Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Grave Sightings: John Dillinger

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

For years, every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like cemeteries to boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles (cemetery and/or tombstone enthusiasts) out there, I’m finally putting my photo library of interesting tombstones to good use.

Eighty years ago next week, one of the world’s most infamous gangsters met his match. John Dillinger was not killed in the middle of a shootout, or even mid-heist. He was simply walking out of a movie theater in Chicago. 

In 1924, at the young age of 21, Dillinger and a pal unsuccessfully attempted to rob a local grocery store in Mooresville, Indiana. He received an unduly harsh sentence and ended up serving nearly nine years in prison. While he was there, his stepmother died —his real mother had died when he was just three—and his wife left him. “I will be the meanest bastard you ever saw when I get out of here,” he said while incarcerated, and it seems he followed through on that threat.

Having nothing to go home to, Dillinger used his time behind bars to network with other gangsters and robbers, gathering tips and tricks for how to best swindle banks out of their cash stores. When he was finally paroled on May 10, 1933, he put his plans into action almost immediately.

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The crime spree that ensued was intense, but actually rather short-lived. His first post-prison robbery was on June 21, when he relieved the New Carlisle National Bank in New Carlisle, Ohio, of $10,000. He robbed at least four more banks that summer before his shenanigans caught up with him and he was jailed—but not for long. Some of his buddies from the Indiana State Prison had recently escaped, thanks in part to guns smuggled to them by Dillinger. They returned the favor and helped him bust out of jail, killing the sheriff in the process.

The Jackrabbit robbed at least three more banks in the fall and winter of 1933-34, including a massive $74,802 heist at a bank in Greencastle, Indiana, in October. He and his gang also brazenly busted into the state police arsenals to steal machine guns, rifles, ammo, and bulletproof vests. In January, he and three of his gang members were captured in Tucson. Dillinger was extradited to the jail in Crown Point, Indiana, a building that had been dubbed “inescapable.” Despite this, and despite the fact that the jail posted extra guards, Dillinger escaped yet again. Though it has famously been claimed that he used a razor to carve a gun out of wood or soap, PBS reports that it was actually just a clear cut case of bribery.

From March to July, Dillinger robbed four more banks and got himself a little plastic surgery. He was involved in a couple of shootouts, including one that killed a few of his cohorts. His girlfriend got arrested. But he also had some fun—Dillinger enjoyed a super secret picnic with his family back in Indiana, and even made it to a few Cubs games. J. Edgar Hoover was infuriated that Public Enemy #1 was just gallivanting around the midwest as he pleased, and formed a special task force meant to take Dillinger down. It was this task force that received a call from a woman who said she could help them get their man if they would prevent her from being deported. The agents agreed, and Anna Sage said that she and her friend Polly, Dillinger's new girl, would be accompanying the gangster to the movies on the afternoon or night of July 22, 1934. 

Agents were waiting to ambush the group as they walked out of the Biograph Theater in Chicago around 10:30 that night. When the three of them exited the theater, agent Melvin Purvis lit a cigar to signal to the other agents that the target was in sight. Dillinger realized what was happening and may or may not have pulled a gun as he ran into the nearby alley (reports vary). The agents opened fire, with three of their five bullets finding their mark. He died shortly thereafter and was buried in the family plot at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, where people sympathetic to the gangster still leave pennies to this day. The current tombstone is at least the fourth version—the others became too damaged by souvenir hunters.

Stacy Conradt

See all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
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Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 119th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."


Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."


Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."


By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

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