John Dillinger's Death & Haunted Biograph Theatre

Today the Lady Dicks are going to take you through the hauntings at Chicago’s historical Biograph Theatre and the tale of notorious bank robber John Dillinger.

So grab your machine gun, jump in your Studebaker and join us in the height of the gangster era dirty ‘30s while we take a back seat to the notorious life of John Dillinger and his band of thieves who dominated the headlines in the 1930s.

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The Life of John Dillinger

John Herbert Dillinger (whom we’re going to refer to as “John” throughout this story) was born on June 22, 1903, to a middle class family in the Oakhill neighborhood of Indianapolis, Indiana.

His father, John Dillinger, Sr. was a hardworking grocer and was described as an “extreme disciplinarian” whose tactics ranged from being harsh and repressive to generous and permissive. His mother, Mary Ellen “Mollie” Lancaster, passed away when John was 3 years old. John’s father remarried three years later when he was 6, and he went on to resent his stepmother.

John was frequently in trouble in his youth. In an attempt to keep him out of trouble, his father moved the family to Mooresville, Indiana. Unfortunately this did not help. John ended up quit school at a young age to get a job in a machine shop.

John enlisted in the Navy, but after getting in trouble he deserted his ship when it docked in Boston, and returned to Mooreseville in 1924. That year he married 16-year-old Beryl Hovius and the two moved to Indianapolis to follow their dreams of living in the city with the “bright lights and excitement.”

However, John lacked employment and ended up joining forces with the town pool shark Ed Singleton. His criminal life got off to a rough start when the pair were caught during their first attempt to rob a grocer. Singleton pleaded not guilty and was sentenced to a minimum of 2 years in prison, but on the advice of his father John confessed.

He was convicted of assault and battery with intent to rob and conspiracy to commit a felony and was sentenced to 2-14 years and 10-20 years in the Indiana State Prison.

The Dillinger Gang

The Dillinger Gang or The Terror Gang was active between 1933 and 1934, and was run by our main man, a one Johnnie Dillinger.

During his 9 and a half years in prison, our good friend Johnnie had made friends with a few less than savoury characters including such infamous names as Baby Face Nelson, Homer Van Meter, Eddie Green, Harry Pierpont, Charley Makely, Russell Lee Clark, John Hamilton, Harry Copeland and Thomas Carroll. All of which could probably have their own entire episode.

Official side note: they were also sometimes known as the Pierpont gang (as in Harry Pierpont who seems like Johnnie’s right-hand dude) and while there is often an ego trip in criminal activity, it appeared that there was no fight over the gang leadership position and none of them men really cared who was listed as the leader.

Harry Copeland

Harry Copeland was convicted in 1927 of the burglary of the Boniface, Weber, and Allen Wholesale Company warehouse in Muncie, Indiana. Then again on April 27, 1931, he was arrested for adultery but released.

He landed himself back in prison after 2 more arrests for robbery and reckless driving and was paroled in 1933, which is when he joined the notorious Dillinger Gang and went on to make more of a name for himself.

He went on to be pushed out of the gang by Pierpoint and Dillinger in Chicago and got himself arrested again on November 19, 1933, when he was seen pulling a gun on a female companion during an argument in a car by police. He wasn’t released until 1949. And then on December 7, 1963, Harry Copeland was hit by an automobile in Detroit, Michigan and died instantly. 

Dillinger is released from jail

John Dillinger was paroled on May 10, 1933, and it was not very long before he fell back into old habits.

On July 15, 1933, John arrived in Muncie, Indiana, to meet Harry Copeland, then the two headed to Daleville, Indiana, to case the Commercial Bank of Daleville. They hit the bank on July 17. The 1933 robbery of the Daleville Commercial Bank was nicknamed the Daleville “Jackrabbit” job, and is the cause for the nickname Jackrabbit that Johnnie earned.

Now typically, the Dillinger gang ran with a slightly larger roster, but they ran into problems when a number of members were arrested in Muncie and taken to the Delaware County Jail. Johnnie and Copeland had evaded capture and the two of them decided to proceed with the planned robbery.

