John Dillinger - Page 3
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Controversy over Dillinger's Death
From 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.
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
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 9½
years in an Indiana prison, Dillinger was paroled in May,
1933, the country was in the midst of the
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,
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.
by Kathy Weiser/Legends
of America, updated August, 2015.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Nash, Jay Robert; The Dillinger
Dossier, December Press, 1983
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
History of the
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Prohibition and Depression Era Gangsters
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