In 1934, Dillinger’s girlfriend, Evelyn “Billie” Frechette was arrested and tried in a Federal courtroom on harboring charges. It was the first official record to be made of the outlaw Dillinger’s activities. Newspaper reporters from the major dailies published sections of testimony every day.
The transcript has survived as a valuable resource. In 2009, two researchers in the subject got together to discuss the testimony. Under must circumstances, this would be an event of no great note. What made it unique was that both of these researchers were also court stenographers. This writer and Chris Hegle, a St. Paul freelance reporter, discussed the transcript to determine the true name of the police informant who turned Evelyn Frechette in to the F.B.I. His name was either “Larry Streng” or “Larry Strong.”
“Larry Strong” first appeared in print in a 1934 manuscript that would not be published until 1994. Russell Girardin, a reporter for the syndicated Evening Journal, had gotten his scoop from Arthur O’Leary, who assisted Dillinger’s attorney Louis Piquett as an investigator. In the book that was later published from these interviews, Dillinger: The Untold Story by William Helmer and Russell Girardin, the spelling of “Strong” was used. Had Girardin listened phonetically to the sound of the name? It is doubtful that anyone had actually spelled it out for him.
An altered spelling of “Larry Streng” showed up decades later. In 1981, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) made 38,000 pages of F.B.I. memos available in the Dillinger case. The correspondence, written by Federal agents, refers to this informant as “Larry Streng.” This is not proof of accuracy, however. Field agents, under pressure to produce paperwork, often copied previously garnered information without checking its validity. While these FOIA documents reveal that “Larry Streng” was the informant, they contradicted the story told to Girardin that the name was “Larry Strong.” (The spelling of “Strong” has since been repeated in print since the publication of Girarden’s manuscript.)
The answer to the question of the spelling of Larry Streng/Strong is contained in the verbatim transcript of the trial of Evelyn Frechette: U.S. District Court: District of Minnesota: Third Division: United States of America v. Clayton E. May, Evelyn Frechette, alias Mrs. John Dillinger, et al.
The transcript contained the name of the informant who lured Frechette into the F.B.I.’s custody in a Chicago tavern, one month after the shootout. When this writer and contemporary court reporter Chris Hegle discussed the transcript, the combined phonetic knowledge was immediately put to the test. This transcript was from another era and it showed.
In the days of manual typewriters, court reporters would strike over a letter if it could be done legibly. Often the second and third carbon copies were not corrected if the typist was rushing or just not diligent enough to repair every copy. The court reporter Mr. Ayer or his typist had performed a strikeover in Streng’s name and it was difficult to decipher what it was intended to be. In four places, the name had an “A” superimposed over an “O.” In only one place, it was typed with an “A,” which made it “Strang.”
Chris Hegle, who works as a court reporter today in Minneapolis and St. Paul, observed that the absence of the parenthetical “(phonetic)” indicated that he had requested the spelling at some point after testimony was concluded.
This writer’s conclusion was that the vowel sound in “Streng” is a diphthong, that confusing combination of vowels, in this case “A” and “E.” Had the name actually been “Strong,” the court reporter would have written the vowel sound with a long “O.” A reporter would never write “Streng” with a long “O” because one would never hear it that way. There was too much of a contrast between the long “A” and the long “O,” both in sound and stenographic machine theory.
In conclusion, the name that Mr. Ayer heard and wrote was “Larry Strang.” Further than ever from the long “O” sound of “Larry Strong,” we now have a new and improved version of “Larry Strang.” Yet in this latest incarnation of the last name, we are further than ever from “Strong.”
As an aside, the testimony in question contains Evelyn Frechette’s denial of admission to knowing Larry Streng. In her refusal to admit the association, Evelyn stayed true to her underworld code of refusing to provide information or in any way betray a member of the underworld to any law enforcement agent.