With only the two of them, Copeland served as the getaway driver of their stylish Chevy Coupe leaving Johnnie to execute robbery solo [Cue: Jason Derulo Ridin’ Solo – haha].

At around 12:45 pm on July 17, Johnnie entered the bank, pulled a pistol from his shoulder holster and allegedly told the sole employee at the bank that time, a teller named Margaret Good: “Honey, this is a stickup. Get me the money.”

It was said that the other employees were out to lunch at the time. Good gathered up the bills from the cash draw and a small money box and laid them on the counter.

Johnnie then ordered Good to open the door between the lobby and the teller’s area, but she told him that she didn’t have the key. And, it is said that with that Johnnie hoisted himself over the 6 foot barrier, landing on the other side of the counter and this is where he earned his first nickname “the Jackrabbit.” 

He entered the vault, scooped handfuls of cash into a sack, stole the coin collection of the cashier J.N. Barnard (who was out to lunch), and three diamond rings—two of which belonged to Barnard’s daughter who had dropped them off earlier before heading to play tennis.

A few customers wandered into the bank as Johnnie was in looting behind the counter, and Copeland jumped in for a save, pistol in hand, rounded them up into the corner of the bank and the two—Johnnie and Harry—proceeded to walk out of the door when they were done. They managed to take $3,500 from the bank, equivalent to $67,036.04 in 2018. 

First National Bank Robbery in Montpelier, Indiana

They then buggered off Montpelier, Indiana, to hit the First National Bank on August 4, 1933. This next bit of information is going to come right from the Indianapolis Star at the time:

Three polite bandits… stripped the First National Bank of more than $10,000, representing all the institution’s cash but 40 cents and eluded the search of a hastily formed posse.

When the four bank workers and two customers finally ventured to spread an alarm after the hold-up, the robbers had gained a long start and no trace of them had been picked up… by local authorities and state police. It was the second time the bank had been robbed. 

The three men parked their blue Chrysler automobile half a block from the bank and, while one remained with the car, the other two, well-dressed and unmasked, walked into the bank.

‘This is a hold-up. All we want is the money,’ they announced. One of the pair forced Meri Tewksbury, president and conservator; HL Murray of the insurance department and Miss Ruth Reynolds a stenographer to go into a rear room where he stood guard. The second robber singled out the cashier HD Thornburg and forced him to open the vault.

Working without haste, the man [in the vault] stuffed all the currency in the vault into 5 sacks he carried. Then he called to his companion that the holdup was completed, and they walked deliberately to their car.”

… the 3 men were Johnnie, Harry and associate Hilton Crouch. While the paper announced somewhere between $10 to $12,000 was stolen, another source of ours said that they got $6,700 from the robbery (valued at $128,326.13 today). It is important to note that the news story did say that they hadn’t yet completed their inventory loss check.

Interestingly enough, that same bank was robbed two years earlier on November 25, 1931, and at that time vigilantes fought a “brisk gun battle” with the robbers but failed to stop them.

Citizens National Bank Robbery in Bluffton, Ohio

Our boys were not done, and they moved on to Bluffton, Ohio to rob the Citizens National Bank on August 14, 1933. A local paper described them as “five well-dressed bandits” and said that they sprayed the streets with bullets on their way out of town and left a wake of “bullet-shattered windows.”

They left their green sedan running, while they looted the bank out of $6,000 (though it is important to note that we also saw the number $1,200 – valued at $114,918.92) then jumped in the car and took off turning “right on Jackson, [speeding] to Riley where [they] again turned right, and then north at Main St., escaping at a high rate of speed.”

Johnnie, Harry and Hilton would complete one more robbery before Johnnie was arrested again. They robbed the Massachusetts Avenue State Bank in Indianapolis on September 6, 1933, making off with a whopping $24,000 – equivalent to $459,675.69.

Prison break

John was tracked to Dayton, Ohio, where he was arrested without incident on September 22, 1933, at the home of Mary Longnaker, and transferred to Lima’s Allen County Jail to await trial. During his intake, while frisking John, the Lima Police found a document that seemed to be a plan for a prison break.

John vigorously denied this and 4 days later, 10 men including 8 of his gang members escaped from the Indiana State Prison using that same plan. Two guards were shot during the escape.

