Digging up Dillinger: Part II

By Rick Hinton

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

One of many John Dillinger mug shots. (Submitted photo)

During an extreme heat wave on July 22, 1934, Dillinger took his new girlfriend, Romanian-born Ana Sage – playing the role of Judas Iscariot – to see a movie at the air-conditioned Biograph Theater on Chicago’s east side. Sage was a brothel madam with an agenda: to avoid deportation she had worked a deal to gain U.S. citizenship – tipping the FBI to her and Dillinger’s schedule.

Federal agents were waiting when they exited. Dillinger was oblivious to the plan (or was he?). He bolted into the alley beside the theater as the agents fired. He was hit from behind and fell face first to the pavement. It is reported he was hit four times – two bullets grazing him, one superficial wound to the right side and the fatal shot entering the back of his neck – severing his spinal cord – and passing into his brain, exiting his cheek just under his right eye. Two bystanders were also injured in the gunfire. At 10:40 p.m. on that Sunday night, John Dillinger’s one-and-a-half-year crime spree had ended.

A ghoulish viewing at the Cook County Morgue. (Submitted photo)

Cook County Morgue put the body on display, which turned into a macabre parade of spectators, all wanting to view the infamous body of John Dillinger. The body was transported back to Indiana to the McCready Funeral Home in Mooresville, where the circus of spectators continued. Burial was Wednesday, July 25, 1934 at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. Despite the rain, as many as 5,000 visitors invaded the cemetery to grab flowers and even samples of mud from the gravesite. Dillinger’s father took a proactive stance on his son’s grave – four concrete slabs reinforced with metal at different depths. He didn’t want any future tampering with the grave. Conspirators think otherwise. …

Many folks have a Dillinger story, or one they’ve heard. My mother-in-law Jennifer claims her father and Dillinger were childhood friends on the east side of Indianapolis, with Dillinger often spending the night at his house. Dillinger purportedly made the rounds in Indianapolis, often appearing at the Slippery Noodle Inn and the former Gaslight Inn, to name just a few. He visited his home in Mooresville numerous times. Stories of bank robberies in Irvington and Waverly made the rounds. It would seem he got around, hardly having time for a life of crime.

Does Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis retain secrets? (Photo by Rick Hinton)

Exhumations of a grave is an undertaking, and costly. It might be done as part of a criminal investigation, for public health reasons (moving a cemetery) or in this case, to establish or confirm the identity of the deceased. Considering the concrete and metal encasing Dillinger’s body, Indiana Historical Society historian, Susan Sutton, states, “I think they’re going to have a hard time getting through that.” However, there is motivation to do just that. The History Channel is doing a documentary on Dillinger which plays into this scenario. And … I would imagine they are footing the bill.

Why do conspirators and Dillinger’s descendants suspect it’s not Dillinger in that grave? We’ll find out next week in the conclusion.