"I rob banks for a living, what do you do?"
June 25, 2009 8:38 AM   Subscribe

John Dillinger was paroled from Indiana State Prison in May 1933 after serving eight years for assault and battery and attempted robbery and launched a Midwest Crime Wave from June 1933 to June 1934.

Dillinger was embittered by his prison sentence. His accomplice "pleaded not guilty, stood trial, and was sentenced to two years." Dillinger "confessed, was convicted of assault and battery with intent to rob, and conspiracy to commit a felony, and received joint sentences of 2 to 14 years and 10 to 20 years."

June 10, 1933: Dillinger robbed his first bank, in New Carlisle, Ohio.

September 22, 1933: After Dillinger robbed a bank in Bluffton, Ohio, Dayton police captured Dillinger at a girlfriend's apartment. He was sent to the county jail in Lima, Ohio. When he was frisked police found plans for a prison break. Footage of Dillinger yucking it up with prosecutor Robert Estill ended Estill's career.

September 26, 1933: Harry Pierpont, Charles Makley, and eight other inmates escaped from the Indiana State Penitentiary following Dillinger's escape plan and using guns he'd smuggled into the prison.

October 12, 1933: Pierpont, Makley, and two accomplices broke Dillinger out of the Lima, Ohio jail, killing Sheriff Jesse Sarber in front of his wife and his deputy. ("Charles Makley Was Framed!")

January 25, 1934: Dillinger and his gang were captured in Tuscon, AZ, after a fire in their hotel when firemen recognized them from their mugshots.

March 3, 1934: Dillinger broke out of the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Indiana, according to legend using a fake gun he carved out of wood and painted with shoe polish. He stole a car during the escape and crossed state lines, sparking an FBI manhunt led by Melvin Purvis.

April 23, 1934: FBI agents accidentally killed a local resident and two innocent Civilian Conservation Corps workers and "Baby Face" Nelson killed Agent Carter Baum during a bungled capture attempt and shootout at the Little Bohemia Lodge ("Dillinger only left because he had to!!!") in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin.

July 22, 1934: Dillinger was killed in an ambush outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago. The movie was Manhattan Melodrama ("A human document, picturing every exciting phase of life in the world's greatest metropolis!"). Newspaper illustration: "How death was dealt to death-dealing John Dillinger." The killing made the FBI famous and movies about G-Men superseded the gangster movies popular in the early 1930s.

Dillinger went to the movies with Polly Hamilton and Anna Sage (Ana Cumpanas), the "Woman in Red" (she actually wore an orange skirt and white blouse). Sage had set up Dillinger in exchange for a cash reward and a promise to help prevent her deportation. She was deported anyway.

More info: Dillinger learned about robbing banks from a fellow inmate who worked for for Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch. "What I Knew About John Dillinger" by longtime girlfriend Evelyn Frechette. Polly Hamilton reminisces about "Jimmy Lawrence." Vintage newsreels.
Detailed timeline (scroll down). Another timeline. Lists of gang members and their fates, and banks robbed by Dillinger and his associates.

Theories that the real Dillinger wasn't killed at the Biograph persist, but a 2006 documentary concluded that it was the real deal (The Straight Dope agrees). A post-mortem photograph sparked stories that Dillinger was especially well-endowed and other myths, but it's really his arm in rigor mortis.
posted by kirkaracha (28 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Most of these people will be played by much better-looking actors in Michael Mann's Public Enemies [Wikipedia|IMDB].
Let's hope it doesn't suck as much as his last movie.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:38 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Y'know, some of us were supposed to do things today...
posted by Acey at 8:41 AM on June 25, 2009

Hot damn, kirkaracha!
posted by kosem at 8:43 AM on June 25, 2009

Mmmm......Johnny Depp....
posted by Go Banana at 8:52 AM on June 25, 2009

Ha! You just think he was killed. Actually, Dillinger was quintuplets, and they all survived!

posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:52 AM on June 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

A Gangster With Star Appeal - "Dillinger was far from the most successful bank robber in American history, but he... had style."
posted by kliuless at 9:00 AM on June 25, 2009

You left out the part where he shot JFK to fuck with the Illuminati.
posted by brundlefly at 9:01 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mmmm......Johnny Depp....
posted by kliuless at 9:06 AM on June 25, 2009

You left off the part where he allegedly had a massive crank which was allegedly preserved in a jar.

Oh wait. No you didn't. I just felt like typing "massive crank."
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:11 AM on June 25, 2009

Hunh. I had no idea about the connection -- however tenuous -- between Dillinger and Butch Cassidy. Interesting.

And links-a-go-go! About the only thing that I can think of that isnt there is that during the restoration of the Winter Garden theatre in Toronto, the damaged seats were replaced by seats pĆ¹rchased from the recently-shuttered Biograph, so someone attending the Dora Mavor Moore Awards next Monday night will be sitting in Dillinger's seat.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:18 AM on June 25, 2009

Wonderful post. I read the book Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 a year or so ago. I think it was originally published in the 1980's, very readable and informative. In addition to the above antics of Dillinger it also covers Machine Gun Kelly, Baby Face Nelson, the Barker Gang, and Bonnie and Clyde. It was interesting that all that stuff was happening in very concentrated time frame and a relatively limited geographical area.
posted by marxchivist at 9:31 AM on June 25, 2009

Great post. Though a 'previously' shout-out for Smedleyman's post about Johnny post would've been nice.

April 23, 1934: FBI agents accidentally killed a local resident and two innocent Civilian Conservation Corps workers

This little factoid is left out on the FBI website about Dillinger.

