5 Most Ruthless Gangsters From the 20-30s You Haven’t Heard Of

5 Most Ruthless Gangsters From the 20-30s You Haven’t Heard Of

Matthew - January 31, 2017

Homer Van Meter

While he isn’t a household name, Homer Van Meter ran with some celebrity gangsters during his life of crime in the 1920s and 1930s. His two most notable associates were none other than John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson. Van Meter was born in Indiana in 1905. He ran away from home as a young boy and ended up in Chicago. Throughout his early years, Van Meter had several scrapes with the law and served time for crimes including larceny and car theft. In early 1925, he was arrested for robbing trains and was given a lengthy sentence at Pendleton Reformatory in his native Indiana. It was at Pendleton that Van Meter met John Dillinger.

5 Most Ruthless Gangsters From the 20-30s You Haven’t Heard Of
FBI Wanted poster for Homer Van Meter. Alchetron

Van Meter was paroled in May 1933. He immediately hooked up with George “Baby Face” Nelson (real name Lester Gillis) and robbed a bank in Grand Haven, Michigan of $30,000. He robbed another bank with Nelson in Minnesota and again made off with more than $30,000. John Dillinger broke out of prison in March 1934, and joined forces with Van Meter and Nelson. The trio, along with other gang members, robbed banks in South Dakota, Iowa, and Indiana. The gang maintained a hideout/safe house in St. Paul, Minnesota where they kept their loot.

By the summer of 1934, authorities all over the country were on the lookout for Homer Van Meter due to his criminal activity. In June, Van Meter and Dillinger both underwent plastic surgery in order to avoid police detection. Van Meter, Dillinger, and Nelson pulled one last heist together on June 30, 1934. The group robbed a bank in South Bend, Indiana, and killed a policeman in the process. On July 22, Dillinger was gunned down outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago, and Van Meter and his girlfriend split town for St. Paul.

A month later, on August 23, 1934, police officers confronted Van Meter on a street corner in St. Paul. Van Meter fired at the officers and was chased into an alley. The officers opened fire and Homer Van Meter was shot dead. He was 28-years-old.

5 Most Ruthless Gangsters From the 20-30s You Haven’t Heard Of
Mugshot of Frank Nash. Legends of America

Frank Nash

Frank Nash excelled at one thing in life: robbing banks. The FBI, police, and his fellow criminals all agreed that Nash was one of the best bank robbers in history. Nash was born in 1887 in Birdseye, Indiana. From a young age, Nash worked in the hotels that his father owned in Arkansas and Oklahoma. He also developed a penchant for robbery and violence from a young age. His first conviction came in 1913 after he murdered his friend Humpy Wortman after a robbery in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. He was sentenced to life in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, but his sentence was reduced when he agreed to join the army and fight in World War I in 1918.

After the war, Nash was soon in trouble again when he was sentenced to 25 years for safecracking, again in Oklahoma. His sentence was reduced, and he was released in 1922 after serving only a couple years behind bars. The seasoned thief immediately joined up with a group of bank robbers following his release. Nash and some his fellow gang members were arrested again in 1924, this time for bank robbery and sent away to Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas. After serving six years at Leavenworth, Nash had gained the trust of the prison staff. He was allowed to leave the prison on an errand on October 19, 1930 and he never returned.

Nash fled to Chicago, where he once again embarked on a life of crime, including assisting in a breaking 7 prisoners out of Leavenworth in December 1931. Between robberies and other criminal capers, Nash enjoyed spending time in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which was known as a town where gangsters and criminals vacationed.

On June 16, 1933, Frank Nash was apprehended by FBI agents in Hot Springs. The agents and Nash boarded a train bound for Kansas City. Word spread among the vast underground network of criminals about Nash’s arrest and his trip to Kansas City. A group of his friends were determined to set him free. On the morning of June 17, the train carrying Nash and the FBI agents arrived in Kansas City. As Nash was herded into a waiting car in front of Union Station, two or three armed men approached the vehicle and gunfire erupted. In the ensuing gun battle, an FBI agent, two Kansas City police officers, and Frank Nash were all killed.

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