Mary “Shorty” Kinder, like her boyfriend Handsome Harry Pierpont, is a name that you are most likely unfamiliar with. But Mary could well be the mold that all Hollywood “Gun Molls” were made from. The “moll” term derives from Molly, a diminutive variation of Mary, colloquially used as a euphemism for a prostitute. Born Mary Northern on August 29, 1909 in Martinsville, she moved with her family to Indianapolis at age 10. Mary came from a large family, with at least nine brothers and sisters. By most accounts, Mary had a tough childhood in the Circle City. It was 16-year-old Mary who discovered her father Lewis’s body at their Indianapolis home after hearing a gunshot in the early morning of November 12, 1925. He had killed himself with a shotgun.
Mary was married when she met Pierpont through her brother Earl “The Kid” Northern, an early bank robbing partner of Harry’s. But that did not stop her from joining Pierpont and his gang on their infamous crime spree of 1933-1934. Mary’s husband, Dale Kinder, was the son of an Indianapolis Police Officer and outlaw specializing in robbing local grocery stores. All three men were in jail together when Harry met Mary. Earl was supposed to flee with the others during the Michigan City escape but was too ill to join them. Earl would die in prison from tuberculosis in 1936. Mary’s brother Charles was another Pierpont associate and member of Harry’s early gang of bank robbers. Her sister Margaret was married to William Behrens, another member of those early Pierpont gangs.
Freed from Michigan City, the convicts were ready to start robbing banks again, but first they had to free their pal John Dillinger from the Allen County jail in Lima, Ohio. Dillinger was awaiting trial for robbing the Citizens National Bank in Bluffton, Ohio. After robbing a bank at St. Mary’s, Ohio, Pierpont and three other gang members arrived at the Lima jail at 6:20 p.m. to bust out Dillinger. Sheriff Jesse Sarber and his wife had just finished dinner and were sitting in the office with their deputy. Pierpont and two men walked in and said, “We’re officers from Michigan City and we want to see Dillinger.” Sarber responded, “Let me see your credentials.” Harry Pierpont calmly pulled out a gun and said, “Here’s our credentials.” Sarber, reaching for a gun in the desk drawer said, “Oh, you can’t do that.” Handsome Harry Pierpont impulsively fired twice sending one bullet into Sarber’s left side, through the abdomen and into his thigh as the sheriff fell to the floor.
“Give us the keys to the cell,” said Pierpont as Jesse Sarber bravely attempted to rise. Gang member Charles Makley stepped forward and hit Sheriff Sarber over the head with the butt of his gun, accidentally discharging a wild shot. Sarber collapsed, moaning. His wife cried “Let dad alone! I’ll get the key!” as she grabbed the keys and gave them to Pierpont. Harry opened up the cell, gave Dillinger a gun, and headed towards the getaway car. As Dillinger passed Sarber, he stopped and knelt down by the moaning man and asked Pierpont, “Was this necessary?” Pierpont shrugged his shoulders and spoke not a word as the gang continued the escape. Sarber had treated the outlaw humanely and Dillinger appeared to be shook up by the sight. Sarber, in great pain, looked at his wife, “Mother, I believe I’m going to have to leave you.” He died an hour and a half later. He was 47 years old. Handsome Harry Pierpont has just added murderer to his resume.
After robbing two Indiana police stations of weapons and bulletproof vests, the Gang robbed a bank in Greencastle of over $74,000 on October 23, 1933. Witnesses clearly identified Pierpont as the leader of the bank robbers. In November of 1933, Mary and Harry lived in an apartment at 4310 Clarendon Rd. in Indianapolis across the street from Crown Hill cemetery. Running low on money, the gang fled Indiana for a hideout in Chicago and soon robbed a bank in Racine, Wisconsin on November 20, 1933. Afterwards, Indiana State Police Captain Matt Leach attempted to cause friction in the gang by calling them the “Dillinger Gang” instead of the “Pierpont Gang” in news interviews. The ruse backfired, as Pierpont couldn’t have cared less what people called them.
After the killing of a Chicago detective by one of the gang members, the outlaws and their molls took a long vacation on the ocean in Daytona Beach, Florida. Likely the last time the gang enjoyed unobstructed freedom together, the gathering was highlighted by a New Year’s Eve barbecue that climaxed with Dillinger firing his Tommy Gun at the man in the moon at the stroke of midnight.
The fun was over on January 15, 1934, when Dillinger and Pierpont robbed a bank in East Chicago, Indiana where Patrolman William O’Malley was killed by a machine gun burst. Law enforcement pinned the killing on John Dillinger, making O’Malley’s death the only death ever attributed to him. However Dillinger’s family has claimed for years that either John didn’t pull the trigger or that it was an accident. The FBI disagrees and places the blame for Officer O’Malley’s death solely on Dillinger. For her part, Mary Kinder claimed that Dillinger could not have shot O’Malley because he and his gang were with her in Florida at the time of the robbery. The family claims that it would have been impossible to drive from Daytona Beach to East Chicago in an 18-hour time period to rob the East Chicago bank because gas stations closed at dusk and there were no interstates as we know today.
