There was a point in time when FBI director John Edgar Hoover was giving out the title of “Public Enemy Number One” like Oprah gives away cars. YOU’RE PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE! YOU’RE PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE! YOU’RE PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE! There have been many famous public enemies over the years. Al Capone, Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, George “Baby Face” Nelson, and Alvin Karpis. Shit, even Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was named Public Enemy Number One by the Chicago Crime Commission in 2013. But there can only be one original Public Enemy Number One and that is Mr. John Herbert Dillinger. He has been a popular icon in books and other media since his death (I actually have a book about him coming in the mail) and some people feel they can even relate to his cause. I’ve mentioned before that Bonnie and Clyde are my favorite gangster couple and the Kray twins are my favorite gangster siblings. Well, we can add John Dillinger to the list as my favorite solo gangster. Bank robber, ladies man, gang leader, and one of the most notorious public enemy’s there ever was. What a life he lived and what a death he’s had.
John Herbert Dillinger was born on June 22, 1903, in Indianapolis, Indiana to John Wilson Dillinger (1864–1943) and Mary Ellen “Mollie” Lancaster (1870–1907). He had an older sister Audrey who was born on March 6, 1889. The same year their mother passed away Audrey married Emmett “Fred” Hancock and the couple and the couple cared for four-year-old John along with their own seven children until their father remarried in 1912. John (Wilson) and his second wife Elizabeth “Lizzie” Fields (1878–1933) and had three children together: Hubert M. Dillinger (1913–1974) Doris M. Dillinger Hockman (1918–2001) and Frances Dillinger Thompson (1922–2015). I think he bullied his younger siblings and stuff like that, probably because brothers are the worst. I would know since I have one of my own. I’m kidding my brother is one of my best friends and I love him dearly. He’s still annoying though.
As a teenager, Dillinger was frequently in trouble with the law for fighting and petty theft. He was often reprimanded in school for his “bewildering personality” and bullying of smaller children. He eventually quit school to work with his father in an Indianapolis machine shop. But in 1921 his father feared that the city was further corrupting his already slightly jaded son and moved the family to Mooresville, Indiana. That’s so cute you thought that was going to help your son big John, so, so cute. Surprise, surprise the small-town move did little to change Dillinger’s rebellious behavior and in 1922 he was arrested for auto theft. His relationship with his father quickly deteriorated after that. In 1923 John’s troubles led him to enlist in the United States Navy, where he was a petty officer third class and worked as a machinery repairman on the USS Utah. A few short months later Dillinger deserted when his ship docked in Boston. He was eventually dishonorably discharged some months later. Well, little to no surprise there.
John eventually returned to Mooresville where he met Beryl Ethel Hovious. Damn, that’s one hell of a name. The two married on April 12, 1924, but Dillinger had trouble holding a job and preserving his marriage. Marriage is hard work Johnny boy, hard, hard work. It’s harder than any bank job he would carry out in his lifetime. Unable to find a job Dillinger began planning his first robbery with his friend Ed Singleton. The moral of the story is if you are having trouble finding a job or aren’t getting paid enough just commit armed robbery! I’m joking, do not and I cannot stress this enough, DO NOT do that. Singleton was an ex-convict and umpire for a semi-professional baseball team, the AC Athletics, the same team where Dillinger played shortstop. The two robbed a local grocery store and stole a whopping fifty dollars! Yeah, baby, fifty big ones! Although, that was probably a lot of money in 1924 so it might have been considered a big score. While leaving the scene a minister who happened to be in the area recognized the two men and reported them to the local police. While leaving the scene a minister who happened to be in the area recognized the two men and reported them to the local police. Both of the bandits were arrested the next day. Ed Singleton pleaded not guilty, but after John Dillinger’s father discussed the case with Morgan country prosecutor Omar O’Harrow he convinced his son to confess to the crime and plead guilty without having a defense attorney present.
John Dillinger was convicted of assault and battery with intent to rob, and conspiracy to commit a felony. Although he was expecting a lenient probation sentence Dillinger was sentenced to ten to twenty years in prison. His father later told reporters that he regretted the advice he gave to his son and was appalled by the sentence. He pleaded with the judge to lessen his son’s time in prison but had no success. While traveling to Mooresville to testify at Singleton’s trial, Dillinger managed to escape police custody but was apprehended within a few minutes. Ed Singleton’s trial had a change of venue and he was sentenced to two to fourteen years in prison. He died September 2, 1937, from fatal gunshot wounds.
Incarcerated at Indiana Reformatory and Indiana State Prison from 1924 to 1933, Dillinger began to become caught up in a criminal lifestyle. Upon entering prison Dillinger told other inmates; “I will be the meanest bastard you ever saw when I get out of here.” Just a little fun nugget of information for ya here. During his physical examination while being locked up doctors discovers that J.D had contracted gonorrhea and apparently the treatment to get rid of it as the time was extremely painful. I don’t even want to know what they did. He slowly became bitter from his long prison sentence and befriended other criminals, such as Harry “Pete” Pierpont, Charles Makley, Russell Clark, and Homer Van Meter. The four men quickly taught Dillinger how to become a proficient bank robber and criminal in general. Dillinger also took it upon himself to study Herman Lamm’s meticulous bank-robbing system and incorporated it into his own career. Robbing banks can be a career, right?
