Herbert Dillinger (June 22 1903–July 22, 1934) was a bank
robber in the Midwestern United States during the early 1930s. Some
considered him a dangerous criminal, while others idolized him as a
modern-day Robin Hood. He was responsible for the murder of several
police officers, robbed at least two dozen banks, robbed four police
stations, and escaped from jail twice. He was nicknamed "the
Jackrabbit" for his graceful movements during heists, such as
leaping over counters and his many narrow getaways from
police. He and his gang's exploits, 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 what is sometimes referred to as the public
enemy era (1931-1935), a period which led to the further development
of the modern and more sophisticated Federal Bureau of
After spending nearly
a year running from police, and hiding out in Florida, Arizona,
Michigan, and Wisconsin, he was wounded in one escape from police
and returned to his father's home to heal. He soon returned to
Chicago in July 1934, the site of several of his highest profile
crimes. He was discovered there by police, who were informed of
Dillinger's whereabouts by a prostitute. On July 22, they closed in
on a theater where he was watching a movie, and moved to arrest him
as he left the building. He pulled a weapon and attempted to flee,
but was shot three times, with a bullet through his face killing
him. His crimes were sensationalized across the nation, and his
numerous escapes and robberies fed many urban legends in the United
John Herbert Dillinger
was born June 22, 1903 in the Oak Hill section of Indianapolis,
Indiana, the younger of two children born to John Wilson Dillinger
(July 2, 1864 -November 3, 1943) and Mary Ellen "Mollie" Lancaster
(1860-1907), who had married August 23, 1887 in Marion County,
Indiana. Dillinger's father was a grocer by trade and, reportedly, a
harsh man. Dillinger's older sister, Audrey, was born March 6, 1889.
Dillinger's mother died in 1907 just before his fourth birthday.
Audrey married in the same year as her mother's death to Emmett "Fred" Hancock and had the first of their seven children in 1908. Dillinger was cared for by his sister during his early life until his father remarried on May 23, 1912 in Morgan County to Elizabeth "Lizzie" Fields (1878-1933). Initially, Dillinger was jealous and disliked his stepmother, but reportedly eventually came to love her. Dillinger's father and stepmother had three children, Hubert Dillinger, born c. 1913, Doris M. Dillinger, (December 12, 1917–March 14, 2001) (married surname Hockman) and Frances Dillinger (born c. 1922).
public school at least through grade seven. He was frequently in
trouble with the law for fighting, petty theft, and was noted for
his "bewildering personality." He quit school to work in an
Indianapolis machine shop. Although he worked hard at his job, he
would stay out all night at parties. His father feared that the city
was corrupting his son, prompting him to move the family to
Mooresville, Indiana about 1920. Dillinger's wild and rebellious
behavior was resilient despite his new rural life. He was arrested
in 1922 for auto theft and his relationship with his father
deteriorated. His troubles led him to enlist in the U.S. Navy, but
he deserted a few months later when his ship was docked in Boston.
He was eventually dishonorably discharged.
After he was
discharged from the Navy, Dillinger returned to Mooresville where he
met Beryl Ethel Hovious (born August 6, 1906), the daughter of
Stephen Hovious and Cara Vandeventer. The two were married in
Martinsville on April 12, 1924. He attempted to settle down, but he
had difficulty holding a job and preserving his marriage. The
marriage ended in divorce on June 20, 1929. Beryl Dillinger
remarried in July, 1929 to Harold McGowen, with the pair divorcing
in July, 1931. In 1932, she married a third time to Charles Byrum
and they had one child. Beryl Hovious Byrum died November 30, 1993
at Millers Merry Manor, Mooresville, Indiana and is buried at Mt.
Pleasent Cemetery, Hall, Indiana.
unable to find a job, and began planning a robbery with friend Ed
Singleton. The two robbed a local grocery store, but were soon
captured by police. Singleton pleaded not-guilty, but Dillinger's
father convinced him to confess to the crime and plead guilty.
