The Crimes Of Three-Finger Jack | People Magazine

The Crimes Of Three-Finger Jack

By Walton Golightly

Born sometime in 1899, John Hamilton was nicknamed ‘Three-Finger Jack’ because he had lost two of his right fingers in an accident as a child. In 1927, he was arrested after robbing a petrol station in St Joseph, Indiana, and sentenced to 25 years. While doing time, he met infamous bank robbers John Dillinger, Russell Clark, Charles Makley and Harry Pierpont.
After Dillinger was paroled in May 1933 he had firearms smuggled in to Hamilton and his other friends. On September 26, Hamilton, Clark, Makley and Pierpont were among the 10 armed men who escaped from the main gate of Indiana State Prison. On hearing Dillinger had been arrested again, the four resolved to break him out of the Allen County Jail in Lima, Ohio. To raise the cash needed to free Dillinger, the gang robbed the First National Bank of St Mary’s, Ohio, on October 3. Nine days later they entered Lima jail, killing Allen County Sheriff Jess Sarber.


On December 13 the Dillinger gang robbed a Chicago bank, and got away with a sizable sum after emptying the safe deposit boxes. The following day Hamilton returned to the garage where he had left his car for repairs. However, suspecting the vehicle was a ‘gangster car’, the mechanic had alerted the authorities. Three police officers were waiting for Hamilton. A shoot-out ensued and Hamilton fled after killing Detective William Shanley. As a result, the Chicago Police Department formed a 40-man ‘Dillinger Squad’.


On January 15, 1934 Hamilton and Dillinger robbed a bank in East Chicago. A police officer was gunned down during the heist; Dillinger was charged with the murder, even though many witnesses named Hamilton as the shooter. By the end of the year, Three-Finger Jack found himself ranked third on Indiana’s list of ‘public enemies’, after Dillinger and Harry Pierpont. In fact, he was number one for a short while when Dillinger and Pierpont were arrested.


After Dillinger escaped (again!), Hamilton joined his new gang, which also included Homer Van Meter, Tommy Carroll, Eddie Green, and Baby Face Nelson. After a string of lucrative bank robberies, the men hid out at the Little Bohemia resort near Rhinelander, Wisconsin. On April 22, the place was raided by the FBI following a tip from a friend of the resort’s owner.
Dillinger, Hamilton, Van Meter and Tommy Carroll escaped by jumping from a second-storey window onto a mound of snow. A day later, the FBI caught up with Hamilton, Dillinger and Homer Van Meter in Hastings, Minnesota. Another shootout ensued, and Hamilton was mortally wounded as the trio fled in their stolen car. He died a few days later and was buried by Dillinger. His grave was discovered on August 28, 1935, and the identity of the body confirmed from Hamilton’s prison dental records.

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