1916: Man Wearing Dishpan Armor Attacks an Indiana Courthouse
When Inik clomped into the Hammond Courthouse on December 4th, 1916, he wanted revenge.
High on delusion and fury, 49-year-old Mike Inik spent many sweaty hours cobbling his homemade armor together from galvanized stovepipe, washtubs and dishpans. His finished “armor” made him look like a junkyard knight. He topped the outfit off with a stovepipe helmet painted to resemble skin and encircled by a fake beard.
The entire outfit might have been amusing, had it not been for the arsenal of weapons crisscrossing his body: four .38 pistols, a three-foot cavalry sword, a footlong butcher knife, a hammer, a pin-studded club, and a blackjack. His four pistols were fully-loaded, with another 165 rounds of ammo bulging in his pockets. Inik also twisted bent nails around his wrists, shoulders, and elbows like barbed wire to wound anyone foolish enough to grab him.
Inik believed Standard Oil, at the time one of the largest multinational companies in the world, had withheld hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to him from an injury ten years earlier. A decade’s worth of lawyers, the Lake County Superior Court, Judge Virgil Reiter, and even President William Howard Taft had all thrown in with Standard Oil, all working against him, Mike Inik. They wanted him to suffer and they wanted him dead. After all, Standard Oil had secretly killed dozens of employees over the years at the Whiting refinery. Mike Inik alone survived.
Inik’s supported himself by panhandling at the entrance to the Whiting refinery, relying on his notoriety and the kindness of his former coworkers for support. All the while he refused to cash the $1,500 check, an amount equivalent to $40,000 in 2020. That in itself had made headlines.
Mike Inik was a very disturbed man, swallowed whole by his heroic fantasy. At the time, clinicians diagnosed him as a “monomaniac.” Today, he’d more likely be called a paranoid schizophrenic (an informal term, but significantly closer than monomaniac).
Either way, on that December afternoon in 1916, Inik was a very dangerous man.
When Inik arrived at the courthouse, he carried the all-too-familiar sheaf of papers with him, a sloppily-worded petition for a new settlement check from Standard Oil. For a time, no one noticed him. When Judge Charles Greenwald, who had acted as Inik’s attorney years earlier, saw the crazed man and the stack of papers, he hoped Inik would pass on by. The man was unreasonable, excitable, and, lately, slovenly in smell and appearance. Inik believed the $1,500 check issued by Standard Oil for his job-related injury should have been $150,000*. Inik frequently came by the courthouse with petitions, with barely-legible testimony. Sometimes Inik mounted a placard over his shoulders accusing Standard Oil of murder in ink as red as blood.
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Inik saw Greenwald and would not be ignored. He stepped up to Greenwald, standing only 10 feet away. Inik stank of unwashed clothes and layers of dirt and sweat. His body odor coated Greenwald’s sinuses like noxious paint. The judge wanted to gag.
Greenwald later told Times reporters, “When I came back after lunch, Inik was standing in the corridor. He was sweating, carrying all that armor and stuff. I said, ‘Inik, why don’t you go home and take a bath? If I was Judge Reiter, I’d throw you in jail.’ “
At the suggestion, Mike Inik’s face flushed red and the disturbed man whipped both wrists up, each brandishing a .38, and aimed them squarely at Greenwald. The judge saw the pistols and his anger briefly eclipsed his reason. Greenwald bellowed, “You’re crazy!“
Inik fired twice. One shot missed, but the other passed through Greenwald’s pocket and struck him high in the right arm. Greenwald gained his senses when the shots went off and leapt over a nearby clerk desk for cover.
Before he could pursue Greenwald, Inik spotted court bailiff Lew DeBow coming up a nearby staircase. Either because DeBow seemed a threat to Inik’s plans or because the bailiff closely resembled Judge Reiter, Inik turned and fired at DeBow, hitting him three times. One shot struck his wrist, another slammed into his hip, spinning the bailiff to one side, and the last round grazed his scalp.
A group of jurors had just emerged just down the hall and saw what was happening. The first to react, a juror named George Robbins, charged straight at Inik without a thought, covering the distance quickly. Before he plowed into Inik, the armored man raised both pistols at Robbins’ face and fired nearly point blank. One shot neatly clipped the brave juror’s nose. The other punched through one cheek and out the other.
Before Inik could fire anymore, the rest of the jurors had reached Inik, ignoring the sharp nails to restrain the “monomaniac” on the corridor’s wooden floor. The fight seeped out of Inik once he was prone, since the combination of weapons and armor added over 70 pounds of weight.
Luckily, Inik had managed only seven shots in those few seconds. It was an utter miracle no one was killed or seriously injured during the incident. All three men recovered quickly from their flesh wounds, but the incident became national news, largely because of the armor and a clerk’s willingness to put it on for photographers. Regional newspapers sold out quickly.
No one questioned Inik’s disturbed mental status. In fact, the Lake County legal system saw his attack as a failing on their part. Signs of Inik’s obvious delusions had been unmistakable and completely dismissed. The man should have been committed years earlier.
Three weeks after the attack, county authorities committed Inik to the Indiana Hospital for Insane Criminals, located in Michigan City. Inik’s fate after release wasn’t discussed because they all knew the 49-year-old man would never leave institutional care. His belief in Standard Oil’s murderous conspiracy had become his entire reality.
Inik died at the age of 78 in 1945, 29 years after being involuntarily committed. Nine years later the hospital would be demolished, its residents absorbed by larger hospitals in Logansport, Evansville, and Indianapolis. Only the small collection of graves from the hospital remains, one of which is Mike Inik’s final resting place.
The $1,500 settlement check from Standard Oil had never been cashed. In fact, Inik had framed it.
*Articles have differed in the amount given to Inik by Standard Oil. Some sources stated a $5,000 settlement, and another said Inik expected a $4,000,000 settlement, of which the $1,500 check was the first payment. I have used $1,500 since it was the most frequently cited and the first amount reported.