On June 21, 1933, Dillinger did his first solo bank job, stealing $10,000 from New Carlisle National Bank in New Carlisle, Ohio. On August 14, 1933, Dillinger robbed a bank in Bluffton, Ohio and after being tracked by police from Dayton, Ohio he was captured and later transferred to the Allen County Jail in Lima to be indicted in connection to the Bluffton robbery. During a routine prison arrival, pat down police discovered a document in one of Dillinger’s pockets, it appeared to be an escape plan. They demanded that Dillinger tell them what the document meant and he vehemently refused. I guess he was smart enough to not write “Prison escape plan” on the piece of paper. While in Lima John thought up a plan to enable the escape of fellow inmates Pete Pierpont, Russell Clark, and six others he had met while in prison, most of whom worked in the prison laundry. J.D had friends smuggle guns into the men’s cells which they used during their escape just four days after his capture.
The group that formed as part of the escape plan became known as the “First Dillinger Gang”. This original gang consisted of Pete Pierpont, Clark, Charles Makley, Ed Shouse, Harry Copeland, and John “Red” Hamilton, and of course John Dillinger. Dillinger is known to have participated with said gang in twelve separate bank robberies, between June 21, 1933, and June 30, 1934. Pierpont, Clark, and Makley went back to Lima on October 12, 1933, where they impersonated Indiana State Police officers, claiming they had come to extradite Dillinger to Indiana. When the sheriff, Jess Sarber, asked for their credentials, Pierpont shot and killed him. Wow, rude much? The man was only doing his job! The men then released Dillinger from his cell and the four men escaped back to Indiana, where they joined the rest of the gang.
On January 15, 1934, the Dillinger Gang robbed the First National Bank in East Chicago. This robbery marked the first time that serious violence had occurred during any John Dillinger heist, a trend that would continue up until his last job. Officers Patrick O’Malley, Hobart Wilgus, Pete Whalen, and Julius Schrenko arrived on the scene after receiving the alarm at the police station. After looking through the windows the policemen noticed that a holdup was still in progress. Officer Schrenko ran to a nearby drug store to call for more backup. Officer Wilgus entered the bank by himself but was soon covered by Dillinger. The outlaw “relieved” him of his pistol, emptied the cartridges, then tossed it back to the officer. Referring to his Thompson submachine gun (a Tommy gun), Dillinger told Officer Wilgus, “You oughtn’t be afraid of this thing. I ain’t even sure it’ll shoot.” Believe it or not, Dillinger was not normally a violent man and he didn’t want to harm or kill anybody. He just wanted to get his money and go on his merry way. Officer O’Malley and Whalen took their positions outside. Four more officers eventually arrived: Captains Tim O’Neil and Ed Knight, and Officers Nick Ranich and Lloyd Mulvihill. These four officers joined the other officers in positions on either side of the Chicago Avenue entrance to the bank. Want to hear something funny? Not one of them noticed the getaway car double-parked on the wrong side of the street right outside the bank door, with its driver sitting unconcerned in the seat with the motor running.
By the way, they robbed the bank roughly ten minutes before it closed so you know those bank tellers were PISSED. Dillinger ordered the bank’s vice president, Walter Spencer, to lead them out of the bank. As the gang exited officer O’Malley was standing roughly twenty feet from the door, seeing an open he fired four shots at Dillinger and all four bullets bounced off his bullet-proof vest. Well, I guess his mama didn’t raise no fool. I guess this was enough to enrage the normally docile outlaw who reportedly pushed Spencer away with the barrel of his Thompson and yelled, “Get over. I’ll get that son of a bitch.” O’Malley fell dead, with eight holes in his chest. William O’Malley would be the outlaw’s first and only murder victim. On January 25, 1934, Dillinger and his gang were captured in Tucson, Arizona, and Dillinger was extradited to Indiana. He was accompanied on his trip by Matt Leach the chief of the Indiana State Police. John Dillinger was taken to the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Indiana, and imprisoned to face charges for the murder of O’Malley. Local police bragged to the media that Lake County was “escape-proof” and that they had even put extra guards on duty as a precaution while Dillinger was there.
Guess what folk those bragging officers would end up putting their foot in their mouths because on March 3, 1934, Dillinger was able to escape. During morning group exercises at the jail, John produced a pistol, catching deputies and guards by surprise. When the opportunity presented itself, Dillinger made his way to the warden’s office where he stole two Tommy guns that were leaning against the wall. Ironically, those weapons were loaned to the Crown Point facility as added firepower to aid them in holding the gangster. He gave one of the guns to trusted fellow inmate Herbert Youngblood, who helped Dillinger round-up jail employees. The two criminals locked everyone in the jail in the primary bullpen, Dillinger, an inmate that had been taken hostage, and a captive guard walked out of prison unscathed. Dillinger had managed to escape without firing a single shot. They went to the garage in search of the fastest car available. When asked, a garage employee pointed to the sheriff’s Ford. Dillinger, the prisoner, the guard, and the employee got into the car and drove toward Illinois. The two hostages were dropped off unharmed in a small town located just inside the Illinois border. Guys this is the best part of this escape, I mean the absolute best part. The pistol John Dillinger used to escape to the warden’s office was carved out of wood that he obtained from shelving in his cell and was painted using black shoe polish. HE ESCAPED FROM THE PRISON USING A F****** FAKE GUN! THE GUN WASN’T EVEN BLOODY REAL! How badass is that? Now can you see why he’s my favorite gangster?