This prison escape was said to be one of the most daring and biggest prison escapes ever in Indiana’s history to date. Said to be the 10 most dangerous prisoners in the entire system at the time, Harry Pierpont, Charles Makley, Russell Clark, Edward Shouse, Walter Dietrich, John Burns, James Jenkins, Joseph Fox, John Hamilton and James Clark, essentially walked out of the prison, pistols in hand.

The guns had been smuggled into the prison for them (hence Johnnie’s plan), a 72-year-old clerk, Finley C. Carson, was shot but not fatally, and several guards had been slugged. 

It sounds like, at the time, the prisoners were working at a shirt factory and lured G.H. Stevens, superintendent, and Albert Evans, assistant warden, to the basement before forcing two prison guards to march with prisoners to the guard room where they were told to unlock the gate or they would shoot the guards.

The hid their guns under bundles of shirts they pretend to deliver, until they reached the last door, got it opened, slugged the guard and got the hell outta there. Once outside the walls the group split into two. It is said that “several hundred guardsmen, state police, prison guards, deputy sheriffs and armed civilians comprised a posse that would have pleased Ken Maynard.”

A few weeks later on October 12, 1933, 3 of the escaped prisoners showed up at the Lima Jail and told the Sheriff they had come to return Johnnie to Indiana State Prison for violation of parole – which I have to say, he legitimately did do.

The jail was only about 100 miles away from where Harry Pierpont, known Dillinger Gang member, was hiding out with some cash and a few guns. He and a few other gang member hit a bank, then moved on to break their boy outta jail. They arrived at the jail just as Sheriff Sarber and his wife – whom we are assuming was visiting him – were finishing dinner. 

Pierpoint knocked on the door of the jail and announced they were officials from the State Pen, and needed to see Johnnie boy – stat. But when Sarber asked for their credentials, they showed him their guns – and not the sexy kind of guns. Sarber reached for his own weapon and Pierpont panicked, shooting him. He later beat the Sheriff with a club. Mrs. Sarber than handed over the keys and they sprung Johnnie. The lock the Sheriff’s wife and a deputy in a cell and split.

Sheriff Sarber died a few hours later, which made all members of the gang accessories. 

Interesting side notes about the Dillinger gang:

  • They would wear wearing dark overcoats with hat brims pulled down to hide their identities, and were described as shadowy figures.
  • And I have a high suspicion that most bank robbers in modern television and film were designed, at list in part even if not conscious, after the Dillinger boys as they would make swift movements and bark out sharp, crisp orders to “Get down and nobody gets hurt!”

Central National Bank Robbery in Greencastle, Indiana

On October 23, 1933, Johnnie and the boys rob Central National Bank of Greencastle, Indiana. According to a random website I feel like my grandmother probably designed but sounded like it had legit information, this is the “correct story” of the Central National Bank of Greencastle heist:

A black Studebaker double parks in front of the bank on Jackson Street and four men – Johnnie, Copeland, Pierpont and Makley – get out of the car. They proceed up the stairs and Copeland stops just outside by the front door while the other 3 enter the bank.

Pierpont walks up to the 4th teller and ask Ward Mayhal for change for a twenty. Mayhal busy with paperwork tells Pierpoint to go to the next teller without looking up, Pierpont takes a step back, pulls out a sawed off shotgun and Mayhal looks up to find himself looking down the barrel of a gun.

This happens at the same time that Makley surveys the lobby with a machine gun and Johnnie leaps over a counter and breaks open the door to the teller area. Johnnie starts emptying drawers while Pierpont orders Harry Wells (possibly the bank President) to open the vault.

From the vault Pierpont fills up a large white sack with cash, and the gang quietly walks out of the doar and escape with between $75,000 to $78,000 (somewhere in the value range of $1.43 to $1.49 million dollars today).

This was the biggest bank robbery of Johnnie’s career – are we calling it that? And is said to be his friend robbery along side Pierpont.

Interesting mini side-note: on the same day, Baby Face Nelson robbed the First National Bank of Brainerd, Minnesota, of $32,000 with Tommy Carroll, Homer Van Meter, John Paul Chase, and Charles Fisher – all of the Dillinger Gang. Homer Van Meter was not liked by Pierpont, and it was said by Pierpont’s girlfriend Mary Kinder that was a prominent factor in later East Chicago Bank Robbery.

