John Dillinger: Did the G-man Not Get the Right Man?

dillinger-wantedOn This Date In History: In the late 1920’s and 1930’s, lots of gangsters roamed the countryside. Public Enemy Number One was determined by the Bureau of Investigations, which in 1935 became the FBI.   In 1934, the man who held the title was John Dillinger.  While it didn’t take him long to top the list, he had to learn his trade through trial and error like any good craftsman.   On June 10, 1933, Dillinger pulled his first bank job in Carlisle, IN.  Two weeks later, he tried again but this one   was botched in Monticello, Indiana.   It is interesting that there is very little information available regarding the attempted hold up of a Marshall Fields in Monticello by Dillinger and William Shaw.  I suppose its because it was a failed attempt and Americans only like to hear about wins, not losses.

McNutt Thought Dillinger Capable of all Sorts of Things after long prison sentence

McNutt had a bad feeling about Dillinger due to a harsh sentence

An interesting thing about Dillinger is that, even though he was Public Enemy Number 1, his career as a criminal didn’t really last all that long. He was put in jail in 1924 following the beating of Mooresville, IN grocer Frank Morgan by Dillinger and his good friend Edgar Singleton. They had been out boozing it up and jumped the guy. Dillinger got caught when, a few days after the assault on September 6, 1924, Dillinger brought attention to himself by inquiring as to the well being of Mr. Morgan. As it turns out, Morgan couldn’t identify his attackers, but Dillinger was tricked into confessing.  Meanwhile, his buddy Ed pled not guilty. Ed was out of jail after a couple of years while Dillinger got 10-20 years for assault and 2-14 years for conspiracy to commit a felony. Some scholars think that the difference in sentences is what pissed off Dillinger and led him on a life of crime.   Indiana Governor Paul McNutt thought that the sentence was so harsh that it might cause Dillinger to do anything once he was out of jail. Victim Morgan and the sentencing judge both thought that the sentence was pretty tough.  By 1933, the pair joined 182 townfolk lobbying to let Dillinger loose and on May 22, 1933 John Dillinger was set free.

That’s the odd part. He was set free on May 22 1933 and within a few weeks,  he was committing or at least trying to, commit worse crimes than he had done prior to his initial incarceration.  Did prison create John Dillinger?

 The fact that Dillinger failed in Monticello, IN  was probably more associated with his lack of experience than anything else, but one can’t  know for sure. Even Monticello doesn’t want to talk about it. In any event,   Dillinger went on to amass some $359, 322 in loot taken and that made him the marked man at the top of the list.

Dillinger Death Made Headlines Nationwide

Dillinger Death Made Headlines Nationwide

On This Date in 1934, the Bureau got their man when it gunned down Public Enemy Number 1,  John Dillinger. Bureau agent Melvin Purvis  got a tip from brothel operator Anna Sage who gave information concerning Dillinger’s whereabouts under the threat of deportation to her native Romania on morals charges. Sage is the original woman in red, which has been also called the lady in red. The story is that she attended the Biograph Theatre in Chicago and when she emerged, she was identified from her red dress and thus the man whom she was with was to be considered Dillinger. She came out and the agents promptly shot her date. That was that, the headlines were trumpeted across the nation and the photo above was circulated to prove that Dillinger was indeed dead.

But….a supposed authority on the history of American Crime, Jay Robert Nash, says the FBI got the wrong guy. Nash says the man who was killed outside of the theatre was really a patsy. James Lawrence was considered a low level thug who was used by Sage and a crooked Indiana detective to unwittingly stand in for Dillinger. If you notice, the dead guy looks similar to the Dillinger photo on the left, but to me he looks a bit more like Jackie Gleason than the lean looking photo of the alive version of Public Enemy Number 1. The FBI claimed that Dillinger had plastic surgery and that explains any discrepancies. But the Cook County autopsy report was supposedly lost for 30 years. After it was found, the claim is that the dead guy is not the same height or weight of Dillinger. Dillinger had blue eyes whereas the corpse had brown eyes. The corpse was missing a distinguishing birthmark and had more teeth than the notorious bank-robber. Evidence showed the dead guy had a rheumatic heart. Had Dillinger had such a condition, he would have been prevented from being in the Navy.

