Digging up bones

John Dillinger is slated to come out of his grave next month. Good luck to the guys who get shovel-duty. The infamous depression-era gangster is buried under concrete and scrap iron and then more concrete—four additional slabs.

That’s one way to ensure that a two-time jail escapee stays put.

Even as a young boy, Dillinger had a knack for finding trouble, and the young delinquent grew into a big-time criminal. Dillinger was only 21 when he was convicted on assault and battery charges in connection with robbing a grocery store—his first burglary.

He used that nine and a half years in prison, not for rehabilitation, but to learn the art of criminal life. Veteran bank robbers were happy to “mentor” the young hoodlum who became a ruthless gangster.

Between the date he was released in May of 1933 and his death in July of 1934, Dillinger pretty much went wild. He stole cars, attacked police officers, and robbed 24 banks. He and his gang killed at least 10 people.

As for the robberies, banks weren’t their only targets. Dillinger and his proud bunch also hit four police stations. All told, they in around $500,000 for their efforts; that comes to around $7 million in today’s economy. Historians say the feds spent more money trying to catch him than he stole.

Regardless of the crimes, the leader of the “Terror Gang” was considered a folk hero to many.

He didn’t steal from the rich and give to the poor, but Dillinger was viewed as a Depression-era Robin Hood. Those who had lost farms and homes to foreclosure lauded him for terrorizing the institutions (banks) that had, in their minds, hurt them.

Oh, he was arrested, jailed, and placed under ultra-surveillance. It mattered not. No prison, it seemed, could hold “Gentleman John.” When he wasn’t plotting his own escape, he was busting out his gang members. Documents claim that he once escaped using a gun carved out of wood.

Being on the run didn’t keep Dillinger from finding girlfriends, visiting family members, and enjoying picnics. He even made time for a facelift. While evading police and the FBI following his final jailbreak, Dillinger enlisted a doctor to perform plastic surgery. That might have worked—for a while—had the “Lady in Red” not betrayed him.

Now, after 85 years, they’re going to dig up his bones, and no one seems to know why. The official permit does not list a reason.

Some say it’s to quell conspiracy theories that claim the gangster isn’t in the grave that bears his name. Hmmm. If not, then who is?

Others believe, since the History Channel is covering the event, that the whole thing is a media stunt. If so, it’s working. People are talking.

Dillinger’s nephew gave permission to exhume. Maybe he secretly hopes they’ll uncover some of the loot. Who knows?

What I do know is that the plan is to dig up and rebury on the same day—Sept. 16. Getting through all that concrete and scrap metal in a day will take more than shovels.

Dillinger’s father designed the concrete tomb to safeguard his son’s body. After all, at the scene of Dillinger’s death, it was reported that people rushed to dip newspapers, skirts, and hankies in his pool of blood for keepsakes. To add to the frenzy, the family had numerous monetary offers to “rent” out John’s body for exhibits.

Just when you think you’ve heard maximum crazy, the world gets crazier.

When one considers that Dillinger spent most of his adult life in prison—he died at age 31—the mayhem he caused is almost unbelievable. But historians say it’s so, and so it is. John Dillinger was a name known across America, and his bones are keeping his legend alive.

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