Often called by many a "Real Haunted
Jail" this is the Crown Point Sheriff's
House and Jail Building, located at 21 First
Avenue, Crown Point, IN.
A well-known marriage-mill in the 1920’s,
Crown Point's greatest claim to fame came
from the escape of desperado John Dillinger
in 1934, after the famous photograph of
him with his arm around the prosecuting
attorney was taken. Dillinger made his escape
using a gun carved from wood (not soap,
as is commonly believed). He bluffed his
way past the guards to freedom but was later
killed by authorities in a shoot-out outside
the Biograph Theatre in Chicago.
Then-actor, later President Ronald Reagan
married actress Jane Wyman at Crown Point.
Rudolph Valentino also married here; it
is reported that he drove three times around
the ornate, high-towered Crown Point courthouse,
waving to assembled throngs of well wishers.
"Valentino's," an ice cream parlor
in the basement of the courthouse, is named
Today you can visit the jail cell where
Dillinger was held as well as the jailhouse
museum and a jail-themed restaurant.
Story by Rachel Clarke
HAUNTED BUILDING HISTORY
Built in 1882, the house is an example of
the Second Empire style, distinguished by
the deeply sloping mansard roofs. A large
jail building was built onto the back of
the Sheriff's house in 1926. The Northwest
Indiana Building and Construction Trades
Council has donated plastering, carpentry,
electrical, roofing and other work.
Tours of the main Sheriffs' house but not
the jail are held by the Sheriff's House
Foundation frequently, and at times upon
In 1882 The Sheriff's House was built to
serve a succession of elected sheriffs for
76 years until 1958. Thanks to the efforts
of the Sheriff's House Foundation of Indiana,
the building has been refurbished and renovated.
The large two story brick jail with its
own tall chimney, is located in the back
of the building. It isn't in very good shape
inside, but it too is having work done so
it can be used for storage but still won't
be part of the tour for the public for a
Though this Haunted jail building was closed
since the 1970's, an entity has made its
presence known; there have been ghost sightings
and anomalies often occur in photographs
taken throughout the building.
Personal accounts of locals and visitors
have reported a man looking out of a jail
window and inside the building construction
workers have told of ghostly noises and
apparitions. Jail cell doors swing open
and shut on their own, and there are often
problems with the workers' lights and equipment.
TOWN SEEKS TO PRESERVE A JAIL YET ESCAPE
A DASTARDLY DEED
By Anthony DeBartolo
CROWN POINT, Ind. (Hyde Park Media) - No
one really cares to talk about it. Not the
local chamber of commerce, not the Old Sheriff`s
House Foundation and especially not 96-year-old
Mrs. Lillian Holley, the old sheriff.
A number of citizens in this Lake County
seat, pop. 16,500, are attempting to save
and redevelop the 106-year-old former sheriff`s
residence, along with the original portion
of the adjoining jail. Both sit near ruin
on Main Street, abandoned by the county
more than a decade ago.
What they don`t wish to talk about is
that on March 3, 1934, while awaiting trial
for the alleged murder of an East Chicago
policeman, John Herbert Dillinger, the most
notorious outlaw in the nation at the time,
reportedly took command of Sheriff Holley`s
heavily armed jail, using a toy gun whittled
from the top of a wooden washboard and coated
with black shoe polish. In the process he
locked up 33 people, including the warden
and a dozen deputies.
Dillinger poses with his toy gun.
Dillinger further embarrassed the town,
as well as then-42-year-old Holley, by driving
off in her brand new V-8 Ford. The press
augmented her chagrin with such headlines
as: ``Slim woman, mother of twins, controlled
Dillinger as sheriff.``
Incensed, Holley declared at the time, "If
I ever see John Dillinger again, I`ll shoot
him dead with my own gun. Don`t blame anyone
else for this escape. Blame me. I have no
political career ahead of me and I don`t
Mrs. Holley, saved the trouble of shooting
Dillinger by the FBI four months later during
the famed ambush at Chicago`s Biograph Theatre,
had become county sheriff in January, 1933.
She succeeded her husband, Roy Holley, after
he was slain in a gun battle 17 days into
his second 4-year term.
Their former home, along with the first
25 feet of the approximate 3-story, 100-cell
jail behind the house, deserves salvation,
say champions of the planned restoration,
solely because of its local historical and
architec- tural significance. The memory
of Dillinger`s daring escape, romanticized
by one reporter as ``marked by desperate
courage, unhurried precision and an occasional
laugh for punctuation,`` apparently does
Architecturally, the 1882 2-story red-
brick house is a rare and striking example
of the European Second Empire style, local
preservationists contend; historically,
the structure represents the first permanent
residence used by Lake Country sheriffs
and their families. For 76 years, until
1958, county sheriffs were required by law
to live next to the jail.
``Some people are just adamant about not
playing it up at all. The majority just
don`t care about Dillinger,`` said Donna
Gruber, president of the Crown Point Chamber
of Commerce and a director of the Old Sheriff`s
``There`s too many other things about
Crown Point worth investigation, of finding
out about. The Dillinger thing is of interest
to tourists, not the townspeople,`` she
said. ``I think if the town wants to make
a name for itself, it wants to do it without
John Heidbreder, the president and driving
force behind the foundation, more than agrees.
