John Dillinger's getaway man was an Indianapolis race car driver

Hilton Crouch as a dirt car racer in 1925. (Photo: Indianapolis Star)
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The name Hilton Crouch appeared numerous times in the local newspapers in the 1920s and '30s. If anyone was keeping track of his life, they would have seen a life of typical boyhood achievements spiral into a life of crime.

As a youth, Crouch was a member of the Indianapolis News Newsboys’ band, the Hoosier-Scout Radio Club and later a member of a local amateur baseball club. According to his grandson, Mark Crouch, “He was quite the dancer and won a marathon dance competition at the Indiana Roof and he would bet you at pool one way or another.”

In the 1920s, Crouch was considered a hot shoe on the Indiana dirt track scene, holding his own against future Indy 500 winners Wilbur Shaw and Howdy Wilcox, and 1925 track champion at the Hoosier Speedway at 38th Street and Pendleton Pike. Crouch raced against Indianapolis motorcycle police officer Louis Schneider and was the wheelman in the Schneider Frontenac Ford, or “Fronty".

This would not be his last encounter with police.

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Crouch’s name soon stopped appearing in the sports section and shifted to the front page. 

He was indicted in December 1925 on charges of grand larceny in connection with the theft of four tires.  

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Six months later, Crouch was identified as one of the principals in the Duesenberg Motor Car Co. payroll robbery, but eluded capture until he was arrested following a shootout with Chicago police during the Reuter Bros. foundry robbery. Crouch served 18 months at the Illinois State Prison at Joliet, Ill. As he was being released, he was arrested by Indianapolis police for being the driver of the “bandit car” in connection with the Duesenberg robbery.

Crouch later aligned himself with fellow Hoosier John Dillinger in several bank robberies, including the State Bank of Massachusetts Avenue in Indianapolis. Following the heist, the gang fled to Chicago with Crouch at the wheel. 

Crouch was arrested in December 1933 at the Chicago restaurant he co-owned under the name Price.

As police were trying to piece together the details of the robbery, Crouch spilled the details in a plea agreement. “When I was going about 80 miles an hour, Dillinger sat in the back seat counting the money,” and added, “When he got it counted he divided it with us. I got $8,300 and took my share of the money and bought a restaurant in Chicago.” Crouch wanted to clear his conscience and also confessed to the robbery of a substation of The Indianapolis Star on Boulevard Place before the bank holdup. Crouch agreed to a 20-year sentence in the Indiana State Prison.

Crouch earned a degree in electrical engineering while in prison and later owned Crouch Electric Co. Mark Crouch noted he was not allowed to admire his grandfather who had abandoned his father and grandmother, “but he was such a larger than life personality that it was impossible not to,” said Crouch.

Hilton Crouch died of lung cancer in 1976 and is buried a few yards west of Dillinger at Crown Hill Cemetery. 

Follow IndyStar photo coordinator and RetroIndy writer Dawn Mitchell on Twitter: @Dawn_Mitchell 61