Above, Dillinger sums it all up in the letter to his father. Explaining why he gave up and became a criminal. Nine years of his life were stolen from him for an attempted robbery which accured while he was intoxicated on moonshine. The letter clearly states in Dillinger's own words that he had grown bitter towards society.
JOHN DILLINGER- A Diminutive Synopsis
by Tony Stewart
I was only 10 years old when my father told me and my brother, Ron, that we were related to an outlaw. “Your great aunt, Beryl Ethel Hovious, married a famous criminal named John Dillinger in 1924,” he stated with a hint of excitement in his voice. Hovious was my mother’s maiden name. I was confused at first, but became very curious and was quite anxious to learn about the history of this outlaw called John Dillinger. All I had to go on, however, was his name and the fact that he had married my great aunt Beryl.
I soon began reading books about Dillinger and other criminals in our nation’s illustrious history. By the time I turned 13, I felt I knew everything possible about outlaws from Jesse James to the Barker-Karpis gang.
Unfortunately, many of these books fictionalized and dramatized events to make heroes out of the criminals. I was young and naïve, and believed every word printed on the pages. On the other hand, newspapers and lawmen served up their own brand of justice by making the gangsters worse than they actually were. It took years of meticulous research before I was able to uncover the real story concerning my famous relative, and one of the primary sources in my search for the truth about John Dillinger was none other than his first and only wife – my great aunt, Beryl Hovious.
Even though I was born in Bloomington, Indiana in 1957, I was raised in Los Angeles, California. In 1989, my brother and I flew back to Indiana to meet Beryl for the first time. We would speak to Beryl several times from 1989 up until her death in 1993, but ours was the first interview she ever gave in regard to her husband John Dillinger.
Beryl was very open and honest in our discussion. We chit-chatted a while before I asked if she remembered her first husband’s name. “Yes,” she replied with a short pause before stating, “Johnnie,” the name in which she always referred to him.
The story begins
Beryl was born on August 6, 1906, to a poverty-stricken family in Stinesville, Indiana. Her father, Stephen Hovious, was a farmer and hunter by trade. Her mother, Cora Vandeventer Hovious, was a loving, caring woman who did her best to provide for her family with little or no money.
In the fall of 1923 the family moved to the quiet, Hoosier town of Martinsville, Indiana and was living in a small house on Eslinger Avenue with help from a Home Advisor. Beryl attended classes at the South School District where she was considered a very good student. The happy-go-lucky youngster quickly made friends with other teenagers who shared her small town lifestyle. It was at a party thrown by one of Beryl’s friends that she was introduced to a young man by the name of John Dillinger.
He was immediately infatuated with Beryl’s kindness and beauty. She was 17 years old, very attractive, and had an aura of innocence about her. In turn, Beryl was impressed with Dillinger’s politeness and good manners. She described him as a perfect gentleman who made her feel special. He would open doors for her, lend her his handkerchief when she needed it and always seemed to find a way to make her laugh.
Beryl recalled one social event at a small church gathering in Martinsville that she and “Johnnie” attended together. The affair was a pie supper where husbands and boyfriends lined up to bid on a pie or other baked goods that the ladies had prepared. Many of the items were marked with different colored ribbons so the men would know which lady had baked them. Of course, the men got to sit with the lady who had cooked the item if he won the bid.
Dillinger waited patiently to bid one-dollar for the pie that Beryl had baked, but another young man in front of him beat him to it. Needless to say, Dillinger was furious. Beryl told him that she had actually baked two pies and the other one was at her house. The pair left the event and rushed to her home. Dillinger gave Beryl the dollar and they both ate the entire pie. (That particular dollar bill is in a glass frame and remains in the family to this day in order to preserve the memory of what seemed to be the beginning of a glorious love affair.) By December of 1923, Dillinger and Beryl were seeing each other on a regular basis.
On April 12, 1924 John Dillinger and Beryl Hovious were married in a small ceremony at the county clerk’s office in Martinsville. Beryl’s family members were fond of Dillinger and described him as a very kind soul and dedicated young man.
