Friday, July 22, 2011

Public Enemy Number One – John Dillinger

John H. Dillinger
America’s number one gangster was killed on July 22, 1934 at the Biograph Theatre, betrayed by the infamous ‘Lady in Red.’  In the short period of time, from May 1933 to July 1934, Dillinger robbed over ten banks throughout the Midwest, killed 10 men, wounded seven and staged three jail breaks in which a sheriff was killed and two guards were injured.

He was born John Herbert Dillinger in the Oak Hill section of Indianapolis Indiana on June 22, 1903.  His parents were John Wilson Dillinger, a grocer, and Mollie Lancaster.  Dillinger’s mother died when he was three.  His father remarried when John was nine, but he bitterly resented his stepmother. 

Dillinger Farm - Mooresville, Indiana
At the age of sixteen, Dillinger dropped out of school and began working at a machine shop in Indianapolis. It was during this period that he fell in with the wrong crowd.  His father, worried that John was hanging with the wrong element, moved his family to a farm near Mooresville, Indiana.  The move did little to tame John’s nature and he was soon in trouble with the law.  He enlisted in the Navy, but ended up deserting.

Beryl Hovious
In 1924 he married 16-year-old Beryl Hovious.  They moved to Indianapolis where Dillinger searched but could not find work.  He again became involved with the criminal element.  He and another man were accused of robbing a grocer of $555.  Dillinger, following his father’s advice, pleaded guilty and was given the maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison.  He was paroled almost nine years later, bearing a grudge against the law - and some in-prison training on the finer aspects of bank robbing from Walter Dietrich.

Indiana State Prison - 1927
Dillinger's Fingerprint Chart
Dillinger now had a score to settle with the cops.  He began robbing banks and taunting police.  He was arrested on September 22, 1933 in Dayton, Ohio and held in the county jail.  On October 12, four “guards” arrived at the jail in order to pick Dillinger up and return him to the Indiana State Prison.  When proof was requested, one of the “guards” pulled a gun, shot the sheriff, and locked the sheriff’s wife and deputy in a cell.  They then released Dillinger and all five made their getaway.

Dillinger and his gang began staging bank robberies throughout the Midwest.  The FBI became involved, due to the dangerous nature of Dillinger and his group.  Armed with machine guns, ammunition and bulletproof vests, Dillinger and his gang began knocking over banks in earnest.  They were apprehended on January 23, 1934, along with $25,000 in cash.

Dillinger with Gun
Dillinger was being held in the Crown Point, Indiana jail, awaiting trail, when he staged a notorious jailbreak, stole a sheriff’s car and drove to Chicago.  Once there, he hooked up with Homer Van Meter, Eddie Green, Tommy Carroll and Lester Gillis – better known as ‘Baby Face Nelson’   - the four comprising Dillinger’s gang.

The gang continued robbing banks, until FBI agents located where the Dillinger was staying.  When agents tried to arrest Dillinger, someone armed with a machine gun sprayed the hallway of the apartment building and Dillinger escaped, along with Van Meter. Green later died of his wounds.

Baby Face Nelson
Little Bohemia Lodge
Dillinger and Van Meter then robbed a police station in Warsaw, Indiana of guns and bulletproof vests.  They proceeded to a summer resort known as Little Bohemia Lodge, near Rhinelander, Wisconsin where they met up with Baby Face Nelson.  The FBI was in hot pursuit and cornered Nelson in a car where he was holding three local residents hostage at gunpoint.  When Nelson saw the police he opened fire on them, killing one and severely wounding two others.   Meanwhile, Dillinger had fled the lodge.

Melvin Purvis
J. Edgar Hoover
In Washington, FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover became involved.  A special squad of agents, headed by Melvin Purvis, was set up, intent on the capture of John Dillinger, dead or alive. 

Wanted Poster
Dillinger was declared America’s first “Public Enemy Number One” and a reward of $10,000 dollars was offered for his capture.

Anna Sage
On July 21, 1934 Anna Sage (Ana Cumpanas) a Rumania immigrant and well-known brothel madam, contacted the police and offered to lead them to Dillinger in return for the prevention of her deportation and some cash.  Agents agreed.  She told them she would be wearing a red dress when she was with Dillinger. (It was actually an orange skirt and white blouse.)

Biography Theatre
On Sunday, July 22, at 8:30 P.M. Anna, Polly Hamilton and John Dillinger went to the Biograph Theatre in Chicago to see Manhattan Melodrama –a gangster film. 

Dillinger's Gun
At 10:30 P.M., Dillinger and his two companions exited the theatre.  Dillinger was able to pull his gun before being shot three times by FBI agents.  John Dillinger died at 10:50 p.m. at Alexin Brothers Hospital.

Crowd Viewing Body
Dillinger was taken to the funeral home in Mooresville, Indiana where close to 10,000 people viewed his body.  

Dillinger Family Stone
John Dillinger's Grave
He was then buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, next to his parents.  He was 31 years old.

~ Joy


  1. Thanks for sharing. I've been posting research on my blog about my blacksheep relative, Harry Pierpont, who was the leader of the gang who broke Dillinger out of the Lima, Ohio jail.

  2. Travis, that is very cool!! Would love to know more!

  3. Joy this is so cul too, really much time has been invested in it and lots appreciation. The best on my movie based on true story and real biograph of such a public figure.

  4. I worked several years with a man who was married to John Dillingers neice. He said that his wife contended that Uncle John was a good man and only killed one man and that was really an accident, he meant to hit him in the leg but the man lunged forward. She said that during VERY hard times for her family in the early years of the depression, he dropped off a bag of money with which they were able to buy badly needed food. Many crimes were blamed on Dillinger when he was nowhere near the crime scene.

    1. It would be interesting to talk with someone who knew him. The area where my husband grew up, Al Capone had a "hide-out." He was always gracious to the locals and helped out with food and money. As my Grandmother always said, "There's two sides to every story..."