Digging up Dillinger – the conclusion?

By Rick Hinton

When John Dillinger’s father was awoken with the news of his son’s death, he stated quietly, “I knew this was going to happen. I’ve been expecting it for a long time.” A father’s grief turned into one of resignation. It was over. The Federal Government had spent more money trying to catch Dillinger than he ever stole. Eighty-five years have passed since that night when Dillinger took in the Clark Gable crime film, Manhattan Melodrama at the Biograph Theater, yet the years never fully silenced the rumors: it’s not John Dillinger’s body in that grave:

The word spread quickly about the shooting, with crowds gathering at the Biograph Theater in Chicago. (Submitted photo)

• Discrepancies in the postmortem identification raised some antennas. The non-match of eye color (his eyes were blue/gray while the corpse’s were brown. Was it a pigment change upon death?).
• The ear shape was off, and there was a protrusion from the head not associated with Dillinger.
• Inconsistencies with prior medical records. Noted was the existence of a rheumatic heart condition he did not have and signs of a childhood disease.
• The corpse had a full set of front teeth. Dillinger was missing his right front incisor.
• Fingerprint issues. Dillinger had tried to remove his prints with acid. The FBI claimed they had gotten a good enough read to determine it was Dillinger. Or had they?
• The FBI was under extreme pressure to bring him in. They, and lead agent Melvin Purvis’ bungling of Dillinger’s escape from the Little Bohemia Lodge in Wisconsin, resulted in civilian casualties. It was an embarrassment to the bureau, nearly costing J. Edgar Hoover his job. He was ordered to capture him alive; that didn’t happen. Thus. the stories begin – the FBI staged the whole event, or knew it was the wrong guy.

Authorities collected several Dillinger mugshots, including this early one. (Submitted photo)

• A gun – a small Colt semi-automatic – on display for years at FBI headquarters and allegedly in Dillinger’s possession that night was not his, and actually manufactured after his death. (He reportedly was reaching for it as he ran. Being Dillinger, I would expect that he had a gun on him at all times.)
• There were many claims from those who knew him that the body in the morgue was shorter and heavier than Dillinger. A barber familiar with his hair claimed it was too thick.
• Many felt that the man shot outside the theater was a Dillinger look-alike and petty criminal, Jimmy Lawrence. Dillinger had been using the pseudonym Jimmy Lawrence for some time around Chicago.
• A scar on his face was not present at autopsy. (However, Dillinger had recently paid $5,000 for plastic surgery to remove several moles and scars and to fill in his cleft chin. He had also dyed his hair black)
• Dillinger’s father initially claimed that the body was not his son. Then he became rather quiet about it. Yet, his half-sister Frances positively identified the body as that of Dillinger after seeing a characteristic scar on his leg, a result of being shot in Minneapolis.

There’s still a lot of talk about John Dillinger. (Photo by Rick Hinton)

There was the talk about John’s father’s actions of reinforcing the grave. Was it just to protect anyone from tampering with the body or did he know it was not John buried in that grave and wanted to prevent it from ever being dug up?

The story has taken a twist that could change everything. The conclusion has been put on hold. It now involves what the family wants … and doesn’t. We’ll explore next week.