William Hovious, Beryl’s brother, was one of the witnesses to the wedding. Hovious was also my grandfather, and he and his new brother-in-law would become close friends from that point on.
After the wedding, Dillinger took his bride’s arm and proudly walked to his father’s farm in Mooresville. He introduced her to John Dillinger Sr., who thought well of the marriage. “A nicer woman never lived,” he would later remark when speaking of Beryl.
The newlyweds lived at the Dillinger farm for a short time and occupied a small room at the front of the house. The four by eight-foot bedroom was very crowded, however, and the couple eventually moved in with Beryl’s parents while Dillinger looked for a job. By the summer of 1924, he had found a job doing upholstery work at Mooresville Furniture Shop. Soon afterward, the pair rented their first house on Main Street in Martinsville.
Beryl said that Dillinger was good to her and always treated her well. He seemed very happy and cheerful, and was always bringing little gifts home for her such as a bracelet and other small trinkets. (In one of my interviews with Beryl I asked if she still had any of the items that Johnnie had given her. She raised her hand and showed me a thinly worn wedding ring that Dillinger had given her on their wedding day.)
The two enjoyed many quiet evenings at home; talking, listening to the radio, reading the newspaper and playing various card games. Dillinger also loved to sing, and often sang to his wife. (That was quite a contrast from the violent and abusive husband in which Dillinger has been portrayed.)
Dillinger later secured a job at an Indianapolis machine shop. He enjoyed working around machinery and was said by his employers to be a quick learner. While her husband was at work, Beryl would be busy cooking, cleaning and ironing his shirts. Dinner would always be on the table when he arrived home after his 80-mile commute. The home he shared with Beryl was a special place to him; a refuge where he loved to relax after a hard day’s work.
The start of a criminal career
On September 6, 1924, Dillinger told Beryl that he was going out to play billiards with some friends. It wasn’t unusual for him to shoot pool occasionally, and Beryl thought nothing of it. That fateful night, however, would change both of their lives forever. One of the friends he met up with at the Mooresville Pool Hall was William Edgar Singleton. Known as Ed, he was ten years older than Dillinger and had served time in prison for armed robbery. The two celebrated their night out on the town with a jug of corn liquor that had been supplied by Singleton. After the pair became intoxicated, Singleton presented a plan to rob 65-year-old grocer Frank Morgan who owned the West End Grocery Store. Singleton convinced an intoxicated Dillinger that the heist would be easy money. It turned out to be anything but.
A little after 10 p.m., Dillinger was hiding by the steps of Mooresville Christian Church when Morgan came walking by with his weekly receipts from the store. Dillinger jumped out of the shadows and struck Morgan on the head with a heavy bolt wrapped in a handkerchief. The would-be thief then attempted to pull a revolver, but Morgan knocked the weapon out of his hands and it accidentally discharged upon striking the ground. No one was injured, but the sound of gunfire and Morgan’s frantic pleas for help awoke nearby neighbors.
Singleton fled in a car as soon as the shot was fired and left his accomplice to fend for himself. Dillinger hot-footed it back to the pool hall in Mooresville. No one was aware of his involvement in the heist, but his constant questioning of whether Morgan had been hurt in the crime aroused suspicion. Shortly after the incident was reported to police, Dillinger was arrested. When questioned, he denied any involvement in the crime.
Dillinger was scared but confided his guilt to his father, who told him to tell the truth about the matter. Dillinger’s father, a deacon in the local Mooresville Church, decided to speak to the Martinsville prosecutor about the matter. He was told since this was John’s first offense he would get off with probation if he came clean. B.F. Morgan, who received 11 stitches in his head from the incident, had known John Dillinger since he was a teenager and always considered him a good kid. Dillinger listened to his father’s advice and pled guilty. Confident of a favorable outcome after speaking with the prosecutor, Dillinger’s father did not hire a lawyer, nor did he go to court with his son.
