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Public Enemy #1

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Primary Sources: 'What I Knew About John Dillinger' -- By His Sweetheart

The Chicago Herald and Examiner originally published a multi-part article written by Evelyn "Billie" Frechette in August 1934. In it, Frechette told of her life with John Dillinger. Reproduced here are the first and fifth installments of her story.

Evelyn Frechette, sweetheart of John Dillinger, herewith presents the first chapter of the story of her hectic life with the nation's late public enemy No. 1.

How she fled with Dillinger after his "toy-gun" escape from the Crown Point jail; how they strove ingeniously to dodge capture or death; how they retreated from a St. Paul machine gun -- all these details figure in an amazing story which carries the invetable moral that the criminal cannot escape the penalty for his crime.

Now behind prison bars, Evelyn Frechette tries to find a reason for her fate. Because she followed, unthinking, an impulse of her heart, she lost her freedom. Though the reason may escape her it stands out unmistakably as an object lesson not only to youth but to all that attach themselves to criminal pursuits:

Part One - August 27, 1934

Crime does not pay!
By Evelyn Frechette

Only one big thing ever happened to me in my life. Nothing much happened before that, and I don't expect much from now on -- except maybe a lot more grief. The one big thing that happened to me was that I fell in love with John Dillinger.

I'm in prison on account of that. The government people said that I "harbored a criminal." The criminal was John. I lived with him for several months, if that's what they mean. I loved him. I followed him around the country -- from Chicago to Florida and then to Tucson, where we were caught. And then after we got out of the jail in Crown Point with the wooden gun he came to me again and we beat it to St. Paul, where we had the shooting scrape and nearly got killed.

Dillinger Waiting as Police Seized Evelyn.
So you see I was with John Dillinger from the time he came to Chicago after breaking out of the jail at Lima, O., until I got caught in Chicago last April -- the time the police took me away while John was sitting in his car down the street waiting for me.

John was good to me. He looked after me and bought me all kinds of clothes and jewelry and cars and pets, and we went places and saw things, and he gave me everything a girl wants. He was in love with me.

If that's harboring him, all right then. I harbored him.

John's dead. I'm not sorry I loved him. That part I couldn't help. I'm sorry what happened to me and what it cost me after I was caught.

Only a Number Now in Federal Prison.
I'm a convict. Since the third of last June, when a federal judge in St. Paul sentenced me to two years. I've been in the United States detention farm at Milan, Mich. I'm not Billy Frechette any more, I'm a number, like Machine Gun Kelly's wife, who is here too, and like the rest of the girls on the farm.

I guess this is where they all end up. Maybe I've got it coming to me. I don't know. But I keep telling myself that I'm different. I'm in here because I fell in love with the wrong man -- not wrong for me, you understand, but wrong if I wanted to keep it in the clear.

Falling in love with John was something that took care of itself. There are lots of reasons why. Some of the reasons are John's and some are mine.

Liked Dillinger for What He Was to Her.
I like John's kind. I don't mean because he was a criminal and carried guns around, and wasn't afraid of police or any one. There was something else. John might have been a soldier or something else besides what he was. He wasn't, of course, because something happened along the line.

I always figured that what he did was one thing and what he was was another. I was in love with what he was. Oh, maybe I was wrong, but you can't argue yourself out of falling in love! You just can't sit down and think it out.

I come from French-Indian stock. Maybe that has something to do with it. I'm proud of my Indian blood. My tribe is a good tribe and my people are good people. Maybe I'd better tell how I was brought up.

Born on Wisconsin Indian Reservation.
I was born on an Indian reservation at Neopit, Wis., sixty miles from Green Bay. I had two brothers and two sisters. My father died when I was 8 years old. He was French and pronounced his name without the "e," like Freshet.

My mother was half French and half Indian. Her tribe was the Menominees. They called them the wild-rice eaters. They used to have their hunting ground around Wisconsin and Michigan a long time ago, before the white man came and pushed them around.

