Marilyn Monroe. Elvis Presley. Tupac Shakur. What do these three have in common? All are suspected to have faked their death. John Dillinger may not be a name as engraved in popular culture – although his life (and potentially death) are the stuff of legend.
During America’s prohibition era of the 1930s, Dillinger and his gang of bank robbers, who are collectively referred to as either “The Dillinger Gang” or “The Terror Gang”, became one of the most notorious criminal groups in American history. On the 22nd of June 1934, at the young age of 31, Dillinger was shot dead – or was he?
According to his ancestors, as well as millions of conspiracy theorists across the world, the answer is no.
John Dillinger was born June 22nd, 1903 and, by the year 1924, he was incarcerated due to a botched robbery of a grocery store. Upon his arrest, Dillinger is quoted as saying;
“I will be the meanest bastard you ever saw when I get out of here.”
Whilst in prison, fellow seasoned inmates took Dillinger under their wing – sharing their experiences in the bank robbery trade. Robbers like Harry “Pete” Pierpont, Charles Makley, Russell Clark, and Homer Van Meter all offered their knowledge, and Dillinger was more than willing to learn.
On the 10th of May, 1933, and after 9 years behind bars, Dillinger was paroled and his newly acquired knowledge was quickly put to the test. His first bank robbery occurred on June 21, 1933, at The New Carlisle National Bank. He stole approximately £10,000.
Over the next four-month, a total of 5 banks were robbed by Dillinger and his acquaintances. His reputation as a risk-taking, suit-wearing gunman captured the attention of the nation and the media – and police were determined to catch him. On August 14th, 1933, they did just that.
However, before Dillinger’s captured and subsequent imprisonment, he devised a plan to assist his criminal mentors to escape from prison. He had done so by sending individuals to deliver guns to the inmates. With their newly acquired weapons, escape was imminent. 8 men escaped due to Dillinger’s efforts and planning.
On October 12 of the same year, Pierpont, Clark, and Makley visited the Allen County Jail in Lima – the prison which Dillinger was detained. The three impersonated Indiana State Officials and claimed they were ordered to extradite Dillinger. When Sheriff Jess Sarber grew suspicious, Pierpont shot him dead. Dillinger and his accomplices fled.
The gang travelled all over America’s Midwest robbing banks until their capture in Tucson, Arizona on January 25, 1934. Dillinger was incarcerated within the ‘escape-proof’ Crown Point Nail, Indiana.
According to contradicting reports, Dillinger either fashioned a gun out of shelving or had someone smuggle a gun to him – in any case, he was able to escape the inescapable prison.
Dillinger began a new life in Chicago under the assumed identity of Jimmy Lawrence. Along with the new name came a new face, with Dillinger reportedly partaking in cosmetic surgery to alter his appearance. However, authorities were hot on his tracks.
A special task force constructed and lead by J. Edger Hoover received a tip from a madam by the name of Ana Cumpănaș. She provided investigators with a tip – Dillinger and his girlfriend, Polly Hamilton, had arranged a theatre trip the following day on July 22nd.
Police steaked out the theatre and, upon Dillinger’s exit at approximately 10.40 p.m., he spotted authorities and attempted to flee through an alley.
He has shot a total of 4 times. The bullet killing him severed his spinal cord, struck his brain, and exited between his left eye and cheekbone.
His body was left to lay rest at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. In total, Dillinger was accused of one murder (although his gang was suspected of killing upward of 10), two prison escapes, and approximately 24 bank robberies.
One would expect the story of John Dillinger to conclude with his death – however, this assertion could not be more wrong. According to speculation and conspiracy, Dillinger did not die that day.
Dillinger’s niece and nephew, Mike Thompson and Carol Thompson Griffith, signed affidavits earlier this month. The affidavits claim the pair seek to have their uncle’s body exhumation and subjected to forensic testing and DNA analysis to prove once and for all the man in the grave is not Dillinger. The affidavit states;
“Evidence that demonstrates that the individual who was shot and killed at the Biograph Theatre in Chicago on July 22, 1934 may not in fact have been my uncle, John H Dillinger.”
This evidence includes numerous pieces of mind-bogglingly facts. The man shot wore glasses – Dillinger had 20/20 vision.
The deceased man had blue eyes – Dillinger’s eyes were brown. The deceased ear shape was different, birthmarks and scars had vanished, the dead man a rheumatic heart condition and arteriosclerosis – Dillinger, of course, did not. And, perhaps most curiously of all, the fingerprints of the deceased did not match Dillinger’s.
The Chicago division of the FBI issued a statement rebuffing the Thompson siblings claim. According to police, the rumour that Dillinger’s stand-in perished in his place is nothing more than a “common myth”. The statement went on to say;
“A wealth of information supports Dillinger’s demise.”
Depending on the results stemming from the exhumations and forensic analysis, this debate may finally come to an end. Will it prove that Dillinger did in fact perish over 8 decades ago, or will the body finally be identified as a stand-in?
Is it impossible to believe his gang helped him escape one final time?
If so, what happened to one of America’s most notorious bank robbers? Depending on the results of the forensic testing, these questions may finally be answered.
Hi there! I’m Heather and I’m a recent graduate achieving the title of Master of Arts with Honours in English and Film Studies. Along with my degree, I have acquired a HNC in the Social Sciences. In my free time I love to cuddle with my dog and immerse myself in all things True Crime and I am the new Crime Writer here at iTHINK Magazine.
Image respects to - Pioneer Press, Washington Times, IndyStar