Claims have surfaced over the years that the gun used in the escape was a real one that had been smuggled into the jail and according to an unpublished interview with Dillinger’s attorney, Louis Piquett, investigator Art O’Leary claimed to have sneaked the gun in himself. But like how boring is that? Am I right?
On March 16, 1934, Herbert Youngblood, who escaped from Crown Point alongside Dillinger, was shot and killed by three police officers in Port Huron, Michigan. Poor Herbie. Deputy Sheriff Charles Cavanaugh was mortally wounded in the battle and died a few hours later. Poor Charlie. Before he passed away, Youngblood told the officers that Dillinger was in the neighborhood of Port Huron, and officers immediately began to search the area but no trace of John was found. Wow, what a snitch. Snitches get stitches, but he was already dead so it was pretty null and void for him. Dillinger was indicted by a local grand jury, and the Bureau of Investigation (present-day Federal Bureau of Investigation) organized a nationwide manhunt for him. At this time J. Edgar Hoover declared John Herbert Dillinger the very first Public Enemy Number One. After he escaped Dillinger met up with a woman, he had been seeing named Evelyn “Billie” Frechette at her half-sister Patsy’s apartment in Chicago.
The pair then traveled to the Twin Cities and took up residence at the Santa Monica Apartments in Minneapolis, Minnesota from March 4 to March 19, 1934. While there Dillinger met up with John “Red” Hamilton and the two formed a new and improved gang. They called themselves the “Second Dillinger Gang”. The Dillinger Gang 2.0 if you will. This gang consisted of themselves and George “Baby Face” Nelson’s gang which included Nelson (obviously), Homer Van Meter, Tommy Carroll, and Eddie Green. This is where I think Dillinger screwed up because Baby Face Nelson was certified bat shit crazy. He liked to play fast and loose when it to his bank jobs, which was not John’s style. His baby face and according to some people boyish good looks hid psychopathic tendencies.
The pair then traveled to the Twin Cities and took up residence at the Santa Monica Apartments in Minneapolis, Minnesota from March 4 to March 19, 1934. While there Dillinger met up with John “Red” Hamilton and the two formed a new and improved gang. The Dillinger Gang 2.0 if you will. This gang consisted of themselves and George “Baby Face” Nelson’s gang which included Nelson (obviously), Homer Van Meter, Tommy Carroll, and Eddie Green. This is where I think Dillinger screwed up because Baby Face Nelson was certified bat shit crazy. He liked to play fast and loose when it to his bank jobs, which was not John’s style. His baby face and according to some people boyish good looks hid psychopathic tendencies. Three days after Dillinger’s escape from Crown Point the newly formed gang struck Security National Bank and Trust Company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Six gang members filed into a green 1934 Packard Super 8 and parked near the curb at the Security National Bank and Trust Company in Sioux Falls. One of the bank’s bookkeepers, Mary Lucas, looked out the window and saw the Packard pull up. She told a bank stenographer standing next to her; “If I ever saw a holdup car, that’s one.” The stenographer brushed her off with a laugh telling Lucas that she had been listening about too many bank robberies on the news. But before the two could even return to their desks, Dillinger, Nelson, Green, and Van Meter had entered the bank and subdued both tellers and customers. Hamilton stayed in the car as the getaway driver and Carroll patrolled the outside of the bank. While inside Baby Face looked out the window and noticed motorcycle patrolman Hale Keith approaching the bank. He jumped up on one of the cashier’s counters (wow, dramatic much?) and fired his Thompson submachine gun through the plate glass window striking Keith in the abdomen, in the right leg, approximately six inches below the hip, the right wrist, and the right arm, just below the elbow. The patrolman was seriously injured but would survive his wounds. When questioned by police witnesses reported that Nelson laughed when Keith fell to the ground, shouting, “I got one! I got one!”. Dillinger had been flirting with female patrons and cracking jokes with the male patrons to put them at ease and keep them all as calm as possible. Needless to say, he was not the least bit amused by Nelson’s antics. Now, Baby Face was a little fella standing at only five feet five inches tall and most like suffered from some sort of Napoleon complex. He also might have felt the need to prove himself to his fellow criminals.
H.M. Shoebotham, a reporter for the Daily Argus-Leader, was in the office of Sheriff Mel Sells at the time the Sheriff received the call informing him of the robbery. Mel grabbed a machine gun and a riot gun and gave the riot gun to Shoebotham. They both got into a car and drove to the robbery scene, three blocks away. Guess he was desperate since he took a reporter for backup. When the pair reached the bank, scores of spectators were watching the activities. In the center of the street in front of the action, Carroll was standing with a machine gun. Occasionally, he would fire a few volleys, to reportedly keep the assembled people impressed. I don’t know about everyone else but I’m watching what’s going on inside. Baby Face Nelson standing on a counter? Yeah, that’s got my attention over some machine gun. Floating around somewhere there’s a photograph taken of Tommy Carroll from across the street during the robbery. I was unable to find a copy of said photo on the interwebs.
