"John Dillinger : the life and death of America's first celebrity criminal" by Dary Matera

by MediaPhile@evpl on Wednesday, January 27 2010, 4:16pm. Viewed 2,713 times.

public enemiesJohn DillingerJohn Dillinger                             wanted posterindiana visitor's center








Because of the Indiana connection, I've always been somewhat interested in John Dillinger.  But it was only after watching Johnny Depp bring the notorious bankrobber to life in his latest flick, that I decided to check out the details.  This book was just the ticket.

Here are some brief FAQs of his short but infamous life: 

  • He was born in Indianapolis. His father was a grocer who believed in harsh discipline, and his mother died just before his fourth birthday.  He attended school through 7th grade, then quit to work in a machine shop.  He started getting into trouble and his father moved the family to rural Mooresville to avoid the urban temptations.  It didn't help.
  • His first arrest -- and first real crime -- was at age 19, for auto theft.  He enlisted in the Navy but was soon dishonorably discharged.  He returned to Moorseville, got married and stayed somewhat settled until the marriage ended in divorce when he was 26.
  • Shortly thereafter, he robbed a grocery store clerk of $50 and was convicted of assault & battery, then sentenced to 10 to 20 years in the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.  He was still a really inept criminal but he became friends with quite a few of his fellow prisoners, many of whom made a career of crime.  After 8 years he got parolled, then was immediately re-arrested following a couple of bank heists  -- in Ohio -- and sent back to prison. He escaped four days thereafter with the help of the first "Dillinger Gang."  Two guards were killed in the process, which meant he had moved a step up the criminal justice chain.
  • Of course we all know what followed -- dozens of bank robberies during a legendary cross-country crime spree that captured the imagination of the nation, even though it only lasted about a year.  The chase very much resembled the Keystone Kops, with much of the population rooting for Dillinger.  The heist that sealed his fate was one in East Chicago, Indiana (that he may not have even been at) where a policeman was killed.  Now he was a cop killer.
  • He was finally captured in Tuscon, Arizona, and shipped back to Indiana to be charged with murder.  Media descended on the small northern Indiana town of Crown Point to interview the famous criminal.  His gang within a matter of days "busted him out" -- embarrasing the state of Indiana even more than they already were -- and the gang headed to Chicago.  That was basically their downfall since they crossed the state line in a stolen car, bringing down the official wrath of the DOI, the agency which soon became the FBI.  
  • Dillinger's last few months were spent hiding and scrounging, and he was even forced into getting a real job as a clerk. The DOI eventually tracked him down to the Chicago area.  Agents gunned him down at the Biograph Theatre in Chicago's Lincoln Park on July 22, 1934.

Having grown up in "da Region" (northwestern Indiana), I was happy to see the award-winning Indiana Welcome Center open there a few years ago.  But I never bothered to plunk down a few dollars to visit the Dillinger Museum that is part of it.  Next time I'm "home" I will.

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on Friday, January 29 2010, 5:22pm

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