John Dillinger was a charismatic bank robber made famous by his signature moves such as the cinema inspired jump over the counter during robberies and multiple narrow escapes from pursuing policeman. In his ten year long crime spree he quickly came to be known as Public Enemy Number One.
Dillinger's elaborate schemes and fearlessness, left the public unsure about whether to idolize or despise him. Under the guise of a bank alarm salesman, he gained access to targeted bank vaults and security systems. During one robbery, he and his crew pretended to be a film company scouting for a bank robbery scene, the bystanders stood calmly by as the bank was robbed and the Dillinger gang drove away. Dillinger along with Bonnie and Clyde and Ma Barker were at the top of the 'public enemy' list complied by the fledgling FBI during the early 1930s.
John Dillinger's Early Years
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1903, Dillinger was raised by his older sister after his mother died in 1907. Rebellious against his strict father from an early age, Dillinger quit school to take a job. His father moved the family to the country in an effort to keep a lid on his son's behavior, but it had little effect. After getting into trouble with the local law for stealing a car, Dillinger joined the Navy, but soon deserted and was given a dishonorable discharge.
Dillenger Learned From the Pros in Prison
After leaving the navy Dillinger married 16 year old Beryl Hovious and they moved to Indianapolis, but his inability to hold down a job and settle into a normal life, led to divorce. Unable to find and keep a job, Dillinger joined up with Ed Singleton, the local pool shark. Together they attempted to rob a grocery store, but were quickly caught. Following his father's advice, Dillinger confessed and was given two consecutive sentences for assault and battery with intent to rob and conspiracy to commit a felony. His received 2 to 14 years and 10 to 20 years in the Indiana State Prison.
While in prison, Dillinger learned the ins and outs of bank robbery from the pros. After his own release, he planned and arranged the break out of his friends, who soon became known as the first Dillinger gang. The second Dillinger gang was formed after he escaped from another stint in jail. Baby Face Nelson was one of it’s better known members.
Dozens of Bank Robberies are Attributed to Dillenger's Gang
From September 1933 through July 1934, the notorious actions of Dillinger and his gang dominated the front page of the newspapers. Credited to them are 10 dead, including one sheriff and 7 wounded, including 2 guards. Dillinger was connected to dozens of bank and police arsenal robberies. Dillinger is reported to have accumulated more than $300,000.00 over his short career.
In 1934, he escaped from the “escape proof” Crown Point Indiana county jail by reportedly using a fake gun carved from either wood or soap and blacken with shoe polish. He was later apprehended by the FBI and the records associated with the escape were sealed, making the story officially improvable. During this escape he stole the sheriff's car and drove it over the state line, which brought the FBI into the case.
The Little Bohemia Lodge
In the spring of 1934, Dillinger’s gang moved into The Little Bohemia Lodge in northern Wisconsin. They promised to be no trouble to the owners, but kept a close eye on them to ensure their safety. Evading the tailing Baby Face Nelson, the wife of the lodge owner was able to mail a letter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The F.B.I. moved in and a short gun battle ensued, but the gang managed to escape. After the narrow escape, Dillinger went underground in Chicago, taking on the name of Jimmy Lawrence. It wasn’t until the F.B.I. found the abandoned car from the Lodge escape, that they knew he was in the city.
The Biograph Theater
The Death of John Dillenger
Dillinger was shot and killed on July 22, 1934. Betrayed by an acquaintance, Anna Sage, he was gunned down outside of the Biograph Theater. Sage a prostitute from Romania was about to be deported out of the country as an undesirable. Hoping to make a deal with the F.B.I., she gave them information of Dillinger’s whereabouts which led to a stakeout. When he exited the theater he was shot several times by waiting officers. At the time of the shootout, Sage was wearing a red dress which has led to the portrayal of the “Lady in Red” as a betraying character.
The following poem was allegedly written on the brick wall outside the Biograph Theater.
