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Herman K. Lamm
Born approx. 1890[1][2]
Died December 16, 1930
Sidell, Illinois
Cause Shot to death
Alias(es) "Baron" Lamm
Conviction(s) Bank robbery
Penalty Imprisonment in 1917
Occupation Former member of the Prussian Army

Herman K. Lamm (approx. 1890 – December 16, 1930),[1][2] known as Baron Lamm, was a German American bank robber. He is widely considered one of the most brilliant and efficient bank robbers to have ever lived, and has been described as "the father of modern bank robbery".[3] Lamm's techniques have been studied and imitated by other bank robbers across the country, including the infamous John Dillinger.

A former Prussian Army member who emigrated to the United States, Lamm believed a heist required all the planning of a military operation. He pioneered the concepts of meticulously "casing" a bank and developing detailed escape routes before conducting the robbery. Utilizing a meticulous planning system called "The Lamm Technique", Lamm conducted dozens of successful bank robberies from the end of World War I until 1930, when he was shot to death by a posse in Sidell, Illinois, after a botched heist.

Contents

Criminal career

Herman Lamm was a member of the Prussian Army, but was forced out of his regiment after he was caught cheating at cards.[1] After he was discredited, Lamm emigrated to the United States shortly before the outbreak of World War I in 1914.[4] Some have claimed Lamm was a member of the Hole in the Wall Gang, but the claims have never been verified.[5] Lamm became a holdup man, and quickly started adapting his military training, his study of tactics, and his Prussian precision and discipline into the art of crime. He theorized that a heist required all the planning of a military operation, which included the development of contingency options in the event of unforeseen problems.[1][4] Bank robberies in the United States were largely improvised at the time, resulting in varied degrees of success and failure among heists. Lamm sought to take the guesswork out of bank robbing.[5][6] Lamm was arrested in 1917 after a botched holdup and served a brief stint in a Utah prison, where he developed what became known as "The Lamm Technique",[4] in which he pioneered the concept of "casing" banks.[5]

The system involved carefully studying a target bank for many hours before the robbery, developing a detailed floor plan, noting the location of safes, taking meticulous notes and establishing escape routes.[2][1] Lamm assigned each gang member a specific job, along with a specific zone of the bank they were charged with surveying and a strict timetable to complete their stage of the robbery.[1][4][6] Among the jobs he assigned to his fellow robbers were the lookout, the getaway driver, the lobby man and the vault man.[5] He also put his men through a series of rehearsals, some of which involved using a full-scale mock-up of the interior of the bank. Lamm stressed the importance of timing during these practice runs, and used stopwatches to ensure the proper results were achieved. He only allowed his gang members to stay in a bank for a specific period of time, regardless of how much money they were able to steal.[1][4]

Lamm is also credited with devising the first detailed bank robbery getaway maps, which he called "gits". Once Lamm targeted a bank, he mapped the nearby back roads, which he called "cat roads", to a tenth of a mile.[5] He meticulously developed getaway plans for each of his robberies. Before every heist, Lamm obtained a nondescript car with a high-powered engine, and often recruited drivers who had been involved in auto racing. Lamm pasted a chart on the dashboard for the driver, which included block-by-block markings of escape routes, alternate turns and speedometer readings. Before each run, Lamm and the getaway driver clocked each route to the second under various weather conditions.[1][6] Practice runs on the escape routes and alternate routes would take days to master.[4] Utilizing this system, Lamm and his gang conducted dozens of successful bank robberies from the end of World War I to 1930, earning more than $1 million in total.[1][4][5] They were considered the most efficient gang of bank robbers of the era.[1]

Death

John Dillinger (pictured) studied and utilized the bank robbery techniques developed by Herman Lamm.

Herman Lamm was killed on December 16, 1930 after a botched bank robbery in Clinton, Indiana.[2] After stealing $15,567 from the Citizens State Bank, getaway driver and ex-rumrunner W.H. Hunter noticed a local barber approaching the car with a shotgun.[1][7][6] The barber was one of thousands of Indiana vigilantes organized to help police fight a growing number of bank robberies in the state. The driver panicked and pulled a fast U-turn, causing the Buick sedan to blow a tire after jumping a curb. Lamm and his men seized another car, but were forced to abandon it after they realized it could go no more than 35 miles per hour because it was fitted with a governor, which the car's owner had installed to prevent his elderly father from driving recklessly.[1][6]

The gang seized a truck, but because it had very little water in the radiator, they were forced to seize yet another car, which had only one gallon of gas in the tank.[1][6] Lamm and his gang were cornered near Sidell, Illinois by a posse of about 200 police officers and vigilantes. A massive gun battle ensued, in which Lamm and Hunter were killed. Another gang member, 71-year-old G.W. "Dad" Landy, shot himself to death rather than spend the remainder of his life in prison. Two survivors of Lamm's gang, Walter Dietrich and James "Oklahoma Jack" Clark, were captured and eventually sentenced to life in an Indiana state prison.[1][7]

Legacy

Herman Lamm is widely considered one of the most brilliant and efficient bank robbers to have ever lived,[1][4] and has been described as "the father of modern bank robbery".[3] The phrase "on the lam", often used to describe fleeing from authorities, is said to have derived from Lamm's last name.[3] By the time Lamm was killed in 1930, his Lamm Technique had already been widely imitated by other bank robbers across the country.[5] Infamous bank robber John Dillinger studied Lamm's meticulous bank-robbing system and used it extensively throughout his criminal career.[2][7] Dietrich and Clark met Dillinger during their stint in the Indiana state prison following Lamm's death. The pair were permitted to join Dillinger's gang under the condition they teach him everything they knew about the Lamm Technique.[1][7]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Sifakis, Carl (2001). The Encyclopedia of American Crime. 2 (2 ed.). New York City, New York: Facts on File. p. 509. ISBN 0816046344.  
  2. ^ a b c d e Helmer, William J.; Mattix, Rick (1998). Public Enemies: America's Criminal Past, 1919-1940. New York City, New York: Facts on File. p. 17. ISBN 0816031606.  
  3. ^ a b c Diehl, William (1991). The Hunt. Ballantine Books. p. 204. ISBN 0345370732.  
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Kirchner, L.R. (2003). Robbing Banks: An American History 1831-1999. Book Sales. p. 43. ISBN 0785817093.  
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Burrough, Bryan (2004). Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34. New York City, New York: Penguin Group. pp. 17–18. ISBN 0345370732.  
  6. ^ a b c d e f Toland, John (1963). Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34. New York City, New York: De Capo Press. pp. 29–31. ISBN 0306806266.  
  7. ^ a b c d Helmer 1998, pp. 165–166
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