Dillinger’s bank robbery a good bedtime story

2008-03-17T00:00:00Z Dillinger’s bank robbery a good bedtime storyBY BRIDGET THORESON
Journal Times
Journal Times
March 17, 2008 12:00 am  • 

Most kids hear bedtime stories about fairy tales. Barbara Jensen heard about the time her uncle was shot during John Dillinger's Racine bank robbery.

Wilbur Hansen would tell the tale of Nov. 20, 1933, when he was the police officer who responded to the American Bank and Trust at Fifth and Main streets to turn off what officials assumed was yet another false alarm that week.

"There had been a new system put in at the bank," Jensen, 72, said. "And the alarms kept going off."

Only this time, it was real. Dillinger and his gang were robbing $28,000 from the bank, and when Hansen arrived he was shot at twice. One bullet hit his belt buckle and went through his pocket, and the other hit him around his hip.

"One of the robbers said, 'Oh, we've killed a cop,' and went over and stepped on his back to pull his revolver out," Jensen said. "He said he didn't dare move. He didn't want to get one in the back of his head."

The submachine gun stolen by the robbers that day was recently put back into its display case at the Racine Police Department, after being on loan to the Racine Art Museum. Dillinger has been getting publicity lately because of "Public Enemies," a movie about Dillinger starring Johnny Depp, which began filming in Columbus, Wis., Monday.

Jensen donated items from Hansen's life to the Racine Heritage Museum in 2004, around the same time the art museum held an exhibit about Racine's role in Dillinger's life. They have not been exhibited yet, she said, but she hopes they will be shared with the public. The museum also has a photograph of Hansen from a collection compiled in a scrapbook by Ursula Patzke, who was taken hostage by Dillinger's gang at the Racine robbery.

Hansen donated the items in the name of her aunt Henny Hansen, who is Hansen's widow. They include letters from officials, including mayors, governors and J. Edgar Hoover.

Hansen was in the first graduating class from the FBI National Academy and went on to work for the government during World War II. He served as a commander in the American Legion, a drum major for Racine's Boys of 76 Drum and Bugles Corps and the Racine chief of police.

But he never forgot that November run-in with Dillinger.

"He loved when I had my kids, he'd go to bed early so he could tell them stories," Jensen said. "He was very matter-of-fact, that was just part of the job."

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