The gang themselves with bystanders, and backed out of the bank to the Packard. No officers dared to shoot. The outlaws picked out five people to go with as hostages and commanded them to stand on the running boards of the vehicle. The hostages were Leo Olson, a bank teller; Mildred Bostwick, Alice Biegen, and Emma Knabach, stenographers; and Mary Lucas. Y’all should have left Mary alone the called the hold-up before it even happened. Give my girl some credit! The group of men managed to bag $49,500. As the Hamilton sped away from the bank (with the hostages still standing on the running boards, Patrolman Harley Chrisman managed to shoot out the radiator. Shortly after they left town, they swerved to avoid collisions with two horse-drawn milk wagons. A few moments later, Dillinger released Olson, then made the women get into the car, which was already packed with the rest of the gang, their guns, extra gasoline cans, and the robbery loot. Oh, so you guys are gonna get real freaky huh? The car eventually began to break down right outside of town, giving three pursuing police cars time to catch up. Two miles outside of the nearby Lakeland farm, the gang got out of the Packard and made the hostages stand around them, then opened fire on the officers and the three squad cars retreated. The gang then hijacked a car owned by local farmer Alfred Muesche and transferred the gas cans and money into it. Poor Alfie. About 10 miles outside of Sioux Falls, the gang the hostages go and drove off. Aw, so no freaky party at the hideout? The hostages were eventually picked up by a passing motorist who drove them back to the bank. The police searched the highways by ground and by air. The search covered the south and east area of Sioux Falls. The men they were looking for were believed to have ditched Muesche’s Dodge for “a big Lincoln” about two or three miles outside of Shindler, South Dakota. The gang made it safely back to the Twin Cities and began to prepare for their next heist. The six men were soon identified in the media as “the Second Dillinger gang”, due to Dillinger’s extreme notoriety, but the gang had no official leader.
A week later on March 13, 1934, on the afternoon of March 13, at 2:40 p.m., the same six (Dillinger, Nelson, Hamilton, Green, Van Meter, and Carroll), plus an added seventh man as the driver, reported to be either Joseph Burns or Red Forsythe, drove down State Street in a 1933 blue Buick 90 series sedan with a removed back windshield Mulcahy’s prescription shop near First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa. Can’t these men weren’t well-traveled. As soon as they exited the car, they put their planned heist into action. Dillinger, Carroll, and Nelson patrolled side while Hamilton, Green, and Van Meter entered the bank, firing rounds from their submachine guns into the walls and ceiling. Thirty-one employees and approximately twenty-five customers were ordered to put their hands up. Shit, my hands would be in the air before they even said anything. I’d be the one person yelling “PLEASE DON’T SHOOT! PLEASE DON’T SHOOT” while sobbing hysterically. Or I’d leave my hands down and be like “Okay, shoot. I don’t even care.” I guess it depends on whether my anxiety or depression was acting up more that day. Tom Walters, a bank guard positioned in an elevated bulletproof observation booth near the front entrance, fired a tear gas cartridge, per normal protocol, which hit Green in the back. DOINK! Walters’ tear gas gun then jammed. One of the robbers, either Van Meter or Green, sprayed the booth with machine-gun fire, which shattered the glass, but left Walters unharmed. Hey, if it’s not your time, it’s not your time. Wait I thought it was supposed to be bulletproof? Tom Barclay, a clerk, then threw a tear gas grenade over the balcony of the lobby. Damn, they are all armed with tear gas at this place.
Crowds began to form outside after word had spread that a robbery was in progress at the bank. James Buchanan, an off-duty officer, grabbed a sawed-off shotgun when he heard about the robbery, and hid behind a nearby monument. Unable to fire because of the crowd of people, he instead exchanged insults with Dillinger. Of the gang members, Dillinger was the only one for whom a clothing description could be provided: light gray suit, dark overcoat, and dark hat. Damn, J.D was looking sharp. Buchanan told Dillinger to get away from the crowd and he would duke it out with him Buchanan later stated that Dillinger’s upper lip turned into a snarl as he talked. John Dillinger, armed with a Tommy gun, drew a thirty-eight-caliber pistol from an inside pocket and fired at Buchanan, but missed. In my personal opinion, if he really wanted to hurt the guy, he would have used the Thompson. Outside the bank, Nelson was acting somewhat crazily, firing randomly in different directions.