The FBI, of course, stands by their story and claims the record, including fingerprints, support the truth that the G-Man got his man!!! I dunno…but I do know that Dillinger was never spotted again. Seems to me that if he were alive, it would be unlikely that he “went straight.” But then again, the guy was dead, they couldn’t interrogate him to determine if he was in fact Dillinger and they certainly couldn’t read him his Miranda rights. Back in those days it was “shoot first and ask questions later”….kinda like that good neighbor in Texas. Anyway, if you see a very old man that looks like the alive version of Dillinger, call the authorities immediately.

Weather Bottom Line:  Storm system will slowly plod, basically up the Ohio River Valley all day.  Severe threat is not great but look for rain and much cooler than average temps…like maybe low 70’s…all day with a chance of rain and t’storms.   Thursday and Friday look good.If you’re looking for something on Invest 97L, I’ll have that later.  We’ve got plenty of time, if we need it.


8 Responses

  1. Great posts for the last two days, Bob (I just read yesterday’s post). I had never heard about the broken switch and the pen jammed into it to fix it. Wow! Talk about “jury-rigging” something. Who’d a thunk it! Of course, we knew that the weatherman saved the day. They averted disaster on the Apollo 11 splashdown and on D-Day. If only we’d had a good weatherman manning the radar on December 7, 1941!!
    I had never heard about the FBI possibly shooting the wrong man and Dillinger getting away. I agree that if they did get the wrong guy that it seems unlikely that Dillinger would have suddenly repented. I imagine he would have liked to have shown the FBI that they missed! But maybe seeing all of those holes in James Lawrence was enough to convince Dillinger to give up his life of crime; he certainly would have had enough money for that day to have gone straight. Seems pretty unlikely though. It’s funny though. When I saw the photo when I opened up the web page I thought that the guy in the photo looked too fat to be Dillinger. I guess he could have swelled up some though. Being dead tends to do that to a fellow.

  2. i am curious about the poster shown in the dillinger story
    i read stories which all seem to say that the fbi put a 10,000 reward on dillingers head but this poster says 20,000= is this poster the real thing or some church art mock up?
    the same poster was found somewhere in the south by fellow named whit davis ,who is trying to find a way to authenticate it= any chance this is the real thing?
    JIm Rapheld
    san jose

  3. I have to look at the source. My sources are usually carefully chosen for credibility like museum or university sites. But, at times I may err. But, there was no editing or doctoring done on my part. Further, I can think of no reason why anyone would alter a poster to say 20,000 instead of 10,000. I’ll look up the source and email you.

  4. as a boy in jefferson county indiana,,madison,,,i heard stories that after john dillinger was shot that the real person had visited family there ,,i beleave the johnson family i know for a fact that they had lived in morresville about the same timne as johns dad ,,,farmers and repairshop worker the older of the group told that john was alive 3 weeks after the killing,,,
    and the reason melvin purvis killed his self,,was becouse some one had shown him pruff that john was not shot in the shoot out with fbi men,, they set john up ,,in fact john set them up,,,,billy toured the nation as the girl friend of john,,she was seen in the company of men,,,could one of them been the real john dillinger,,

  5. question for “netoma the ratman” was there a girl /young woman named ADDA JOHNSON in morresville that john dillinger knew because if there was is i think i can prove a few things like real id is john dilger i can prove it .

  6. I do not know.

  7. Anyone check the history of James lawrence, the thug who might have been Dillinger’s stand-in? Was he ever heard from again?

  8. my grandfather was jim cullison, of detroits purple gang.his childhood freind was harry pierpont. when my grandma was alive she told us about hiding, john,harry,charlie out in detroit for awhile,till things cooled down. than when my grandparents left the gang,they went back to switz city in. i was told johns gang hid out there grandpa went to harrys execution where harry gave my grandpa a ruby ring.they never said it was johns, but we have a few pictures of harry, and none of them has him wearing this ring.does anybody have a picture of johns ring my mom passed away two years ago,and the info was lost with her and grandma. and i have a ruby ring of here say.thx.jim culllison

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