The life and death of America

John Dillinger

John H. Dillinger was born in Indianapolis in the Oak Hill section on June 22, 1903. His parents John Wilson Dillinger and Mary Ellen "Mollie" Lancaster had married on August 23, 1987 and owned a medium size grocery store. John's mother died when he was three and his older sister Audrey who was fourteen years by then looked after him until his father remarried on 23,1912 to Elizabeth "Lizzie" Fields. Dillinger grew up in a relatively harsh environment since his father was firm in instilling discipline.

H.Dilllinger was enrolled in a public school where in many occasions he was engaged in fights and petty thefts and it was evident he had a bewildering personality. At around the age of 16 years he quit schooling and secured a job at a machine shop where he worked well during the day but partied all night. His night activities involved among others drinking, fighting and frequent visits to prostitutes. His loving father worried by his bad behaviors which he attributed to living in the city opted to sell his property in Indianapolis and retire to a farm in Mooresville but this barely changed him.

In 1922 he was involved in auto theft and was put behind bars, consequently his relationship with his father worsened. His troubles led him to join the US Navy but his unruly behavior could not permit him to stay, he deserted his ship in Boston when it docked. Eventually when he was discharged from duty he returned to Mooresville and married Beryl Hovius in 1924 at the age of 20 years. His intention for marrying was to settle down but the pressures of securing a job and maintaining it was overwhelming and this caused heated arguments which eventually gave way to disintegration of the union.

Luck was not on Dillinger's side concerning securing a satisfying job; he thus opted to take the avenue that would land him to search for easy money. He joined the town pool shark, Ed Singleton who was older than him and more experienced in the life of felony. In their first attempt they attacked a Mooresville grocer, Frank Morgan while on his way home but were quickly apprehended. Singleton after pleading not guilty and standing the trial got two years imprisonment while Dillinger pleading guilty as per his father's advice received stiffer penalty when he was sentenced to10-20 years in the Indiana State Prison. Dillinger shocked by the dire punishment became a bitter man in prison. While in prison his wife Beryl filed for a divorce which further dashed down his hopes for a better future.

Dillinger's life in prison did far from rehabilitate him, he got the art of robbing banks from other hardened criminals who were later to become members of his gang after they break out of prison. On May 1933 Dillinger was paroled having spent most of his productive years behind bars. He decided to utilize the skills he learnt in prison and chose to be a professional bank robber. While outside the prison walls he managed to smuggle guns to his mates which in turn enabled ten prisoners ton escape from Indiana State Prison on 22 September1933 having shot two guards.

Dillinger broke into a bank just before his friends broke out and was put behind bars in Allen County Jail in Lima. His escaped gang members later came to his rescue and shot Sheriff Jesses Sarber who was on duty and freed Dillinger. Dillinger and his accomplices staged several bank robberies in different states and stole several machine guns, bullet proof vests and revolvers and in their operations killed a police detective and a police officer.

On January 1934 a hotel they were residing in caught fire and as they ran for safety the firemen recognized them and tipped off the police who arrested them. Dillinger was taken to county jail in Crown Point which was supposedly 'escape proof" as he awaited trial for the murder of East Chicago police officer. On March 1934 Dillinger cowed the guards with a wooden gun and escaped. They continued with their spree but in one of the many bank robberies Dillinger sustained a shoulder wound which forced him to lay low with his girlfriend. The police kept pursuing them and Dillinger's girlfriend was arrested in Chicago, this made Dillinger to undergo a plastic surgery on May1934.

On July 1934, Dillinger moved in with a Romanian ex-prostitute Anna Sage, who operated a number of brothels and was facing deportation charges and thought he was lucky to have another girlfriend. Sage however hoped that by turning in Dillinger her deportation charges would be dropped and without much thought she embarked on her plans. On July 22, 1934, She tipped off the FBI agent Melvis Purvis that they would go for a movie at the Biograph cinema in Chicago and as they left the place at around 10:30p.m. Three FBI Agents fired five shots three of which hit Dillinger and ended his life.


John Dillinger was person who became FBI's first Public enemy. His bewildering personality landed him in company of people who led him in discovering the worst in him and thus in all his life he involved himself in criminal activities and hence became a fugitive of justice and was always on the run. This eventually led to his premature death .


  • Matera, D. (2005). John Dillinger: The Life and Death of America's First Celebrity Criminal. London: Da Capo Press

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