John Dillinger - Public
Enemy Number 1
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Herbert Dillinger (1903-1934) - A Midwestern bank robber during the
early 1930s, Dillinger was a dangerous criminal who was responsible
for the murder of several police officers, robbed at least two dozen
banks, and escaped from jail twice.
Depression, many Americans, deep in poverty and feeling
helpless, made heroes of outlaws who took what they wanted at
gunpoint. Of all these many outlaws, John Herbert Dillinger came to
evoke this Gangster Era, and stirred mass emotion to a degree rarely
seen in this country.
Idolizing him as a modern-day Robin Hood, Dillinger was
nicknamed "the Jackrabbit" for his graceful movements during his robberies
-- actions such as leaping over counters and his many narrow escapes from
The exploits of Dillinger and his gang,
along with those of other criminals of the Great Depression such as Bonnie
and Clyde and Ma Barker, dominated the attention of the American press and
its readers during the Depression era, a period which led to the
development of the modern, more sophisticated
Federal Bureau of
Dillinger was born on June 22, 1903 in Indianapolis,
Indiana. Growing up in a middle-class residential neighborhood, his
father, a hardworking grocer, raised him in an atmosphere of disciplinary
extremes, harsh and repressive on some occasions, but generous and
permissive on others. John's mother died when he was three, and when his
father remarried six years later, John resented his stepmother.
As a teenager, he began to get in trouble, finally quitting school and
getting a job in a machine shop in Indianapolis. Although intelligent and
a good worker, he soon became bored and often stayed out all night. His
father, worried that the temptations of the city were corrupting the boy,
sold his property in Indianapolis and moved his family to a farm near
Mooresville, Indiana. However, John reacted no better to rural life than
he had to that in the city and began to run wild again.
was soon caught stealing a car which led him to enlist in the
Navy. There, he quickly got into trouble and deserted his ship when it docked
in Boston. Returning to Mooresville, he married 16-year-old Beryl Hovious
in 1924. The pair moved to Indianapolis but Dillinger was unable to find a
job. He then hooked up with the town pool shark, Ed Singleton, in his
search for easy money.
The hoodlums first tried to rob
a Mooresville grocery store, but were quickly apprehended. Singleton pled
not guilty, stood trial, and was sentenced to two years. Dillinger,
following his father's advice, confessed, was convicted of assault and
battery with intent to rob, and conspiracy to commit a felony, and
received joint sentences of 2 to 14 years and 10 to 20 years in the
Indiana State Prison. Stunned by the harsh sentence, Dillinger became a
tortured, bitter man in prison. His marriage ended in divorce in 1929.
Dillinger was paroled on May 10, 1933, after serving
nine and a half
years. In the midst of theDepression,
he had little prospect of finding employment and immediately
returned to crime. On June 10, 1933, he
robbed his first bank, taking $10,000 from the New Carlisle National Bank,
in New Carlisle, Ohio. On August 14th, he robbed another bank in Bluffton,
Ohio. Dayton police arrested him on September 22, and he was
lodged in the county jail in Lima, Ohio, to await trial.
In frisking Dillinger, the Lima police found a document which seemed to be a plan for
a prison break, but, the prisoner denied knowledge of any plan. Four days
later, using the same plans, eight of Dillinger's friends escaped from the
Indiana State Prison, using shotguns and rifles which had been smuggled
into their cells. During their escape, they shot two guards.
October 12th, three of the escaped prisoners and a parolee from the same
prison showed up at the Lima jail where Dillinger was incarcerated,
pretending to be law enforcement officials. They
told the sheriff that they had come to return Dillinger to the Indiana
State Prison for violation of his parole. When the sheriff asked to see
their credentials, one of the men pulled a gun, shot the sheriff and beat
him into unconsciousness. Then taking the keys to the jail, the bandits
freed Dillinger, locked the sheriff's wife and a deputy in a cell, and
leaving the sheriff to die on the floor, made their getaway.
Although none of these men had violated a Federal law, the
assistance was requested in identifying and locating the criminals. The
four men were identified as Harry Pierpont, Russell Clark, Charles Makley,
and Harry Copeland.
In the meantime, the Dillinger
Gang pulled several bank robberies and
plundered the police arsenals at Auburn and Peru, Indiana, stealing
several machine guns, rifles, revolvers, ammunition, and several
bulletproof vests. On December 14th, John Hamilton, a Dillinger Gang
member, shot and killed a police detective in
Chicago. A month later, the
killed a police officer during the robbery of the First National Bank of
East Chicago, Indiana. Then they made their way to
Florida and, subsequently, to Tucson,
Arizona. There, on January 23, 1934,
a fire broke out in the hotel where Clark and Makley were hiding under
Firemen recognized the men from their photographs and
local police arrested them, as well as Dillinger and Harry Pierpont. They
also seized three Thompson submachine guns, two Winchester rifles mounted as
machine guns, five bulletproof vests, and more than $25,000 in cash, part of
it from the East Chicago robbery.