Judge Joseph Williams did just the opposite of what the prosecutor had told John Dillinger Sr. He threw the book at the first-time offender in a trial that lasted only five minutes. Dillinger was sentenced on two concurrent charges, and received two to fourteen years and ten to twenty years at the Indiana State Reformatory.
Dillinger was confused as he sat in his eight by eight-foot cell. His father had promised him that he would be home in a few hours. He had even agreed to testify against Singleton as a witness for the prosecution, which usually meant a lighter sentence. Dillinger felt betrayed and could not understand why he was given such a harsh sentence.
Upon arriving at the Indiana State Reformatory at Pendleton, Dillinger advised one of the guards that he would be “the meanest S.O.B. you ever saw” if Singleton received a lesser sentence than he had. Dillinger’s words would prove to be prophetic.
After learning of Dillinger’s harsh sentence, Singleton went into court better prepared. He hired a lawyer and requested a new judge. On the advice of his attorney, Singleton pled guilty and received a sentence of two to fourteen years. He was paroled in less than two.
Years later, on August 31, 1937, Singleton would suffer a violent death when he fell asleep on a set of Pennsylvania railroad tracks. Pieces of his body were found as far as 80 feet from where he met his demise.
End of a marriage
Needless to say, Dillinger’s stint in prison did not help his marriage. He still loved Beryl and the two exchanged letters while he was in prison. One of the letters was dated August 18, 1928.
My dearest wife:
Received your sweet letter Tuesday eve, the only one this week and I’m still waiting for that interview (a visit from Beryl). Gee honey I would like to see you. Hubert (Dillinger’s half-brother) wrote last week I would sure like to see him if he wants to come see me let me know and I will send him the carfare.
In another letter he wrote:
Dearest we will be so happy when I come home to you and chase your sorrows away and it won’t take any kids to keep me home with you always (Beryl was infertile and unable to bear children) for sweetheart I love you so all I want to do is just be with you and make you happy. I wonder if I will get an interview Monday. I sure hope so for I am dying to see you, darling have some pictures taken every time I see you, you look dearer and sweeter to me so I want late pictures now say rassberries (“raspberries” was a pet word Dillinger used to cheer people up), but honey it’s the truth. You can imagine what disappointment it was to me when you didn’t come on your birthday. I’ve been crossed as a bear every since. Lots of love and kisses to the sweetest little wife in the world.
Beryl visited her husband in prison whenever her limited resources allowed it. At that point, however, it was difficult to call the relationship between the two a marriage.
Neither Dillinger’s parents nor Beryl’s believed in divorce. Beryl didn’t believe in divorce either, but the time her husband spent in prison eventually took a financial and emotional toll on her. On June 20, 1929, after Dillinger had been imprisoned for five years, Beryl was granted a divorce. A week later she married her lawyer, Harold McGowen. I have always wondered if McGowen took advantage of Beryl’s vulnerability, and may even have persuaded her into divorcing Dillinger so he could marry her. The marriage was short lived, however, and by July of 1931 she was divorced for a second time.
A changed man
Dillinger became more bitter and depressed as he sat in prison. He was deeply hurt when Beryl divorced him, and blamed his fate on the court system for stealing five years of his life up to that point. Records at Pendleton indicate that Dillinger was a problem prisoner who was repeatedly placed in solitary confinement for disobeying prison rules. The disruptive inmate was constantly in trouble for gambling and fighting, and also involved in several escape attempts.
He was denied parole and transferred to the Indiana State Penitentiary in Michigan City. A prison’s sole purpose at that time was to punish and confine those found guilty of crimes. Rather than rehabilitate, the cells and prison yards became a training ground for criminal activity. It was in prison that Dillinger met hardened criminals, some of which would become future members of his various gangs over the coming year.
The Indiana farm boy had gone into prison a petty thief, but came out a professional criminal. Friends and family members noticed a change in Dillinger when he was released from prison in May of 1933. He had lost weight but more than his physical condition, they noticed an emotional change in him. His sense of humor was still intact, but he was not the carefree young man they had once known.
