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John Dillinger - Page 3

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Controversy over Dillinger's Death


John Dillinger, deadFrom the beginning, there were rumors that the FBI had shot the wrong guy. Instead, some people of the time, as well as today, believe that the man who was killed was a small-time hood named Jimmy Lawrence who had been set up to take the hit. Mysteriously, the same night that Dillinger was allegedly shot, Lawrence disappeared. Eye witnesses, and even Dillinger's own father, said the dead man was not John Dillinger. Autopsy reports were questioned and went missing.


Prior to the shooting, John Dillinger was known to have sometimes used the alias of "Jimmy Lawrence," a man who coincidentally bore him a striking resemblance. Jimmy Lawrence was a petty Chicago criminal who had recently moved from Wisconsin. He lived in the same neighborhood as Dillinger and was known to frequent the Biograph Theater. After the shooting, a photograph taken from Dillinger's girlfriend, Polly Hamilton's purse, shows her in the company of a man who looks like the man killed at the Biograph, which just happens to look very much like the "real" Jimmy Lawrence. Mysteriously, after Dillinger was allegedly shot, Jimmy Lawrence was never seen again.


After the shooting, the body was taken to the Cook County morgue for an autopsy. Though the corpse had a gunshot to the side of the face, witnesses would say that it did not look like the notorious gangster, John Dillinger. Furthermore, the first words from Dillinger's father upon identifying the body were "that's not my boy." Autopsy reports made no sense. The corpse was too tall and too heavy, the eye color was wrong, and it possessed a rheumatic heart, which was not a condition from which Dillinger suffered. Even the fingerprints on the body didn't match.


The report indicated that the dead man had brown eyes while Dillinger's were gray. The Cook County medical examiner, Dr. Robert Stein, would say that the eyes become cloudy after death and that color is sometimes hard to determine. The report noted that the corpse had a rheumatic heart condition since childhood; but, Dillinger had served in the Navy, where his service records showed that his heart was in perfect condition. Known scars and moles were not reported on the autopsy and the fingerprints didn't match; but, the FBI said these were altered during plastic surgery. A close up of the corpse's face showed a full set of front teeth; but, Dillinger was missing his front right incisor. Then the autopsy report went missing for some 50 years.

Respected crime writer Jay Robert Nash in his book, The Dillinger Dossier, lays out much information supporting the theory that Dillinger was not killed. He also contends that Chicago Police officer Martin Zarkovich; Louis Piquette, Dillingers' lawyer; his girlfriend, Polly Hamilton, and her friend, Anna Sage were all involved in the intricate plot. Might Polly Hamilton have made a date with Jimmy Lawrence to go to the Biograph, knowing that the FBI was waiting.


Other events also led to questions including the fact that The Indianapolis Star and the Little Bohemia Lodge received letters from a sender claiming to be John Dillinger in 1963. Later, a gun that had been on display for years at the FBI headquarters that was allegedly used by Dillinger against FBI agents outside of the Biograph Theater was proven not to belong to him. In fact, it had been manufactured years after his death. The original gun has never been recovered.


The FBI stood by its story, but, the rumors have long persisted. Some believe the FBI agents covered it up, fearing the wrath of J. Edgar Hoover, who told them to "get Dillinger or else." Alternatively, it may have been Hoover himself who was behind the cover-up. At the time, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was a relatively new agency and if they had shot the wrong man, it would have been the third innocent man killed in pursuit of Dillinger.




In 1984, the autopsy records were finally found by an office worker stuffed in a shopping bag in a corner at the old county morgue. Spurring renewed interest, an exhumation was even talked about, but, Dillinger's body had been buried under five feet of concrete and steel. In 2006, the Discovery Channel explored the case by bringing in a team of experts to examine the autopsy and other evidence. They concluded that it was, in fact, John Dillinger who was killed by the FBI.


So, if they are wrong, and he lived, what happened to the real John Dillinger? Some claim that he married and moved to Oregon, disappearing once again in the late 1940's never to be heard from again. Robert Nash; however, contends that Dillinger moved to California where he worked as a machinist under what would have been an early form of the witness protection program.


Legends of Hidden Loot


After serving some 9 years in an Indiana prison, Dillinger was paroled in May, 1933, the country was in the midst of the Great Depression and he had little prospect of finding employment. He soon returned to a life of crime, robbing his first bank on June 10, 1933. For the next year, he and his gang would rob at least a dozen banks, netting about $500,000, which would roughly equate to about $7 million in modern day currency. Though Dillinger lived large, and had to share the wealth with his partners in crime, that was a lot of money during the years of 1933-1934.


It didn't take long after Dillinger's death before rumors began to circulate that he had hidden some of his ill-gained wealth. One of the first was that when John was hiding out at the Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin in April, 1934, he was in possession of some $200,000 in cash. Just two days after he and his gang arrived, they were ambushed by FBI agents on April 22nd and a shootout occurred in which Lester "Baby Face Nelson" killed a special agent and wounded two other men, while the agents accidentally killed a tavern customer and wounded two others. In the meantime, the criminals escaped. As the legend goes, Dillinger, making a run for it, was carrying the cash inside a suitcase which he buried in the woods a few hundred yards north of the lodge. Three months later Dillinger was dead, and according to the legend was never able to return to Wisconsin to retrieve his buried cash.


Another legend began to circulate after Harry Pierpont was executed at the old Ohio Penitentiary in October, 1934. As the story goes, the Dillinger Gang had buried the loot from one of their bank robberies on the Pierpont farm. After the bank robbery, the gang had taken refuge at the homestead, but with the lawmen in hot pursuit, they buried the loot in a wooded area not far from the farmhouse, and then fled the property via a back road. Evidently, the rumor was enough for even the FBI at the time, as locals have said that agents hid in the cornfields near the farm after Harry Pierpont's execution, waiting to see if anyone would return for the hidden cash. However, the time was wasted, as no one appeared to collect it. For years, people searched the property, looking for the cash, but, if anything was ever found, it was not reported.


Today their is nothing left of the original Pierpont farm. The original farmhouse was moved off the property and later burned down. The barns and outbuildings were also torn down to make way for farm ground. The old farm is located on County Road 65 near the town of Leipsic in Putnam County, Ohio.


A third story, supposedly stated by the FBI, was that Dillinger had buried some $25,000 at his father's 57-acre farm near Mooresville, Indiana.

Though many believe that one or more of these legends may be true, most historians say they are nothing but legends, and if true, the cash would have long disintegrated by now.


In any case, it makes the mystery even more interesting. If Dillinger wasn't the man who was actually killed, did he, perhaps, return for the cash in order to fund a new lifestyle?  We will never know.



Compiled by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated August, 2015.






ABC Local

Federal Bureau of Investigation


Nash, Jay Robert; The Dillinger Dossier, December Press, 1983

Wierd Chicago


Yocum, Robin; Chicago Tribune; February, 1988



I don't smoke much, and I
drink very little. I guess my only
bad habit is robbing banks.

-- John Dillinger

Also See:

History of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Prohibition and Depression Era Gangsters



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