Herman Lamm was America’s most important bank robber, not just because he spent a successful decade robbing banks, but because he developed methods that were adopted by others, notably Harry Pierpont and John Dillinger. Before Lamm, bank robberies were essentially smash-and-grab affairs that often wound up in such disasters as the Dalton Gang’s Coffeyville slaughterfest or the Jesse James raid on Northfield, Minnnesota.
Herman Lamm was born in Germany in 1890. He was cashiered from the Imperial German Army for cheating at cards and emigrated to the United States before 1912. In 1917, now a naturalized American citizen, Lamm tried to hold up a bank and was sent to prison.
Lamm didn’t like jail much and spent his time thinking of better ways to rob banks. Drawing on his army training, Lamm decided that bank jobs should be planned with military precision. Once out of prison, he teamed up with other outlaws who agreed to follow his methods and began a decade long career of successful robberies.
The Lamm Technique involved casing banks and carefully studying their layouts. Gang members studied floorplans and located vaults and escape routes. Each member of the gang was assigned a specific task from the Lookout to the Getaway Driver, who was possibly the most important member of the team. Drivers used fast, powerful cars and studied maps drawn in meticulous detail by Lamm. Getaway routes were marked along with the speed the car should travel on each section of the road. Alternate routes were identified and Lamm and the driver tested them all in different kinds of weather for days before the robbery.
Lamm’s gang soon became famous in underworld circles and Herman began calling himself “Baron Lamm”. Members of his gang were old time western outlaws, including some who had ridden with Butch Cassidy’s Hole In The Wall Gang, and up-and-coming young criminals, such as James Clark. Lamm was probably involved with Harry Pierpont, another major bank robber in the region whose careful planning and tactics reflected the Lamm Method. The gang worked in Indiana and other midwestern states and stole more than a million dollars before finally coming to grief.
In 1930, after robbing a bank in Clinton, Indiana, Lamm’s driver was spooked by a local vigilante waving a shotgun and panicked. He drove the car over a curb and blew out a tire. The group scrambled to find another vehicle but in the end, found themselves trapped in an Illinois cornfield. (Photo of the cornfield today.)
The gang shot it out with more than a hundred lawmen who surrounded the area. Dad Landry, a septuagenarian who had ridden with the Dalton Gang shot himself to avoid going back to prison. Some say that Lamm also committed suicide, others that a police bullet killed him. Two members of the gang survived the shoot-out: James Clark and Walter Dietrich who were sent to the Indiana State Prison. There they met John Dillinger who got them to teach him everything they knew. Dillinger had already teamed up with Harry Pierpont.
Dillinger was paroled in 1933 and worked out an escape plan for eight other men. He had guns smuggled into the prison and the escapees killed two guards getting away. Clark was re-captured and spent the rest of his life behind bars. The rest of the escapees formed the nucleus of the first Dillinger gang. Dillinger was incarcerated shortly before the prison break and the gang’s first task was to break him loose. Then, under the tutelage of Pierpont and Dietrich, they began robbing banks using the methods of Baron Lamm.