Shortly after his release Dillinger attended church services with his father and wept openly. He told the preacher that his sermon on the Prodigal Son had really touched him. His newfound religion was not to last, however.
On June 10, 1933, the New Carlisle Bank in Ohio was robbed of $10,600. Even though he was never officially charged with the crime, this was most likely Dillinger’s first bank heist. Before he was through, Dillinger would be credited with a dozen bank robberies, raids on three police departments and two jail escapes.
Escape from Lima, Ohio jail
On September 22, 1933, Dillinger helped some of his old prison buddies escape from the Michigan City prison by smuggling them two .45 caliber pistols inside the jail through a prison vendor. Dillinger’s luck ran out on that same day, however, when he was arrested in Dayton, Ohio and charged with being a participant in the Bluffton Bank robbery that had taken place on August 4.
On October 12, Michigan City escapees Harry Pierpont, Charley Makley and Harry Copeland decided to return Dillinger’s favor for breaking them out of prison and made a daring raid on the Lima, Ohio jail in an attempt to spring him. They made good their escape but not before Pierpont shot and killed Allen County Sheriff Sarber.
To arm themselves, the gang raided a police department in Peru, Indiana eight days later and made off with the entire police arsenal of weapons. Dillinger’s name was suddenly grabbing headlines all across the nation.
The Greencastle Robbery
On October 23, 1933, a black Studebaker pulled up next to the Central National Bank in Greencastle, Indiana. Four men got out of the car and walked toward the bank. Harry Copeland stopped just outside the front door as Harry Pierpont, Charley Makley and John Dillinger entered the bank.
Pierpont walked up to the fourth window and asked bank teller Ward Mayhal to change a twenty-dollar bill. Mayhal was busy with paper work at the time and without looking up, told Pierpont to go to the next window. The gangster took one step back and pulled out a sawed-off shotgun. Mayhal looked up to suddenly find himself staring straight down the barrel.
While Makley surveyed the lobby with a machinegun, Dillinger leapt over a marble counter and broke open the door leading to the teller cage. He began emptying the cash drawers as Pierpont ordered bank teller Harry Wells to open the vault. Pierpont then pulled out a large white sack that had been hidden in his pocket and filled it up with the money. Without firing a shot, the gang quietly walked out the door and escaped with over $74,000.
It was Dillinger’s first robbery with gang member Harry Pierpont, who had taught his new boss the fine art of robbing banks while they were inmates together at Michigan City. Pierpont was actually the “brains” of the outfit, but the desperadoes were billed by newspapers as the “Dillinger Gang” since John Dillinger was the most well known of the group.
Trapped in Tuscon, Arizona
On the afternoon of January 15, 1934, Dillinger and fellow gang member John Hamilton were alleged to have been two of the four gang members that robbed the First National Bank of East Chicago. Police officer Patrick O’Malley was killed during the robbery and both were wanted in his murder. O’Malley severely wounded Hamilton in the stomach during the robbery, but was killed when the outlaw returned fire. According to Dillinger, he was in route to Wisconsin from Florida to pick up girlfriend Billie Frechette at the time of the robbery and did not participate in that particular crime. Although some historians dispute his claim, several documented eyewitness accounts of the crime support Dillinger’s statement.
Shortly after, Dillinger was to meet up with gang members Harry Pierpont, Charley Makley and Russell Clark in Tuscon, Arizona. All brought their girlfriends with them and settled down for a winter vacation. The three gang members checked into a hotel and waited for Dillinger and his girlfriend, Polly Hamilton, to arrive the following day. Unfortunately for the fugitives, a fire broke out at the hotel where they were staying. The following day a fireman who had helped rescue some of the gang recognized their pictures on the cover of True Detective magazine. Dillinger and Polly Hamilton stayed at the group’s new hideout, but he and each of his gang members were apprehended one by one over the next few days.