JESUS CHRIST NELSON GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER! A bystander, R.L. James, was hit in the leg by one of Nelson’s bursts. Tommy Carroll came over to check on James’ condition. Well, isn’t that just super sweet? An oncoming car came and Carroll blasted it with his machine gun. Okay, Carroll, are you going to be nice or not because I’m getting very mixed signals here. A witness later told police; “The radiator of the car was filled with lead and the frantic driver backed out at the rate of 25 mph.” From his third-floor office above the bank, police judge John C. Shipley heard the gunfire and went to the window. Dillinger sent a volley of shots in Shipley’s direction, warning him to stay back. The judge back offed but only to retrieve his pistol from his desk. He then returned to the window and fired, hitting Dillinger in the left shoulder. ALRIGHT! I JUST NEED EVERYBODY TO CALM DOWN! THIS SITUATION HAS OBVIOUSLY ESCALATED RATHER QUICKLY! Hamilton, Green, and Van Meter, with a large canvas bag of cash, left through the front door of the bank, surrounding themselves with hostages that Dillinger had gathered. The group of men moved as one around the corner onto State Street, with Dillinger in the center. Judge Shipley, was still at a window from above the bank and risked firing into the group, this time striking Hamilton in the shoulder. When Hamilton saw R.L. James lying on the street wounded, he said, “I thought there wasn’t going to be any more of this?” Nelson, who had now joined them, said, “I thought he was a copper.” I’ve never been in a gang but even I know that they just need to cut Baby Face Nelson loose. He is clearly too much of a risk to keep around.
Nelson then stopped two women who had just come out of a nearby butcher shop and were at the intersection of State Street and the alley directly east of the bank and shuffled them to the car commanding them to stand outside of it. Before they reached the car, Nelson snatched the package of meat from Mrs. Clark’s hands, threw it to the ground, and stomped on it, silencing her protests with, “You’ll get paid plenty for it.” Why though Nelson? Why? What was the reason? Accounts vary on how many hostages were held captive that day but most people give an approximate estimate of eleven. A couple of women sat inside the car on the robbers’ laps. Bill Schmidt, an employee of Killmer Drug, was delivering a bag of sandwiches to the bank and was stopped by Dillinger and also shoved into the Buick. While riding through town, the bag of sandwiches was discovered and they were quickly eaten by the gang. I guess robbing banks builds up an appetite. Near 4th Street, Clarence McGowan, along with his wife and five-year-old daughter, spotted the car. McGowan began to pursue the bandit car after mistakenly believing the vehicle, loaded with people on the outside of the car, to be part of a wedding or “some kind of wild demonstration.” He was shot in the abdomen after pulling up too close to the Buick. Both McGowan and R.L. James (Nelson’s casualty) recovered. The Buick stopped from time to time so that sacks full of roofing nails could be scattered across the highway. This tactic was used to pop the tires of police cars that were pursuing the robbers. Oncoming traffic was stopped by the gang and were ordered to stay where they were for five minutes before moving on.
The hostages were let off a few at a time and individually. Mrs. Clark (the poor lady with the meat and Mrs. Graham were the last two hostages to be released. Police later asked her if she’d be able to identify any of the men, Mrs. Clark told them, “I sure would; especially the one who winked at me.” Well, isn’t she just a cheeky little thing? Once the gang made it back to St. Paul, Eddie Green showed up at a twenty-seven-year-old fringe gang member, and bartender at St. Paul’s Green Lantern, Pat Riley’s house. Green asked Riley if he knew where Dr. Nels Mortensen’s home in St. Paul was, and asked that he accompany him to see the doctor. Reilly later stated to agents that at that time Eddie Green was driving a Hudson and that Dillinger and Hamilton were in the back seat; that both individuals had gunshot wounds in the shoulders and that Dillinger appeared to be nauseated and slightly dizzy. Yeah, I’m pretty sure losing a good amount of blood will do that to you. The four men showed up at Dr. Mortensen’s home and after checking their wounds he told them they weren’t serious and that he didn’t have his medical bag there with him. He asked the men if they had any liquor. The of course replied that they did. Dr. Mortensen instructed them to go home and take a stiff drink and return to his office the next day. They never returned. The men drive to the intersection of Snelling and Selby, where Green gave Reilly a $5 bill and let him out of the car. Reilly hailed a Blue and White taxi and went home.
Dillinger met back up with Billie Frechette and on March 20, 1934, the couple moved into the Lincoln Court Apartments in St. Paul, Minnesota, using the aliases “Mr. & Mrs. Carl T. Hellman.” On March 30, 1934, Daisy Coffey, the landlord/owner went to the FBI’s St. Paul field office to file a report. She told authorities that she spent most evenings during Dillinger’s stay furnishing apartment 310, which allowed her to observe what was going on in apartment 303 (Dillinger and Frechette’s unit) directly across the courtyard. So, I guess their fake names didn’t work because this lady seemed to know who they were. As a result of Coffey’s tip, the building was placed under surveillance by two agents, Rufus Coulter and Rusty Nalls, that same night, but they saw nothing unusual, mainly because the blinds were drawn. Maybe they were messing around, let them have their privacy! The next morning agent Nalls circled the block a couple of times but observed nothing. He eventually parked on the west side of Lexington Avenue, at the northwest corner of Lexington and Lincoln, and remained in his car while watching Coulter and St. Paul Police detective Henry Cummings, pull up, park, and enter the apartment building. Approximately ten minutes later by Nall’s saw Dillinger gang member Homer Van Meter Park a green Ford coupe on the north side of the apartment building.