Thinks of Indians Who Roamed Hills.
I think about that sometimes when I look out through the bars in the window at the hills and the trees here in Michigan. I get to thinking that my people use to roam around over those hills -- long before the white man came along with his rules about harboring outlaws.

And I get to thinking that maybe the Indians had rules about things like that, too. Maybe if they caught a girl that was running around with an enemy chief they'd hold her and wait for him to come for her so they could kill him.

But I figure they would let her go after they killed him.

Recalls Working on Reservation as Child.
Nothing happened to me when I was a child. I don't remember anything that happened to me that was unusual. We had to work around the reservation with our Indian relatives and neighbors. My mother had a hard time bringing us up.

I remember I had an uncle that the government people thought a lot about. They sent him to Washington to do things for the Indians and he was a big man.

I got most of my schooling in a mission school on the reservation and then when I was 13 I went to government school at Flandreau, S.D. I stayed there for three years and then I went to live with my aunt in Milwaukee.

I worked as a nurse girl -- when I could get work and that wasn't very often. I wanted to come to Chicago. I hadn't been any place in my life and Chicago was a big and wonderful place to me.

Sister an Actress in Amateur Plays.
I was 18 then. I worked when I could -- nurse, and housework, and waitress. My sister, Frances, was there. She had a lot of Indian friends and they went around to churches and put on Indian plays. She was a good little actress.

They called themselves "The Indian Players" and I remembered they put on plays called "Little Fire Face" and "The Elm Tree." They got all dressed up in their feathers and beads and painted their faces and danced the way we used to on the Indian reservation.

It was a lot of fun and I used to go around with my sister to the church socials. I wasn't a very good actress. But I helped wash the dishes and helped cook parched corn and wild rice and other Indian dishes. And when they needed somebody I'd put on my costume and dance in the chorus.

Tells of Marriage to Welton Spark.
It was fun, as I said, but it seem that nothing exciting ever happened to me and I was all alone, you might say.

Then I met this man I married. I wasn't really in love with him, but I was lonesome. His name was Welton Spark. Not long after we were married he was arrested and they sent him away to Leavenworth for fifteen years.

I don't even know what he did. It had something to do with the government mails. He never told me what he was up to. Being married to him didn't amount to much. I lost track of him right away.

Met Dillinger in North Side Cabaret.
I kept on working here and there and I got some girlfriends and we would date up often and go out cabareting. I liked going out where people were laughing and having a good time and cutting up. It was in a cabaret on the North Side where I met John Dillinger.

I'll never forget that. It happened the way things do in the movies. I was 25 years old and I wasn't any different from all the other girls that were 25 years old. Nothing that happened to me up to that time to amount to anything. Then I met John and everything was changed. I started a new kind of life.

It was in November, just about a year ago now, I remember. I was sitting at the table with some other girls and some fellows. We were having a good time.

Romance Begun in Glance and Smile.
I looked up and I saw a man at a table across the room looking at me. He didn't look away when I looked up. He just stared at me and smiled a little bit with the corner of his mouth. His eyes seemed to go all the way through me.

A thing like that happens to a girl often and doesn't seem to mean anything. This was different. I looked at him and maybe I smiled.

Anyway he knew one of the girls I was with and pretty soon he came over to our table and spoke to the girl and she said: "Billy, this is Jack Harris"

Didn't Know Then Who Dillinger Was.
He might just as well have said his name was John Dillinger then because I didn't know any different. I didn't read the newspapers. I didn't know for a long time after that what his real name was. I didn't know then he was the John Dillinger everybody under the sun was looking for.

But to me that night he was just Jack Harris -- a good looking fellow that stood there looking down at me and smiling in a way that I could tell he liked me already more than a little bit. He said:

"Where have you been all my life?"

(In the next chapter of the story of her life with John Dillinger. Evelyn ("Billy") Frechette will tell how this casual meeting grew into a love affair with the nation's No. 1 criminal -- an affair that was interrupted only briefly when Dillinger and his gang were captured.)