Just to add a little random event—Johnnie contracted ringworm while staying at the Lima jail and was treated by Dr. Charles Eye in Chicago on November 15, and though a police informant spills the beans, Johnnie and Frechette manage to escape.

American Bank and Trust Company Robbery, Racine, Wisconsin

This doesn’t slow him down though, because on November 20, 1933, he hits up the American Bank and Trust Company in Racine, Wisconsin. They wound Sgt. Wilbur Hansen and HJ Graham (the cashier) in the arm but managed to get away with a haul of $27,000 ($517,135.15).

On January 15, 1934, Johnnie and associate Hamilton decide to rob the First National Bank in East Chicago, unfortunately this one didn’t go as smoothly as the others. Hamilton was shot in the right hand which caused him to lose a finger, and he was shot four times in the groin, and Dillinger allegedly killed police officer William Patrick O’Malley during their escape.

Interesting to note that it is alleged that this bank was robbed by John Hamilton, Homer Van Meter and an unidentified man (possibly John Paul Chase, Tommy Carrol or Eddie Green), and that John Dillinger was never there. Regardless of who did so, police officer William Patrick O’Malley died on the sidewalk not far from the front entrance of the building from 8 gunshot wounds to the chest.

John Dillinger’s arrest in Tuscon

During the evening of January 25, Johnnie was arrested by three Tucson police officers at the bungalow at 927 North Second Avenue here’s how that went down:

On January 21, there was a fire at Hotel Congress, and naturally firemen swept the hotel and came across one man who was WAY more concerned with his luggage then getting out of the hotel. He was ordered to leave the building, threw a real hissy fit, and once out convinced the firemen to go back and rescue two expensive looking bags.

Three days later on January 24, one of the firemen noted a resemblance between the spazzy tourist and a man in one of the photo lineups, it was Russell Clark, a member of the Dillinger Gang.

All the meanwhile, Clark was drawing attention to himself as he bragged about how easy it was to make a living robbing banks at a Tuscon club, tourists that overheard this #lowkey brag reported it to police. Authorities determined that Harry Pierpont, “Fat Charlie” Makley and Russell Clark had come to town, and make a calculated guess that Johnnie was not far behind.

Makley was arrested first at a downtown radio repair shop, followed by Pierpont (who was said to be the “most dangerous of the gang because he killed for pleasure” – which is the first time I’ve read that) who was stopped at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Nineteenth Street for a “routine” check of his automobile papers.

Finally, they rounded the group out by picking Clark up from a rented house on North Second Avenue near the University of Arizona. It was said that he gave them a run for their money which ended with him getting a lacerated scalp.

They found the bags, inside them were “an assortment of machine guns, pistols, ammunition and bullet-proof vests.” Police put the Second Avenue house under surveillance, and at 6:30 pm on January 25, Johnnie showed up at the house to make a visit – and he was arrested without incident. Being caught off-guard it was said his response was “Well, I’ll be damned!”

Escape from Crown Point County Jail

In January of 1934, Johnnie was taken to the county jail at Crown Point, Indiana, to await trial for the murder of William Patrick O’Malley.

The jail which was said to be escape-proof held him for less than 3 months until he checked himself out. Johnnie whittled a wooden gun, which he used to get himself out of the prison—but not before he swiped 2 machine guns and locked the guards up. 

Johnnie stole the car of a sheriff and drove across the Indiana-Illinois state line, violating the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act (not that I think he cared) by transporting a stolen vehicle into another state, violating federal law which allowed for the FBI to get involved. 

They robbed two banks in March:

  • Security National Bank in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on March 6, where motorcycle policeman Hale Keith was wounded. Homer Van Meter, Eddie Green, Tommy Carroll, and Baby Face Nelson all joined Johnnie and they made off with $49,500.
  • And First National Bank of Mason City, Iowa, on March 13, with  Homer Van Meter, Eddie Green, Tommy Carroll, Baby Face Nelson, and John Hamilton. Both Johnnie and Hamilton were wounded, as well as bystander RH James whose leg got hit – the boys got away with $52,000.

