Why John Dillinger Is Being Exhumed

The exhumation is loosely set for September 16 in Indianapolis
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 1, 2019 12:22 PM CDT
Why John Dillinger Is Being Exhumed
This file photo shows Indiana Reformatory booking shots of John Dillinger, stored in the state archives, and shows the notorious gangster as a 21-year-old.   (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Charlie Nye, File)

The plan to exhume John Dillinger's body is real, and could be spectacular—if it uncovers evidence of the Depression-era bank robber living beyond his reported death. So goes the suggestion by a man and woman who identify Dillinger as their uncle and say his 1934 demise was greatly exaggerated, WLS-TV reports. "I have been presented with evidence that demonstrates that the individual who was shot and killed at the Biograph Theatre in Chicago on July 22, 1934 may not in fact have been my uncle, John H. Dillinger," according to affidavits signed by Mike Thompson and Carol Thompson Griffith. With the FBI saying its agents indeed killed Dillinger, the media is trying to sort things out:

  • A poor match: The unsettling evidence "includes the non-match of his eye color, the ear shape and protrusion from the head, the fingerprints not matching, the existence of a heart condition, and the apparent non-match of the anterior teeth," per the affidavits.

  • Eye color: Yes, Dillinger's eye color was incorrectly listed as brown in a coroner's report. But a medical examiner says it "doesn't mean a darn thing" because post-mortem, "there can be some clouding of the cornea, and you [could] have difficulty telling the color of the iris."
  • Ears and fingers: As for the protruding ears, the Chicago Sun-Times notes that Dillinger had plastic surgery done to keep police off his trail. And legend has it he also changed his fingerprints with acid, per the New York Times.
  • The FBI: An FBI statement says Dillinger was killed by FBI agents "as he reached for a pistol from his trouser pocket" outside the Chicago theater, per the AP. "A wealth of information supports Dillinger's demise," adds the agency, which dismisses a "common myth" that the buried body was really "a stand-in."
  • But if he lived: The Thompsons' affidavits say that "if he was not killed on that date, I am interested in discovering what happened to him, where he lived, whether he had children, and whether any such children or grandchildren are living today."
  • Concrete: The actual digging could be tough, since Dillinger's father had the casket reburied under scrap iron and several slabs of concrete. As the New York Times reported in 1964, "A showman in Wisconsin offered Dillinger's father $10,000 to 'borrow' the body for a while, and eventually the Dillinger family had to pour three feet of concrete into the grave to prevent the body from being stolen."
  • Possible date: The exhumation is loosely set for September 16 at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, with the History Channel on board to film, but a channel rep says that "full approval ... has not been granted."
  • A hero to some: The old Times article is full of interesting details, like the support Dillinger received from the Governor of Indiana and others: "Why should the law have wanted John Dillinger?" a man wrote in an Indianapolis newspaper. "He wasn't any worse than the bankers and politicians who took poor people's money. Dillinger did not rob poor people."
(More John Dillinger stories.)

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