Dillinger was sequestered at the county jail in Crown Point, Indiana to
await trial for the murder of the East Chicago police officer. Though authorities
boasted that the jail was "escape proof," Dillinger threatened
the guards with what he claimed later was a wooden gun he had whittled and
forced them to open his cell door on March 3, 1934. He grabbed two
machine guns, locked up the guards and several trustees, and fled.
Members of the
Dillinger Gang (from
left) Russell Clark, Charles Makley,
Harry Pierpont, John Dillinger,
Ann Martin and
Mary Kinder are arraigned in a
Arizona courtroom. Photo courtesy the Associated Press.
It was then that Dillinger made the mistake that would eventually cost him his life. He stole
the sheriff's car and drove across the Indiana-Illinois
line, heading for Chicago. By
doing that, he violated the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act, which
made it a Federal offense to transport a stolen motor vehicle across a
state line. Within no time, a federal complaint was sworn charging
Dillinger with the theft of the vehicle, which was recovered in
After the grand jury returned an indictment, the FBI became
actively involved in the nationwide search for Dillinger.
Meanwhile, Pierpont, Makley, and Clark were returned to Ohio and
convicted of the murder of the Lima sheriff. Pierpont and Makley were
sentenced to death, and Clark to life imprisonment. But, in an escape
attempt, Makley was killed and Pierpont was wounded. A month later,
Pierpont had recovered sufficiently to be executed.
Dillinger joined his girlfriend, Evelyn Frechette. They proceeded to
St. Paul, Minnesota where Dillinger teamed up with Homer Van Meter, Lester "Baby Face Nelson"
Gillis, Eddie Green, and Tommy Carroll, among others. The gang's business
prospered as they continued robbing banks.
On March 30, 1934, an FBI Agent talked to the manager of the Lincoln Court
Apartments in St. Paul, who reported two suspicious tenants using the
names of Mr. and
Mrs. Hellman. The manager reported that the residents acted nervous and refused to admit the apartment
caretaker. The FBI quickly began a surveillance of the apartment and the
next day, an agent and a police officer knocked on the door of the
apartment. When Evelyn Frechette opened the door, she quickly slammed it shut
the agent called for reinforcements to surround the building.
While waiting, the agents saw a man enter a hall near the Hellman's
apartment, who wound up being Homer Van Meter. When questioned, Van Meter
drew a gun and shots were exchanged. Van Meter
then fled the building and forced a
truck driver at gunpoint to drive him to Eddie Green's apartment. Suddenly the
door of the Hellman apartment opened and the muzzle of a machine gun began
spraying the hallway with lead. Under cover of the machine gun fire,
Dillinger and Evelyn Frechette fled through a back door. They, too, drove
to Green's apartment, where Dillinger was treated for a bullet wound.
At the Lincoln Court Apartments, the FBI found a Thompson submachine gun
with the stock removed, two automatic rifles, one .38 caliber Colt
automatic with twenty-shot magazine clips, and two bulletproof vests.
Across town, other agents located one of Eddie Green's hideouts where he
and Bessie Skinner had been living as "Mr. and Mrs. Stephens." On April 3rd,
when Green was found, he attempted to draw his gun, but was shot by the
agents and died in a hospital eight days later.
Dillinger and Evelyn Frechette fled to Mooresville, Indiana, where they
stayed with his father and half-brother until his wound healed. Frechette
then went to
Chicago to visit a friend and was arrested by the
She was taken to St. Paul, Minnesota for trial on a charge of conspiracy to harbor a
fugitive. She was convicted, fined $1,000, and sentenced to two years in
prison. Bessie Skinner, Eddie Green's girlfriend, got 15 months on the
Meanwhile, Dillinger and Van Meter robbed a police station at Warsaw,
Indiana of guns and bulletproof vests. Dillinger
stayed for a while in Upper Michigan, departing just ahead of a posse of
FBI Agents. A short time later, the FBI received a tip that there had been a
sudden influx of rather suspicious guests at the summer resort of Little
Bohemia Lodge, about 50 miles north of Rhinelander, Wisconsin. One of them
sounded like John Dillinger and another like "Baby Face Nelson."