Lincoln Court Shootout

Johnnie and Frechette ended up taking residence in the Lincoln Court Apartments in St. Paul, Minnesota, hiding out under the names of Mr. and Mrs. Hellman. The FBI found them and started surveillance.

Things went downhill when on March 31, 1934, Frechette had slammed the door in the face of a police officer who had come calling, they immediately called in reinforcements and agents saw Homer Van Meter, member of the Dillinger Gang, enter the apartment building. He was questioned by agents (on his way in?), and ended up forcing a truck driver to take him to fellow Dillinger Gang member Eddie Green’s apartment. 

Suddenly, the door to the Hellman’s suite swung open and a machine gun muzzle began to spray the air with bullets, creating cover for Dillinger and Frechette to escape through a back door. Agents raided the empty apartment, seizing firearms and bulletproof vests from it.

Johnnie and Frechette fled to Green’s apartment where he was treated for a bullet wound he got while escaping. They fled to Mooresville, Indiana, to seek refuge with Johnnie’s father and half-brother while he healed.

Frechette made the mistake of going back to Chicago where she was immediately arrested by the FBI, taken to St. Paul and put on trial for conspiracy to harbor a fugitive. She was convicted, fined $1,000 and sentenced to two years in prison.

Interestingly enough, in May of 1934, Johnnie gets plastic surgery – possibly a facelift and the removal of 3 moles, a scar, a cleft chin and something on the bridge of his knows, and later that month they attempt to remove his fingerprints with acid.

Freshly fingerprintless, the boys decide to take on Merchants’ National Bank in South Bend, Indiana, where they managed a score of $30,000. However, this robbery didn’t exactly go as planned with 5 wounded and 1 dead.

Van Meter was wounded in the head, alongside gang member Delos M Coen, cashier Perry G. Stahley, bystander VP Jacob Solomon and motorist Samuel Toth. Furthermore, Officer Howard Wagner was killed by Van Meter. And lastly, a shop owner brandishing a pistol hit Nelson as he came out of the bank, but the bulletproof vest he was wearing saved him. yet another terribly violent exchange. This would be the gangs last gig.

John Dillinger’s Death

July 21, 1934, the madam of a brothel in Gary, Indiana, contacted one of the police officers with information after the price on Johnnie’s head soared to $25,000. Anna Sage—whose real name was Ana Cumpanas—had entered the United States from her native Romania in 1914.

Because of the nature of her profession, she was considered an undesirable alien by Immigration, and deportation proceedings had been started. Anna was willing to sell the FBI information about Dillinger for a cash reward, and the FBI’s help in preventing her deportation. *Spoiler Alert* she gets deported anyway.

Anna met with agents Cowley and Purvis who promised her the reward if her information led to his capture, but said with regards to her deportation, all they could do was put in a good word with her with the Department of Labor, which at that time handled deportation matters.

Satisfied with this deal, Anna told the agents that a girlfriend of hers, Polly Hamilton, had visited her establishment with Johnnie and that she, Johnnie and Polly Hamilton would likely be going to the movies the following evening at either the Biograph or the Marbro Theaters. She told them she would let them know when the theatre was chosen, and she would wear an orange dress so they could identify her.

The next day on Sunday, July 22, Anna Sage called Purvis to confirm the plans, but said she still did not know which theater they would attend so agents and policemen were sent to both theaters. 

At 8:30 p.m., Anna Sage, John Dillinger, and Polly Hamilton strolled into the Biograph Theater to see Clark Gable in “Manhattan Melodrama.”  The agents and officers were instructed not to “unnecessarily endanger” themselves, but was also told that if Johnnie offered any resistance it was every man for himself.

Two hours later, at 10:30 pm, Johnnie sauntered out of the theatre with his two female companions—one on each side—and turned to the left. As they walked past the doorway where Purvis was standing, he lit a cigar as a signal for the other agents/officers to close in.

Dillinger was a smart man and quickly realized what was happening. Acting by instinct, he grabbed his pistol from his right trouser pocket as he ran towards the alley. Five shots were fired from the guns of 3 FBI agents, three shots hit Johnnie and he fell face down on the pavement.