Dillinger also served as the inspiration for my favorite band's name: Dillinger Escape Plan.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:53 AM on June 25, 2009

"...post about Johnny..."
Goddamn lack of brain-editing.

posted by slimepuppy at 9:55 AM on June 25, 2009

"John Dillinger was shot right in front of this theater. You know who ratted him out? His fucking girlfriend! He just wanted to see a movie."
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:58 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just yesterday my friend point out to me the theater where Dillinger met his end, which for some reason I'd always assumed was downtown.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:00 AM on June 25, 2009

Interesting how lucrative bank robbery was then.

Dillinger's average take during his "Midwest Crime Wave" was $27,700. In 2008 dollars, that's nearly a half million dollars ($456,000). That may explain the out-of-hand violence bank robbers used in those days -- in 1930, a bank employee had a 40% chance of being killed, wounded, beaten, tied up, or taken hostage. (source)

Today the average take from a bank heist is less than $5,000, and your chance of getting caught is higher than in almost any other crime - about 3 in 5. (source)
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:01 AM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

In 1930, a bank employee had a 40% chance of being killed, wounded, beaten, tied up, or taken hostage.

Whoops, that should read, a bank employee or customer involved in a robbery...
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:03 AM on June 25, 2009

Somewhat tangentially, the Michael Mann film has a screenplay written by the Irish novelist Ronan Bennett, who was himself arrested and wrongly imprisoned during The Troubles.
posted by hydatius at 10:40 AM on June 25, 2009

I'm trying to think of the last criminal who became a celebrity. Not just notorious, but an actual celebrated celebrity. That sort of trailed off in the 40s, no? How come? Or, maybe more accurately, what about the late 19th and early 20th centuries led people to celebrate daring, though often violent criminals, and what change has occurred that makes us feel icky about it today?

(Really asking. I can't figure it out.)
posted by mudpuppie at 11:01 AM on June 25, 2009

I'm trying to think of the last criminal who became a celebrity.

Oh yeah: John Gotti.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:02 AM on June 25, 2009

Anyone want to read the rough draft of the memoirs of Dillinger's killer? (scroll down - haven't had time to download this myself)
posted by lbergstr at 11:07 AM on June 25, 2009

I could not find any mention in the links of the Dillinger Gang's (without Dillinger) botched attempt to rob the bank in Dunkirk Indiana. Two to the gang members were killed by citizens of Dunkirk. Does this story exist on the Web? I could not find it...

this is my first posted comment...I hope I didn't F it up.
posted by Hoosier Prospector at 11:37 AM on June 25, 2009

Anyone want to read the rough draft of the memoirs of Dillinger's killer?

Don't bother. "John Dillinger came out of the Biograph Theater in Chicago and died of a bad case of lead poisoning."

There you go. That's all he says about it, other than retyping his commendation from Hoover.

Worst memoir ever.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:51 AM on June 25, 2009

Thanks for this. When I was in junior high, Dillinger became a personal hero of mine when I read about the Lake County jail break. At the time we were learning about the Depression in history class, a student asked our teacher if Dillinger gave the money he stole to the poor. Our teacher replied that he did not. "Then why did so many people love him?" the student asked, and my teacher said, "Because everybody hated the banks, and this guy was doing what everyone wanted to do to them." Given the current financial crisis, I wonder if a serial bankrobber today would be as simultaneously lauded and hated as Dillinger was.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:54 AM on June 25, 2009

The independent Brattle theater in Harvard Square (Cambridge, MA, Our Fair City) is currently running a gangster film retrospective, showing films such as White Heat, The Roaring Twenties, Little Caesar and last week, a double feature of Manhattan Melodrama and the 1974 Dillinger biopic.

One of the reasons why I love the Brattle so much is that they get a real kick out of programming like this.
posted by Spatch at 12:13 PM on June 25, 2009

My grandmother, Rose Silver, who was among the first women to graduate from the University of Arizona Law School and would later become the first female County Attorney in Arizona, defended John Dillinger in January 1934 when the Tucson Police Department nabbed him. And she got him off. The little lady wasn't taller than 4'10" but might as well have been 7' when she was in the courtroom.

From a local Tucson paper:

One of the enduring stories involved Rose Silver, a young Tucson lawyer who represented Dillinger, in an attempt by an insurance company to claim that because he had jumped bail the money taken from him belonged to them.

She successfully argued that it did not, and as part of his payment, Dillinger signed over to Silver ownership of his six-passenger, blue Packard.

Silver would often tell interviewers that she used the car for several years to chauffeur her kids around town before selling it.

And as if Dillinger were keeping the story alive from his grave, a subsequent owner later claimed to have discovered Tommy guns concealed behind the Packard's door panels.

In interviews years later, Silver readily recounted her impressions of Dillinger, adding still more detail to the legend that wouldn't die:

"I was very surprised. He was very clean cut, with a shock of dark brown hair. A handsome man--but wearing a cheap suit."

Sorry if the above comes across as me trying to boast. I just miss her.
posted by joshuajcohen at 2:13 PM on June 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

I saw the commercial for the new Dillinger movie and I remarked to a friend "haven't they done that movie about four times already?" I was wrong. They've done it six times already and this will be the seventh.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:02 PM on June 25, 2009

Just saw Public Enemies. Not entirely sure if reviews are embargoed, but let me just say that if you're itching for a great gangster epic with spectacular heists, incredible prison breakouts, and a terrific lead performance, you're much, much better off with Mesrine, about the French bank robber, starring Vincent Cassel and opening in August.
posted by muckster at 8:23 PM on June 25, 2009

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