Inside the building, Agent Coulter and Detective Cummings knocked on the door of apartment 303. Frechette answered, opening the door a tiny bit. She told them she was not dressed and asked them to come back later. Coulter told her they would wait. After waiting a few minutes, Coulter went to the basement apartment of the building caretakers, Louis and Margaret Meidlinger, and asked to use the phone to call the bureau. He quickly returned to Cummings, and the two of them waited for Frechette to open the door. Van Meter then appeared in the hall and asked Coulter if his name was Johnson. Coulter replied that it wasn’t. As Van Meter passed on to the landing of the third floor, Coulter asked him his name. Van Meter responded, “I am a soap salesman.” When asked where his samples were, Van Meter said they were in his car. Coulter then asked if he had any credentials. Van Meter said “no”, and continued down the stairs. Coulter waited approximately twenty seconds before following Van Meter. As Coulter got to the lobby on the ground floor, Van Meter opened fire on him. Coulter hastily fled outside, chased by Van Meter. Van Meter turned and ran back through the front entrance.
Recognizing Van Meter, Nalls, who was still sitting in his car pointed out the Ford to Coulter and told him to disable it. Coulter shot out the rear left tire. Coulter stayed with Van Meter’s Ford and Nalls went to the corner drugstore and called the local police, then the bureau’s St. Paul office, but could not get through because both lines were busy. Van Meter eventually escaped by hopping on a passing coal truck. Remember our boy, Detective Cummings? Well, he is still standing in front of Dillinger and Frechette’s apartment waiting for her to open the damn door. Billie told Dillinger that the police had shown up after speaking to Cummings and upon hearing Van Meter firing at Coulter, Dillinger opened fire through the door with a Thompson submachine gun, sending Cummings scrambling for cover. Dillinger then stepped out and fired another burst at Cummings. Baby Face must be rubbing off on him. See what happens when you hang with the wrong crowd? Cummings fired back with a revolver, but his ammunition was soon spent. He managed to hit Dillinger in the left calf with one of his limited five shots. He then quickly retreated down the stairs to the front entrance. Once Cummings ran, Dillinger and Frechette hurried down the stairs, exited through the back door, and drove away.
You guys still with me? I know it’s a lot but we’re almost at the end. Honestly, we’re almost there. After the events in Minneapolis, Dillinger and Frechette traveled to Mooresville to visit Dillinger’s father. On April 6, 1934 John spent the day contacting family members, particularly his half-brother Hubert Dillinger. That same day Hubert and Dillinger left Mooresville and proceeded to Leipsic, Ohio, to see Joseph and Lena Pierpont, the parents of Harry Pierpont. The Pierpont’s were not home, so the two headed back to Mooresville around midnight. Well, that sounds like a fun trip. In the early morning hours of April 7, 1934, the siblings rammed a car driven by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Manning near Noblesville, Indiana, after Hubert fell asleep behind the wheel. Have you ever done that? I have and it’s so f****** scary. So, so scary. They crashed through a farm fence and approximately two hundred feet into the woods. Both men made it back to the Mooresville farm. Groups of police showed up at the accident scene within hours. In the car, authorities found maps, a machine gun magazine, a length of rope, and a bullwhip.
On April 8th, the Dillinger’s enjoyed a family picnic while the FBI had their farm under surveillance nearby. Late in the afternoon, suspecting they were being watched, the group left in separate cars. The following afternoon, Dillinger had an appointment at a tavern. Sensing trouble, Billie went in first. She was promptly arrested by agents but refused to reveal Dillinger’s whereabouts. That’s a ride or die right there. That’s a partner that will be on your side until the day you die. My husband would have snitched on me in two seconds. “Oh, you need to know where Nikki is? If you go outside and make a right, you’ll see a huge rose bush. The roses are yellow. She’s hiding in there, right in the middle of it. Probably all scratched up from thorns and everything.” Dillinger was waiting in his car outside the tavern and was able to drive off unnoticed. The two would never see each other again.
On the morning of April 22, 1934, the FBI received a call stating that John Dillinger and several of his accomplices were hiding out at a small vacation lodge called Little Bohemia in Wisconsin. Special Agent in Charge Melvin Purvis and several FBI agents approached the lodge that evening when three men exited the building and began to drive off. Agents yelled for the car to stop, but the men had been drinking and did not hear them. Agents opened up fire on the car, killing the driver. The three men were innocent civilians who had been mistaken for Dillinger gang members. The FBI would receive a ton of backlash from the public after the botched mission, especially J. Edgar Hoover. People began to question the agent’s credibility. Some authorities and civilians wanted Purvis and his men taken off the case. After the gang had slipped through the FBI’s fingers numerous times people even started to wonder if they would even be able to catch the infamous John Dillinger at all. The criticism only fueled Hoover and Purvis both vowing to find and kill John Dillinger. They were not going to capture him dead or alive. They only wanted to bring in a body. Dillinger and some of the gang members were upstairs in the lodge and began shooting out the windows. While the FBI agents ducked for cover, Dillinger and his men got out the back of the lodge toward the lake and were able to get out of the area very quietly and unscathed.
