John Dillinger: When the notorious gangster and most wanted criminal was killed in Chicago (1934)

Vintage John Dillinger WANTED poster - FBI

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Kill John Dillinger at Chicago

Kill John Dillinger at Chicago

Desperado, wounded by three slugs, broke line of fire; Died in alley

U.S. Justice Department Agents and East Chicago Police Trap Public Enemy No. 1 and Shoot When He Draws Gun — Two Women With Him Escape and Two Women in Crowd Are Wounded by Police Bullets.

A stiffening corpse in the county morgue and a muddied pool of blood in the filth of an alley was all that was left today of John Dillinger, arch criminal of modern times.

Dillinger died as he lived — in a hail of bullets and a welter of blood. He died at 10:40 o’clock last night with a smile on his lips and a woman on each arm.

Twelve federal agents and five policemen, shooting through a crowd of men, women and children, dropped the little desperado as he left a motion picture theater six blocks off the famous Gold Coast.

Three bullets ended the career that started with the escape of 10 convicts from the Michigan City, Ind., state prison, continued with murder of Sheriff Sarber at Lima, Ohio, brought death to 14 men, and was climaxed by Dillinger’s “toy gun” escape from the Crown Point, Indiana, jail.

Dillinger spotted the ambush almost as the officers located him in the after-theater crowd. He yanked at a tiny .380 pocket automatic — a favorite small but powerful gun of gangsters. Pistols of the law crashed in a deafening fusillade. Men women and children nearby screamed and trampled each other in flight.

Two .45 caliber slugs smashed into the outlaw’s chest. He whirled. He stumbled. His arms flailed aloft. Another slug burned into the back of his neck, crashed through his head and came out over his right eye.

Two women, crowded into the field of fire, fell with bullet wounds. Mrs Theresa Paulus was shot in the hip; Mrs Etta Natelski in a leg.

Stumbling, his eyes already glazing, Dillinger dove clear through the line of guns, rocked a hundred feet into an alley and fell dead.

John Dillinger mugshot

He died there — the man who had squandered hundreds of thousands of stolen dollars — in the muck oft his own blood and the dirt of a dark alley. His two companions, the last of an ever-changing stream of feminine favorites, abandoned him at the first sign of danger and escaped.

In the morgue was found their justification. Carefully cased in the back of their escort’s watch was the photograph of another woman, Mary Evelyn Frechette, half breed Indian girl who went to prison because she aided him.

Ironically, Dillinger just had seen on the silver screen within the Biograph theater a career almost paralleling his own. He had watched another criminal walk to the electric chair — had seen prison lights dim under the pull of a death-dealing load — had thought, perhaps, of the fate awaiting him if he ever was captured.

The picture was “Manhattan Melodrama,” pointing in breathless action the moral that crime never pays. To Dillinger, it was a warning he could not read.

ALSO SEE: How ‘Scarface’ Al Capone served hard time at Alcatraz (1930s)

End of the nation’s No 1 outlaw

john dillinger killed 1934

Dillinger’s face had been lifted by means of plastic surgery in an effort to avoid recognition, according to Melvin H Purvis, the federal government’s chief manhunter in the Chicago area who directed the ambush.

At the county morgue, however, attendants and police officers said they were sure the outlaw’s facial characteristics had not been altered. “It was a good job the surgeon did,” Purvis said, “but I knew him the minute I saw him.”

Purvis said he was standing in front of a beer tavern a short distance from the neighborhood theater when Dillinger passed him. “He gave me a piercing look,” he related. “Just after he went by and was midway of the next building, I raised my hand and gave a prearranged signal to my men.”

Purvis said the federal men were under orders to take Dillinger alive if possible.

“I thought it impossible he could have a weapon concealed on his person and the plan was to seize him, pinion his arm and make him prisoner,

“However, the men were instructed to take, no chances.

“Dillinger. becoming suspicious as my men closed in, whirled around. He reached for his pistol.

“Four shots were fired. Three took effect.”

Purvis said two or three of his men fired but he refused to say which one. killed the desperado. Within seconds after the shooting hundreds of the morbidly curious thronged to the scene. The mob grew to thousands. Souvenir hunters snatched up Dillinger’s sailor straw hat, grabbed still-smoking cartridge shells from the gutter, pushed through police lines to touch the dead outlaw.

After his body was hauled in a government automobile to Alexian Brothers hospital, many spectators — even children — got a ghastly thrill from dipping their shoes in his blood.

The crowd grew for hours, limousines of the gold coast and flivvers carrying whole families jamming traffic for 10 blocks around the death scene.

dillinger souvenir hunters

Newspaper extras moved the entire city — habituated to the wholesale murders of the days of Al Capone, George (Bugs) Moran, and their ilk — from its cultivated blase attitude.

The shooting of America’s No. 1 public enemy climaxed a day of feverish preparation by federal officers. Chicago police, with their “Dillinger squad” of 40 picked marksmen idling at police headquarters, were not even notified that a trap was planned. A tip to Melvin Purvis, the federal government’s chief manhunter in the Chicago area, started Dillinger to his death.

Purvis refused to betray the source of his information. Wires hummed between Chicago and Washington all day yesterday Dillinger’s hideout was watcrted by the best “shadows” of the bureau of investigation. Five police from East Chicago, Ind., where Dillinger killed a patrolman in a bank robbery, were summoned to reinforce the agents.

Every man of the 17 detailed for last night’s climax was selected for his skill with the powerful police revolver.

At the little Biograph theater, Purvis personally placed his men. Some were in the lobby. Two were hidden behind nearby automobiles. Another lounged inside the auditorium door.

Secrecy was so rigidly maintained that even police of the district in which the theater is located were unaware of the event impending. The theater manager noted the crowd of obviously excited men, telephoned the Sheffield police station that “a dozen or more dangerous-looking men are hanging around my theater.”

A squad car carrying four blue coats arrived just in time to see the denouement as Dillinger walked from the theater with his women. The vain little killer died in the natty dress of his kind — an expensive white shirt with silk tie, gray sport trousers, white shoes, straw hat. He wore no coat. His gun bulged a pants pocket, almost unconcealed in its outline.

dillinger wanted poster

How Dillinger got his start

Dillinger, who had a natural flair for the dramatic, didn’t become a criminal by associating with bad companions.

He started out ten years ago with a grim purpose of becoming the nation’s most feared criminal — and attained it with the aid of a murderous band of ruthless outlaws.

Dillinger, son of a respected Quaker farmer in Indiana, was a gangling country youth when he ran afoul the law for the first time. With another village youth he waylaid and robbed a 5-year-old village merchant. Dillinger was given a 10 to 20 year prison sentence. The other boy turned state’s evidence and got only a short term.

“I got a dirty deal,” Dillinger told a parole board nine years later. The bitterness never left him.

In May, 1933, he was released from prison, and four month later was the “big time” criminal of his ambition. From then on his career has marked by a trail of blood and daring forays.

Fourteen men, including five police officers and a federal department of justice agent, met death from the blazing guns of his gang or those of authorities engaged in one of the greatest manhunts since the days of Jesse James.

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