Part Five - August 30, 1934

St. Paul Shooting and Wounding of Desperado Is Described
I sit here in a jail cell that isn't any bigger than a pantry and wonder how I ever stood up during all those wild days when we had to sneak around like a lot of alley cats for fear we would get caught.

For instance, there was that day after the shooting with the police in St. Paul when Johnny sat there is the back seat of the car frowning and holding his leg and waiting for me to go and get help for him.

For a minute I thought I couldn't get up off the seat of the car. I felt sure that if I got out and started down the street I'd get a bullet in my back before I got two feet away.

But I went. I started to run down the alley and John shouted to me "Take it easy," and I slowed down. He didn't want to attract any attention in broad daylight.

Takes Ride While Green Gets Doctors.
I ran in the back way of the Eddie Green's apartment and brought him out to the car. Then Beth came down, and John asked her to take me for a ride while Eddie was getting a doctor. I guess he thought it was dangerous and he didn't want me to get caught, too, if there was going to be trouble.

We drove around for an hour or more and then came back and waited a little before the doctor was brought up. He was Dr. Clayton May. Then we got in our cars and I rode with Eddie. We drove around and stopped at a place on Park Av., and they took John to get treated.

The doctor said he'd be all right. This doctor later went on trial with me for harboring Dillinger. He said on the witness stand that John and Eddie threatened him with machine guns and that Eddie followed him to see there wasn't any tip-off. Somebody else will have to tell that story.

Eddie Shot to Death by Police
This place was where the doctor's nurse lived. She was Mrs. Augusta Salt. We stayed there for three or four days waiting for John's knee to heal up. But it wasn't safe. We had to leave. I guess we got out just in time. They killed Eddie Green just after we left. The police shot him down in the street.

Where to? We couldn't go to another place in the Twin Cities. The police were looking in every house there for us. We couldn't go to Chicago. They knew the neighbor hood where John used to stay, and they were waiting for him there.

So John picked the one place where nobody would think of looking for him. He went home. He went back to his father's farm.

I argued with him about that. I didn't think it was safe. But he said: "Listen Billy. Who's smarter -- me or the cops?"

It took us two or three days to get there because we had to drive around quite a lot. We didn't go places where we thought there might be danger. John couldn't get out and walk any place because he was limping pretty bad and that would be a dead give away.

Tells of Reunion at Family Home.
His dad was glad to see him when he got to Mooresville, and we had a real celebration. All his family came down to say hello. His half-brother, Hubert, was there, and his sister, Mrs. Hancock, came down from Maywood, Ind.

John's dad said he ought to keep out of trouble, but John just laughed. We took a lot of pictures. John had one taken with his wooden gun. He still thought it was a joke the way he got out. He gave the gun to his father as a present.

It wasn't safe to stay around the farm long. John was careless. He'd go out and sit in the yard with his sisters and play games where all the neighbors could see. I guess the only reason they didn't turn him in was they were afraid.

Anyway we left there on the 9th of April and drove to Chicago.

What were we going to do? Well we were going to settle down. We talked about it a lot on the way up. John thought he could do it now. He had plenty of money. He thought Chicago was as good a place as any.

John Gives Her Funds for Divorce.
We wanted to get married and John gave me the money for a divorce suit against my husband, Welton Spark, who was in Leavenworth. John and I had been in love with each other for a long time now -- nearly seven months. And more than that, we got to know each other. John couldn't trust many people, but he could trust me.

That's what we were thinking about, but it sounds a little silly now. We couldn't settle down and keep out of trouble. They'd keep on looking for John. There was no use deceiving ourselves. We were going to get caught sooner or later. I got it sooner. We had just got into Chicago and I walked right into a trap.

(In the next and concluding chapter of her life with John Dillinger, Evelyn Frechette describes her own capture while Dillinger, the most hunted man in the world , waited a block away.)

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