By July 1934, Dillinger had dropped completely out of sight, and the federal agents had no solid leads to follow. John Dillinger had simply drifted into Chicago where he went by the name Jimmy Lawrence, a petty criminal from Wisconsin who bore a close resemblance to Dillinger. Dillinger found that, in a large metropolis like Chicago, he was able to lead an anonymous existence for a while. But J.D had messed up big time because what he didn’t know was that the center of the federal agents’ dragnet just so happened to be Chicago. Authorities soon caught wind that Dillinger was in their city and the chase was on. John had grown a mustache and dyed his hair in an attempt to hide from authorities but now at the height of his notoriety his picture was plastered on wanted posters all over the United States and he knew that even with his weak disguise his face was just too recognizable, especially his “damned chin”. Dillinger had to take drastic measures to change his appearance and decided to undergo plastic surgery. At the end of April, Dillinger’s lawyer Louis Piquett paid a visit to his old friend Dr. Wilhelm Loeser. Dr. Loeser had practiced medicine in Chicago for twenty-seven years before being convicted under the Harrison Narcotic Act in 1931. After chatting for a while, the two men decided that Dillinger would have to pay Dr. Loeser $5,000 for the plastic surgery. $4,400 would be split between Piquett, Loeser, and fellow criminal Art O’Leary, $600 would go to Dr. Harold Cassidy, who would administer the anesthetic. The procedure was set to take place at the end of May and would be performed at the home of Piquett’s longtime friend, James Probasco.
Dillinger wanted to remove a pair of moles, fill in a depression on his nose, excise a scar, flatten his dimples, tug the corner of his mouth up in a wry smirk, and fill in the very recognizable cleft in his chin. On May 27, 1934, the men traveled to Probasco’s house. Dr. Cassidy ended up being a very mediocre anesthesiologist and administered Dillinger an overdose of ether, which caused him to suffocate. Dillinger began to turn blue and eventually stopped breathing. Dr. Loeser pulled Dillinger’s tongue out of his mouth with a pair of forceps, while forcing both elbows into his ribs. Dillinger gasped and resumed breathing. The procedure continued using only local anesthetic. Yeah, that sounds like a good decision. Dr. Loeser removed several moles on Dillinger’s forehead, made an incision in his nose, an incision in his chin, and tied back both cheeks. On June 2, 1934, Piquett reached out to Dr. Loeser letting him know that Dillinger needed more work done. On June 4th they again met at Probasco’s house. Some minor tweaking was done to John’s face and his fingerprints were burned off using hydrochloric acid. The following night they met one last time to make some more minor corrections to Dillinger’s face. Unfortunately for John, they were never able to drastically change the cleft in his chin. He did express his disatisfaction to Dr. Loeser. Honestly, if you look at the before and after pictures there is no dramatic change you can definitely still tell that It’s John Dillinger. I’d be pissed like I almost died to more or less look the same?
In June 1934, Dillinger met Polly Hamilton, a Billie Frechette look-a-like, at the Barrel of Fun nightclub. Dillinger introduced himself as Jimmy Lawrence and said he was a clerk at the Board of Trade. They would end up dating until Dillinger’s death. On July 21, 1934, Ana Cumpănaș (Anna Sage), a madam from a brothel in Gary, Indiana, also known as “The Woman in Red” (even though she was actually wearing orange but that’s a story for another day) contacted the FBI. She was a Romanian immigrant threatened with deportation for “low moral character” and offered agents information on Dillinger in exchange for their help in preventing her deportation. Cumpănaș revealed that Dillinger was spending his time with another prostitute (Polly Hamilton) and that she was going with a couple to see a movie the next day. She agreed to wear an orange dress, so police could easily identify her. There were two theaters in the area and she wasn’t sure which one they would be watching the movie at, the Biograph or the Marbro. On July 22nd Cumpănaș casually asked Dillinger what film they were going to see. He told her there was one he was interested in playing at the Biograph theater.
She stated she was unable to leave the house to inform Purvis or Martin about Dillinger’s plans to attend the Biograph for fear of being too suspicious, but as the trio sat down to enjoy were enjoy their dinner of fried chicken, Ana told Polly she did have anything to fry the chicken in and was going to the store to get some butter. Oh, Ana was slick, slick. While she was at the store, she called Mr. Purvis and informed him of Dillinger’s plans to attend the Biograph that evening. She also bought some butter. She returned home and they enjoyed their meal. A team of federal agents and officers from police forces from outside of Chicago was formed, along with a very small number of Chicago police officers. Among them was Sergeant Martin Zarkovich, the officer to whom Cumpănaș had acted as an informant. At the time, federal authorities felt that the Chicago police had been compromised and therefore could not be trusted but in reality, Hoover and Purvis just wanted more credit in taking John down. They were two very cocky men who didn’t like to be made a spectacle of. Not wanting to take the risk of another embarrassing escape of Dillinger, the police were split into two groups. That evening, one team was sent to the Marbro Theater on the city’s west side, while another team surrounded the Biograph Theater on the north side. Just in case the outlaw changed his mind at the last second and decided to go to the other theater. At approximately 8:30 p.m., Cumpănaș, Hamilton, and Dillinger were observed entering the Biograph Theater. In case anyone was interested they saw the crime drama “Manhattan Melodrama”, starring Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and William Powell.
