John Dillinger in a crime spree that lasted only a little bit over a year, captured the imagination of a country mired in the depths of the Great Depression, and rose to the dubious distinction of being labeled by the FBI as Public Enemy Number 1. His exploits live on, in movies and works of literature, as even today the public can’t seem to get enough of this rapscallion of a folk hero.
Dillinger was born in 1903, and committed his first robbery in 1924, when he smacked the head of a local grocer and stole his proceeds from the day.You can find a quick rundown here Dillinger was caught for this crime and sent to prison where rather than being rehabilitated he was educated in the art of bank robbery by his more experienced fellow inmates. Like a college graduate embarking on his chosen profession, Dillinger when he was paroled in May 1933 promptly took up his career as a professional bank robber, pausing only long enough to help arrange a prison break for fellow incarcerates, many of whom joined him on his state to state bank robbing spree.
Dillinger was captured again in January 1934 and sent to prison again, but was able to soon break out of the “escape proof” Crown Point Prison in Indiana. Dillinger reassembled his old gang and resumed robbing banks across the midwest. Riding the wave of popular discontent with the banks in depression era America, Dillinger also received a large publicity boost from the FBI in April 1934. A newsreel was produced ostensibly to assist the FBI and publicize its efforts to catch Dillinger, but it had the opposite effect of bringing Dillinger’s exploits to a wider audience hungry for a folk hero and cemented his image as a modern day Robin Hood. The FBI labeled him Public Enemy Number One, but for many Americans he was seen as Public Hero Number One and the way he thumbed his nose at the authorities pursuing him only fueled his already growing notoriety.
In June of 1934 Dillinger joined forces with another notorious gangster, George “Baby Face” Nelson. Nelson shot and killed an FBI agent in a law enforcement ambush designed to bring the Dillinger gang to justice. Dillinger escaped the ambush but the death of one of their own redoubled the efforts of the FBI to capture him, and finally on July 22, 1934, Public Enemy Number One met his end in a shootout outside a theatre in Chicago where he had just taken in a show with his girlfriend. Bringing him down was FBI agent Melvin Purvis who by bringing down the notorious and infamous Dillinger cemented his own legendary status in the public’s mind.
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