Law officials from various states battled over who would take custody of the gang. Clark, Pierpont and Makley were returned to Lima, Ohio to stand trial for the murder of Sheriff Saber. Dillinger was the grand prize for law enforcement agencies, however, and the state of Indiana wanted him badly. They eventually secured his return to East Chicago after indicting him for the murder of Officer O’Malley. He was flown back to the state and housed in the Crown Point Jail where Sheriff Lillian Holley was placed in charge of the now-famous outlaw.
Escape from Crown Point Jail
A crush of media descended on the Indiana town before and during Dillinger’s arrival. Rather than the vicious killer in which he had been portrayed through the media, Dillinger was treated like a celebrity by reporters and law enforcement officials. The scene at the jail more resembled a group of old friends gathering for a reunion instead of an alleged murderer meeting with those who wished to execute him. At one point, Prosecutor Robert Estill even posed for a picture with his famous defendant. The two had their arms around each other like they were best buddies.
The celebrity outlaw turned on the charm and spoke freely to reporters, who seemed to enjoy his company. When reporters asked about the law officials holding him, Dillinger told them he liked Prosecutor Estill and that Sheriff Holley seemed like a fine lady. Then the gangster smiled and said, “You got me, now try to keep me.”
Of course, everyone was aware of his previous escape from Lima, Ohio where Sheriff
Saber had been killed. This did not deter Sheriff Holley, however, as she told officials that nothing less than an army could break Dillinger out of her jail. Within weeks, all the hoopla settled down and fewer guards were noticeably present. Dillinger was a model prisoner; very pleasant and served regular jail food with no complaints or problems of any kind. He told reporters, “A jail is like a nutshell with a worm in it, the worm always gets out.” Indeed, the worm was about to get out.
On March 3, a wooden gun was smuggled into Dillinger’s cell. After securing nine people in cells with the fake weapon, including guards and the jail warden, Dillinger and two others picked up two of the lawmen’s machineguns as they made their exit through the kitchen that lead to the basement of the courthouse. There he commandeered the sheriff’s car and made his escape.
The daring outlaw managed to lock up the entire jailhouse before he left and had taken the only set of master keys with him. Officials had to break their own men out of jail with welding torches. The embarrassment for Crown Point officials was immense to say the least. Sheriff Holley was so mad that she publicly stated that if she saw Dillinger she would kill him.
The FBI became interested in Dillinger at this point. Since bank robbery was not yet a federal crime, the only thing they could charge him with was driving a stolen car across state lines. The “heat” Dillinger was feeling from law enforcement was about to get a lot hotter.
On April 20, 1934, Dillinger and his gang of Homer Van Meter, Pat Reilly, John Hamilton and Lester Gillis arrived at a resort located in northern Wisconsin called the Little Bohemia Lodge. The purpose of their rendezvous was to relax and reorganize Dillinger’s gang.
Gillis, better known as “Baby Face” Nelson, had only recently joined up with Dillinger. The two had a strained relationship, but needed each other. Dillinger had just broken out of Crown Point Jail and needed money. In the meantime, Homer Van Meter had joined up with Nelson. They needed another man for a bank job that was planned and Dillinger accepted.
In their first bank robbery together, Nelson was looking out a window when he saw two police officers walk by. Instead of waiting to see if they had spotted the bank robbers, Nelson stuck his machinegun out the window and opened fire. Even though none were killed, the blast hit both police officers and three civilians on the side walk. Nelson then turned around and exclaimed, “I got ‘em! I got ‘em! I got ‘em!”
Dillinger was anything but impressed with Nelson’s actions. John Dillinger’s idea of a good bank robbery was to get in and out as quickly as possible with no one getting hurt. Baby Face Nelson, on the other hand, was a very dangerous person who tended to shoot first and ask questions later.
The proprietor of the Little Bohemia Lodge, Emil Wanatka, would soon learn the identity of his guests and managed to get word to FBI special agent Melvin Purvis. Three days later Purvis arrived with federal agents and local policemen. They hid in a patch of woods near the lodge and sat a trap for the gangsters. Instead of capturing the outlaws, the G-men killed one innocent man and wounded two others who were leaving the resort in their car. The shots alerted the Dillinger and his crew and they were able to make their escape through a hail of gunfire. Members of the gang scattered in different directions during the shootout. Baby Face Nelson killed one federal agent and wounded another before making good his escape.