When the film ended, Purvis who was positioned by the front door signaled Dillinger’s exit by lighting a cigar. There are two different witness accounts of what happened next. One account stated that Dillinger turned his head and looked directly at the agent as he walked by, glanced across the street, then moved ahead of the two females, reached into his pocket but was unable to retrieve his gun, and ran into a nearby alley. The other account claimed that Dillinger ignored a command to surrender, whipped out his gun, then headed for the alley. In either scenario what J.D didn’t know was the agents had already had the alley closed off. Three men followed the gangster into the alley and fired. Agent Clarence Hurt shot twice, Agent Charles Winstead three times, and Agent Herman Hollis once. Dillinger was hit from behind and fell face-first to the ground. Dillinger was hit a total of four times, two bullets grazed him and one caused a superficial wound to the right side. The fatal bullet entered through the back of his neck, severed the spinal cord, passed into his brain, and exited just under the right eye, severing two sets of veins and arteries. I’m not sure if you guys wanted to know that but there ya go.
An ambulance was quickly summoned but it soon became clear that Dillinger had died from the gunshot wounds; he was officially pronounced dead at Alexian Brothers Hospital on July 22, 1934. John Dillinger was thirty-one- years old. According to investigators, they tried to get Dillinger to talk before he passed away but died without saying a word. Two female bystanders, Theresa Paulas and Etta Natalsky were wounded. Dillinger bumped into Natalsky just as the shooting started. Both of the women were taken to a local hospital and were reported to have been okay. Dillinger’s death came only two months after the deaths of fellow notorious criminals Bonnie and Clyde and just like before people wanted their souvenirs. There were reports of bystanders dipping their handkerchiefs and skirts into the pool of blood that had formed, as Dillinger lay in the alley. A witness later told a reporter; “Souvenir hunters madly dipped newspapers in the blood that stained the pavement. Handkerchiefs were whipped out and used to mop up the blood.” Dillinger’s body was put on public display at the Cook County morgue. An estimated 15,000 people viewed the corpse over a day and a half. As many as four death masks were also made. I don’t mean to brag but I got to see one of the death masks at “The Crime and Punishment” museum in Washington D.C. Call me morbid but for a true crime junkie like myself, it was such a wow moment. I don’t think my husband (I should have told you this a long time ago but his name is Nick so in the future I’m going to refer to him as such) who also got a peek at it wasn’t nearly as impressed as I was. To tell you I am still shaken to this day over the fact that I got to lay my eyes on a John Dillinger original death mask is an understatement. Oh yeah, it also has some of his eyebrow hair in a little case next to it.
Dillinger is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. Dillinger’s gravestone has been replaced several times because of vandalism by people chipping off pieces as souvenirs. *Gets out hammer* “Siri give me directions to Crown Hill Cemetery”. Over the years rumors have spread like wildfire that the man killed in front of the Biograph Theatre that day so long ago may not have been John Herbert Dillinger. Some attribute to the fact that his infamous death mask does not resemble him. While it does look a little peculiar, he did undergo plastic surgery (no matter how poorly it was done) and the mold was taken post mortem after he had been shot in the face which would alter its appearance. People can also fill with natural gasses and tend to bloat and can at times look disfigured after death. Others claim that police photos taken of Dillinger after he was gunned down also look a little different. A common story that has been passed down over the years is that the man who was shot and killed was a Dillinger look-alike or stand-in for the notorious outlaw. An affidavit that was released in 2019 claims that there is more evidence of John not being taken down by the FBI. “This evidence includes the non-match of his eye color, the (scar) shape and protrusion from the head, the fingerprints not matching, the existence of a heart condition, and the apparent non-match of the anterior teeth,”. His fingerprints had been doused with acid so the prints not matching could probably be easily explained. John Dillinger’s niece and nephew Carol and Mike Thompson also made signed statements in the affidavit; “I have been presented with evidence that demonstrates that the individual who was shot and killed at the Biograph Theater in Chicago on July 22, 1934, may not, in fact, have been my uncle, John H. Dillinger,”.
In October 2019, Indiana state officials approved plans to exhume the remains buried in Dillinger’s grave, at the request of Dillinger’s relatives. The exhumation was scheduled for December 31, 2019. According to reports from January 2020, Dillinger’s body will not be exhumed. His nephew and his niece quit those plans. The same niece and nephew who made a statement in the affidavit? You can decide for yourself if you believe the man behind the death masks was John Dillinger or not? I personally have tossed the idea around for quite some time now and do believe the FBI got their man. No matter which way you slice it the story that has gone down in history as one of the FBI’s greatest stings is the one I have told you above.
We did it! We did it! We did it! Yay! In case you couldn’t tell I had so much fun researching this and I truly appreciate you all for sticking with me and trucking through this article. I really hope you enjoyed it and if you are interested in learning more about John Dillinger there are numerous documentaries and movies that have been produced about him. A really good one is “Public Enemies” starring Johnny Depp as Dillinger.
Fun Fact: After John Dillinger’s death George “Baby Face” Nelson took the title of Public Enemy Number One.
“John Dillinger” – Wikipedia
“Natural Born Outlaws” – AHC Channel
“John Dillinger” – FBI
“John Dillinger” – Britannica
“John Dillinger’s Life of Crime” – New York Daily
Great article. Enjoyed it very much.
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