The gang fled to Tucson, Arizona where they made several careless mistakes that led to their being recognized and captured, one by one, on January 25, 1934. Mary and Harry were apprehended while stopped at a traffic light on 19th Street and 6th Avenue in Tucson. When the governor of Arizona came to visit the gang, Pierpont chatted with him amiably and had only good things to say about the policemen who arrested them. “I think those fellows were swell not to shoot me…There are two kinds of officers — rats and gentlemen. You fellows are gentlemen and the Indiana and Ohio cops are rats…If all this had happened in Ohio, we’d be laying on a slab. They’d have murdered us.”
The capture of the gang touched off a jurisdictional war between Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio. The Hoosier state desperately wanted to send Dillinger to the electric chair for the murder of Patrolman O’Malley. Ohio wanted the same for Pierpont and the others who raided the Lima jail and killed Sheriff Sarber. During this time, reporters learned that a marriage license had been issued to Mary Kinder and Harry Pierpont. Mary told reporters: “I love Harry Pierpont. He has always been gentle and kind to me… I realize that after we arrive in Indiana, we may never meet again, for the law intends, if possible, to ‘burn’ him on a murder charge. That’s why I want to marry him and when the vows are taken by us we will be united forever — in spirit at least. If the worst comes, I shall love him more even in death than life.”
Harry Pierpont had asked for the license, but Mary could not sign it because she was not legally divorced from her husband. When Mary got no reply from Harry, she asked another inmate what had happened to Pierpont. The inmate told her that Harry was being extradited to Ohio. “Oh, my God,” she said softly. Dillinger was sent back to Indiana’s Crown Point “escape-proof” jail to await trial for the East Chicago bank robbery and murder of Patrolman O’Malley. Pierpont was shipped off to Ohio to stand trial for murder.
Despite the hopeless situation that now faced the volatile Pierpont, Mary Kinder never entertained a thought of leaving him. She remained loyal to him, even as he prepared to die in the electric chair at the Ohio State Prison. While Harry languished in jail, Mary spent the majority of her time giving speeches and writing articles regarding her time with the Dillinger Gang. Mary became a popular attraction at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair giving speeches about the dangers of a criminal lifestyle until the FBI pressured fair officials to cancel her shows. For a short time, Mary continued to give interviews and participate in carnival midway shows telling stories of life with Dillinger. Mary “Shorty” Kinder spent the money she earned from these endevours to fund her lover Pierpont’s useless appeal.
Harry Pierpont was convicted of murder and received the death penalty for killing Sheriff Jesse Sarber. However, Handsome Harry still had one more trick up his sleeve. While awaiting execution in the Columbus, Ohio death house and inspired by their pal Dillinger’s March 3, 1934 break-out of the Crown Point jail using a wooden gun, Pierpont and fellow Dillinger gang member Charles Makley carved two realistic looking guns out of soapstone and planned their escape. With Dillinger’s death at the hands of the FBI on July 22, 1934, and time running out for them, the duo would try to duplicate their dead pal’s feat.
They made it out of the cellhouse, but guards opened fire. Makley was killed by a shot through the throat and Pierpont was badly wounded in the head and spine. Ironically, Ohio officials kept Harry alive long enough to carry him to the electric chair just four days after his 32nd birthday on October 17, 1934. Mary Kinder again attempted to marry Pierpont shortly before his execution, but this request was denied by the Ohio State Prison Warden.
Handsome Harry Pierpont had no last words, instead, he stared at the witnesses with his trademark half-open eyes, what the molls called “bedroom eyes,” as he was brought into the room. Harry Pierpont was placed in the electric chair, “Old Sparky,” where attendants affixed the large electrodes to his head and leg. The switch was thrown and 2,000 volts passed through his body for a full two minutes. Handsome Harry Pierpont was dead.
After the death mask was removed, a Columbus Star reporter stated that Harry’s eyes were “open and fixed on the ceiling with an icy stare. His mouth open as though he were about to scream.” Harry is buried in Holy Cross & Saint Joseph Cemetery at 435 West Troy Ave. in Indianapolis between Garfield Park and Sarah Shank Golf course.
After Pierpont’s death, Mary’s fame soon diminished. For the remainder of her life, she never again approached the excitement she knew while running with the Dillinger gang. Mary struggled with alcoholism, a habit developed with Pierpont. Later in life, Mary married a man named Wendell Grimsley. She lived until May 21, 1981, when she died of emphysema and heart disease in Indianapolis. Mary died penniless and is buried in an unmarked grave in an Indianapolis cemetery. As Mary often said in her traveling Dillinger gang sideshow, “You pay in the end and you keep on payin’. I ought to know.”
Al Hunter is the author of the “Haunted Indianapolis” and co-author of the “Haunted Irvington” and “Indiana National Road” book series. His newest books are “Bumps in the Night. Stories from the Weekly View,” “Irvington Haunts. The Tour Guide,” and “The Mystery of the H.H. Holmes Collection.” Contact Al directly at Huntvault@aol.com or become a friend on Facebook.