The Little Bohemia incident was a disaster, as well as an embarrassment to J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Thus began a man hunt for Dillinger that was unprecedented up to that point. Dillinger’s face was plastered across the FBI’s firing range targets, and a “shoot to kill” order was issued. The reward on his head was also raised from $10,000 to $15,000.
On June 22, 1934, Dillinger celebrated his 31st birthday with Polly Hamilton at the French Casino nightclub in Chicago. The FBI also announced that they had a birthday present for John Dillinger, and christened him the first man ever to be named Public Enemy Number One on their most wanted list. There were probably more dangerous criminals that deserved the title, but they had not publicly humiliated the nation’s top law enforcement agency. J. Edgar Hoover was determined that Dillinger was going to pay a price for his actions.
Even though Dillinger and his sister were divorced, my grandfather’s friendship with his ex-brother-in-law never ended. Dillinger trusted Hovious and would occasionally stop by to visit with him at his two-story brick house in Gosport, Indiana. My grandfather was outside doing his daily chores on one of Dillinger’s visits. The gangster was in good spirits and was glad to see Hovious again. He asked how my grandfather was doing, and also inquired if Beryl was well. Dillinger still loved Beryl and had tried several times in the past to get her to reconcile with him. The gangster said that things were going well for him, and handed Hovious some money. My grandfather knew Dillinger had been robbing banks and expressed his concern by saying, “Sooner or later, the police are going to catch up with you.”
“They’ll never get me, because I don’t leave any witnesses!” Dillinger snapped, apparently annoyed at the remark. The gangster later apologized for the tone of his voice by explaining that he had lots of things going on at the time.
My grandfather took the money not only on that occasion, but others as well. Times were hard and Hovious was poor, as were millions of others during the Depression era. His small farm became a refuge for Dillinger and his gang when they were between bank jobs. The “old brick house” was barely visible from the road during the summer time since it was surrounded by trees and thick brush. That made it easy to spot anyone approaching the house. Since it was not unusual to hear gunfire in the rural areas of Indiana at the time, it allowed the gang members to get in a little target practice without interruption.
In addition to money, a grateful Dillinger also rewarded his ex-brother-in-law with other items during his brief stopovers. On one visit he presented Hovious with a gold watch chain that still remains in the family today. Another gift was not discovered until after my grandfather’s death in 1972 when relatives found a one-hundred dollar bill in his family Bible. The bill, which also remains in the family, was a 1934 A series printed in January of that year, prior to Dillinger’s demise. There is a simple explanation as to why he never spent the money. Police suspicioned that Dillinger was frequenting my grandfather’s farm and had his house under surveillance. My grandfather was a poor farmer, and as such, he would have brought the wrath of law enforcement down upon him had he been seen flashing a hundred-dollar bill around town.
My grandfather also had other reasons not to spend the money. He had already been arrested by Indiana State Police as a suspect in the Rockville Bank robbery. The other man suspected in the bank heist was none other than John Dillinger. My grandfather had nothing to do with the robbery, however, and was later cleared of the charge.
Hovious eventually moved to another residence, but always left word with relatives as to where Dillinger could find him. Near the end of the gangster’s life, however, things were “too hot” for any visits to my grandfather’s residence.
The Biograph Theater and the Woman in Red
The embarrassing turn of events at Little Bohemia made J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI more determined than ever to “get” Dillinger. That opportunity presented itself on July 22, 1934, when Anna Sage tipped off the FBI that she, Dillinger and his girlfriend, Polly Hamilton, would be attending a movie at the Biograph Theater in Chicago. Later known as the “woman in red” because of the red dress she would be wearing that night, Sage was an illegal immigrant from Romania who was facing deportation charges. She decided to help the FBI land the fugitive in hopes that her cooperation would thwart her deportation out of the states, and also land her the reward money offered for Dillinger.
