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Crime and law photograph collection

 Collection — Folder: SP120
Identifier: SP120

Scope and Contents

This collection includes black-and-white photographs from Indiana and the United States, related to various crimes, criminals, and legal cases, such as a lawsuits between demolition companies and various criminal trials, ranging from 1921 to 1980 and undated. There are images of 3 members of the Reno Gang, Bonnie and Clyde, and several Hoosier criminals from the 20th century, as well as an FBI criminal "wanted notice" of car thief Fred Bowen (1938) sent to The Minneapolis Tribune. The collection also includes photographs of law enforcement, including 5 officers engaged in the manhunt for John Dillinger after he broke out of prison in Crown Point, Indiana in 1934.


  • 1921-1980, undated

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Legal title, copyright, and literary rights reside with Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, IN. All requests to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted to Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Historical Note

"A civil action is a noncriminal lawsuit that begins with a complaint and usually involves private parties. The plaintiff is the party filing the complaint, and the defendant is the party defending against the complaint’s allegations. By contrast, a criminal lawsuit begins with an indictment and involves the prosecution by the government against an entity or individual. Civil law governs civil actions, while criminal law governs criminal actions. Typical civil causes of action include breach of contract, battery, or defamation and violations of federal statutes and constitutional rights. To establish a prima facie civil case, a plaintiff must describe his or her damages or injury, explain how the defendant caused the harm, and ask the court for relief. The plaintiff may plead for relief in the form of monetary damages or by court order, such as an injunction or a declaration of legal rights (see remedies at equity versus law)."

Excerpt from: Legal Information Institute. "Civil Action." Wex: Legal Encyclopedia. Last updated July 2020. Accessed November 15, 2021.


The Reno Gang committed the first recorded train robbery in the U.S. when they held up a train outside of Seymour, Indiana on October 6, 1866. The gang had 10 members, 4 of whom--John, Frank, Simeon, and William Reno--were brothers from Rockford, Jackson County, Indiana. The brothers may have begun their criminal career as early as 1851, and were suspected of arson, horse theft, and fleecing travelers at cards before they became bounty jumpers and deserters during the Civil War. The outlaws targeted county treasuries, trains, and banks across Indiana, as well as other states in the Midwest, and did not shrink from commiting murder. The Adams Express Company hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to catch the gang in 1867, hoping to bring an end to the thefts. Members of the gang were captured but escaped more than once, inflaming locals in Jackson County, Indiana who formed a vigilance committee. Finally, John Reno was caught by law enforcement after they robbed the Daviess County Courthouse in Gallatin, Missouri on November 17, 1867. He was sentenced to 25 years in the Missouri State Penitentiary in 1868, which ultimately saved his life.

Following an attempted train robbery on July 9, 1868, Pinkerton detectives arrested 3 of the outlaws--Volney Elliot, Charlie Roseberry, and Theodore Clifton. While being transported to jail by rail, the prisoners were taken off the train near Seymour, Indiana, and hanged from a nearby tree by a group of masked men calling themselves the Jackson County Vigilance Committee on July 20, 1868. Henry Jerrell, John Moore, and Frank Sparks suffered the exact same fate 5 days later, after being captured in Illinois and returned to Indiana. On July 27, 1868, the Pinkertons captured William and Simeon Reno in Indianapolis. Law enforcement moved them from Scott County Jail after their trial to Floyd County, foiling a lynching attempt. Later, Frank Reno and Charlie Anderson were found in Windsor, Canada and extradicted to the United States, where they joined the other Reno brothers in New Albany, Indiana. After midnight on December 12, 1868, a mob of about 65 masked men, which had arrived by train, forced their way inside the Floyd County Jail and the sheriff's home. After they beat the sheriff and shot him in the arm for refusing to surrender the keys, his wife gave them to the mob, who then lynched the 4 gang members. No one was ever charged, named, or officially investigated in any of the lynchings and many newspapers called it justice. The 3 Reno brothers, along with Sparks, Jerrell, and Elliott, were buried in City Cemetery in Seymour, while Anderson was interred in Fairview Cemetery in New Albany and Moore in Moore Cemetery in Jackson County.


Clark, Justin. "Outlaws, Pinkertons, and Vigilantes: The Reno Gang and Its Enemies." Hoosier State Chronicles blog, November 30, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2021. "Frank Reno." Find A Grave Memorial. Accessed November 15, 2021. "Frank T. Sparks." Find A Grave Memorial. Accessed November 15, 2021. "Henry R. Jerrell." Find A Grave Memorial. Accessed November 15, 2021. "Thomas Volney Elliott." Find A Grave Memorial. Accessed November 15, 2021. "Vigilantes Yank Train Robbers from Jail and Hang Them." This Day in History. Accessed November 15, 2021.

Wikipedia. "Reno Gang." Accessed November 15, 2021.


An eleven-year old boy named Cecil Burkett was accused of shooting and killing another child, Benny Slavin, in Ora, Indiana with a rifle in November 1920. He was tried as an adult in Starke County Circuit Court in Knox, Indiana in June 1921. The first trial was a mistrial when the jury couldn't reach an agreement. Burkett was supposed to be tried again in the fall, but he was released when Circuit Judge Pentecost refused to add it to his docket.


Items in the collection.

"Cecil Burkett, 11, Is on Trial for His Life." Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette (IN), April 3, 1921, 3B.

"Ora Boy Murderer Gets Out." Rochester Weekly Republican (IN), October 13, 1921, 1.