Dillinger was convicted of assault and battery with intent to rob,
and conspiracy to commit a felony. He was sentenced to ten to twenty
years in prison for his crimes.
the criminal lifestyle behind bars in the Indiana State Prison in
Michigan City. He became embittered against society because of his
long prison sentence. He befriended other criminals, and was
educated by seasoned bank robbers like Harry Pierpont of Muncie,
Indiana and Russell "Boobie" Clark of Terre Haute on how to more
successfully commit crime. The men planned heists that they would
commit soon after they were released.
Dillinger was let out
of prison once to visit his sick step-mother, but she died before he
arrived at her home. He returned to prison and continued to serve
until he was paroled on May 10, 1933 after serving eight and a half
years. He immediately returned to crime, and on September 22 robbed
a bank in Bluffton, Ohio. Tracked by police from Dayton, he was
captured and jailed in Lima. After searching him before letting him
into the prison, the police discovered a document which appeared to
be a prison escape plan. They demanded Dillinger tell them what the
document meant, but he refused.
Dillinger had helped
conceive a plan for the escape of Pierpont, Clark and six others he
had met while previously in prison, most of whom worked in the
prison laundry. Dillinger had friends smuggle rifles into their
prison cells which they used to escape, killing two guards, four
days after Dillinger's capture. The group known as the "first
Dillinger gang" included Pierpont, Clark, Charles Makley, Edward W.
Shouse, Jr., of Terre Haute, Harry Copeland, "Oklahoma Jack" Clark,
Walter Dietrich and John "Red" Hamilton. Three of the escapees
arrived in Lima on October 12 where they impersonated Indiana State
Police officers, claiming they had come to extradite Dillinger to
Indiana. When the Sheriff asked for their credentials, they shot him
and beat him unconscious, then released Dillinger from his cell. The
four men escaped back into Indiana where they joined the rest of the
The Federal Bureau of
Investigation was brought into the investigation to help identify
the criminals, although the men had not violated any federal law. It
was one of the first cases in which the FBI intervened in matters
outside of their jurisdiction. Using their superior fingerprint
matching technology, they successfully identified all of the
suspects and issued national bulletins offering rewards for their
Dillinger and his
gang, in the meantime, began a streak of bank robberies across
Indiana. Among Dillinger's more celebrated exploits was his
pretending to be a sales representative for a company that sold bank
alarm systems. He reportedly entered a number of Indiana and Ohio
banks and used this ruse to assess security systems and bank vaults
of prospective targets. Another time, the gang pretended to be part
of a film company that was scouting locations for a "bank robbery"
scene. Bystanders stood and smiled as a real robbery ensued and
Dillinger and friends rode off with the loot. Stories such as this
only served to increase Dillinger's burgeoning legend. Dillinger was
believed to have been associated with gangs who robbed dozens of
banks and accumulating a total of more than $300,000. Banks
allegedly robbed by John Dillinger and his associates included the
Commercial Bank, Daleville, Indiana of $3,500 on July 17, 1933;
Montpelier National Bank, Montpelier, Indiana of $6,700 on August 4,
1933; Bluffton Bank, Bluffton, Ohio, of $6,000 on August 14, 1933;
Massachusetts Avenue State Bank, Indianapolis, Indiana, of $21,000
on September 6, 1933; Central Nation Bank and Trust Co.,
Greencastle, Indiana of $76,000 on October, 23, 1933; American Bank
and Trust Co., Racine, Wisconsin of $28,000 on November 20, 1933;
Unity Trust and Savings Bank, Chicago, Illinois of $8,700 on
December 13, 1933; First National Bank, East Chicago, Indiana of
$20,000 on January, 15, 1934; Securities National Bank and Trust
Co., Sioux Falls, South Dakota of $49,500 on March 6, 1934; First
National Bank, Mason City, Iowa of $52,000 on March 13, 1934; and
Merchants National Bank, South Bend, Indiana of $29,890 on June 30,
To get more supplies,
the gang attacked the state police arsenals in Auburn and Peru,
stealing machine guns, rifles, revolvers, ammunition and bullet
proof vests. They then headed to Chicago to hide out. On December
14, one of the gang members murdered a police detective. A month
later Dillinger led the gang in another bank robbery, holding up the
First National Bank in East Chicago and killing one police officer.
