John Dillinger’s Infamy Lives With Rumors FBI Did NOT Get Their Man


Dillinger's 1930 Ford Model A Sold for 165K in January 2010

On This Date in History: A funny thing about American history is that not only do we tend to celebrate heroes, but Americans also seem to celebrate the villains. George Washington was arguably the most important man in US history yet more people probably know about Billy the Kid than General Washington.   Movies are made about the exploits of Al Capone yet, the life of President US Grant, who shows up on the fifty dollar bill is either misrepresented or totally obscure to most Americans.  Some years ago, I had the opportunity to see the Bonnie and Clyde “death car”  though from the linked site, it may have been a fake. This guy  claimed it was the real thing and hauled it around in an 18-wheeler and charged people to come and look at it.   I didn’t pay but, since I was in the news, I got to see it up close, complete with bullet holes.  I was suprised at how small it was.  But, this guy got the tv station to give him free advertising as the tv station wanted to capitalize on viewers fascination with criminals of the past.  Of course, there was a famous movie with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty about Bonnie and Clyde.  Also, there was a recent movie about John Dillinger starring Johnny Depp.  Like Billy the Kid and Bonnie and Clyde, Dillinger had a relatively short crime career yet he remains an icon in the international imagination.  Just this year, like the Bonnie and Clyde “death car” complete with bullet holes, a John Dillinger getaway car was sold at auction for $165,000.  July 22nd is a watershed day in the history of John Dillinger as it was supposedly the end of him.  But, there are those who think that it was only the end of his public life and not his real life.  Either way, as long as Hollywood and historians write about Dillinger and other criminal figures from the past, they will never die and their legends and myths may actually grow.

dillinger-wantedIn 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.

Some Hoosiers Made Certain that They Were Not Mistaken for Dillinger But Did the FBI Still Get the Right Man?

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.

FBI stands by their story that this man in the Cook County morgue in 1934 was indeed John Dillinger

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:  Today will be more of the same with scattered t’storms though I do not see any major features either in the minds of the computer models nor in the reality of the radar.  Friday and Saturday will be very hot…I saw the weather channel claiming 99 for one of the days but that will be tough with dewpoints in the low 70’s.  But, mid 90’s seems hot enough and with that type of moisture, it will feel even hotter.  Sunday, the ridge should break down to allow for an elevation in rain/t’storm chances perhaps as early as Saturday night and, if not, then certainly Sunday.  The boundary should come through sufficiently to catch a break from the heat on Monday but it may move back as a warm front on Tuesday bringing rain chances and a return to higher temps and humidity.

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