on the store’s exit door belonged to Allen. But Allen’s ex-wife testified that Allen was home in bed in Indianapolis at the time of the murders.
In late 2006, Prosecutor Michael Dvorak said he would not pursue a fourth trial and Allen walked away a free man.