As police began closing in again, the men left Chicago to hide out
in Florida, the Gardener Hotel in El Paso, Texas, where a highly
visible police presence dissuaded Dillinger from trying to cross the
border at the Santa Fe bridge in Downtown El Paso/Ciudad Juarez,
Chihuahua, Mexico and then Tucson, Arizona.
A fire broke out at
Hotel Congress in Tucson where the men were staying. Forced to leave
their luggage behind, they were rescued through a window and down a
fire truck ladder. Charles Makley tipped a couple of firemen $12 to
climb back up and retrieve the luggage, affording the firefighters a
good look at several members of Dillinger's gang. The firemen later
recognized Makley and another member while thumbing through a copy
of True Detective and informed the police who promptly arrested five
of the gang members including Dillinger. They found them in
possession of over $25,000 in cash, three sub-machine guns, and five
machine guns. Tucson celebrates the historic arrest with the annual
"Dillinger Days" festival, the highlight of which is a reenactment.
The men were
extradited to Indiana to stand trial, where they were held in the
Crown Point jail. Dillinger was charged with the murder of a police
officer in East Chicago. The police boasted to area newspapers that
the jail was escape-proof and posted extra guards to make sure.
Dillinger was able to secretly carve a wooden gun in his cell. Using
it, he was able to trick a guard into opening his cell. He then took
two men hostage, rounded up all the guards in the jail, locked them
into his cell, and fled. Dillinger stole Sheriff Lillian Holley's
new Ford car, embarrassing her and the town, and traveled to
Chicago. In so doing, he crossed the state line in a stolen car,
breaking the federal Motor Vehicle Theft Act. The crime was under
the jurisdiction of the FBI who immediately took over the Dillinger
case after the car was found abandoned in Chicago and Dillinger was
indicted by a local grand jury. The FBI organized a nationwide
manhunt for Dillinger.
In Chicago, Dillinger
began living with his girlfriend Evelyn Frechette. They proceeded to
Saint Paul, MN and met up with several members of his gang. The
landlord of their apartment became suspicious and on March 30, 1934,
reported his suspicions to a federal agent. The building was placed
under surveillance by FBI agents who soon determined Dillinger was
in the apartment. After questioning a gang member who was attempting
to enter the apartment, he opened fire on the agents before escaping
behind a closed door. The entire gang then opened fire on the agents
and fled out a back entrance before back-up could arrive. They
commandeered a truck and drove to another gang member's home.
Dillinger was wounded in the escape and required medical attention.
Dillinger and his girlfriend traveled to Dillinger's father's home
in Mooresville where they remained until the wound healed. Frechette
returned to Chicago to visit a friend where she was arrested; she
refused to give up Dillinger's location.
Dillinger returned to
crime again. With his one fellow gang member he robbed the police
station in Warsaw, Indiana, stealing guns and bulletproof vests.
They then traveled to upper-peninsula Michigan where they remained
for a short time. He received a tip that the FBI was headed to the
town, leaving just days before they arrived.
In April, the gang
settled at a lodge hideout called Little Bohemia Lodge, owned by
Emil Wanatka, in the northern Wisconsin town of Manitowish Waters.
The gang assured the owners that they would give no trouble, but
they monitored the owners whenever they left or spoke on the phone.
Emil's wife Nan and her brother managed to evade Baby Face Nelson,
who was tailing them, and mailed a letter of warning to a U.S.
Attorney's office in Chicago, which later contacted the FBI. Days
later, a score of FBI agents led by Hugh Clegg and Melvin Purvis
approached the lodge in the early morning hours. Two barking
watchdogs announced their arrival, but the gang was so used to Nan
Wanatka's dogs that they did not bother to inspect the disturbance.