From Rhinelander, an FBI task force set out by car for Little Bohemia. Two miles from the resort, the car lights were
turned off and the posse proceeded through the darkness. When the cars
reached the resort, dogs began barking. The agents spread out to surround
the lodge and as they approached, machine gun fire rattled down on them
from the roof. Swiftly, the agents took cover and one of them hurried to a
telephone to give directions to additional agents who had arrived in
Rhinelander to back up the operation.
While the agent was telephoning, the operator broke in to tell him there
was trouble at another cottage about two miles away. Special Agent W.
Carter Baum and a constable went there and found a
parked car which the constable recognized as belonging to a local
resident. They pulled up and identified themselves.
Inside the other car, "Baby Face Nelson" was holding three local residents
at gunpoint. He turned, leveled a revolver at the lawmen's car, and
ordered them to step out. But without waiting for them to comply, Nelson
opened fire. Baum was killed, and the constable and the other agent were
severely wounded. Nelson jumped into the Ford they had been using and
When the firing had subsided at the Little Bohemia Lodge, Dillinger was
gone. When the agents entered the lodge the next morning, they found only
three frightened females. Dillinger and five others had fled through a
back window before the agents surrounded the house.
In Washington, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover assigned
Special Agent Samuel A. Cowley to head the FBI's efforts
against Dillinger. Cowley soon set up headquarters in Chicago, where he
and Melvin Purvis, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago
office, planned their strategy.
and his gang hid out at Little Bohemia, Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. An all-out gun battle occurred here in which two men were killed and
four wounded as the gang made their escape.
Late in the afternoon of Saturday, July 21, 1934, the madam of a brothel
in Gary, Indiana, contacted one of the police officers with information.
The woman, who called herself Anna Sage, but was actually Ana Cumpanas, had entered the United States from her native Rumania in 1914. Because of the nature of her profession, she was considered an
undesirable alien by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and
deportation proceedings had been started. Anna was willing to sell the FBI
some information about Dillinger for a cash reward, plus the FBI's help in
preventing her deportation.
At a meeting with Anna, Cowley and Purvis were cautious. They promised her
the reward if her information led to Dillinger's capture, but, said all
they could do was call her cooperation to the attention of the Department
of Labor, which at that time handled deportation matters. Satisfied, Anna
told the agents that a girlfriend of hers, Polly Hamilton, had visited her
establishment with Dillinger. Anna had recognized
Dillinger from a
Anna told the Agents that Polly Hamilton and Dillinger probably
would be going to the movies the following evening at either the Biograph
or the Marbro Theaters in Chicago. She said that she would notify them when the
theater was chosen. She also said that she would wear an orange dress so
that they could identify her.
On Sunday, July 22nd, Special Agent Samuel A.
Cowley ordered all agents of the
Chicago office to
stand by for urgent duty. Anna Sage called that evening to confirm the
plans, but she still did not know which theater they would attend.
Therefore, agents and policemen were sent to both theaters. At 8:30 p.m.,
Anna Sage, John Dillinger, and Polly Hamilton strolled into the Biograph
Theater to see Clark Gable in Manhattan Melodrama. Purvis phoned Cowley,
who shifted the other men from the Marbro to the Biograph.
Cowley also phoned Hoover for instructions, who cautioned them to wait
outside rather than risk a shooting match inside the crowded theater. Each
man was instructed not to unnecessarily endanger himself and was told that
if Dillinger offered any resistance, it would be each man for himself.
At 10:30 p.m., Dillinger, with his two female companions on either side,
walked out of the theater. As they walked past the
doorway in which Purvis was standing, the agent lit a cigar as a signal for
the other men to close in. Dillinger quickly realized what was happening
and acted by instinct. He grabbed a pistol from his right trouser pocket
as he ran toward the alley. Five shots were fired from the guns of three
FBI Agents. Three of the shots hit
Dillinger and he fell face down on the
pavement. At 10:50 p.m. on July 22, 1934, John Dillinger was pronounced
dead in a little room in the Alexian Brothers Hospital.
The Agents who fired at Dillinger were Charles B. Winstead, Clarence O.
Hurt, and Herman E. Hollis. Each man was commended by J. Edgar Hoover for
fearlessness and courageous action. None of them ever said who actually
killed Dillinger. The events of that July night in Chicago marked
the beginning of the end of the Gangster Era. Eventually, 27 persons were
convicted in Federal courts on charges of harboring, and aiding and
abetting John Dillinger and his gang members during their reign of terror.
"Baby Face Nelson" was fatally wounded on November 27, 1934 in a gun
battle with FBI Agents in which Special Agents Cowley and Hollis also were
killed. Dillinger was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis,
From September, 1933, until July, 1934, he and his violent gang killed 10 men
and wounded 7 others.
But, was he really killed, or was it all a
Continued Next Page - Controversy Over Death & Hidden Loot
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