"Second Trial of Burket Next Week." South Bend News-Times, October 9, 1921, 1.


High school student Helen Huffman, an 18-year old from Muncie, Indiana, accused Reverend G. Lemuel Conway of the Madison Street M. E. Church of attempting to sexually assault her when she accepted a ride from him in 1936. Conway received a 1-year suspension from his church and was put on trial by a jury in March 1933. Conway, a married man with 5 children, denied the charges and was acquitted on April 4, 1933.


Items in the collection.

"Minister Who Faced Girl's Charges Freed." Kokomo Tribune (IN), April 4, 1933, 10.

"Sunday School Teacher Gives Story of Ride." Kokomo Tribune (IN), March 30, 1933, 10.


Crime flourished after the enactment of the Prohibition amendment during the 1920s and early 1930s. In the early years of the Great Depression, gangs of robbers formed, targeting banks and local businesses. Their exploits, which featured shoot outs, murder, hefty takes, and high-speed chases became highly sensationalized in the nation's media and romanticized by the public, who were suffering. Pursued by local law enforcement and the Bureau of Investigations (now the FBI), many of these outlaws escaped capture, police custody, and even prison, but were eventually gunned down in hails of bullets. These notorious criminals were often romanticized as modern "Robin Hoods"; the feds called them "public enemies."

Bonnie and Clyde--Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow--were a flamboyant duo of robbers from Texas who engaged in a 21-month crime spree with their gang through the Central U.S. from 1932 to 1934. In addition to robbery, kidnapping, and carjacking, the couple murdered several people, including members of law enforcement, and on May 23, 1934, they were ambushed by a posse of police from Texas and Louisiana on the highway in Bienville Parish, Louisiana. After attempting to flee, police fired over 130 rounds into the couple's stolen Ford V-8, killing them.

John Dillinger of Indianapolis, Indiana led a gang of robbers which terrorized the Midwest and was responsible for killing 10 men, wounding 7 others, robbing 24 banks and 4 police arsenals, and staging 3 jail breaks. Dillinger was imprisoned several times but escaped twice. He was charged, but not convicted, of homicide only once--the murder of an East Chicago, Indiana police officer who shot Dillinger in his bullet-proof vest during a shootout. Dillinger went into hiding in Chicago and was gunned down by 3 federal agents outside a movie theater on July 22, 1934.

John Alfred Barton, alias Al Brady, was a thief from Indiana and an emulator of John Dillinger. He confessed to the murder of Sergeant Richard Rivers of Indianapolis after he was caught in Chicago in April 1936. He and his gang stole $100,000 in jewelry from around Indiana and Ohio.


Items in the collection.

"Bonnie and Clyde." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Last updated January 6, 2021. Accessed November 15, 2021.

Federal Bureau of Investigations. "John Dillinger." Accessed November 15, 2021.

"Hoosier Held as Slayer of Peace Officer." Kokomo Tribune (IN), May 1, 1935, 1.

Klein, Christopher. "10 Things You May Not Know About Bonnie and Clyde.", December 6, 2013. Updated May 31, 2019. Accessed November 15, 2021.

Wikipedia. "John Dillinger." Accessed November 15, 2021.


Allen C. Bomberger of Hammond, Indiana, a 21-year old student at Wabash College, was tried for extortion against his father in 1935. He had appeared in Chicago, Illinois on January 9, 1935 and told police he had been kidnapped. However, investigators soon learned it was a hoax to extort $50,000 from his father using fake mailed ransom notes. Bomberger eventually confessed to the crime, claiming he had done it bring his family together. His attorney was Walter D. Myers of Indianapolis.


Items in the collection.

"Text of Confession of Kidnaping Hoax." Indianapolis Star, February 21, 1935, 3.

"Wabash Student Faces Extortion Count After Baring Kidnap Hoax." Indianapolis Star, February 21, 1935, 1.


In 1965, Gertrude Baniszewski tortured and murdered Sylvia Likens, a teenage girl boarding with her family on the east side of Indianapolis. Liken's parents were traveling carnival workers and asked their neighbor, Baniszewski, to board their 2 daughters. Sylvia Likens was tortured, burned, beaten, branded, and starved by Baniszewski, 2 of her children, and 2 neighbhorhood boys. By October, 16-year old Sylvia Likens, who was made to sleep in the cellar, was dead. On May 19, 1966, Baniszewski was convicted of first degree murder, her daughter of second-degree murder, and her son and the two neighbor boys of manslaughter. She received a second trial in 1971 by order of the Indiana Supreme Court due to the "prejudicial atmosphere" during first trial and was convicted again. Baniszewski spent 19 years in prison before she was released on parole in 1985. She changed her name and moved to Iowa, then died of lung cancer on June 16, 1990. In 2001, a memorial to Sylvia Likens was erected in Willard Park in Indianapolis.


Items in the collection. "Gertrude Nadine Van Fossan Baniszewski." Find A Grave Memorial. Accessed November 16, 2021.

"Improvements at Willard Park Will Include Tribute to Slain Teen." Indianapolis Star, March 27, 2001, B1, B5. Accessed November 15, 2021. ProQuest.


0.01 Cubic Feet (1 folder)

Language of Materials



This collection is arranged chronologically.

Custodial History

This collection was received by Rare Books and Manuscripts as a donation.


No further additions are expected.

Processing Information

Collection processing completed 2021/11/16 by Brittany Kropf. EAD finding aid created 2021/11/16 by Brittany Kropf.
Crime and law photograph collection
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

140 North Senate Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204 U.S.A.