John Dillinger: Body of notorious gangster to be exhumed from concrete coffin

Dillinger became an unlikely hero as millions of Americans endured ruinous consequences of 1929 Wall Street Crash

Phil Thomas
New York
Wednesday 31 July 2019 07:46
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John Dilliinger
John Dilliinger

The body of one of America’s most notorious gangsters is to be exhumed – as long as his concrete-encased coffin can be breached.

The nephew of John Dillinger, the 1930s criminal killed in a shoot-out with FBI agents outside a Chicago cinema, has won permission to have his infamous relative’s body dug up at a cemetery in Indianapolis.

Authorities have not yet revealed exactly why Michael C Thompson wants the exhumation. But cemetery workers will face a challenge getting to his remains – Dillinger’s father had his casket reinforced with four concrete slabs, apparently to deter vandals.

Along with Bonnie and Clyde, Machine Gun Kelly, Ma Barker and Pretty Boy Floyd, Dillinger became a household name in the era of the Great Depression, as his gang pulled off a series of daring bank robberies across the Midwest.

While police and federal agents desperately hunted the gang, which killed ten people, he became an unlikely hero to many as millions of Americans endured the ruinous consequences of the 1929 Wall Street Crash.

Dillinger was awaiting trial for the murder of a Chicago police officer when he escaped, underwent plastic surgery and tried to burn off his fingerprints using acid. He was finally cornered outside the Biograph Theatre after being betrayed by a Romanian-born brothel madam dubbed the Lady in Red by newspapers, and died in a shoot-out.

He was buried in his native Indianapolis.

The Indiana health department said it expected Dillinger’s body to be exhumed and reburied on September 16 – assuming the concrete can be cut through.

Historian Susan Sutton told the Associated Press: “I think they’re going to have a hard time getting through that.”

She added: “The main fear was that someone would come in and dig up the grave and either desecrate the corpse or steal it. The Dillingers had actually been offered money to ‘lend out’ his body for exhibits, so they were concerned.

“Somebody who had, as maybe people would say now – ‘Stuck it to the banker’ – would easily become a folk hero. He was also known by some people to be very polite even while he was stealing. It’s an odd combination.”

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