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Digging up Dillinger: Part I

Digging up Dillinger: Part I

By Rick Hinton

John Dillinger – a man who drew admiration despite his crimes – has become the thing of folklore. The native son of Indiana has drawn not only criticism, but also praise from many circles, in effect, becoming a mythological figure that draws upon the imagination of a time far removed of where we are today. You would think case closed, yet, 85 years later it has been reopened. Now there are plans to exhume his body – digging up Dillinger! Crown Hill Cemetery is not commenting about it.

John Dillinger was born in 1903 in Indianapolis. His mother died when he was very young. It’s said that he lived on the inner east side of the city and then the family relocated to the inner Southside. Then came the final move as a teenager when his father moved to a small farm in Mooresville, south of the city. His father remarried and thus began the period of time for John encompassing a strict father, new stepmother and several additions to the family. However, Dillinger wasn’t one to hang around for long under those conditions. In 1923 he joined the Navy, but after discovering that it was not going to solve all of life’s problems, he deserted that plan. A two-year marriage at the age of 21 capped off the end of his young adult years. It was time to move onto something else.

Ground that will soon be broken? (Photo by Rick Hinton)

A stolen car driven from Moorseville to Indianapolis is what initially earned Dillinger his Navy tour. It was also what began a life of crime. His first heist, with Ed Singleton, was a botched grocery store holdup for which he was made the scapegoat – receiving a 10-year prison sentence of which he served 8 ½. He was released on parole in 1933, four years into the Great Depression. He had learned a lot in prison. It was an education worth exploring. He formed a gang. Check out the history for yourself, yet in summary:

  • A string of bank robberies – Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota – racking up some $300,000 overall.
  • Prison years in Pendleton and Michigan City (the sad fact is he spent most of his adult life in prison).
  • Raiding police stations for guns and bulletproof vests.
  • Various jail encounters, some being busted out by his gang, some busting them out, and an elaborate escape from Crown Point using a carved wooden gun colored with shoe polish.
t, Dillinger, on the run, posed at the farmhouse in Moorseville, Indiana. He is holding the carved wooden gun he used in his escape from the jail at Crown Point. (Submitted photo)

This list is by no means all inclusive. The Great Depression produced hard times for folks just to survive and put food on their table. And keeping their homes! Banks were portrayed as the villain for foreclosing on property. Was Dillinger the “Robin Hood” of folklore – taking from the rich and giving back to the poor? Hardly. While generous to his friends and family and a hefty tipper, he was fond of cars, clothing and ladies of ill repute. However, it was one of these ladies who ultimately did him in. The FBI was on the trail, quickly gaining ground on Public Enemy No. 1.

So … why exhume the body of John Dillinger from Section 44, Lot 94 of Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis? A great-niece, Carol Thompson, and great-nephew, Mike Thompson, have their reasons. The other great-nephew, Jeff Scalf, is not in agreement. And … the History Channel factors into it all. It has become a wild ride!

Next week: Death, burial and speculation.

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