The Baron of Bank Robbery

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.

Herman Lamm

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.

Walter Dietrich

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.


18 comments on “The Baron of Bank Robbery

  1. Dave Hudson says:

    Hey Mike. Enjoy reading your blog. Came across your post about Harry Pierpont. I am currently writing a book about Harry. I grew up in Indiana and my great-grandfather served on the jury that convicted Harry of robbing the South Kokomo bank. I currently live just south of you in Washington. If you are ever down in the states shoot me an email and we can talk gangsters.

    • mikulpepper says:

      Thanks, Dave. I’ll keep that in mind. One tenuous aspect of my post was that I asserted that Pierpont learned his method from Lamm — I think it’s true, but there is no absolute documentation of their working together on some of the crimes I believe they committed as partners.

  2. I just appreciate any new info. on the subject at all. I have read everything on Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch. Just working my way down the years. Do you have any thoughts on Kerry Ross Boren’s article about Walter Lamm? I am a student of the old west outlaws and all era gangsters. Dave let us know about the book. Sounds interesting. Mike, keep up the good work.

  3. OMG that is Walter Dietrich?? Hellooo Nurse!! Wow. That picture is always labeled as Joseph Fox. Which he so is.

  4. Paul Peterson says:

    What is the source of your information that Lamm came to America before 1912? It is not very likely.

    Lamm was not arrested for trying to rob a bank in 1917. He was arrested for using chloral knockout drops to rob people. He served in a prison work camp on the old outlaw trail, where he probably encountered stories or maybe even people familiar with Cassidy. The is no evidence I’ve seen that members of Lamm’s gang worked with Cassidy. Lamm copied the Cassidy method of casing banks, planning getaway routes, timing everything, and even having extra horses hidden along the way (cars in Lamm’s day).

    It’s doubtful Lamm was a naturalized citizen. He was tagged by the American Defense League as an enemy alien during WWI.

    It was not a vigilante that spooked Lamm’s driver in the final bank robbery. He was a local barber who had walked to the corner to meet a friend to go duck hunting. Thus, he had a shot gun. The driver thought it was a vigilante.

    Lamm killed himself. Reports that he was shot by posse members was bragging. The official coroners report said suicide.

    • mikulpepper says:

      Lamm’s draft certificate (January, 1918) states that he was naturalized. Unless citizenship requirements were relaxed for him, he had to have been in the country before 1912. As for Cassidy,I picked up mention of contacts between Lamm and members of Cassidy’s old gang from statements that you have made several places on line, Paul. If that isn’t correct, I withdraw the connection. The confusion about the barber is interesting. The fact remains, the driver was spooked. I leave it an open question as to whether or not Lamm killed himself.

      • Paul Peterson says:

        Matt Warner, who rode with Cassidy, had a saloon close to the prison work camp Lamm served at. While I think it is likely that Lamm interacted with people who knew Cassidy, there isn’t any evidence that former Cassidy gang members worked with Lamm during his bank robbery career. One possible exception is Dave Lant. But that’s a long story connecting the dots and doubtful historians would accept it as more than speculation. I’d like to think it is true, but it’s a weak case at this point.
        As to Lamm being a naturalized citizen, yes, that’s what his draft card reads. He wrote that. If he hadn’t written that, he would have been immediately classified as an enemy alien. The fact he was tagged by the American Defense League indicates they doubted his claim, but since he was released before the draft card worked through the system, Lamm was gone and underground for the rest of his life.
        In searches through records at various ports of entry to the U.S., I have never been able to find Herman Lamm. I’ve looked through a wide range of dates and possible spellings, and even hometown searches. Illegal immigrants were common back then, just like they are now. Work on a cargo ship and jump ship in the U.S.
        If Lamm came to the U.S. before 1912, he would have been 21 or younger. Doubtful the stories of being a Prussian Lieutenant are true in that case since that is a commissioned officer rank, meaning Academy training. I think it’s more likely he came around 1914 just before the outbreak of World War One. Of course, maybe he never served and left Germany because he wanted to avoid the compulsory service. If that’s the case, he was a master of giving the impression of having military training.

      • mikulpepper says:

        That’s interesting, Paul, and I accept your well-researched point that there is no evidence any of the Wild Bunch worked with Lamm.
        As for when he got to the US, that’s an open question for me. Yes, I think he was very young. I doubt he was an officer. I think it very possible he committed an offense (like theft) that got him a discharge, but there is no proof of any of that.
        A fascinating character and I look forward to whatever you wind up doing with the information you’ve collected.

  5. I’m interested in the information that “Dad” Landy worked with the Daltons … in all the material I’ve read about the first gang or the Doolin-Dalton band I’ve never seen his name mentioned before. Can you enlighten me on your source material?

    • mikulpepper says:

      My source seems to have disappeared from the Net. And I see that this post is the current number one hit for the notion that Landry was with the Daltons. So, I will keep searching but, meanwhile, you are probably correct to take it with a grain of salt.

  6. Lori Hyde says:

    Like the story, but I’ve researched Pierpont for over 30 years and I really never came across anything doing with Lamm. I think he was just skilled at robbing banks. Dietrich returned to Jack Klutas, whom he was associated with before Lamm, after the Michigan City break and never even pulled a job with Pierpont or Dillinger. Of course he probably filled them in on the details to Lamms bank robbing method. Thanks for the story.

  7. B. Lamm says:

    im trying to find out if i am related to Lamm. obviously my last name is Lamm and he had similar features as my father’s side….

  8. min yue says:

    Hey very nice post you have there nikul. today I just read the wikipedia about John Dillinger and Herman Lamm. Sadly my english wasn’t up to wikipedia level so its kinda hard for me to understand but your post sums up the story very well. 🙂

    I admired you for ur researching skills and you manage to explain everything very clearly in your own words. Looking forward to more of your posts

    Do you happened to know about the murder case of Lizzie Borden? That case is also very fascinating

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