Illinois

The death of John Dillinger, Public Enemy No. 1

July 22, 1934
Chicago, Illinois
Public Enemy No. 1 John Dillinger is killed by federal agents as he leaves a theater

Dillinger was a bank robber during the Depression Era and, like other bank robbers at the time including Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Baby Face Nelson, had achieved a sort of celebrity status as an outlaw. To combat both the robberies and glorification of his crimes, Dillinger was labeled as Public Enemy No. 1, with a focus on apprehending Dillinger as quickly as possible.

On the night of July 22, Dillinger and two female companions watched the crime drama Manhattan Melodrama. His companions, a Romanian immigrant brothel madam named Anna Sage (real name Ana Cumpanas) and a prostitute named Polly Hamilton, had informed the FBI of Dillinger’s whereabouts in exchange for helping Sage from being deported due to “low moral character.” Though the FBI agreed, she was later deported regardless.

After the movie ended, Dillinger and his companions exited which was when he noticed an FBI agent. He pulled ahead of the women, put his hand in his pocket to remove his gun, and attempted to flee down an alley. The alley was already cut off by agents, but Dillinger was not prepared to go down without a fight. Three federal agents fired four shots: two grazed him, one left a superficial wound, and one fatally injured him by entering the base of his neck, severing his spinal column, penetrating his brain, and exiting under his right eye.

Deaths of celebrity criminals at that time were cause for spectators to attempt to gather souvenirs, and Dillinger was no exception. Passersby dipped hankies in his blood shortly after his death. Others, like bathing suit-clad Betty and Rosella Nelson, posed next to his body during a public showing. Over a day and a half, an estimated 15,000 people viewed his body. Even after burial, souvenir seekers sought out Dillinger, chipping from his headstone, causing the need for his headstone to be replaced several times.

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