On July 22nd, 1934, infamous depression era gangster John Dillinger was gunned down by federal agents at the Biograph Theatre in Chicago, and over the years he has become incorporated into Windy City criminal lore alongside mobsters Al Capone, Frank Nitti and Baby Face Nelson. Unlike those mobsters, Dillinger was a little different.
He was a Hoosier. Although Dillinger was an associate of Nelson’s and he did spend time in Chicago, and other cities in the Midwest and West, his criminal career started right here in Indiana. Dillinger was born in Indianapolis in 1903, and, already a petty criminal, moved to Mooresville in 1921. Following a brief stint in the Navy and a dishonorable discharge for desertion, he returned to Mooresville and graduated from petty theft to armed robbery.
Shortly after embarking on his new career, he was arrested and jailed in the Indiana Reformatory. Inside, he met some guys who “knew some guys” and before long, he was well on his way to becoming the notorious bank robber we all remember.
The most famous of Dillinger’s Indiana exploits occurred in a different correctional facility several years later. Dillinger had been on the run, wanted for the murder of a detective during a bank robbery, when he was caught in Arizona and sent back to the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Indiana.
The specifics of what occurred next vary greatly depending on the source, but one thing is certain – John Dillinger stuck something that felt an awful lot like a gun into the ribs of a prison trustee turned hostage and promptly escaped, taking a couple of his unsavory jail associates with him.