It was only after the FBI mistakenly gunned down a local resident
and two innocent Civilian Conservation Corps workers as they were
about to drive away in a car that the Dillinger gang were alerted to
the presence of the FBI. Gunfire between the groups lasted only
momentarily, but the whole gang managed to escape in various ways
despite the FBI's efforts to surround and storm the lodge. Agent W.
Carter Baum was shot dead by "Baby Face" Nelson during the gun
battle. Barney G. Louis Boeding accompanied him during the
By the summer of 1934,
Dillinger had dropped completely out of sight and the FBI had no
solid leads to follow. He had, in fact, drifted into Chicago and
went under the alias of Jimmy Lawrence, who was a petty criminal
from Wisconsin who bore a close resemblance to the bank robber.
Taking up a clerk job, he also found a new girlfriend named Polly
Hamilton, who was unaware of his true identity. In a large
metropolis like Chicago, Dillinger was able to lead an anonymous
existence for a while. What Dillinger didn't realize was that the
center of the FBI dragnet happened to be in Chicago. When the
authorities found Dillinger's bloodied getaway car on a Chicago side
street, they were positive that he was in the city.
FBI Chief J. Edgar
Hoover created a special task force headquartered in Chicago to
locate Dillinger. On July 21, Ana Cumpănaş, a prostitute from a
brothel in Gary contacted the police. She was a Romanian immigrant
threatened with deportation for "low moral character",[citation
needed] and offered to the FBI information on Dillinger in exchange
for their help in preventing her deportation. The FBI agreed to her
requests. Cumpănaş told them that Dillinger was spending his time
with another prostitute, and that she and the couple would be going
to see a movie together on the following day. She agreed to wear a
red dress so that police could easily identify her at the theater.
She was unsure which theater they would be attending, but told the
FBI the name of the two in which they would potentially be.
A team of both FBI
agents and officers from police forces outside Chicago was formed.
Chicago police officers were excluded because it was felt that the
Chicago police had been compromised and could not be trusted. Not
chancing another embarrassing escape, the police were split into two
teams. On July 22, one team was sent downtown to the other theater,
while another team surrounded the Biograph Theater. During the
stakeout, the Biograph's manager thought the agents were criminals
that were setting up a robbery. He called the Chicago police who
dutifully responded and had to be waved off by the FBI, who told
them that they were on a stake out for a much more important target.
Dillinger attended the
film Manhattan Melodrama at the Biograph Theater in the Lincoln Park
neighborhood of Chicago. Dillinger was with his girlfriend, Polly
Hamilton, and Ana Cumpănaş. Once they determined that Dillinger was
in the theater, the lead agent contacted J. Edgar Hoover for
instructions, who recommended that they wait outside rather than
risk a gun battle in a crowded theater. He also told the agents to
not put themselves in any danger and that any man could open fire on
Dillinger at the first sign of resistance. When the movie let out,
the lead agent stood by the front door and signaled Dillinger's exit
by lighting a cigar. Both he and the agents reported that Dillinger
turned his head and looked directly at the agent as he walked by,
glanced across the street, then moved ahead of his female
companions, pulled a gun, and ran into a nearby alley. Three agents
opened fire, firing five shots. Dillinger was hit from behind and he
fell face first to the ground.] Two female bystanders were slightly
wounded in the legs and buttocks by flying bullet and brick
fragments. Dillinger was struck three times, twice in the chest, one
actually nicking his heart, and the fatal shot, which entered the
back of his neck and exited just under his right eye. An ambulance
was summoned, though it was clear that Dillinger had quickly died
from his gunshot wounds. According to the FBI, Dillinger died
without saying a word. At 10:50 p.m. on July 22, 1934, John
Dillinger was pronounced dead at Alexian Brothers Hospital. The body
was then taken to the Cook County morgue where the body was
repeatedly photographed and death masks were made by local
morticians who inadvertently damaged his facial skin. Throughout
that night and most of the next day, a huge throng of curiosity
seekers paraded through the morgue to catch a glimpse of Dillinger.
