John Herbert Dillinger was born on June 22, 1903, in Indianapolis, Indiana. John Dillinger was the younger of two children born to John Wilson Dillinger and Mary Ellen “Molly” Lancaster, Molly, died of a stroke when he was only 3 years old. His sister, Audrey, who was significantly older, raised him until her own marriage a year later

As a child, he went by “Johnnie.” Johnnie committed small time pranks and petty theft with his neighborhood gang, the Dirty Dozen. As an adult, he was known as “Jackrabbit” for his graceful moves and quick getaways from the police,

He was declared the United States’ first “Public Enemy No. 1.”

He was undoubtedly one of the most feared gangsters of the 20th century.

After stealing a car in 1923 Dillinger evaded capture by skipping town and joining the Navy, he deserted 5 months later and returned home to his then wife Mary Beryl Hovius.

When Dillinger was in his 20’s he was arrested and convicted for having robbed an elderly grocer, they put him away for 8 to 10 years and this turned him into a hardened criminal, he made contacts including Harry Pierpont and Homer Van Meter, two men who would eventually join Dillinger in his life of crime.

Melvin Purvis FBI Agent
Melvin Purvis FBI Agent

He was released on parole in May 1933, he almost immediately robbed a bank and was shortly arrested, whilst he was in prison in Lima, Ohio, his contacts showed up masquerading as laymen and helped him escape the prison, whilst he was free him and his gang robbed several police arsenals to beam up their fire power and began a 3 month bank robbing spree that terrorized the Midwest, using excuses such as ‘We’re shooting a movie’ or ‘They were from an alarm company’ and people believed him and his gang allowing them into their premises.

In December 1923, Dillinger and his gang were captured in Arizona, he was then extradited back to Indiana, to the supposedly escape-proof prison Crown Point prison, he took a piece of wood and a razor and carved the wood into a gun, he painted the wood with black shoe polish and used this to escape the prison past a dozen guards and out into the sheriffs car where he sped away, he escaped over the state line a federal crime.

He set up a new gang included baby-face nelson, and began another crime spree, robbing 6 banks in 4 states, by summer 1934, the FBI named him public enemy number 1 and a $10,000,00 reward on his head, he was hiding out in Chicago.

He died when a trap was set up for him, Dillinger met Anna Sage nicknamed woman in red, she was the lady who would bring Dillinger to his death, after a meeting with FBI Agent Melvin Purvis, Sage and Purvis set the trap.

Biograph Theater

On Sunday, July 22, 1934, at 5pm., Anna Sage told FBI agents that she and Dillinger were planning to go to either the Biograph or Marboro theatres to see a film. Purvis decided to stake out the Biograph himself. Two other agents were posted at the Marboro. Purvis was standing just a few feet away from the theatre entrance, as Dillinger passed, he looked Purvis directly in the eyes, but made no indication.

Following the prearranged signal, Purvis lit a cigar. As Dillinger and the two women walked down the street, an anxious Purvis quickly pulled out his gun, and yelled,

“Stick’em up, Johnnie, we have you surrounded!”

Dillinger began to run, reaching into his pants pocket to draw a gun. He entered an alley just as a volley of gunfire greeted him.

The body of John Dillinger

Gradually, a crowd formed around Dillinger’s lifeless body, with several people dabbing handkerchiefs into his blood for souvenirs.

Read a detailed event of how John Dillinger met his end here

At Harvey Funeral Home, Dillinger’s sister, Audrey, identified the body. Dillinger was buried on July 25, 1934, at the Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Hayley Dean