[This next part was taken right from an article we read]: “The fatal shot entered the base of Dillinger’s neck and travelled upward, hitting the second vertebra before exiting below his right eye. Gradually, a crowd formed around Dillinger’s lifeless body, with several people dabbing handkerchiefs into his blood for souvenirs. The police had to finally be called in to move people away so that federal agents could secure the scene and remove Dillinger’s body.”

The notorious gangster John Dillinger was pronounced dead at 10:50 pm on July 22, 1934, in a little room in the Alexian Brothers Hospital.

Johnnie’s body was taken to the Cook County Morgue. The crowd that had formed followed the body to the morgue and into the post-mortem room. Throughout the next day thousands of people would visit the body – there is a really graphic photo of a crowd of young men and women celebrating over his body lying on a table that we’ll provide the link to if you’re interested in seeing it. The body was then taken to the McCready Funeral Home. 

Dillinger was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana, on July 25, 1934

The 3 agents who fired shots at Dillinger were Charles B. Winstead, Clarence O. Hurt, and Herman E. Hollis. Each man was commended by J. Edgar Hoover for fearlessness and courageous action, and while none of them ever said who actually killed Johnnie it was suspected that the fatal shot was done by Winstead.

The Dillinger Gang After Johnnie

After Johnnie’s death it is said that the gang kind of disband. Several gang members returned to Ohio where they were sentenced to life in prison for murdering the Sheriff in Lima when they broke Johnnie out. 

On September 22, 1934, exactly two months after Dillinger’s death, Pierpont and Makley carved phony pistols out of soap cakes, and painted them black with shoe polish, readying themselves to bust out of prison (probably inspired by Johnnie’s wooden gun).

Brandishing the “guns”, they managed to get out of their cells and to the main door before rifle-wielding guards opened fire. Makley was killed outright and Pierpont was riddled with bullets. Although he survived, he was seriously injured. 

Harry Pierpont was executed at the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus on October 17, 1934, for the murder of Sheriff O’Malley. He was still recovering from his attempted prison break at the time, and had to be carried to electric chair. He was pronounced dead at 12:14 a.m. 

His death certificate says he was 32 years and 4 days old at the time of his death. Born October 13, 1902, in Muncie, Indiana, Pierpont was a former engineer prior to his gun-slinging days, and was married… to someone. It also turned out that the informant that had them arrested and returned to Ohio for trial was his mother, Lena Pierpont.

Did John Dillinger really die?

There is some very strange controversy surrounding the death of John Dillinger and the shoot-out at the Biograph Theatre — namely that John himself did not die. To bolster this theory John Dillinger’s father was brought in to the coroner’s office to identify the body, and denied the body was his son’s. Which isn’t as crazy as you think as the the official pathologist’s notes point to it possibly not being him:

  • It was said that while the face looked very much like Dillinger’s their eyes were brown, whereas Dillinger’s were known to be blue. However that change in eye color can also be explained through post-mortem pigment changes in the eye.
  • The corpse had a life-long rheumatic heart condition – The Heart & Stroke foundation defines rheumatic heart disease as “a group of short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) heart disorders that can occur as a result of rheumatic fever. One common result of rheumatic fever is heart valve damage. This damage to the heart valves may lead to a valve disorder.” It is said that with such a condition he would have never been able to join the Navy. 
  • Known scars were missing from the body and it was shorter and fatter than Dillinger was known to be. 
  • There was a scar on Dillinger’s face was not found during the autopsy, but this could have been explained by plastic surgery.
  • And the corpse showed a full set of front teeth, but it was known through photographs and dental records that Dillinger was missing his front right incisor.
  • The body’s fingerprints were also poor quality, as he had attempted to remove his fingerprints by burning them with acid, but what was there showed consistent features with Dillinger’s known fingerprints.

Post death, FBI agents claimed to have seen Dillinger reach for a weapon, the further showcased the gun that was supposedly on Dillinger the night he was killed at their headquarters. But reports say that the small Colt semi-automatic pistol on display was manufactured after his death making it impossible that he was carrying it.