The chief coroner finally complained that the mob was interfering
with work, and Cook County sheriff's deputies were posted to keep
the crowds at bay. There were also reports of people dipping their
handkerchiefs and skirts into the pools of blood that had formed as
Dillinger lay in the alley in order to secure keepsakes of the
Dillinger was buried
at Crown Hill Cemetery (Section: 44 Lot: 94) in Indianapolis. His
gravestone was often vandalized by people removing pieces as
souvenirs. His fans continue to observe "John Dillinger Day" (July
22) as a way to remember the fabled bank robber. Members of the
"John Dillinger Died for You Society" traditionally gather at the
Biograph Theater on the anniversary of Dillinger's death and retrace
his last walk to the alley where he died, following a bagpiper
playing "Amazing Grace"
There are some doubts
whether Dillinger actually died on July 22, 1934. Some researchers
(chief among them famed Chicago crime writer Jay Robert Nash)
believe that the dead man was in truth the petty criminal from
Wisconsin named Jimmy Lawrence, whose name Dillinger was using as a
pseudonym, and who resembled Dillinger. Some people who knew
Dillinger said they did not recognize the body. Dillinger's father
had suddenly exclaimed when first seeing his son's corpse, "That's
not my son!" Adding to the uncertainty, Dillinger had received some
rather crude plastic surgery some time before his death.
However, the body was
positively identified as John Dillinger by his sister Audrey,
through a scar on his leg received in childhood. The coroner
recorded Dillinger to have had a different eye color. The mistake
concerning the corpse's eyes was attributed to an error on the part
of the coroner resulting from eye discoloration caused by a
traumatic head wound or decomposition in the intense summer heat.
The FBI took at least two sets of post-mortem fingerprints of the
dead man. Though scarred by corrosive acid, the prints shared the
same characteristics as those of John Dillinger.
A 2006 Discovery
Channel documentary titled The Dillinger Conspiracy examined the
legends surrounding his death. Several historians, detectives, and
forensic scientists examined the autopsy, the 1963 letter, and East
Chicago Police Sergeant Martin Zarkovich's gun to determine the true
story behind his death. Ultimately, the show suggested Zarkovich
fired the final bullet which did in fact kill Dillinger, and that
the FBI was complicit in his death.
After his death, it
was reported that Dillinger had deliberately taunted J. Edgar Hoover
by making collect phone calls to the FBI headquarters in Washington,
DC, as well as sending him Christmas cards. The acts caused Hoover
to become irrationally obsessed with apprehending Dillinger to the
exclusion of all other duties. At one time, Hoover had directed a
third of the entire budget of the FBI in 1934 be devoted to hunting
down Dillinger. Hoover was known to have referred to Dillinger by
name in the majority of his private correspondence to friends and
family in the months leading up to Dillinger's death. After
Dillinger was gunned down, Hoover maintained a macabre private
museum of Dillinger artifacts including the gun, hat, pocket change
and eye glasses that were found on the body that night in Chicago.
legend in the years immediately following his death claimed that
Dillinger wrote Henry Ford letters on a few occasions, thanking him
for the power and durability of his vehicles, and claiming that
whenever he stole a car he preferred to steal a Ford. The letter was
proven a hoax, possibly inspired by Clyde Barrow's supposed letter
of praise one month earlier.
Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Gardenville, N.Y. 1941
John Dillinger, Johnnie Dillinger
The G-Men will chop you down
Some of the things that you've done done
Have been makin' the government frown.
Your numbers up, the words gone round
You won't be goin back to jail
You'll be a bull's eye for the police
And they'll throw the lead like hail.
John Dillinger, Johnnie Dillinger
The finger will be laid on you
And the G-Man watchin' with his gun
Is goin to get you too.
When he stops you Johnnie
He's gonna stop you dead
And head you out for the golden gate
Packin a load of lead.
O Billy the Kid and the Dalton Boys
And others of their kin
Were bad gun men outside the law
But they were brave gun men within
Now you know the old time story
How Billy met his end
It's too late to change you now
So long, old friend.
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