The Life and Times of John Dillinger


John Dillinger was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on June 22, 1903. His mother died while he was young, so his father supported him throughout most of his childhood. Having little tolerance for school and an impatient personality, young Dillinger dropped out of school to work in a machine shop. Despite his tireless work ethic, he was a frequent after-work-partier. His father was concerned about his son’s morals, so he moved their family to the rural area of Mooresville, Indiana. The change in scenery had no effect on John’s restless and wild attitude.

John Dillinger’s Life of Crime

After being arrested for auto theft, John and his father’s already struggling relationship completely dissipated. Eventually, Dillinger enlisted in the Navy but was dishonorably discharged after deserting his ship in Boston. Dillinger did his best to calm himself and build what would be considered a normal and stable life by returning to Mooresville and marrying Beryl Ethel Hovious. Unfortunately, his personality made it difficult for him to hold a job or keep his marriage, which ended in divorce.

After continuous efforts to seek employment, he was still unable to find work. It was likely frustration that led him to begin creating plans with Ed Singleton to rob a local grocery store in Mooresville, Indiana. This happened shortly after he turned 21. He and his friend made off with $120 but their success was short-lived, as they were spotted by a local minister who reported them to the police.

He was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in Indiana State Prison. Becoming increasingly angry and bitter against the judge and against society as a whole, John made friends with more established criminals, such as Harry Pierpont. His prison friends taught him everything they knew about robbing banks and becoming a successful criminal.

In 1933, after almost nine years in prison, Dillinger was paroled. He began his life of crime yet again and robbed a bank in Bluffton, Ohio. He was imprisoned in Lima, but later escaped with the help of fellow inmates who had smuggled guns into the prison.

Dillinger made the mistake of stealing the car of a sheriff and driving it across state lines to Chicago, breaking federal law. Now the FBI was formally involved in the pursuit of Dillinger - he was the FBI's first “Public Enemy Number One”. John Dillinger went on to rob several more banks and continued to run from state to state until his eventual demise in 1934.

Associates of John Dillinger

John Dillinger’s gang members included Noble Claycomb, William Shaw, Harry Copeland, Ed Shouse, Harry “Pete” Pierpoint, Charles Makley, Russell “Boobie” Clark, Eddie Green, John “Red” Hamilton, Tommy Carroll, Homer Van Meter, “Baby Face” Nelson, and Pat Reilly.

Harry Pierpoint is remembered as being a close friend of John Dillinger. He was one of Dillinger’s “prison buddies” who taught him how to rob banks. Russell Clark was also one of Dillinger’s famed mentors.

Baby Face Nelson and his newly formed gang consisting of Homer Van Meter, Tommy Carroll, Eddie Green and John "Red" Hamilton, supposedly arranged and financed Dillinger’s famous “wooden pistol” escape from the Crown Point, Indiana jail.

John Dillinger’s Death

While Dillinger was attending the film Manhattan Melodrama at the Biograph Theatre in Chicago, FBI agents surrounded the theatre. When Dillinger came out of the theatre, his instincts were in effect and he quickly reached for his gun. Failing to pull it out in time, he ran to a nearby alley and was shot by agents three times. He was pronounced dead on July 22, 1934. It is said that Dillinger died a “silent death”.

John Dillinger is regarded by some as a modern-day Robin Hood; by others he is regarded as a vicious criminal. Whichever he was, his legend along with the legends of other notorious gangsters of the Great Depression era will live on forever in American history.

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