John Herbert Dillinger, born 22 June 1903, was an infamous American gangster in the Depression-era United States. He was the leader of the so-called “Dillinger Gang”, a crew of American Depression-era bank robbers that included other famous gangsters such as Baby Face Nelson. The group was noted for a successful string of bank robberies, using modern tools and tactics, in the Midwestern United States from September 1933 to July 1934. During the execution of these crimes, the gang killed ten men and wounded seven more. During this period, the gang escaped prison three times.
In January 1934 John Dillinger was arrested in Tuscon, Arizona after locals recognized a few of his accomplices. He was extradited to Indiana and put to the jail in Crown Point. The police boasted to area newspapers that the prison was escape-proof and posted extra guards to make sure.
On March 3, 1934, Dillinger escaped the apparently impenetrable Crown Point prison using only a wooden gun. Indiana authorities claimed before that the jail was escape-proof, but Dillinger proved them wrong.
Dillinger claimed he had fashioned the gun from a block of wood, a razor handle and a coat of black shoe polish. He used the wooden pistol to round up several guards and get his hands on a Thompson submachine gun. When he had a real weapon in his hands, he went to the prison garage and stole the sheriff’s police car, fleeing to Chicago.
The public seemed to love Dillinger for his great escape, but at the same time looked at the authorities as a total laughing stock. Sheriff Lillian Holley, who had claimed she could handle the most famous renegade of the 1930s, said: “If I ever see John Dillinger, I’ll shoot him dead with my own pistol.”
FBI organized a nationwide manhunt for him. After escaping from Crown Point, Dillinger reunited with his girlfriend, Evelyn Frechette, just hours after his escape at her half-sister Patsy’s Chicago apartment, where she was also staying. Dillinger was back in action only three days later, teaming with gangster Baby Face Nelson and others to knock over a bank in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
On July 22, 1934, the police and the Division of Investigation closed in on the Biograph Theater. Federal agents, led by Melvin Purvis and Samuel P. Cowley, moved to arrest Dillinger as he exited the theater. He drew a weapon and attempted to flee, but was shot four times and killed.
Dillinger became even more famous after his death. He was a genuine celebrity. Despite the effort to keep the funeral’s date secret, more than 5000 people appeared at the cemetery for his burial. His epic escape with the wooden gun cemented his name in the criminal Hall of Fame.