Stranger stop and wish me well,
Just say a prayer for my soul in hell.
I was a good fellow, most people said,
Betrayed by a woman dressed all in red.
John Dillenger In The Movies
Dillinger - 1947
This film stared Lawrence Tierney in the title role, followed Dillinger's career from petty thief to notorious killer, but attributed several crimes to him that he didn't commit.
Dillinger - 1973
Following the lead of the popular film, Bonnie and Clyde, this version of Dillinger's life is shown in a more sympathetic way in an attempt to make him into a folk hero. Warren Oates plays takes on the role of Dillinger.
The Lady in Red - 1979
Robert Conrad plays Dillinger in this film about the lady who brought him down. Only in this version the Lady in Red is his girlfriend, Polly Franklin, played by Pamela Sue Martin.
Public Enemies - 2009
Johnny Depp takes on the role of Dillinger in the newest film about Public Enemy Number One. Directed by Michael Mann and also staring Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis. The film follows the charismatic Dillinger through his bank robbing career.
Chicago's Public Enemy Number One
Setting the standard for all the gangster movies that followed, the films from the 30's and 40's delighted audiences with stories ripped from the headlines.
From the Maltese Falcon in 1941 to A Touch of Evil in 1958, film noir gave audiences a darkly realistic view of the seedy underground of crime.
- John Dillinger
- On The Trail Of John Dillinger - CBS Sunday Morning - CBS News
CBS Sunday Morning: On The Trail Of John Dillinger - The Notorious Bank Robber's Luck Netted Him Piles Of Cash, But Deserted Him In A Chicago Alley
- Federal Bureau of Investigation - FBI History - Famous Cases
- John Dillinger: Bank Robber or Robin Hood? - Crime Library on truTV.com
The story of John Dillinger, the Depression-era bank robber who was considered a modern-day Robin Hood by many. Read all about his controversial life and death.
I welcome you comments
lafenty (author) from California on March 14, 2012:
Wow, sounds very interesting.
Cheryl Duckworth on March 13, 2012:
My father was at Worsham College of Mortuary Science from 1929 to 1931 I think,might have been 1930-1932.The Cook County Morgue would get the bodies of the gangsters and Dr. Feinberg (not sure of the spelling) would let the students come in to view the bodies.I have a picture and I am trying to find the name of the man. He is already cleaned up and is a handsome man as I remember,probably in his 30's. I have to find the picture and see if anyone can help me. I heard lots of interesting stories about Chicago.
sagun on November 28, 2011:
i have watch public enemy 57 times and its really interesting and awesome
Phill Holdsworth on August 10, 2011:
Brilliant I loved it.& all the old gangster storie's & films.
Pachuca213 on December 08, 2010:
carolina muscle from Charlotte, North Carolina on December 05, 2009:
wow.. very interesting read!
jim10 from ma on July 23, 2009:
So informative. When I get a chance I will come back and watch the documentary. I saw Public Enemies a few weeks ago and it was awesome. It would have been nice if it had a little more about his earlier life. But, it was already pretty long.
James A Watkins from Chicago on July 01, 2009:
Great Hub. Fine research and writing. Neat pics. I enjoyed it very much. Thanks.
lafenty (author) from California on June 27, 2009:
Thanks for commenting Tom. I just read your hub. What a great story.
lafenty (author) from California on June 27, 2009:
Thanks for commenting prasetio30. I agree they were quite similar in the crimes they committed.
Tom Cornett from Ohio on June 27, 2009:
Great hub...great work. Back in the 1960s we had a neighbor who claimed that they killed her son and not John Dillinger. She told us that her son had been arrested twice because he looked so much like Dillinger. He had also gotten in some trouble by claiming he was Dillinger to the ladies. He went to Chicago for business. Her son dissapeared at the same time Dillinger was killed. She never heard from him again.
prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on June 27, 2009:
Thanks for share. nice person review. I think he is like Alcapone. I like the old picture.