Melvin Purvis, federal agents and a variety of police agencies were waiting outside the theater that night when Dillinger exited arm in arm with the two females that had accompanied them. In a prearranged signal to the other lawmen that the man was in fact Dillinger, Purvis lit a cigar. Federal agents and policeman closed in on their prey. Dillinger spotted them and began running in a semi-crouching position, shifting his body in a zigzag motion like a football player running toward the goal line for a touchdown. It would be to no avail. Federal agents and policemen opened fire and cut him down in a nearby alley. The hunt for Public Enemy #1 was over.
What happened to the rest?
Many men made up John Dillinger’s three gangs during his 14-month crime spree and most suffered violent deaths. John Hamilton was gravely wounded after the shootout at Little Bohemia, and lingered several days before dying on April 27, 1934. Dillinger placed a horseshoe on his chest and buried him in a shallow grave in a gravel pit near Oswegeo, Illinois. Homer Van Meter was killed by St. Paul, Minnesota police while resisting arrest on August 23, 1934. Charley Makey was shoot to death during a failed attrempted escape with his pal Harry Pierpont on Sept. 22, 1934. Pierpont died in the electric chair at Columbus, Ohio Prison on October 17, 1934. Baby Face Nelson went down in a blaze of glory after a deadly shootout with two federal agents. Nelson killed both Federal agents, but 17 of the agent’s bullets made their mark on the outlaw. He escaped in the agents car, after the shootout and died shortly after. His wife and another companion later dumped his nude body on the side of a road by a graveyard.
And how about Anna Sage, the “woman in red?” Her cooperation with the FBI failed to serve its purpose, and she was deported to Romania a year after Dillinger was killed.She died in 1947.
I set off on a journey at a young age to find out the “hidden truth” about my famous relative named John Dillinger. With the help of my Great Aunt Beryl and personal items left to family members by my Grandfather William Hovious, I think I did that. In fact, they helped me discover a side of Dillinger that I, nor many other people, had ever seen before.
To some, he was a common criminal. To others, he was a Robin Hood-type figure who robbed the same institutions that closed their doors and hearts on them. Not only did many people lose their life savings to failed banks of the Great Depression, but those same banks later foreclosed on their farms when they were unable to make their mortgage payments. “We couldn’t take back what the banks took from us, but we could sure admire those who tried,” was a common slogan that reflected public sentiment during the 1930’s.
Reporters loved Dillinger because the charismatic bandit sold newspapers for them. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies despised him because his daring bank robberies and Houdini-like escapes from their jails embarrassed them in an almost gentlemanly fashion. The more Dillinger succeeded, the more foolish they looked.
Still, I do not condone what he did. Bank robbery is not something that anyone should be admired for. But I was especially grateful to find out that Dillinger never killed anyone. Who knows what he would have turned out like if he had not received such a harsh prison sentence for a first-time offense. Perhaps Dillinger himself put it best in a letter that he wrote to his father while in the Lima, Ohio Jail:
“I know I have been a big disappointment to you but I guess I did to much time for where I went in a carefree boy, I came out bitter toward everything in general.”
Few criminals have captured the imagination of the American public more than John Dillinger. The FBI killed him in 1934, but they could not kill the Dillinger legend. It continues to grow larger each year that passes. In conclusion, John Dillinger was a bad guy. I don’t condone crime in any fashion, but I respect the history. In memory of all the victims and their families on both sides of the law who have suffered I leave my sympathies. I feel for all those who have suffered.
*All information contained in this article courtesy of author Tony Stewart. Please do not use without prior permission. To comment on this article you can email Tony Stewart at JohnnieDillinger@aol.com
Editor’s Note: Tony Stewart is the author of the great book “Dillinger, the Hidden Truth.” It is a very detailed and well documented account of John Dillinger’s life, as well as many other famous gangsters of the 1930s. For more information, please visit Tony Stewart’s website www.JohnnieDillinger.freeservers.com