As the torch passed through Lake County on October 9th and 11th, it also made its way past the John Dillinger Museum located in the Lake County Courthouse in downtown Crown Point, Indiana. John “Jackrabbit” Dillinger is infamous in the county for his ability to escape inescapable prisons.
Dillinger was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on June 22, 1903 to a grocery store owning father and stay at home mother. His mother died when he was only four years old and his sister, Audrey Dillinger, raised him until his father remarried in 1912 (1). Young Johnnie was frequently causing trouble around the neighborhood, for example, he would prank his neighbors and commit petty theft with his neighborhood gang, “the Dirty Dozen.”
Dillinger dropped out of school at the age of 16 and began working for a machine shop. As he grew older, so did his rebellious acts, such as drinking and fighting (1). Following his discontinuation of school, Dillinger began to step up his rebellious acts; in the early 1920s he began to steal cars. Dillinger was arrested soon after and broke free. This incident began the trail of arrests and escapes that earned him the name, “Public Enemy Number One” (1). Attempting to settle down, Dillinger married Beryl Ethel Hovious in 1924 and the newlyweds resided with Dillinger Senior. As crimes continued, Dillinger also made friends with many individuals who knew secrets to the inner-workings of local businesses that he could exploit. One of Dillinger’s biggest crimes was when he tried to rob a grocer and was caught instantly. Following his conviction, he was sent to the Indiana State Reformatory in Pendleton, Indiana. Throughout his time in prison, he played on the baseball team and was a committed worker to the shirt factory. When going up for parole he was denied, and upset he asked to be sent to the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, Indiana where there was a better baseball team (1).
His move to Michigan City was two-fold; join the baseball team and reunite with his inmate friends, Harry Pierpont and Homer Van Meter. The change of scenery for Dillinger allowed him to “learn the ropes of crime from seasoned bank robbers” (1). While in prison Dillinger, along with his literal partners in crime, plotted the robbing of various banks across Indiana. In May of 1933 Dillinger was granted parole because his stepmother was near death, but missed her before she passed. He took advantage of this opportunity to start the series of bank robberies he and others had plotted to commit. The robberies were successful, accumulating around $50,000 (1). Escaping the scene of the crimes, Dillinger fled to Hamilton, Ohio where the gang’s hideout was located. After being set free by his friend, Pierpont, they headed to Chicago to organize more bank robberies.
Following the successful prison escapes and robberies across the state of Indiana, Dillinger and his gang were making headlines all across the midwest. The “Dillinger Gang” was successful because of their ability to include each member and use that to their advantage. Being a member of the gang meant following the strict rules, which allowed the gang to stay undercover. One of the rules was no drinking or using drugs when planning and committing crimes (1). The gang moved their robberies outside of just Indiana, they committed crimes in Illinois and Wisconsin too. Through their various exploitations of businesses across the midwest the members took on various aliases, such as a film crew and alarm system sales reps (1). After more and more robberies were being executed successfully, the Chicago Police Department created the “Dillinger Squad,” whose aim was to take down John Dillinger and his fellow followers.
The Dillinger Gang headed west to escape the authorities of the midwest, but in order to get some cash for the journey, Dillinger and another member robbed the First National Bank of Gary, Indiana. Dillinger shot and killed a police officer during the robbery (2). Dillinger was taken to the Lake County Sheriff office and photographers followed in order to get pictures and a quote from the infamous criminal of the 20th century. Awaiting trial, Dillinger was placed in Crown Point Prison and escaped without a shot fired on March 3, 1934 (1).
As the summer went on, the FBI put out a $10,000 reward for anyone who could lead investigators to his location, and eventual capture (1). After finding out about this, Dillinger underwent plastic surgery to avoid being identified.
Dillinger ended his career of bank robberies on June 30, 1934 when he robbed Merchant’s National Bank in South Bend, Indiana. Not surprisingly Dillinger successfully fled the scene and found security with a friend, Anna Sage. As the FBI were inching closer to catching Dillinger, Sage was the last push to make the crimes of Dillinger come to an end when he was shot on July 22, 1934 (2).
80 years after the golden era of crimes, the movie Public Enemies entered theaters. This action packed drama gave viewers the ability to get inside the head of the infamous criminal mind of Indiana’s own, John Dillinger. Hollywood is not the only way to relive Dillinger’s action packed life; the John Dillinger Museum houses the fake wooden gun he used to escape Crown Point County Jail, but also plastic face mask molds and his original tombstone (3).