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John Dillinger - Page 3

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Biograph Theater, Chicago, IllinoisOn 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, Indiana.

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 mistake?


Controversy over Dillingers 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.


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.




John Dillinger, deadThe 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 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.


Compiled by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, October, 2012.



ABC Local

Federal Bureau of Investigation

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

Wierd Chicago




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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