Indeed, Heidbreder steadfastly refused to
comment for any story written about the
old house and jail if Dillinger were even
``We can`t be any part of that,`` he said
sharply. ``There are those (who have contributed
to the foundation) who would not appreciate
the attention.`` (Heidbreder would not reveal
whether any member of the Holley family,
an old and prominent one in the county,
had contributed to the approximate $100,000
resto- ration project.)
The town`s distinctive lack of interest
in the Depression-era desperado`s exploits
goes beyond one family`s sensitivity, it
seems. At least two commercial ventures
endeavoring to cash in on Dillinger - a
man celebrated enough to have lost three
tombstones to chiseling souvenir hunters
thus far - eventually failed.
In 1976 the county auctioned off the sheriff`s
house and jail, together with the old criminal-courts
building next door. The court house was
built in 1926, along with a major expansion
to the jail.
A press report of the auction suggests
that the county had hoped the new owner
of the buildings would tear the jail down
and with it, its compromised past.
``Maybe somebody might want it and make
a museum piece,`` a spokesman for the sheriff`s
office said at the time. ``But we want it
The buyer, a local private developer,
did not oblige. The boiler house of the
jail complex was turned into a gangster-motif
restaurant and bar. The courthouse basement
was converted to a small shopping mall.
Though the sheriff`s house was left untouched,
the jail`s 1st-floor rear garage was divided
into a few more shops.
A single room in the jail proper housed
a modest John Dillinger Museum and the Convict
In 1986 the development fell to foreclosure.
A new buyer surfaced and rechristened the
salvaged venture J.D.`s Speakeasy and the
Underworld Shopping Moll. Last March, they
too, were foreclosed upon.
Bank One, based in Merrillville, Ind.,
currently holds title to the complex and
is in the process of individually selling
off the court building and boiler house
for development, said a bank spokesman.
By the end of the year, the house and
jail are scheduled to be donated to the
city, which intends to tear down all but
the oldest portion of the prison to create
space for a parking lot. The remaining property
then will be passed on to the foundation.
Barring unforeseen delays, the structure`s
5,000 square feet should be ready for retail
or professional office use within a year,
Regardless of the eventual tenant mix,
their combined rent should make the building,
if not profitable, at least self-sufficient.
Regarding Mrs. Holley, Gruber had warned:
``A lot of reporters have tried to talk
to her over the years. She just won`t talk
Nevertheless, she was contacted by telephone
at her home and asked if she`d like to comment
on her stately residence`s planned preservation.
The former sheriff, in a strong, clear
voice, replied: ``I will help, certainly.
But I wish to keep my name out of it.``
``You know,`` she added with a laugh,
``things might get out of hand.``
John Herbert Dillinger
This article first appeared
in the Chicago Tribune
on November 4, 1988.
© 1988 Hyde Park Media
Crown Point Sherriff's
House and Jail on the Internet
Point Sherriff's House and Jail Hauntings
HAUNTED BUILDING: The Crown Point Sheriff's
House and Jail Building. Address: 21 First
Avenue, Crown Point, IN 47710. LOCATION:.
The Crown Point Sheriff's ...
Structures of Crown Point, Indiana Downtown
Victorian splendor distinguishes the Crown
Point Sheriff's house, ... A large jail
building was built onto the back of the
Sheriff's house in 1926. ...
Landmarks and Organizations in Northwest
Porter County Jail and Sheriff's House,
153 Franklin St., Valparaiso, ... Old Lake
County Courthouse Courthouse Square, Crown
Point Indiana 46307. ...
Point Network Discussion Board :: View topic
- John ...
John Dillinger / Jail / Sheriffs House ...
Why would crown point allow our old jail
to be tore down? Even though it 's ...
Point, Indiana Downtown Square
Sheriffs House | Crown Point, Indiana. The
Sheriff’s House (built in 1882) is
currently being ... The back portion of
the building was the Lake County Jail, ...
John Dillinger (in vest)
poses in the Crown Point, Indiana jail in
Sheriff Lillian Holley, far left.
Dillinger (in vest) poses in the Crown Point,
Indiana jail in 1934. ... sheriff`s house
and jail, together with the old criminal-courts
building next ...
of the Sheriff's House and Jail/Old Sheriff's
After 1958 the house was used as offices
for the sheriff’s department until
1974. The house has remained empty since
that time. The Crown Point jail was ...
Old Sheriff's House Foundation, Inc. 226
South Main Street Crown Point, Indiana ...
Repair and tuck point the exterior brick
of the house and jail wing ...
America Community: Crown Point, IN
The back portion of the building was the
Lake County Jail, the place from which John
Dillinger made his fantastic escape in 1934.
Crown Point's Historical ...
Articles & Haunted Stories
BEEN REALLY HAUNTED UNTIL YOU'VE