Further to this theory, an associate of Dillinger’s stated that much later after his supposed death, Dillinger had survived, gotten married and moved to Oregon where he lived out his life under an assumed name. A researcher later proposed that he had spent the remainder of his life as a machinist in California. And in 1963, the Indianapolis Star received a letter from someone claiming to be Dillinger; a like letter was also sent to the Little Bohemia Lodge.

Pending there was a cover up, there was probably good reason. The FBI had failed at several attempts to capture Dillinger, and killed a number of innocent bystanders in the process. 

Suppose John Dillinger didn’t die that day, who died in his place? Some suspect that Dillinger-look-alike and petty criminal Jimmy Lawrence was killed in his place. It was said that Dillinger was using the pseudonym Jimmy Lawrence around Chicago around that time.

Even so his body was positively identified by Dillinger’s sister once she saw the scar on his leg, which was said to be unique. 

Regardless, due to the countless rumors that it was not Dillinger’s body in the ground, rumours that would go on for years, John Dillinger, Sr., made arrangements to have 3 feet of reinforced concrete poured over the grave to prevent anyone from digging up the coffin.  

The aftermath of John Dillinger’s Death

The events of that evening marked the “beginning of the end” of the Gangster Era. Eventually, 27 people would be convicted in federal court on charges of harbouring, and aiding and abetting John Dillinger and his cronies during their “reign of terror.”

On November 27, 1934, Baby Face Nelson was fatally wounded in a gun battle with FBI agents in which both Special Agents Cowley and Hollis were also killed.

Ghost of John Dillinger

Around 1970, the first major renovation of the theatre happened and witnesses began to report a “blue-ish male apparition running down the alley, stumbling, falling then disappearing. This is said to be that of John Dillinger.

Cold spots have been felt throughout the alley, and “sensitive” individuals are said to pick up an uneasy feeling. Paranormal investigator John Cache from The Ghost Society – Paranormal & Cryptozoology states that the alley is definitely haunted. Though as of late, the hauntings have said to quieted down a bit.

And while some sources claim the theatre itself is not haunted only the alley, other sources disagree claiming it is. Those that believe the theatre is haunted are said to have felt “cold spots” blaming them on either the ghost of John Dillinger or Jimmy Lawrence, haunting the last place they had fun. Others witness “ghostly theatre patrons” that enjoy the show alongside them.

History Of The Biograph Theatre

The Biograph Theatre located at 2433 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, was built in 1914. The building was designed by architect Samuel N. Cowen, and is considered typical example of a first-generation movie house with a large stage and auditorium, with a balcony and historic décor.

The outside of the building was finished with red-pressed brick and white-glazed terracotta. It continued its life as a grand theatre throughout the Depression and both world wars, until 1970 when it was converted into a four-screen multiplex.

The updated boosted profits, but rid the inside of the building of the original décor. It again needed renos in 2000, and was sold to Victory Gardens, a non-profit theatre group for $2 million.

Where it underwent an $11.8 million renovation that included restoring the original grand staircase. It re-opened in 2006 as the Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre and is now home to a number of theatre companies. The building includes a 299 seat main stage theatre, 130 seat studio theatre and rehearsal hall for special events.

The original 1914 décor still exists on the outside of the building. The theatre was designated a Chicago Landmark on March 28, 2001, and sits on the US National Register of Historic Places. Out of the over 100 years the theatre has been around, the most memorable day was July 22, 1934, when the infamous gangster, John Dillinger was gunned down in its alley.

Visiting the Biograph Theatre

Today you can visit the Biograph Theatre, known as the Victoria Gardens Theatre at 2433 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL.

The theatre has a 4.0 out of 5 rating on TripAdvisor.

Did you love this episode? Check these other gems out:


The Lady Dicks did not just magically come up with the information for John Dillinger’s Death & Haunted Biograph Theatre themselves, they, in fact, did research beyond Wikipedia (thanks jerky iTunes reviewer for your one-star comment), and here are those sources:

The Lady Dicks Podcast was created by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks are Andrea Campion, Nikki Kipping and Tae Haahr. “John Dillinger’s Death & Haunted Biograph Theatre” was research, written, edited and produced by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks theme music, A Pink Panther, is licenced through AudioJungle.


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